We recently ran an unsuccessful email program. The email newsletter was distributed and more than 25% of the people who received it opened it. The offer was compelling and the phones began to ring.

Sounds good, right? So why do I say this campaign was unsuccessful? Because the client wasn’t ready for the response.

The phones began to ring but there weren’t enough people to answer the calls. Many of the calls went to voice mail. By the time the calls were returned, the next day, some of the customers were frustrated by the wait. Instead of being ready to buy, they were already on edge.

Working with small business owners, and being one myself, I see this situation play out again and again. Trying to find exactly the right time to add capacity is a continuous challenge. If you hire people too early you will see a direct impact on your bottom line. If the business doesn’t come, you may find yourself in the uncomfortable position of  letting go one or more of the new people. Wait too long and you risk missing sales opportunities or worse, delivering  substandard service levels which will have an even more detrimental impact on your business long term.

So how do you manage staffing in anticipation of growth? Here are few tips:

  •  Reassign staff: Review what each team member is working on. Reallocate responsibilities so employees have more time to work on the most important projects. Be willing to let a few of the less critical things fall by the wayside until you add staff. This is a place where project management software tools can help you keep a handle on everyone’s work load.
  • Review your process: Just because you have always done something a certain way doesn’t mean you need to keep doing it that way. Does every step really add value? Often when people do a job for a long time, they build habits and routines that may not really be necessary.  Step back and diagnose each process. Look for ways to streamline, take fewer steps and have fewer people in the process. This is a place where automation software can be helpful.
  • Use time-saving technology to help manage customer contacts: Not every function can be automated, but some things can.  From CRMs to auto-response email tools, there are ways to create the illusion of customer intimacy while reducing the amount of hands required to make the connections.
  • Overtime in limited doses is a great investment. If you are not sure that your current spike in activity is sustainable, offer your employees the option to work a few extra hours each week. Be sure to pay them at overtime rates and account for the overtime separately. This gives them a chance to earn a little more money, but be careful. If you try to do it for too long, you will burn out your best employee. If your overtime consistently runs at 15 – 20% of your payroll, you are probably ready for a new team member.
  • If you are reaching capacity, evaluate your pricing. If you can only handle 10 clients and you already have nine, it is time to raise your price. You may make fewer sales, but each one will be more profitable. Then it will be easier to afford the increased staffing that lets you grow to the next level.

The key is paying attention to your business, studying trends and making smart investment choices when the time is right.  How do you hire and find that right next person? That is an entirely different conversation.

photo credit: eschipul via photopin cc