Small Business Improvements Without Expense (or Risk)

Est. reading time: 4 minutes
Photograph of managers from behind as they observe warehouse floor operations


One efficient way to improve operations is to observe employees, customers, and other businesses who are doing similar things to yours. One of the best parts of observation, which includes active listening and silent oversight, is that there is zero cost. The lessons learned and business improvement ideas discovered can be enlightening and most are simple enough to be implemented right away unlike lengthy initiatives requiring cash flow analysis and capital improvements.

Observe Employees

Employees are always busy doing something – or should always be busy doing something that is productive for the company. At any one point employees might be working alone, interacting with coworkers, or interacting with customers. Observation may help owners (or managers) gain insights into an employee’s job performance. Depending on the job position, these observations may reveal untapped potential, or gaps in operations or larger business performance.

Owners must be proactive when they take this approach to business improvement, and they shouldn’t wait until something goes wrong before trying to fix it. Sitting in an office is not observation. Observation is being engaged – being involved in what is happening. This could be actual observations, participating with employees in different job-related activities, hearing or joining in on phone calls, or following up after the sale. The owner usually will come away with several business improvement ideas. Real-time observation enables managers to compliment employees when they deserve it, keeping their enthusiasm up or taking immediate corrective action when necessary. Performance improvement conversations are the easiest when they are done without delay, both from a standpoint of employee understanding, and from a standpoint of building rapport.

Employees must act as one team, working together to achieve business goals. Employees are the link that connects a business to its customers. They need to act accordingly to turn prospects (potential customers) into paying customers and first time customers into loyal, repeat buyers. This is true regardless if the business is B2C or B2B.

Observe Customers

Customers are the lifeblood of any business; therefore, they must be treated as the highest priority…not only once but in every interaction! Observing customers’ reactions and listening to their comments regarding the products and services, employees, and the customer experience, etc. helps companies learn what customers want and what improvements they need to make to meet customer needs.

Feedback from customers is often different than feedback from employees. Therefore, an owner gaining knowledge by observing and interacting with customers is important to be thorough and provide contrast. Customers know best what they want. For B2C businesses an easy place to start is reviewing your online presence. You can get a strong understanding of your opportunity zone and customer loyalty by responding to your customer base on social platforms or Google My Business on a rolling basis. For B2B businesses, establishing a referral program is one of the easiest ways to supplement marketing efforts and your sales funnel in having touchpoints to get customer feedback. If a company meets customer demands better than their competitors, they lay a strong foundation for future growth and longevity.

Observe Competitors

Business owners need to understand and know their own business, but they also need to know what the competition in their industry is doing. Observing competitors is essential for competing in today’s market. How are they marketing their product? What are their prices? Why are customers going elsewhere? How is the competition different from you?

Businesses don’t operate in a vacuum. To be able to differentiate their products and services from their competitors’, businesses need to know how they compare to them. Knowing the competition allows a business owner to improve upon what they’re already doing so they can gain a competitive advantage.

Continuous Observation

Continuous observation must be sustained to be effective. Since observations are a free, no-cost management strategy to improve business performance, you shouldn’t be afraid to use them. Observation can lead to:

•   Enhanced owner/employee communication

•    Improved employee performance

•    Increased awareness of customer needs and desires

•    An understanding of ways to leverage strengths and weaknesses of competitors

No Downside

Since there is only upside to observation, start observing and see the results. Making time to observe and engage without the pressure of ‘doing the work’ could just be the missing part of your business plan that will lead you to business success.

If you need assistance taking your business observation skills to the next level and maximizing profits, SBG Consulting’s consultant services are probably right for you.