There’s nothing more valuable than your time especially if you’re a business owner. Whether you sell products or services online as a digitally-native brand, or you just got into ecommerce in 2020, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
Time-saving tips are a hot topic for business owners of all walks. Though, the more specific those tips get, the bigger potential they have to make a real impact. With the surging ecommerce of the past year, businesses selling online need specific tips to make their ecommerce operations run smoother and smarter. These process improvements need to grow your business, too if you trade time for less income, that’s not really solving the problem.
We’ll be the first to say that improving your ecommerce operations will take effort. As a business owner you’re no stranger to hard work, though, so spend your energy making these deliberate changes, and you’ll be weeks away from greater productivity, happier staff, and bigger profit margins.
1. Time tracking
This first tip is short and sweet. (We’re all about saving time, after all.)
Tracking anything today is easier with the tech available to us. You can track every click on your website, every action your employees take, ever call that comes in, and so much more. It’s easy to get inundated with rabbit-hole data, though. So, what should you really track if your priority is to save time?
How about tracking your own use of time? If you do this and score some bonus minutes each day, you’ll loosen the leash to try the other time-saving tips we offer.
A time track of your own day-to-day answers questions like:
- How much time do you spend answering emails?
- …Or on the phone?
- …Or just staring at the ceiling?
- How are your days structured?
- What takes you the most time?
- What takes you the least?
If you don’t track it, hours go by before you know it. A time-tracking app or even a notepad and paper can help you work on your own time management first.
2. Planning ahead of time
Anyone who judges a business owner for the fly-by-our-seat planning of 2020 would be barking up the wrong tree. Looking at this unprecedented year, it’s all most brands could do to hold on. In fact, in both personal and business decisions, 2020 put our agility to the test with new demands, new restrictions, and new challenges that we had to respond to in real-time.
We’re all a little wiser now. As a result, we can finally go back to our old mantra and look at time management in 2021 through the lens of planning ahead. This is one of the best-proven ways to save time. By planning ahead (and blocking off the time you need for key deliverables), you prevent crucial efforts from getting derailed later.
Other things you can anticipate and plan for now in the “new normal” are increased customer service requests, cross-channel stock management, and the ongoing need of managing constantly-updated product data. Planning each element of your ecommerce operations on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis will save you time later and make the time you do have feel calculated and, therefore, less stressful.
3. The beauty of batching
The idea of “batching” work (i.e., lumping like tasks together to do more of the same thing at once) to save time isn’t a new idea. If you’re not already doing it, implementing this simple practice can save you an enormous amount of time.
Productivity is built on ditching distractions, and one big distraction comes in the form of switching tasks. It’s like a Netflix series marathon between episodes, you sometimes get up for more popcorn. You check your phone. You shift and stretch or look out the window. Whatever your routine, this same minor delay is a phenomenon that also happens at work. If you’re working “a little” on one thing just to move on to a totally different thing, the act of switching requires a mini-break. You procrastinate starting the next task with a quick look at your email. You refill your coffee to muster up the steam to start on whatever’s next. You even delay as you build up momentum on that new task.
When you instead batch work and complete like tasks together, you take fewer pauses and lose less momentum. The net gain of time over a single day is extraordinary.
For an added bonus, once again we turn to stress reduction. Batching is also an easy way to massage another needle from your side. When requests come in and pile up, it’s easy to look at your list and feel bogged down. By batching, you have fewer “things” to do since they’re lumped together by the type of work on your plate. This helps you feel more in control of your time.
Even if you track your time, plan ahead and batch everything beautifully, you still won’t have time to do everything.
Fortunately, outsourcing operational tasks is easier than ever. The rise in ecommerce, after all, has been matched by the rise in findable talent online. This has come to be one of the biggest factors lowering the bar of entry-to-market for new businesses by enabling new brands to launch faster and plan more dynamically for their growth.
Non-essential tasks are often the easiest things to outsource first. You can feel more confident handing these things off as you build a relationship with a freelancer or independent contractor. At the same time, there are many essentials you can confidently farm out to a proven professional. These are usually the tasks that require a specific and easily-searchable skill, like copywriting or bookkeeping.
Look hard at your operational timetables and be honest with yourself about which tasks you or your team struggle with the most. Any tasks taking more time than they should are also prime candidates to outsource.
When you do know what you want to hand off, finding an independent contractor can be as easy as asking your peers for a referral or jumping on a freelancer website to scout out a good candidate. With a small time-investment upfront, you could be looking at a huge time savings as soon as you click “hire.”
5. Make sure you have the right ecosystem of software
If you’re an ecommerce business, you know how tech stuff works. Your brand might even be a digital native. Consequently, you already have multiple software solutions that make up different parts of your ecommerce operations.
If your apps and platforms aren’t organized in a balanced operational ecosystem, however, you’re missing an opportunity for a major time-saver. Creating an ecosystem starts by looking thoughtfully at what software you have, what role each plays, and how each feeds the relevant data one to the other.
For example, you have a payment processor software, but if it’s outdated or fails, where will you get the data you need? Or how about your inventory tracking? Products come in and sales go out, but does that same product data get used anywhere else? Does your inventory system talk to the other software using that data to ensure everything is complete and accurate when you load your product information to each unique channel?
We’ve touched now on one of the biggest areas for time saving in ecommerce. Ecommerce means product listings, and optimal ecommerce strategy in the new and more competitive market also means multiple marketplaces and channels to support each brand. So, what does that mean for your operations? That means multiple departments are using product data across different process-specific software and spreadsheets. At the same time, you’re expected to load complete, accurate and optimized product data to multiple online channels, each of which comes with its own requirements and specifications.
It’s an understatement when we say that product data management is an enormous time vacuum.
Here, we come back again to software. Managing product data is time-consuming, but product information management software (PIM) is designed to save you time by taking multiple steps out of that workflow. Specifically, a PIM:
- Aggregates product information from every source in one “single source of truth”
- Sends all the right product information to all the right places in the right formats
- Saves you months in time-to-market
- And saves you time you would have spent suffering, frankly
Dig into the implications of these time-saving benefits to see how they could each play out for your business. Consider a PIM the center of a software ecosystem based on breaking walls between silos so your operational processes can work together more cohesively.
6. Automate what you can
Automation is often thought of as the turnkey for businesses to finally reassign more time to think about the real strategy that drives their business growth. From invoicing to social media management, there are plenty of aspects of your business that you can automate. Each one could save you time, and the sum of time saved could be a life-changer.
Common routines you can put on “auto-pilot” include things like:
- Automated lead tracking
- Automated lead nurturing
- Automated social media programming
- Automated accounting
Looking at an automation app or platform does imply some time onboarding, and it will usually mean a new expense. There’s no shortage of new tech solutions for each of these automations, though, so you have the luxury of shopping around for the solution that makes the most sense for your business. Consider the pros and cons of cost, the learning curve, potential problems and the accompanying aggravation in the balance.
When it comes to making your ecommerce operations more efficient, the only thing you’ll do if you don’t take these steps is waste more time.
Setting up an ecommerce storefront takes just a few hours. Building a successful ecommerce brand, on the other hand, takes time. Your time is precious, and yet it’s the one essential ingredient you need to grow your business. Instead of trying to do it all at once, focus on these time-saving tips one-by-one, and you’ll have room to breathe and grow at last!
The following blog was written by guest author Alex Borzo, a content contributor at Amber Engine, a software company passionate about eCommerce. The company’s fast and simple PIM software gets sellers, distributors and brands to Amazon and other online marketplaces in weeks instead of months.
Amber Engine is a software company passionate about ecommerce. The company’s fast and simple PIM software gets sellers, distributors and brands to Amazon and other online marketplaces in weeks instead of months.