Warehouse Stuck in the Neolithic Age? 4 Ways to Automate Your Facility

When it comes to the warehouse industry, the future is automation. This involves several components that all work together in order to get the task done. Here are some of the ways that you can automate your facility and bring it into the next century. 

Cartonization 

Through the use of technology, you can save some money on your shipping costs by employing cartonization methods. This is where the size and number of boxes are calculated in the most efficient manner possible to get the order out the door. Automation has made this task a little bit easier because your employees don’t have to spend time trying to get all of your customer orders packaged into boxes safely for shipment. 

Robotic Technology 

Another advantage when it comes to automation is through the use of robots.There are any number of robotic technologies that can used across a variety of different types of manufacturing fields. For example, robotic arms can be used to remove and stock whole pallets or individual items on a shelving system in your warehouse. This may eliminate some of the concerns that are more prevalent when it comes to workplace injuries that could occur. 

Automatic Pallet Wrapping 

It may take two employees for you to be able wrap up your pallets for shipping without the use of technology. Automatic pallet wrapping systems are available for you to purchase from companies like Fox Packaging Services. The point of many these machines is that your employees only need to position the pallet and then push a button in order to have it done in the most efficient manner possible. This will prevent the loss of products during the shipping process. 

Automated Labeling Systems 

Labeling all of your products can be a tedious process. It can also lead to mistakes if you have a person completing this task. Using an automated printing and label applying machine ensures that the label is done correctly and applied in the correct location all of the time. It allows your employees to focus on the more important tasks when it comes to running your warehouse. More quality control steps can be taken to ensure that your products are the best on the market. 

There are advantages when it comes to the use of technology in manufacturing and warehouses. More automation often leads to higher-skilled labor who can work to refine the process further. Consider these reasons when it comes to the benefits of upgrading your facility.

Guest author, Lizzie Weakley is a freelance writer from Columbus, Ohio. She went to college at The Ohio State University where she studied communications. In her free time, she enjoys the outdoors and long walks in the park with her 3-year-old husky Snowball.  @LizzieWeakley

5 Actionable Tips for Scaling Your Small Business

Do you know how to scale your business? Starting your business took a lot of hard work. Now that you’re ready for expansion, you will likely face an entirely new set of challenges.

Already, as part of your routine, you must serve customers, supervise your staff, keep the books and fill other administrative roles. With so much to do, scaling your business might seem impossible. Where do you start? How do you find the time?

Use the following actionable tips for scaling your small business to do the job without becoming overwhelmed or busting your budget.

Embrace Success

Already, you’ve overcome the odds by building a successful small business. You know what failure looks like and you probably don’t like it. So, as you scale your business, think big and approach everything you do with a “success” mentality.

You can probably find thousands of fantastic ideas that can help you scale. Prepare yourself right now to say “no” to most of them. You have limited amounts of time and money, so stay focused on the things that matter the most.

Always keep the big picture in mind. Make every decision with an eye for the future. If you don’t, you could incur unnecessary expenses. For example, if you skimp on your data network or software applications, you may have to replace them if they can’t grow with you.

So, when you invest in systems, make sure they can scale with your business. Take a similar approach while assembling your team.

Get Help

Find someone who can serve as your mentor and advisor. Such a person could be anyone with experience either in your industry or your type of business. An investor, business owner, or someone with similar experience can fill this role.

In addition to getting advice from peers, you should learn to depend on your team. Rather than trying to do everything yourself, try delegating responsibilities. By letting other people share the load, you can have more time to plan and execute your growth strategy.

Of course, as your business grows, you will need to expand your team. Avoid the temptation to take shortcuts with your team. You need well-qualified people who can deliver a high level of performance. To do this, you’ll need to offer competitive wages, perks, educational opportunities, and other benefits.

Use Technology

As you scale, look for ways to work smarter rather than harder. Here, technology can play a vital role. For instance, you can use a cloud-based collaboration app to unify remote workers with your traditional employees.

When done right, your entire team can work together on documents, share files, and hold group brainstorming sessions. Tools that support instant messaging, live chat, video conferencing, and virtual whiteboards can also help your staff become more productive.

Automation offers you additional ways to scale your business. Thanks to technology, you can eliminate redundant data entry and automate many routine tasks. In the end, you can substantially improve productivity while eliminating opportunities for making errors.

Other opportunities for improving your business’ performance include analytics tools. These can collect and analyze multiple data points from your organization and provide insights into its performance.

Get Online

Your website and social networks are assets that you shouldn’t ignore. Spend time assessing their current state and then develop a plan for moving forward. Remember that a fresh and active online presence can grow your sales.

Now is a fantastic time to refresh your market research. First, identify the type of customers that need what you offer. Next, learn about the problems and challenges they face. You should also learn about their desires and aspirations.

Based on your research, create a persona that represents your ideal customer. As you create content, keep this person in mind. Create value by addressing the real-world issues that your persona faces.

Most of all, be consistent. On social media, share your brand’s personality. Socialize with your followers and share content. Do more than pitch sales. Become part of the community.

Encourage Feedback

In your quest for growth, never forget about your current customers. For starters, you can dramatically reduce your selling costs by closing repeat sales. In other words, by expanding your base, you can boost your profitability.

Your customers can also provide you with feedback that can support your ongoing success. They can provide you with answers to important questions:

● What new products and features should you sell?
● How can you create a better customer experience?
● What factors limit their frequency and volume of sales?
● How can you deliver more value to the marketplace?

Consider sending customers a survey after every sale. This gives them a chance to express their level of satisfaction and share their opinions. To encourage participation, keep your surveys short and simple. Additionally, offer an incentive such as a discount on a future purchase.

In conclusion, rest assured that you can successfully scale your business. However, to avoid the mistakes that have doomed other business, you should apply the above tips. Start by thinking big. your winning attitude will help you overcome failures and mistakes.

As you make progress, avoid distractions, get the help you need, leverage technology, and build your online presence. In the end, scaling your business requires a lot of work and some risk. What do you think about this topic? Share your comments or experiences that may help small business owners rise to the next level.

Joe Peters

Joe Peters is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and an ultimate tech enthusiast. When he is not working his magic as a marketing consultant, this incurable tech junkie enjoys reading about the latest apps and gadgets and binge-watching his favorite TV shows. You can reach him @bmorepeters

4 Procurement Strategies for Small Business

Procurement in relation to small business takes on a much different meaning than it’s big biz counterpart. Sure, they both involve similar practices, but in small business, it’s generally approached by a single person or small group — the most pertinent being the business owner. Small businesses don’t have access to a team of interns or professionals to handle research, vetting and communication. Instead, they have to do it all themselves.

Already, a small business owner has many demands and challenges on their plate from staffing and inventory management to customer service. Procurement, then, tends to be a much lower priority. But it shouldn’t be this way. In fact, most small businesses spend between 45 and 65 percent of their sales revenue on the procurement of inputs. It’s a massive undertaking for any company, big or small, so it should be afforded the appropriate attention.

In light of all this, let’s explore some tips and strategies that small to mid-sized businesses can leverage during procurement.

1. Form a Business Consortium

As a small business, you just don’t have the same buying power and influence as a major organization, at least not by yourself. In some cases, this issue can mean that many potential suppliers and vendors are off-limits simply because they work only with larger outfits. It also means that when you do find a potential partner, you may not save as much because you can’t meet optimal quantity limits. Vendors and suppliers will often offer exclusive discounts and deals for ordering in bulk.

Much of this inconvenience can be remedied by forming a consortium between local or similar small businesses. By partnering with others who need the same supplies, you can instantly meet volume requirements for additional savings and hold much more potency when it comes to buying power. Even when volume discounts aren’t offered, you can still benefit from cost savings, because the total investment is split between multiple parties as opposed to remaining solely on your shoulders.

2. Maintain Supplier and Vendor Relationships

Long-lasting relationships, especially with suppliers and vendors, tend to come with many benefits. It can save a lot of time and resources, for one, that you would otherwise waste looking for additional support. There’s also something to be said for the buildup of trust between loyal partners, as you can generally speak more freely and openly with a strategic partner you’ve dealt with over an extended period.

Perhaps even more relevant is the point that you’ll likely be evolving and scaling your operations as time goes on. This process will come naturally as your business grows, of course, but eventually, you’ll make an effort to improve efficiencies or output or just look for potential improvements to make. Having a strong bond or relationship with your vendors and suppliers means that you can include them in this process as well. You might even be able to stretch more enhancements out of helping them achieve optimizations too.

Indirect spending can also be reduced or mitigated by working with a single or small selection of vendors. The money you would spend on research, placing bids or seeking partners — and even varying prices from working with separate parties — can be outright eliminated. In fact, improving your procurement process can result in cost savings of 25 percent or more from indirect spending.

3. Consider Outsourcing

Outsourcing — in its many forms — may not be for everyone. However, if there’s one area of the business world where it can offer incredible benefits, it’s for small to mid-sized businesses. Generally, these operations don’t have access to extended resources, staff or equipment, so it’s difficult to keep up with the current state of the market and scale accordingly for more demanding customers.

Outsourcing involves balancing the work and operations so that a more qualified, capable party handles the tasks that your small business could not. There are many opportunities, service possibilities and providers out there, including outsourcing companies for finances, strategic analysis, IT, security and cloud computing solutions. Even supply and vendor management companies are available and will handle all duties related to logistics and inventory management.

Taking advantage of outsourcing also frees up the time of your limited staff so that you can handle more important or pressing matters. Taking into account the sheer number of responsibilities you have on your plate, that benefit in and of itself might be worth the investment.

4. Employ the Right Technologies

When researching potential suppliers, having access to the right software and systems can be instrumental. Even beyond that initial phase, software solutions can help create job postings and handle bidding processes, reference qualifications, submit and process payments and cover general vendor management duties. Not only will this assistance significantly cut costs associated with time and resource investments, but it will also simplify the entire process, eliminating most of the manual activities you’d otherwise have to follow.

Out of 200 businesses surveyed, 50.72 percent said their biggest tech adoption challenge was cost, being that the solutions they might be interested in are too expensive. A further 40.58 percent said that they didn’t have enough time to invest into finding or testing proper solutions, while 26.09 percent said the tech is too complicated.

If those businesses actually invested time into finding proper tech-based solutions, they’d also find cost savings, more free time — which could be used in better ways — and much easier process management. The reality is almost exactly the opposite of what many claimed in the survey.

When considering all these tips and potential procurement strategies, it becomes much easier to see how a business owner or small team could handle their duties. More importantly, it’s not just about getting the work done, but doing so efficiently and accurately. You need the proper time to research, trial and build a relationship with potential vendors, if only to improve the quality of your own products and services.

Procurement should never be an afterthought, even for small business.

Bio: Nathan Sykes is the editor of Finding an Outlet, a source for the latest in IT and business news and trends.

Starting a Business: How to Find the Right Technology Solutions for Your Company

Starting a business can be a complicated experience, but it is often rewarding. If you are starting a business, you should consider using technology solutions to make the business run more efficiently.

Use Technology for Time Management

Time management is a necessary part of starting a business. You need to have a timeline, goals for your time and know what you’re doing at all times. If you know these things, you’ll always know exactly when you need to be performing a task or something similar. It’s important to start doing this right away.

IT Operations Matter

Handling IT aspects can be hard especially for someone who has never worked in IT before. Using Managed IT operation services might make it easier for you to handle different aspects of IT. It may also make it easier for you to form connections with the people you’re working with since it can be easier to get started with your business if you handle the technological aspects of it.

Team up for Technology

If there is a piece of technology you really want but just aren’t quite ready to invest in right away, you might want to team up with another company that’s getting off the ground. Split the cost of the tool and then split your use of it. There are different ways you can do this, but the easiest is finding software that can easily switch between different systems or companies.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Technology is all about working smarter instead of working harder. Dedicate different tasks to the way you want to work and make sure you’re doing everything you can to make the tasks easier. It’s important to try different things and make sure you’re prepared for anything that could come in the way of your business being successful.

Research before Investing

Always do your research. The chances are you researched about your business before you invested your time and money in it. Do the same thing with technology you plan to use in your business. If you know what you want, start researching it right away so you can make the necessary changes. It’s important to focus on how technology can improve your business instead of how it could cost your business a lot of money.

Starting a business doesn’t have to be difficult. Even though it takes a lot of work, there are things you can do to ensure the process goes smoothly.

Guest author, Lizzie Weakley is a freelance writer from Columbus, Ohio. She went to college at The Ohio State University where she studied communications. In her free time, she enjoys the outdoors and long walks in the park with her 3-year-old husky Snowball.  @LizzieWeakley

How To Stand Out in a Saturated Gig Economy

In 2017, more than 57 million people worked freelance in the US as short-term talent continues to be in high demand. As we weave ourselves deeper into the digital world and Internet of Things, the necessity to stick to one job for a lifetime simply doesn’t hold much relevance. The gig economy is booming and it is here to stay. However, with many people shifting to the remote-working freelance lifestyle, you will want to ensure you know exactly how to market yourself and stand out as a professional “gigger” in order to receive top-notch jobs that provides you with consistent work.

Market Yourself to Local Stores & Small Businesses

In the past, small businesses didn’t have access to a pool of freelancers who could do a variety of small, short-term jobs  for them. If they wanted a new marketing campaign they had to be prepared to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to a major agency or learn to do it themselves. However, even in a gig economy, many small businesses and local stores still don’t understand how to harness the power of the talent they have access to. Help them unlock this power by being the go-to freelancer in your area for all small businesses and local shops. Whether you are great at programming, interior design, copywriting, or even SEO, they likely need your skills and expertise and are willing to pay you for it. Begin cultivating this network by attending local small business meetings and chamber of commerce events in order to build your reputation as the go-to person in your local area for your particular skill. The benefit here is that word-of-mouth is so powerful that once you establish yourself in-person with these people, you will likely find that your outstanding service and work will speak for itself and they will do your marketing for you.

Develop a Personal Brand

Why do you think so many people around the world know what McDonald’s is? They have worked hard in establishing a very unique and consistent brand. If you want to be successful and stand out in the gig economy, you should do the same. You can begin doing this by always putting customer service and communication at the forefront of everything you do regarding freelance work. Communicating in real time increases engagement and builds community. Try to make the central focus of each gig to be on solving a problem for your client rather than simply performing a task and always focus on increasing your online visibility to ensure future clients have access to your work as well as customer reviews.

Building a Thriving Business

In the gig economy, you are your own boss and you should think of the work you do as running a business. Ensure that you ask yourself each day how you can improve your business operations, brand and overall efforts in ensuring customer satisfaction. By focusing on quality over quantity and making an effort to be personable and even in-person, you will be able to find lasting success in the saturated gig economy without having to worry about finding clients for years to come.

Guest Author, Jenny Holt, is a former HR executive turned freelance writer, who now spends more time with her young family and ageing, but ever eager Labrador, Rover.

A Brief Guide on Evolving From Startup to SME

Startups are constantly under pressure to keep their head above water and ensure that they can stay relevant. It doesn’t take much for a larger company to bully a startup out of existence, and there’s nothing worse than a slow and painful company death that not only wastes money but also time.

So to keep your business successful, we’re going to help you by offering a brief guide on how to evolve your startup into an SME with minimal stress and maximum efficiency.

Fail Faster?

Failing faster is a mantra that entrepreneurs swear by, but as with any controversial statement that is misunderstood, it’s often over exaggerated. Failing faster doesn’t mean to quite literally fail faster, and it also doesn’t mean that you should give up your business and run it into the ground just for the sake of failing. Some people assume it means pushing boundaries to see how far you can go with an idea, but the reality is that you can’t exactly use that as a method of failing faster.

Failing faster is another way of saying “learn faster”. You learn through failures because you figure out what you did wrong and how to fix it. The idea of failing faster is so that you can understand what mistakes you made so you can correct them the next time around, and this is a key of evolving from a startup to an SME. You need to realize what you’ve done poorly and how you can improve your next project.

In short, you need to fail in order to grow your business, but it takes a lot of time until you’ve built up the necessary knowledge to learn efficiently from your mistakes. Many people consider failing faster to be a ridiculous way to learn and progress, but in reality, it’s one of the fastest ways to improve your company and your practices as long as you’re consistent and mindful.

Recognizing When You Need Help

Another common issue with startups is that they’re typically very stubborn. Many companies refuse to rely on outside help, believing it to be too expensive, or saying that their employees won’t learn much if they rely too much on outside help. However, outsourced IT support, outsourcing repairs and other services can be incredibly important to the productivity and efficiency of any business.

It’s important to realize that you can’t go alone, even as an entrepreneur with a small startup. Services need to be relied on if you want the best from your business and to actually make a profit while also growing your business. Be it community management, social media assistance, computer repairs or technological advice, make sure you outsource any services that you’re unfamiliar with or don’t have much experience with.

Final Words

Growing a business from a mere startup is a challenging task, but with the right mindset, it’s possible to make great strides and surge into the industry. Evolving into an SME is no easy task, and it comes with many unique challenges that are bound to trip you up. However, by recognizing when you need help, it’s entirely possible to overcome those problems.

Key 21st Century Tech For Your Business

It doesn’t matter whether your small business is focused on importing the latest aerodynamic ball bearing, providing accountancy services to SMEs or building an eBay empire, you will need to move with the times if you are to succeed. One of the main reasons companies fail to expand and instead see their business vision begin to crumble is because they are resistant to change. To thrive, you need to welcome new initiatives, working methodologies, and software. Take a look at these vital pieces of technology that every startup, new or established, should be chomping at the bit to obtain.

The Cloud

Rather than looking up and admiring the cumulus that you see above your head, the cloud that you need to consider is one that will revolutionize your business. Your office should be a digital workplace, where people can upload and download necessary documents, images, and files from the virtual environment; namely, the cloud. This online storage function means that you no longer have to worry about USB sticks or your hard drive. Instead, your staff team can all have access to these documents at the same time from virtually anywhere on the planet. This increases productivity, leads to fewer hardware issues affecting work streams and increases collaboration.

Workplaces are no longer rows of desktop cubicles. They are open plan, foster teamwork and water-cooler moments, and are designed to encourage collaborative ways of working. It makes sense that technology would echo this ethos.

CRM Software

While you are keen to utilize the millennial’s platform of choice and have a well maintained Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Instagram grid, how well do you know the customers that you drive to your site? CRM software or Customer Relationship Management, analyzes the traffic to your website. It will focus on their buying habits, the products they look at most on your site and the referral that led them to your company. This can aid you in constructing a nuanced and targeted marketing campaign when launching a new product. CRM software is the perfect technological solution to try and maintain customer loyalty and expose your brand.

Payroll Automation

While it may seem a little random to include a piece of software that completes a business function that you can do yourself, the automation of payroll can free up a ridiculous amount of your time. At least half a day can be spent on this mundane administrative task. Working out 401(k) considerations and tax allowances can be mind numbing. Instead, you could invest in a software package that periodically sorts out payroll for you. This leads to fewer chances of human error, looks more professional and allows you to work on more pressing areas of your strategic vision.

Being your own boss is thrilling, and you want to become a market leader in your field. The effort you have put into launching your company cannot go to waste. Don’t be one of the eighty percent of startups that fails within the first eighteen months of trading. Welcome change and embrace new technologies and your business will thrive.