Efficiency Pays

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Whether you’re new to this industry or a seasoned veteran, you want your business to be operating in the most efficient way possible. Maximum efficiency, however, is an elusive target. The goal, like many things in life, should be to embrace the process of becoming more efficient. Success is in the journey, not the destination. (Insert motivational poster here.)

When we at Strategic Adventures look at ways to improve operational efficiencies, we look at four primary areas: processes, people, financials, and technology. These four areas are critical to businesses in all industries, from Apple to Zappos. The following review should give you a list of areas that you can work on to become more efficient.

As with almost anything we recommend, you MUST start tracking your business metrics. There is a saying, “What gets measured, gets managed.” That’s worth heeding.

PROCESSES

Your first priority should be to streamline your processes. The first step in that is to automate as many of the repetitive tasks that take up your day as possible. As the owner/manager (or aspiring owner/manager), your time is one of the most valuable assets you have. Freeing up more of it can have a massive impact on how your business runs. Likewise, your staff’s time is also very valuable. Make sure that they can do the critical parts of their job without having to worry about processes that can be automated.

Some of the most common areas in your business operations to consider streamlining are:

Marketing. This is one of the first areas to get cut if resources are limited, but it’s also one of the most important. Key areas of consideration include scheduling social media posts, placing social media ads, managing Google AdWords, placing media buys, writing ad copy, and other marketing tasks.

Group sales. Having a dedicated group salesperson can also be a step toward efficiency. Group sales can be highly profitable, but developing a relationship with group leaders can take time. It’s also not something that you would want to leave to someone who is just answering phones. There is a difference between making sales and taking orders.

Bookkeeping. As your business grows, the amount of time that it takes to keep your books straight can increase exponentially. Hiring an internal bookkeeper or outsourcing this task to a professional firm can save tremendous amounts of time both in your day-to-day operations and when tax season comes around. More importantly, a well-managed balance sheet can save you money both in tax liability and accounting fees down the road.

PEOPLE

Your workplace culture can have a huge impact on how efficient your business can be. When your employees keep an eye on efficiency, big things can happen. But it is up to you to develop this culture. Whether it’s leading by example or managing expectations, you have to be intentional about developing a culture around operational efficiency.

Here are some ways to build that culture of efficiency:

Managing employee time. It can be a delicate balance to have enough staff on hand to keep clients happy without overstaffing a shift such that employees are mostly standing around or doing busywork tasks. Tracking your daily needs is essential. The longer you operate and track your staffing needs, the better you will be able to predict how much staffing you’ll need at a particular time of day, week, and year. Of course, there will always be surprise busy times and unexpected lulls, but you’ll be much closer to your real-time staffing needs if you are proactively keeping track.

The right employee for the right work. Employees skilled at a particular task will naturally be more efficient at getting that task completed—see group sales, left. This also applies to cross training: If you need to have a zip line guide run the registration desk on a day when someone has called out sick, that guide should already be trained in how to perform that job. Otherwise, the amount of time to get the job done will increase, and the likelihood of errors—which must then be corrected—will be higher as well.

When and how to hire new people. In a nutshell: Hire slow and fire fast. One of the biggest inefficiencies in many businesses is employee turnover, which is often the result of hiring the wrong person too quickly—and having to re-train for that role when the too-hasty hire leaves the company.

Don’t just hire for the sake of hiring; wait until there is a clear need. If, for example, employees are taking on too much and morale or productivity fall, you may want to hire more staff.

How you hire is also important. Ensure the interview process is thorough enough that you are hiring the right person.

The right training. Once staff are hired, the right training can make the difference between employees feeling set up for success or burning out quickly. Lesser-considered areas of training include cross-training staff for various roles in the business (like the zip line guide running the registration desk) and technology-specific training where it’s needed. It’s also helpful to have a third-party training vendor conduct a site-specific training, as this can provide your staff with additional efficiencies.

FINANCIALS

Everyone wants to make more money, and something as simple as tracking your finances can make as big of a difference as expanding your client base. Here are a few areas to consider:

Track your numbers. One of the biggest inefficiencies in the adventure industry is squandering cash. Just how much are you bringing in and paying out? By tracking your profit margins throughout the season, you’ll quickly have a sense of whether you are making or losing money. If your margins are less than you are comfortable with, you will need to consider actions such as raising your prices, cutting costs, or improving your marketing. Staffing is one of the biggest costs in our industry, so track staff-to-guest ratios and schedule accordingly.

Create a buffer. Establish a capital reserve fund. This affords the flexibility to stay afloat in the event of unexpected business disruption—global pandemic or no global pandemic. Rash decisions happen when we panic, and that extra cash reserve gives you time to calm down and think clearly. We recommend having a minimum of three months of operating expenses if you’re seasonal, and six months if you operate year-round, but ideally you should have the capital reserve to cover a year’s worth of expenses.

Avoid cutting hard costs. Hard costs are those directly involved in operating your company. In the aerial adventure industry, hard costs include much of your staff—you can’t operate without guides, for example. When times get tough, it’s tempting to cut costs by laying off staff right away. But your staff are your biggest resource. Making a rash layoff decision could be a huge mistake. Before you cut labor, take a long, hard look at other cash-heavy resources you can do without. Anything that doesn’t contribute to the guest experience or safety is worth a second look. Ineffective marketing costs and subscription services are good places to start. Unused vehicles or unnecessary vehicles can net you thousands of dollars if they are sold, and you can save the ongoing costs of insurance and maintenance.

TECHNOLOGY

Technology can encompass a lot of different things, from equipment to booking software. Having the right tools for the right task can make all the difference between success and failure.

What makes the client experience better? It’s easy to look at the technology the business needs, but there are plenty of tools out there that enhance the client experience, too. These items might include electronic waivers, an FAQ page on the website, and QR codes on site for visitors to access these resources.

Covid protocols. We’ve learned a lot in the past year and a half, and we’ve come a long way from the days of waiting in line six feet apart on the way into the grocery store. Likewise, Covid protocols have and continue to change as the virus evolves. Are you keeping track of the latest local and national guidelines? Excessive sanitizing of equipment may no longer be necessary, but HEPA filters in an indoor facility can go a long way. How are you staying updated, and how are you communicating your policies with your clientele?

Physical tools. When it comes to actual tools (the construction kind, not the marketing kind), are your staff set up for success if they are doing maintenance? Do you have the right tools for the job, and are they in good working order? Do staff have the skills to properly use the tools, and is it a good use of their time away from other duties? If maintenance and the equipment required don’t feel like a good use of your staff’s time and your financial resources, you may want to rely on an outside contractor or your builder, especially for bigger projects.

Booking systems. Likewise, the right tool for the right job extends to your digital technology. Does your booking system integrate with your waivers, payments, and bookkeeping software? Or are you having to input that data four different times? Something as simple as integrating your software can save you hours every week.

MEASURE WHAT MATTERS

This might all seem like a lot, and it is. If you find yourself struggling to choose an area to streamline first, remember that, above all else, you can’t streamline your operations if you aren’t tracking them. So, start by measuring some of these areas—staffing, marketing, and profit margins in particular. And some of these solutions, like integrating software, might be as simple as a few clicks of a button.

Don’t be afraid to seek outside help! From builders to bookkeepers, that extra investment should more than pay for itself in time saved and productivity gained.

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About Author

Paul Cummings is president of Strategic Adventures, and has been offering business development services to challenge course programs, zip line/canopy tours, corporate teambuilding centers, summer camps, and outdoor education programs for nearly a decade. For more info, contact paul@strategic-adventures.com.

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