As you’re trying to establish a name and niche for your new business within the marketplace, you’ll eventually encounter quality control issues. Whether you offer physical products or services, I dare say that all business owners, even new ones, need to come up with plans to control the quality of their goods or services right from the beginning. So I’ve created a list of my top 5 ways to establish quality control in a startup business like yours.
In my late teens, my brother and I owned and operated a grass-cutting business called Lawn Care by the Boys. My mom was proud of us, and she wanted us to be proud of the work we did, too. Therefore, whenever we left the house for the day, she would tell us, “Boys, you must address the sight lines.” Now, you may not know what she was talking about. But we did. We knew exactly what she meant.
You see, when people come home from work and drive up to their houses, the first thing they see is the front yard. That’s the first sight line. If we’ve cut the grass that day, they’ll know it. Next, they’ll pull into the driveway or the garage and walk through a front or back door. Therefore, those areas need to look pristine. If we leave a piece of grass on the sidewalk, they’re going to notice. Then, they’ll notice another piece of grass and another. They’ll definitely notice if we’ve left grass shavings all over the driveway. All of a sudden, we’ll have unhappy customers. Sure, we mowed their lawns, but we left a mess of grass or debris all over their sight lines.
You know, people aren’t going to care much about the back corner of their property. It isn’t in their sight lines. However, my mom was teaching us to treat the whole yard as if it were in the customers’ sight lines. She was telling us to control the quality of our service, to do more than the task at hand. Yes, we mowed lawns, but we did more than that. We made the lawns and the surrounding environment aesthetically pleasing to the eye. We gave customers’ homes a cleaned, polished look. Essentially, we gave their houses curb appeal.
Investopedia describes quality control as “a process through which a business seeks to ensure that a product’s quality is maintained or improved and that manufacturing errors are reduced or eliminated.” In other words, quality control requires you the business owner to establish an environment where the entire team strives for perfection and to make sure your team members understand the process. This is done by creating benchmarks, training, and product or service testing. The team must know the process and be monitored to confirm the “sight lines are addressed.”
First, you have to establish the environment. You, as the business owner, must know what perfection is for your product or service. In my grass-cutting days, perfection looked like clean sidewalks and driveways. Customers didn’t see grass on the sidewalks, and they didn’t see areas a lawn mower missed in the yard. All the grass was uniform. All the debris was moved from the lawn, from the flower beds, and from the streets.
In my financial world at Heritage Investors, perfection looks like a completed financial planning process where clients are taking actions to reach specific goals. They aren’t just following orders. They understand the reasoning behind their financial plans, and they’re moving forward with the plans.
In your business, then, what does perfection look like?
Once you’ve identified perfection, it’s time to train your team. Show them what perfection looks like so they know what you expect from them. Then, train them how to achieve it. Be as detailed as possible so your team members know exactly how you measure their success.
If you’re giving team members a 90-day probationary period, what criteria will you use to judge them once that period has passed? Or if you give year-end bonuses based on productivity, what must they do to be “productive?” In other words, don’t just define success. Teach your team members how to achieve it.
In addition to training your team members, you’ll want to test your product or service against the prescribed standards you’ve set for perfection. If you’re making or selling a product, you know what the perfect product should be. Therefore, you’ll know an imperfect product when you see one, and you can train your team members to spot imperfections as well. Have team members randomly check product samples. Hold up your products to your standard of perfection. If they don’t meet specifications, then find out why. Is there a margin of error in the manufacturing process? Was there a problem during shipment? Did human error play a part in the problem? Once you identify the source of the problem, you can fix it. Then, your product will be “perfect” again.
If you’re dealing with a service-based business where there’s no tangible widget, then testing specifications could take a little more time. Perhaps you send customer satisfaction surveys to clients upon the completion of a job. Maybe you have team members make follow-up phone calls to determine client satisfaction. Do you, as the business owner, follow behind your team members to ensure they do their jobs correctly? Can you place a manager in charge of that? Quality control testing within a service-based industry may take more time. Quantifying results may get tricky. However, it’s as important to test the quality of your services as it is to test the quality of your products.
Over time, quality can wain. It can shift or drift a little bit. If you manufacture products, a machine’s blade could shift a milometer to the right or left, cutting your products off-center. If you provide services to your customers, your team members could become slightly lackadaisical and start cutting corners to finish a job quicker or to go home earlier.
In one of my past articles, Clear Financial Reports Entice Business Buyers, I spoke about KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators. In order to track the results of your quality control measures, you need to have those KPIs in place. Maybe they’re product returns or customer complaints. If you’re in the medical field, maybe your KPIs are customers leaving. If your product or service has remained “perfect,” or high quality, then such events should be minimum. For example, you’ll probably have very few returns if the product is meeting expectations. Or, you’ll have fewer customer complaints if your team members are doing their jobs correctly.
But the only way you’ll know the results is if you track it. Use a spreadsheet to track product or service results. Rely on your management systems to calculate customer returns or tabulate customer complaints. Have a team manager oversee production. No matter what, you have to be able to track the results of your quality control in business so that you can hold your team members and your business accountable for producing “perfect” products or services.
So you’ve launched your business, and your product or service is underway. In order to sustain and build a platform for growth, quality control must be a part of your business. Perhaps the most important part of quality control is this – your attitude. You see, quality control shouldn’t be a burden. Don’t be like the rookie business owner who uses quality control as a stick to beat team members over the head. That’s not it at all. Don’t make QC a yoke on your team. Don’t weigh them down.
Instead, use quality control in your business as a method of inspiration. Use it to show your team how good the company can be. Paint the vision, and paint it with a broad brush. Let your team internalize your vision. If you have the right team like I’ve talked about in the past, then they’ll pull with you. They’ll strive for perfection, too. Then, rather than quality control being a burden, it becomes a method and a process.
Therefore, keep your attitude right in quality control. Use it to give bonuses. Use it to inspire your team. People want to be inspired. They want to feel like a part of a “good” organization. Since they’ve chosen to be there, inspire them. Give them hope.
You know, people are so beaten down. This world can drag us all down. Your team members need to know that quality control in a startup business is not a burden. It’s a way that you can inspire them and show what perfection is.
Join me in my next article as I discuss driving sales in your business!