Survive the pre-Christmas madness

In just a few weeks, South Africans will tuck into turkey dinners, wear paper hats and probably blow their budgets. Yes, Christmas is around the corner – and with it, lucrative trading opportunities. With the pre-Christmas rush in full swing for retailers and manufacturers, there is probably one thing that keeps business owners awake at night – the thought of empty shelves ahead of Christmas. Manufacturers are beefing up production to get stock onto shelves before Christmas without dropping the ball, losing contracts or suffering penalties.

Clarity and control is necessary

Clarity and control are probably the biggest urgency for business owners. Imagine you have the power to view the progress of every job that is in the queue without asking anyone, what stock is on order, what warehouse has surplus, what is being dispatched, what your most profitable product is, with access to timelines and costing. You’d have absolute clarity into their business.

And with clarity comes control. Here’s how to get that clarity:

1. Cull the Spreadsheets

If you use spreadsheets to log orders, and a separate accounting package to manage finances, your business is vulnerable to risk.

These stand-alone systems can be equated to a family dinner where nobody talks to each other. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. Your business systems need to be smart enough to integrate and communicate with one another. Spreadsheets are not capable of talking to each other, let alone to external software.

More than that, to compensate for this, you probably have a large admin team to manually update these spreadsheets every time an order passes through a business cycle – such as from quotation to production to invoicing to reporting – costing you time and money.

You forfeit accuracy and efficiency by working this way.

Ideally, you need a system that integrates all processes in the operational cycle. I find the following useful:

  • Large and in charge: There are a few big-brand enterprise software suppliers to choose from in South Africa. These applications are robust and stable, and useful for much-needed process integration, and admin management, for large, national corporates. However, depending on the size and budget of your business, these can cost hundreds of thousands per month, and often offer limited flexibility and functionality. You may also need to hire a consultant to operate the software at an additional charge.
  • Integrated and agile: QuickEasy Business Operating System (BOS) is affordable and fully integrated, which means everything talks to each other. It simplifies operations by handling the admin portion of sales, orders, production, stock and accounting, in one easy-to-use, customised system.

2. Reduce human error

To gain control and clarity, the quality of input into your system needs to be high. Even if you have the smartest systems, if the data is not captured correctly, your business is vulnerable. There are two choices:

  • Invest in the team: Hire talent, and then embrace a culture of continual training and assessment so that your admin team is always abreast of the latest price, production and policy changes. Though it can be time-consuming and laborious, it will be worth it in the long run.
  • Invest in Software: If you have business operating systems (BOS) that integrates every process, then only one person is needed to capture the information, keeping admin and training costs to a minimum. It also saves man-hours and radically reduces the risk of human error.

3. Uncap your capacity

Clarity into your production capacity will help you assess whether or not you can fulfil your inflated orders. Use your BOS to determine what your team is capable of producing within the normal working day. In order to meet the production need, you may need to:

  1. Consider outsourcing some work to other manufacturers who produce consistent, quality work.
  2. Add additional shifts so that you operate on an 18- or 24-hour basis to meet the demand.
  3. Try to renegotiate deadlines if you are unable to meet them.

4. Sound the Alarm

Ensure your team is constantly aware of all approaching deadlines.

If you are the only one who knows when the deadlines are, if you are unavailable, then operations come to a standstill. Don’t leave it to chance – set up reminders.

  • Use email calendars or even your phone for a low-cost way to keep up to date with time lines.
  • If your stock management or sales management software has deadline alerts, use it.
  • Share the responsibility with the team, so that everyone works together to fulfill orders.

Use this season as a litmus test on how stable and accurate your current business systems and processes are. When the pressure is on and the heat is turned up, you will clearly see what system is buckling, and what stands. This will show you a clear path for future software improvement so that next year is even better.