May 2020 - Striven

Ready For More Revenue? Prioritize Data Management Now

Now that businesses are reopening, we’re all preparing for increased consumer activity. Let’s assume you have the right tools in place to work safely, you’re hiring back employees, your loans have been forgiven, and you’ve even managed to hang onto some cash.

What’s next? You may not need to operate with a skeleton crew, but you do need to manage data to prioritize efficiency. This is an ideal moment to take stock of how your business accesses and controls information. It’s an even better moment to make some changes. Here’s why: with more businesses reopening, spending habits will return to normal. (It will— it always does— just look at post-2008 for proof). You will likely experience a surge of business. But you’ll need to have the right data management processes in place to handle it.

A Winning Data Management Formula

Two people looking at data on a screen

There are several types of data in question, all equally important to your business. You’ll need access to information about:

  • Customers
  • New Employees
  • Finances
  • Company Docs
  • Spreadsheets
  • Orders/Invoices

How can you make sure every employee can properly manage the information they need while also achieving process efficiency?

A simple equation: data management = coherence + automation + accessibility.


Data coherence refers to the way information flows between the systems you use to store and use information. It means making sure that you don’t have multiple versions of the same information. As businesses accumulate multiple software products, they tend to experience data getting locked inside certain systems. While integrations between applications can help transfer information between systems, they are often both custom and costly. 

Why is data coherence so important? Simply, if you end up with multiple versions of information, you’re prone to error. It doesn’t matter whether it’s customer, accounting, or employee data: you always want to end up with that “single version of the truth.” As your systems become more complex, that’s easier said than done. Files, tasks, projects, and invoices get changed all the time. Employees pass them back and forth, often via email, and edit or add details. If someone makes a mistake in the process, it can be difficult to track down the correct version.

True data coherence means that all information exists in a single copy with a clear edit log. The result is that nothing gets lots and everything has an audit trail. More importantly, it means your employees don’t waste time trying to understand what the most accurate version of any data is within your company.


You’ve had the experience of being unable to locate a report or an invoice. How long did it take you? How often does it happen? Probably more often than you’d like to admit.

Businessman struggling to find files and reports on a desk

Just like coherence with your company’s information, data accessibility is just as important in achieving efficiency. Problems with accessibility often stem from the same source as problems with coherence: working in multiple systems.

Separate systems for sales, accounting, HR, projects (the list goes on) produce proprietary data that becomes very difficult to share across the company. You end up with data silos as a result. And, as your information becomes more complex, there’s more to find— and more places to find it. Practically? That means hours spent for each employee digging through emails or asking permission for access to other software systems. Or, it means downloading endless spreadsheets and ending up with those troublesome data versions.

When operational efficiency is your goal, you need to make sure data is easily accessible. It should exist in a single location that everyone (who has the appropriate permission) has access to. 


Here’s a controversial idea: manual data entry will never fully disappear. Many aspects of business will become faster, and there will be a greater push toward AI and automation. But your customers will still want to interact with a person. And when hiring, you’ll still want to actually see and speak with your candidates, accountant, CPA, and every other human that’s essential to running your business.

automation business management software

There are plenty of interactions (and our need for them, even in the Zoom era) that will necessitate manual work done by real people. But efficiency isn’t about automating everything— it’s about automating unnecessary manual tasks. Those include:

  • Duplicate tasks
  • Data collection
  • Approvals
  • Status Updates

This is where your choice of software becomes really important. Beware of applications that promise “everything automation.” You don’t really want to automate your business away. Control is about knowing when manual work matters while keeping your teams working efficiently on what can be done with a single click.

The Greatest Opportunities

If your business is surviving and you can anticipate the surge of opportunity (and backlog!) to come, that’s great. But as you keep your eye on big-picture wins, know that some of your greatest opportunities are at your fingertips right now. It’s all about the ways you set up your business for future success.

Flip the perspective for a moment. If things get busier for your organization, and you don’t have the operational efficiency to handle it, you won’t just get frustrated, you’ll miss those opportunities. And you can bet that your competition, who has figured better data management, will thrive. That’s why there’s no better time than now to get started auditing your own efficiency.

To Stay Competitive, Focus on Customer Loyalty

As our pandemic crisis continues to reshape the nation’s economy, clear winners and losers will emerge on the business landscape. In fact, it’s already happening. We’re seeing that large companies, particularly those who can increase customer loyalty, will knock out many of their smaller competitors.

The Associated Press reported the temporary closing of “71% of shoe stores, 77% of thrift shops and 68% of antique dealers. Forty-two percent of restaurants have shuttered.” By contrast, Amazon’s stock has soared from the increase in online shopping while Chipotle’s stock continues to rise after a successful rollout of streamlined takeout ordering.

For the moment, and arguably for the foreseeable future, customer behavior has changed. Right now, buying from smaller stores and ordering services doesn’t seem as attractive an option. But the ways customers shop is largely about who they trust.

Customer Loyalty Starts With Trust

customer exchanging happy face card with business

Let’s assume your business is staying afloat through this crisis: you’ve received a loan from the SBA, you were able to retain staff, and you’re generating some revenue. However, you know that operating like this can’t last much longer. Many of your customers have disappeared and you’re not sure when they’ll be coming back. It’s frustrating: while your business has always prized its personal touch, larger companies have a better chance of survival. Amazon will be fine— but how can you compete in this climate, which may extend to 2021?

Here’s the good news: you have both strategies and tools at your disposal. Take a few plays from the Mega-Corporate Playbook while honoring what makes your business unique to customers. If you can’t beat the big guys on size and reach, strengthen your back office while communicating the implicit reasons customers should be loyal to you. In these times, your customer loyalty strategy may be the one thing that saves you. 

Communication is King

Knowing what messages to send to your customers, and when to send them, can be confusing in these times. Many businesses opt for sending specials and deals on their products or services. Others are just writing to update customers on their operational status. Given the ability of large businesses to make deliveries quick and services available, you need to adapt this process for yourself.

Your customers actually expect more from you right now, even though you may be short-staffed. Ultimately, that’s a good thing— those expectations are an expression of the trust they’re placing in you. It’s essential that you make good on their willingness to be loyal customers.

Err on the side of communicating more often. Keep customers in the loop with what’s available and how they can take action.

Get Control of Your Inventory

This is a perfect time to revisit and update your inventory. Knowing what you have on hand, what’s on order, and when it can get to your customers is invaluable at this moment. 

Disruptions to your supply chain are likely, if not inevitable, for months to come. That’s going to affect your customers. And just as it’s important for you to know the status of products, it’s equally important that your customers be updated on it, too. As Adrian Swinscoe writes in Forbes, “nearly 70% of customers said they want more communication, 86% said it’s ‘important’ or ‘very important’ for retailers to tell them when an item will arrive.” 

man with tablet showing inventory control in warehouse

Managing your inventory can always be a challenge, but having the ability to navigate delays on the back end is essential. But if you’re not managing your customers’ expectations about when things will arrive, they’re going to lose confidence in you. 

Remember, you have some leeway with delays. We’ve probably all had the experience of ordering something on Amazon, scheduled to arrive in three weeks, that actually comes in three days. It seems like they’ve got a pretty good way of managing my expectations with some simple underpromising and (pun intended) overdelivering. 

Research supports this— Swinscoe’s article also notes, “recognizing that many deliveries are facing lots of problems right now, 70% said they were less likely to shop with a retailer or brand again if they were not informed in advance of a delay.” The takeaway: delays are fine but delays in communication are not.

Update Your Conveniences

If you don’t have a way for customers to pay you online, how can you expect to get paid on time? An example: I recently hired a local landscaping company to work on my lawn. They take payment online, but charge a 5% service fee. On a big spring cleanup, that’s no small sum. If I don’t want to pay the fee, I’ll need to send in a check. I’m wary of that for two reasons: first, I’m out of stamps, and I don’t want to go to the post office in this climate; second, I don’t have a working printer and can’t even send in a copy of the invoice so my payment matches their records.

Given these conditions, doesn’t it sound like my payment is going to come in much later than it would if I could easily pay online? My mortgage lender has waived online payment fees in the wake of COVID-19. So why can’t my landscaping company do the same? In many cases (and companies like Amazon are responsible for this), convenience is tied directly to loyalty. If your business can’t take a few hints from larger companies, it’s inevitable that your cash flow will suffer.

And if you don’t have a way for your customers to pay you online at all, think about how important that’s going to be to the future of your business. It’s already the standard, and you don’t want to be playing perpetual catch-up.

Provide Project Visibility

accounting software

If you’re in a service-area business, it’s now more important than ever for your customers to get some insight into project status (whenever they want it, preferably via a portal). Clients are cutting back on all kinds of services. They’re watching budgets like hawks. If you can’t provide services quickly and justify every aspect of the cost, you’re going to send them elsewhere. Especially now: when I order meal delivery and I can see every step in the process, I trust the business more thoroughly. I also perceive an inherent ROI.

Your small business can give visibility into project status just as quickly. But, of course, you need to make sure your project team is on top of the work. That’s undoubtedly more difficult now that many of your teams are working remotely, and likely will in the future, too. 

That means you’ll need the project management and tracking tools and client portal for full transparency. Fortunately, those tools also allow you to determine project profitability and see how your time spent relates to your larger revenue goals.

Get Ready to Compete

This economic situation will favor larger companies who have the resources to deliver products and services to their customers. Many small businesses will fail in the short term from revenue loss. But many others will shutter in the long term because they haven’t adapted to new behaviors and built customer loyalty. 

However, the country cannot succeed without small businesses. But if you’re able to take a few plays from the biggest players in business and support your own customers with the kind of personal touch they come to expect from you, you’ll be playing a winning game. 

Is Your Small Business Ready For The “New” Economy?

As states begin to re-open and businesses emerge into the somewhat filtered sunlight of a post-pandemic world will things be the same? The answer is no, at least for the short term.

By short term, I mean about six months to a year. That’s how long it’s likely going to take for consumers to feel 100 percent comfortable consuming again. That means eating, buying, traveling, playing, building, moving and spectating. It’s also how long it will take for many people to recover from the financial shock of not having a job and depleting their savings. It will take this long to have genuine, tested and trusted vaccines and treatments. It will also take this long for the memory of just how fragile and scary this world can be – and how easily it can fall apart – to fade enough so that people can once again have the confidence to freely spend money again.

Creating Your Game Plan

small business management team

If you’ve managed to survive this Great Suppression, then congratulations. You’ve done a few things right – more so than many of your counterparts who were not as fortunate. But as most of us who have run businesses for decades know, you’re only good as the last thing you do. Now you face the next challenge: navigating and even growing your business over the next six months to a year in this different environment. So what’s the game plan?

For starters, you’re going to make sure you’re operating a very, very safe business. Safe for your workforce and for your customers. You’ll do this not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because not doing so will cost you future business, employees and may even expose you to liabilities. So you’ll make sure that your workers are being regularly temperature checked. You’ll procure diagnostic tests and ask everyone to get tested (What if someone doesn’t want to? There’s no straight answer to that, so give it some thought.). You’ll want hand sanitizers, gloves and disinfectant everywhere. You’ll pay close attention to new guidance from OSHA and CDC. You’ll practice social distancing, require masks and limit meetings. You’ll have a cleaning schedule. You have to make your place of business spotless and you’ll hang signs everywhere informing every visitor of your actions (and theirs) to do so.

Next, you’ll let your people work from home. You’ve realized that this is not only feasible, but in some cases (surprisingly, I bet) more productive than before. You’ll invest in all the cloud technologies your business needs to ensure that your employees can do their jobs remotely. You’ll become more flexible and understanding of some of your employees’ fears of returning to work. You’ll also need to be firm. You’ll create written work from home policies to which both you and workers will agree. You’ll pay to upgrade your company’s IT security, hire more trainers and upgrade to better, faster and more productive cloud-based software. 

small business software challenges

You’ll start slow. You will take this current time to truly understand your overhead and what costs will be incurred to re-start, even with a skeleton staff. You’ll make hard estimates – based on prior data – about your future revenues and you’ll have to make tough decisions. Maybe you’ll phase in your re-opening until sales build. Maybe you’ll stay shut through the summer. Maybe you’ll re-launch with gusto.  All of this will depend on your fixed and variable cost infrastructure. Your taxes may not be due until July 15 but now’s a great time to talk to your accountant about this.

Your New Opportunities

You’ll take a few chances.  If you’ve emerged from this downturn with a few extra dollars still in the bank, you may consider taking advantage of the new market. There will be equipment up for sale and property to buy from other businesses who are in more desperate need. There will be competitors that will fold, and their customers will need your help. There will be older business owners who – exhausted by the latest “unprecedented” downturn – will be looking to exit and sell their companies. There will be talented workers that suddenly find themselves without jobs who you can snatch up and put to productive use. There will be financing at low interest rates. You’ve just emerged from another Darwin-moment, and you’re still around. Congratulations. Now take a few chances.

Finally, you’ll have learned a very important lesson. When you think back about this experience you’ll realize why you survived when many didn’t. Simply…you had cash. Maybe it was in the bank. Maybe it was credit availability. Maybe it was your ability to stop overhead altogether. But it’s all cash. The businesses that have enough cash are the ones that can weather even the worst downturns. So going forward you’ll do whatever it was that you did to do the same. Even when times are good – and they’ll be good again – you won’t overspend. You won’t be frivolous with your money. Of course, you’ll invest where you see the returns are substantial and probable. But you’ll always be conservative and frugal. That’s probably how you got here. That’s probably why you’re still here.

So the new economy is upon us. It won’t last that long. It’ll soon be back to the same economy that’s driven businesses for thousands of years. But during the next six to twelve months your job is to adapt. You’ve done a great job so far. But your job isn’t over. When you run a small business it never is.