It never ceases to amaze me how much time people waste trying to save money. Having grown up in a small town (fewer than 2,000 people), I recognized that paying a little more for staple items locally was less costly than driving 20 miles to save a few bucks.
In the business of ecommerce, it’s more about time than anything. Tried-and-true technology (whether it be smartphones or automation software) is a must if you want to reap the true benefits of working for yourself, and my bet is the majority of small business owners are working for peanuts.
Take order processing, for instance. The majority of small online-store orders are still manually processed — an employee retypes orders into an antiquated database. This wastes time, increases costs, and makes it difficult to offer competitive prices and zero handling fees. Yet, accounting says that outlaying a few grand right now isn’t feasible.
I watch my neighbors sacrifice family time to do tedious things themselves. Sure, I could mow my own lawn and get on a ladder to clean the loose coconuts and fronds off the palm tree, but it would take me hours. So when I have a guy come do it for $35 – well, it makes sense. In other areas, I’m very frugal and refuse to overpay for services I don’t need (like 411 assistance when I’m on the web anyway).
There is software that can import store data — on the fly, updating inventory in real-time, printing shipping labels and passing tracking numbers directly to customers. Yes, it’s an investment, but when you analyze the time it saves, you come out ahead. The more expensive “lite” photo editing programs will do mass thumbnail creation and allow you to quickly resize, crop and touch up graphics. Online postage will save you from standing in line at the post office.
There are also tricks that cost only a fraction of upfront time to implement: Did know you can easily link to UPS order tracking by referencing the order number alone? Or that Google’s Picasa software is quite handy for organizing photos by date, folder or a slew of other references? Simply using the product code (or SKU) as names for related files (like images, spec sheets and video presentations) expedites the time it takes to locate files on local machines. Some online store software will let you hard code the reference, eliminating the need to import those fields.
I have a rule of thumb: If I can make more money doing something myself — as long as I’m capable — I do that. But if it’s less expensive (based on what I think my time is worth) to automate the task or pay someone else, that’s the route to go. It’s no secret that most small-business owners and managers work far too many hours. The ultimate excuse is the time it will take to change the way we do things, and we wind up staying the existing course, never making it easier or more profitable.