I know from personal experience that running your own business is never easy. But every day brings new challenges, along with new opportunities too.
The ever-growing demands on those working within small businesses, including the constant pivots, disruptions and changing customer expectations, often mean there’s less time to work on the business rather than simply working in the business.
But such big-picture thinking has become essential for growth, particularly the smart use of tech to streamline and automate time-consuming processes.
So when SMBs are already time-poor, how do they go about optimising processes? During The Australian’s Facebook Live Q&A moderated by Associate Editor Jackson Hewett, I was delighted to join leaders from two small businesses: me&u and Lawpath. During our conversation, these Trailblazers shared how they’re improving processes in ways that benefit both their employees and their customers.
At a time when their businesses were under massive pressure, these Trailblazers created a clear, data-driven advantage by streamlining processes, introducing tools that enable collaboration anywhere, and freeing their staff from repetitive tasks.
Lawpath recognised that businesses had a difficult time accessing basic legal guidance. And law firms spent a great deal of time repeating tasks when offering that guidance.
To solve both challenges, Lawpath developed a platform that would allow businesses to access on-demand, automated legal tools, saving time for the client and the law firm.
“We wouldn’t be able to be where we are with the number of employees if we didn’t have that technology supporting us,” says Natasha Hannah, Operation Manager at Lawpath.
“We see the users that come through and divide them into those that need more bespoke service, those that need to be contacted by the lawyers to help solve their problems, but then also using technology to offer more tailored recommendations to users about what documents to create and actions to take for those that might not need as much support.”
The Lawpath team doesn’t even need to speak with every user, and nobody falls through the cracks. It’s less manual work for greater actual results.
The tech delivers greater customer satisfaction and higher employee engagement, a win/win.
While the law and its processes may seem complex, Natasha says, much of it is repetitive and therefore able to be automated. Lawpath looked for those repeatable workflows — for example, the process of taking a new employee through the employment contract and workplace policy process — and built systems around them.
It means lawyers can do the higher value and more complex and satisfying work.
Importantly, it’s simply a first step. Natasha notes that they could never automate the role of a lawyer, nor would they want to. Instead, they’ve created a platform that enables growth, releases resources and empowers staff and customers.
“It’s all about working smarter, not harder,” Natasha says, “focusing on things you’re good at and that you actually enjoy.”
Startup me&u aims to bring together the best of technology and the best of hospitality, creating a mutually beneficial relationship with the entire hospitality sector.
One of the selling points of me&u’s smart menu and contactless ordering system is that customers don’t have to queue at pubs, clubs and bars for drinks and food. They can instead order at their tables using menus on their phone screens, and have the orders brought to them. Meanwhile, hospitality staff can concentrate on delighting patrons rather than managing repetitive tasks.
As the business experienced greater success, its growing customer base needed streamlined internal processes, particularly to cope with customer service demands.
At the same time, the early days of the pandemic issued a few different blows to the industry. First, lockdown restrictions meant some venues may not be able to operate at all. But, even without restrictions, many venues have suffered from a lack of staff as workers — often from other countries — headed home.
Businesses that survived the original storm found an entirely new set of customer expectations around the cashless, contactless ordering experience. People were also keen to get out and spend time with their loved ones after coming out of lockdown, leaving venues to reconcile spiking demand with fewer resources and staff.
Asheesh Chacko, COO of me&u, says these factors have all accelerated the business. However, especially with physical restrictions and international teams, they needed improved processes and new tools to help them service, support and onboard their customers.
To do this, the business used downtime from the initial lockdowns of 2020 to focus on streamlining and scalability. As demand began to build again, headcount didn’t have to rise at the same rate. For example, the team mapped and partly automated the onboarding process, which previously required the input of at least six people.
New channels such as chat and SMS were opened for customer service, with time zones covered thanks to staff members being in both Australia and the UK. Their cloud-based platform meant me&u staff could work from anywhere at any time, leveraging Salesforce and Slack to collaborate and track productivity.
Asheesh says strategy was important to this success but that SMEs also need to consider how they’ll learn from testing.
“While you need to focus on the right things, [you must] invest properly in your testing and learning, so that you can learn fast and fail fast,” says Asheesh. “That sets you up properly as you go.”
The end result is that me&u haven’t just navigated rocky periods, they’ve also built capabilities that are helping them reach the regional customers they wouldn’t have been as capable of supporting in the past.
In other words, the right optimisation in the right places and at the right time can do more than just help a business get through difficult times. They can create entirely unique value propositions that evolve with customers’ changing needs and boost SME performance.