Different-sized businesses have different needs in terms of internal structure and systems, particularly during times of economic decline. As the entrepreneur adapts to changes in his or her competitive situation, the size of the business may vary enough to put it in competition with either larger or smaller competitors. Implementing systems to match competitive requirements is a necessary first step toward efficient organization and operation.
Management Information Systems
Small businesses usually enjoy the pace a smaller organization and a high level of personal involvement in decision-making. The systems typically in place range from a manual bookkeeping system inadequate in reporting timely developments to overly complex programs that require more attention than the small business leader can give. Therefore, the goal in a small operation should be to minimize company reliance on record-keeping as a chore and focus on the development of meaningful reports. With all systems tied together, the financial systems can work with marketing and operations systems. The reports generated can then be used by each department.
Accounting information that should exist in at least a semi-automated form includes accounts payable, cash projections, expense estimating, and quotation systems. It is impossible to run an efficient operation with anything less than this skeleton. The payables are easily recordable as invoices are received and paid. Cash projections contain–at a minimum–information about loans, revenues, and disbursements. A basic expense estimating system posts invoice amounts (direct costs) and allocates indirect costs as appropriate to to specific projects or clients. Finally, a method of preparing quotes should be implemented to standardize pricing based on cost data.
Marketing information should include inventory listings, commission agreements, advertising schedules, and research into market demand and competitor product offerings. Inventory listings are a natural by-product of the job costing (expense estimating) system and should include gross profit percentages, inventory age, and a measurement of the relative sales priority of inventory based on carrying costs. Commission agreements highlight the sales force’s expectations for representation of company products. Advertising schedules will help the business leaders plan for regular promotions. Finally, research into market demand and competitor product offerings will require periodic updates.
While accounting information is preferably computerized or otherwise automated, operations information, like marketing, need not be automated as a first priority. Information systems for monitoring operations include purchase orders, scheduling, and either timekeeping or job progress. A purchase order system is essential for cost controls, order documentation, and verification of amounts and qualities delivered. Finally, scheduling systems provide for systematic fulfillment of orders.
Small businesses must determine the organizational development and staffing levels based on their need to delegate tasks and thus free themselves for critical activities. Office management, marketing and operations managers should be hired only after careful screening. These individuals need to possess industry specific experience and a good general feel for how your business works. Sales people and administrative staff are not innately qualified to work for a particular organization. When verifying references and conducting interviews, then, look for a match in values!
Office Management Staff
In the management of the office functions, organization and attention to details are essential. One or two well-trained individuals–preferably capable of performing each other’s jobs–should be enough to keep the internal operations running smoothly and to help with some of the company’s daily busy work when necessary. Ideally, these office employees should be able to handle accounting, calls, filing, and word processing.
The marketing staff need not consist of one or two well-trained individuals either. One person must have responsibility for digital marketing–all things web-based including website, social media, and CRM. The other should handle strategy and supporting sales and other executive staff on marketing issues, including advertising, branding, collateral materials, proposals, etc.
A team of one or two should again be sufficient. Depending on the size of the organization, the complexity of its operation, and the rate of growth, a good rule of thumb is that one manager should have responsibility for no more than five to eight direct reports. These managers should be expert in keeping work on time and on budget.