How many tasks require skill, and how many are simply routine?

By Jake Voelcker, owner, Bicycleworks

If you write a list of all the tasks carried out in your business, how many do you think must be done by someone with years of experience or training? And how many could be done by a trainee or apprentice?

Often the ratio is about 80/20… but which way around is it? How many tasks require skill, and how many are simply routine?

80% skill, 20% routine
Many small businesses run on this basis. A few tasks are automated, or are routine enough to be delegated to a new member of staff. Examples could be changing an inner tube, or restocking shelves. But most tasks are not systematised, and so they require judgement or skill or experience. Examples include repairing bikes, or reordering stock. The problems with running a business like this are:

• The owner is tied to the business, because their expertise is required for most tasks
• It is more expensive to hire staff, because they must be experienced and skilled
• It is difficult for the business to grow, because it is limited by the owner’s availability
• It gets very draining when every task requires a judgement call or a decision
• Staff become demotivated because they cannot do most tasks on their own
• Mistakes happen, because 80% of the tasks rely on your memory or judgement

20% skill, 80% routine
The answer is to systematise your business. No, this doesn’t mean sacking everyone and buying robots. It simply means putting in place systems and procedures. 80% of all tasks should be systematised, and only 20% should rely on skill.

“But I can’t systematise the job of a skilled mechanic!”
Yes you can. At our Bristol store we have developed the following system:

• The manager does an assessment on any complex bikes. A simple “show-stoppers” checklist establishes whether there are any problems which could stop the job
• Any jobs which are simple enough to be done by the apprentice mechanic are delegated. There are checklists for brakes, gears, wheels, and other areas which allow the apprentice to systematically work through the bike, and allow the manager to check the work afterwards
• More complex jobs are delegated to the head mechanic. This means they can play to their strengths and work on the more challenging bikes, instead of simple jobs. Again, there are checklists to ensure nothing is forgotten
• The manager is free to get on with management
duties, instead of spending time replacing inner tubes or brake blocks

“What about handling unhappy customers?”
Some small business owners feel only they are capable of handling customer complaints. But many parts of customer service can be systematised, including complaints:

• Set up some email templates for handing common customer issues
• Use these templates as training for staff to handle complaints
• Write out three or four rules detailing how much refund or discount is available for various customer problems. Then any member of staff can take the decision
• Set up a courtesy calls list, so that once a week the manager can check if there have been any unhappy customers, and contact them if required. This takes ten minutes of the manager’s time per week, instead of being on call all the time

By systematising most parts of your business, you will have happier staff who can work independently. It will become easier to recruit, because you can recruit based on attitude more than skill or experience. Fewer mistakes will be made.

And when the time comes to sell your business, a well systematised shop will attract more buyers, and the sale price will be much higher, compared to a business which relies on the constant presence of the owner. In the meantime, you will have time to concentrate on the really important tasks… or perhaps take a well-earned break!

Five top tips to systematise your shop
Implement checklists for everything. It saves time. It improves quality. And it means the job can be done reliably by someone less skilled.

2. Use an online booking system for your workshop. Customers will love the convenience. But also, it saves hours of your time on the phone every week.

3. Computerise your stock control. It means staff can reorder stock in minutes, instead of you spending hours every week deciding how many widgets to buy and trying to remember where to buy them from!

4. Use email templates for all your common enquiries. Look back through your emails and find the questions which keep popping up. Then write standard answers for these, and save them as draft emails. Now you can delegate the task of answering most emails, and you only need to get involved if there is an unusual query.

5. Set up an e-commerce store for your most important products even if you don’t sell online. Nowadays e-commerce websites are so easy to set up, it makes sense to showcase your products and use it as your in-store sales tool. It will handle stock control. The product information is there at their fingertips for the staff to use. It increases the likelihood that customers will select upgrades and add-ons. See for an example: over 90% of our bike sales are in-store, yet they all go through the website.

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