Photo by Emily Keeney Photography
This article was written by Bethel Nathan, Owner & Business Coach/Speaker at Elevate by Bethel.
To me, there are really 3 main areas of focus for business improvement in our industry.
First, is getting business, which entails all the marketing you do and relationships you build. Second, is your end product or service, photos for a photographer, baked goods for a baker, etc. And third, is the one I spend a lot of time speaking, writing, and coaching about. It is the “in-between time”, the customer experience.
From the time a couple finds you until they either don’t hire you or you have provided the service they hired you for. During this time, the interaction between you and your couple is experienced in a way that is dictated by your processes, and those processes are supported by your systems.
So, you may be thinking to yourself, if they book me (focus 1) and I deliver them an expected product or service (focus 2), why do I have to worry too much about my systems and processes (focus 3)? Well, we are in a competitive industry, and you should want an edge. And that “edge” can be achieved through evaluating and, where necessary, streamlining your business processes.
Now, many people hear “streamline your business processes” and automatically think, “automate everything,” but this is not always the case, and is rarely what I recommend, especially in an industry as personal as ours is. Although it can include automating certain pieces (for instance, I automate my invoice reminders).
The true goal of streamlining your processes is to figure out if new processes need to be added, current processes can be improved and if there are any current processes that can be removed.
You need to start with understanding which pieces are critical to your business success and important to your couple’s satisfaction, as automation is not usually the direction to go for those pieces. Rarely are the answers the same for all of us, even for two businesses doing the same thing within our industry. So, while talking to others in your category and comparing the pieces within your customer experience can be very helpful, you need to always be aiming for your business to have a customer experience that supports your vision and meets or exceeds the needs of your ideal couples.
When to streamline-
When a new piece of software or hardware (or a change in one you already use) can get you an outcome that works for your business, with less time spent. Key: as long as this does not hurt the value of the outcome.
When a current process can be combined with another process.
When the outcome you are getting from a process is more than you need and it provides little to no value.
When not to streamline-
When the outcome is important to the satisfaction of your couple or another vendor and changes would affect their perception and/or outcome. This is where “customer satisfaction” is more important than having the most efficient process.
When the cost to streamline outweighs the cost savings of streamlining.
And to echo Goldilocks, “when the process is just right” – when the cost of a current process is pretty much equal to the value of the process within your business. After all, there is always a cost in time or money to make changes, so only do so when it’s worth it.
If you decide to streamline, I recommend following these steps:
- You need to document and have a good understanding of all the processes in your business (to read more about that, see this article on how to communicate effectively with couples and save your sanity). This includes communications with your couple and other vendors, any purchasing of materials you need to get the job done, all pre- or post-wedding work that you do, etc. Map it all out!Note that you can always start with one process, for example the booking process, and work on streamlining it. Just remember that most processes don’t happen in isolation, which is why I recommend having a good understanding of all your processes before you do any major changes
- Plan to streamline. Look at a single process and, based on what you know from your evaluation of that process and your vision for customer experience, brainstorm ways to streamline it. Can you combine it with another process? Can you reduce the steps within the process? Can you automate it, or part of it? But before you make a change, really think about the impact that change will have on your couple or another vendor. This is the most crucial step since there are pieces that you could streamline which would increase profitability and save sanity, yet doing so will negatively impact the customer experience enough that it is not worth the savings gained.
- Make it happen. Allow yourself the time to make this change, whether it means switching to a new software, creating new email templates, or creating a questionnaire. And then start to implement it when you are ready. Tweak as needed, as you start to see it in use.
- Rinse and Repeat! You are never done, and you want to re-evaluate your systems and processes periodically, always with your eyes on your customer experience and your ideal client.