Just last week my client Sara and I wrapped up a big project – we had been working on it for several months. Sara owns a personal training studio in Westport and needed to find a way to make the day-to-day management more efficient. She was tired of doing everything manually, tired of keeping details in her head, and tired of managing a never-shrinking pile of paper.
We talked for a while about the options and she was eager to get started. Like many professionals, once she understood how much time and effort could be saved with some system set-up and automation, she was ready to take action.
Even so, I explained that there were several necessary steps to ensure the success of her project:
1. Outline your goals. Sara was looking for a number of specific improvements. Among those, she wanted: Clients to be able to schedule their workout sessions on her website; automatic email reminders of upcoming sessions; credit card acceptance; client workout progress tracking; electronic signing of storage of waivers. We assumed we would uncover other goals as we went along (we did), but this was our base list of what we wanted to accomplish.
2. Look for the right solution. Google the top applications in your field, read the reviews, look at the features list, and ask others in similar businesses what they recommend. In other words, do your homework! During this research phase, make sure you also consider pricing and compatibility with systems you already have in place. Consider issues like calendar software, accounting software, your web site back-end, and the ability to use a solution on your phone or tablet.
3. Try it out. This is the time to dive into the details. If there’s a free trial period offered, sign up. Start to set up the software with dummy client information and see how it works. In Sara’s case, it was important that the session reminders have her logo and branding. It needed to integrate with Google Calendar and be compatible with her tablet. If there is no trial available, ask an account representative to give you a tour of both the client experience and how you’ll manage the day-to-day details of your work.
This is also the time to try out support. How responsive are they to your questions? What hours are they available? Is it chat, email, phone or some combination? Whatever you discover, don’t be afraid to abandon ship and consider other solutions. That’s what trials are for and whatever you choose, you’ll be living with it for a long time!
4. Run redundant systems. Usually, jumping to a new way of running your business requires a lot of changes. If you’re used to keeping a paper calendar, for example, and you’re moving to an electronic one, keep them both for a few weeks to make sure the new approach is working and that you understand how it works. Same for finance tracking. If you’re accustomed to tracking your revenue using Excel and you’re moving to QuickBooks, continue to run them in parallel for a while.
5. Take a go-slow approach with your clients. If this new way of working is going to change the way your clients interact with you, keep in mind that they might not embrace the change. Make sure you think through how best to communicate the improvements and how you’ll handle tech support if there are glitches. You may want to begin with a new client (before you switch over the old ones) to see how easy it is for them to understand what’s involved.
Making improvements and streamlining your business is a never-ending and (at least for me) fun thing to do! Just make sure you move slowly and smoothly along the way.