Top Ten Challenges – Efficiency and staff management can have a real impact on your business growth

For the challenge of efficiency and staff management I’ve turned to Michael Collins from Chocablock Limited for his perspective. Mick set up his hand-crafted chocolate business in 2013 and he personally makes a range of exquisite chocolates from his base in Portsmouth, for the public, special events and also corporate customers that include Rolls Royce.

Mick has a varied background but came to the small business sector when he set up his first chocolate making business in a ‘cupboard’ in Albert Road, Southsea – before running cafés in Copnor Portsmouth, and then in Southsea – then returning to his passion of making chocolate from premises in Portsmouth..

I’m going to let Mick say his piece:

Efficiency and staff management can have a real impact on your business growth

…This is especially true in the customer facing food industry.  My cafe business was a small one but with a variety of perishable food items and so efficient use of those resources by good staff enable me to survive as a business. Conversely in a sector with one of the highest turnover rates it’s all too easy to end up with staff who do the opposite.

One of my most jaw dropping moments was when a 23 year old new starter told me she’d never made a sandwich before. “You mean professionally of course”.  I replied.  But no, her mum had made them at home “…now I live with my boyfriend and he does all that sort of thing”!

Many people do love the idea of working in a café or with chocolate – the reality not always so much and ‘trial’ shifts have proved an invaluable test of the idea.

I opened the café alongside my hand-crafted chocolate shop in 2014 and learnt a lot about the recruiting  and management of staff and the ever increasing influence of review sites like Trip Advisor make customer experiences of individual staff members ever more public.

Handmade Chocolates

Many of you reading this won’t have the kind of public exposure of the cafe business but many of the issues I encounter – (official regulation of buildings and operations – for me health and safety) – (taking on staff that support your ethos – high standards of customer service, promoting the chocolate brand through every encounter with the brand)will resonate.

My biggest lesson by far has been that key staff must be highly competent – A professional leader (Head Chef) who is skilled in their role, always seeks to find the best and most efficient use of resources.  That person may not be the manager of staff but it is key to get a competent person to make the core functions of your business.

For any business time is a key aspect – promoting the right services to right potential client at the right time.  For me the added dimension is that many of my resources are perishable  – food for the café must be used at optimum times and when you pay £10/kilo for cocoa you need to use that resource well!  We give out a free chocolate to all new customers and goodness knows it’s been hard to get the all staff to see the need to do that, to promote the brand and of course ‘show’ not just tell how good it is.

But the other side to that is the enigma of all these doppelgangers – people who are ‘new’ customers (yet you saw their double sat at a table the other day) and Clock and coins - 'Time & Money'have never tried the chocolate!  Good staff who can engage with customers are key in promoting the product and also managing the resource!

Efficiency – efficient use of my time has also been a massive learning curve!  Where is my time best spent?  Ensuring chocolate orders are being fulfilled and that the café is running smoothly?  Or going out and getting big corporate orders for the chocolates?  To some extent I’ve always known the answer to this.  It was highlighted further when I secured Rolls Royce as a customer and I have striven to get chocolate and café operations running smoothly by setting up standard processes with my staff:

  • Standard Induction processes with policies that are signed and dated
  • Opening and closing checklists – dated and signed
  • Giving all staff notebooks to keep track of any tasks needed/requested

However, it is an ongoing challenge for me to understand that not everyone sees these ‘standard’ things in a ‘standard’ way.  A while ago, I asked why several tasks on a checklist had been ticked and signed when I could clearly see they hadn’t been done the reply was: “I didn’t realise that’s what signing and dating was for.”

In the catering and food service industry feedback is immediate and for various aspects its clear when things haven’t been done but, perhaps like your business, there are also many unseen things – tasks you ask to be done and assume have been.  It’s only when you do some random or ‘spot’ checks/audits that you realise they haven’t been – and sometimes that is because the person you thought had completely understood your instructions was just agreeing and actually didn’t understand at all!

For any business staff is a cost and efficiency represents a saving – the trick being to make the business and its staff work so efficiently that the business they bring in/enable greatly outweighs their ‘cost’.

My vision for this business was to be a Chocolatier.  A provider of excellent hand crafted chocolates made with the best ingredients.  I adapted my business model because I realised that people like to try chocolate, to drink coffee and that all that can be done on top of spending out on premises solely used to ‘sell’ the chocolates.  However, once you count the costs of my time in the equation I realised that the focus on the chocolate had given way to too much time spent managing the café.  It is much more efficient to free up my time to go out and secure corporate clients and investment on good, competent staff who can run the business operations is ultimately worth the higher salary as the overall cost is less.

I love being a Chocolatier and a small business owner but it’s definitely an ever-evolving learning process…

You can see some examples of Chocablock Limited chocolates here and Mick would love to talk to you about chocolates for you or your business (info@thechocolatelounge.net)  – even handmade chocolates branded with your logo!

 

My thanks to Mick for his contribution.

It’s really not a one way street – your staff and contractors/freelancers can make or break your business. Get it right and your business runs smoothly, get it wrong and – from an outside perspective – it’s like watching a train wreck.

You need to manage them and at the same time you need to let them into your vision and help them understand your vision. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Do not assume understanding. How you use words and how your staff use words is not necessarily the same. I have OFD clients who haven’t got lots of academic qualifications so I need to make sure I talk to them in THEIR map of the world rather than mine.

No one said that managing is easy…

 

Efficiency and staff management is one of the challenges identified in our blog series Top Ten Challenges for Businesses as they Grow –  Please subscribe (using the form, below) if you’d like to be notified of new posts from small business owners facing these challenges.

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Colin Bielckus

I've been a Chartered Accountant since 1981 and I set up Avenue Business Services (ABS) in 2002. Alongside that business I am also ‘The Outsourced Finance Director’, assisting with strategic planning and wealth management to give business owners peace of mind and greater financial security.

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Colin, please let me know when other business owners post about The 10 Top Business Challenges

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