A bunch of circumstances have conspired lately to make me realize how important standardizing an office’s workflow is. This post illustrates how a slower economy can affect your small business in ways you might not expect and demonstrates the need for ongoing, documented workflow standards…
The slow economy reminds me of a Hall of Fame major league pitcher. Just when you’re expecting a slider, you get a fastball right down the gut.
If someone had told me three years ago that the down economy would feature ongoing financial duress, I would have stared them with a look that said “Of course, I know that you fool.”
But — if someone had likewise told me then that one unintended fallout of the down economy would be workforce instability and (believe it or not) a persistent need to look for qualified staff, I would have thought they were insane.
How can a recession create demand for labor?
You wouldn’t think it could but – in our case, at least – it actually sort of has.
The first two employees I let go were of the traditional “We’re in the middle of a recession and I am not making enough to keep you on” variety. Recently, though, we’ve lost staff because the slow growth of the business left them feeling as though they were stagnating. They were tired of working for the ‘same old clients’ and found alternative gigs elsewhere.
These last couple of departures left us in the ironic position of actually needing to hire staff. And, strangely enough, we’ve had trouble finding a decent front end web developer who actually wants to make working for us a full-time vocation. (That one’s a real puzzlement to me but, I admit, self-awareness isn’t a strong suit…)
At any rate, all this workforce volatility has re-taught me a valuable lesson I once learned when I was just starting out. I think it actually dates back to my original reading of Michael Gerber’s “The E-Myth…” In that book, if I’m remembering correctly, Michael basically exposes the fallacy that most small business owners must shed before they can become an entrepreneur. Basically, Gerber stated that you must stop thinking of yourself as a lawyer, an architect, a website developer – whatever – and start thinking of yourself as a business owner.
Gerber went on to explain that much about running a business involves creating protocols and processes which, when put in place, make it possible for the business to function, regardless of who’s in charge. The idea, essentially, is to make the business reliant on process, not personality. (In that regard, I’ve often joked that I really only feel successful as a business owner if I’m making myself obsolete.)
And how does the need to create protocols relate to my current “workforce instability” issues?
One of the aspects of our work I’ve always been proud of is that we’ve always tried to design and launch websites for our clients that don’t just “work” but are actually created with Best Practices in mind. For instance, because we think the threshold between website design and internet marketing is nebulous at best, we’ve always taken the time to do a number of ‘extra’ things, prior to their site launching. Most of this stuff relates to making sure the site conforms to Google’s Webmaster standards. I’m talkin’ things like:
- Favoring the use of breadcrumbs
- Creating unique, keyword researched, title tags for every page
- Creating unique descriptions for every page
- Creating both HTML on-page site map for site navigation and XML sitemaps for search engines
- Creating a useful 404 page template
- Writing alt tags for all images
The problem we’ve encountered of late, though is that all the turnover in staff and the oftentimes “unusual” circumstances which precede a site launch, practices which we’ve stated are standards within our studio have been overlooked. Hence the need for protocols.
Recently, I was pondering how to avoid these oversights in the future, regardless of staffing volatility. And the need to start developing formal internal handbooks and check lists hit me square on the head.
Of course I’ve had internal check lists before. But it always amazes me how I still have to sometimes be situationally whacked by circumstances before I find such an easy solution to an ongoing problem.