27/04/2015

By Mark Robinson, Market Business Developer, Canon

Your aim as a small business owner is straightforward: working on two fronts, you want to concentrate on constantly improving your business processes whilst also offering competitive customer services.

Despite these relatively simple goals, small businesses often lack the resources and funds that bigger corporations typically have to achieve them. But every big corporation started off small – so what can SMB owners learn from the big players and how can they escape from getting bogged down from day-to-day operations to accomplish these aims?

The ever-growing administrative burden

Take the ever-growing paperwork pile, which will be an all-too-familiar image for many small business owners. A large number of new bills, invoices and requests come into firms every day, often taking up valuable time and resources.

Findings from Canon research suggest 28 per cent of SMBs and SoHos in Europe and Russia spend too much time on general administration and paperwork. In the UK this figure was even higher at almost a third (30 per cent). As a result, many firms in the UK say they do not spend enough time cultivating and generating new business.

With so much time consumed by paperwork, it’s easy to see how the ongoing administration and bureaucracy can quickly become an insurmountable barrier to business success. Just over a quarter of research respondents in the UK complained about having too much paperwork to do.

IT resource challenges

The administrative burden is not just a concern for managers of smaller firms. Large firm executives are not immune from being weighed down by day-to-day operational issues.

Take IT directors at blue-chip organisations, who are often criticised for spending too much time in the data centre and not enough on the areas that will add value to the business, such as service innovation and customer relationship management.

In an attempt to understand how business and management efforts can be wasted, some experts refer to the Pareto principle, where 80 per cent of the effects come from 20 per cent of the causes. Commonly known as the ‘80/20 rule’, the principle only provides a rough guide, yet its power seems to resonate in business.

Putting principles into practice

In the case of IT directors, some industry analysts suggest resources would be better utilised if they could switch their attention. Instead of spending 80 per cent of their budget and time on day-to-day operations, IT managers and decision makers in businesses of all sizes should allocate more resources to activities that drive business growth.

But what would happen, if SMB and SoHo owners spent less time on bureaucracy and more time on building the business? More importantly, how would they find the time? With 41 per cent of UK SMB and SoHo owners agreeing that bureaucracy is a challenge for their business, it is going to be difficult for small firm owners to move their focus from operations to business development.

Delegating tasks and responsibility to trusted team members is all very well if you have the resources, but what about if your workers are already stretched to capacity, or if your business is a one-person operation?

Reducing the admin burden

Thankfully, technology can provide the answer. By allying mobile connectivity to cloud computing, SMB employees can use their mobile devices to receive and update information on the go, such as sales contracts and invoicing records. Rather than dealing with the paper mountain on their return to the office, small business owners can deal with admin from any location.

Small business owners should also look to continue the digital transformation. By using next-generation printing technology, they can create an electronic version of their records, allowing them to take a tighter grip on the production and processing of business information.

Even with the strong divide between SoHos, SMBs and major corporations, the fundamentals of business improvement and best practice apply across the board. It’s about modelling the best practices of industry leaders and cutting your own path on the road to success.

Small firms face a huge administrative challenge, but the barriers can be overcome. By learning from larger business practices, adopting new technologies and embracing the digital transformation, small business owners can drastically reduce the amount of time spent on lengthy admin tasks and use their time more productively by focussing on activities that add to the bottom line.