Running a business is no easy task. There’s marketing, production, managing your sale point (either online or brick n’ mortar), social media, sourcing raw materials, managing employees, and so on. One of the most important and overlooked, areas of your business is the product, or inventory, that you sell. It’s what drives customers to your business and is the bread and butter of your business. Without your product, your business would sink. But who has time to keep track of inventory, let alone fix the problems that seem to crop up constantly when you do try to track your materials, stock, and sales.
Today we’re sharing some of the most common mistakes we see when it comes to small businesses managing their inventory, and providing you with some simple ideas on how to fix them and why they might be occurring in the first place. We believe that finding out the cause of the problem is almost as important as solving it (and it usually makes it a lot easier to solve, when you understand why). Now lets start talking inventory systems.
Common Mistakes on Managing Inventory
Problem: Too Much Inventory
Reason: Small business owners work to hard to just a let a potential sale pass them by. That said, it happens most when they don’t have the products in stock. To make sure that missed opportunities aren’t the usual, entrepreneurs and small business owners alike usually error on carrying more product rather than less. So why exactly is this a problem? Well, holding product actually costs a business money – rent for the storage space, the chance that a product on a shelf may become damaged, etc. It’s great to be prepared for a potential sell, but not if having the product on hand is going to end up costing you more than you’d make.
How to fix it: Start with some basic forecasting. Start, by just figuring out the average sales per month. Then, plan to hold at least that number in inventory (maybe adding a few to provide you with a buffer). Next, look at your sales for the last year, taking note of when spikes occur. Trending like this is called seasonality (i.e. accountants always see a huge spike in demand around tax time, greenhouses and plant nurseries see a spike in sells during the spring, etc). You can also look for month end spikes or those that seem not to be seasonal and see if they occur during certain promotions you’ve run ( this is a great way to also figure out which marketing promotions work best for your company and product).
Problem: Inaccurate Tracking
Reason: It happens to every business owner. You get busy, things fall behind, and in you efforts to make the sale, you find that your books aren’t up to date and your inventory tracking might not be as accurate as you thought. To be honest, the chance of miscounting can happen at almost any spot in the process – during receiving, order fulfillment, and if you’re in manufacturing, you’re bound to lose some during bad runs and scrap production.
How to fix it: It used to be that bar codes and SKUs were only for big business. But now, even mom & pop shops and online storefronts such as Etsy, Shopify, and Ebay provide the functionality for some form of inventory tracking. Putting a system in place if you don’t have one is the first step to fixing it. However, if you’re already using barcodes or SKUs it might be time to up your tracking game. Implement “cycle counting” – choose a few items each day or week (depending on how quickly you move inventory) to count. Then compare your number to your inventory record. Your shop’s best sellers should be counted more often. How does cycle counting help? After awhile you’ll have a pretty good idea the difference between the actual and recorded numbers, making it easy to estimate your actual product holdings so you’re sure not to oversell or overstock. You’ll also be able to have a better idea of what products are actually turning over quickly – which is a big help when you’re deciding on new product offerings.
Problem: Using Spreadsheets
Reason: Programs like Excel, Google Sheets, and other spreadsheet software programs are fairly well understood amongst the work force. Plus, they’re usually something most businesses already have access to. Just because it’s common and free doesn’t mean it’s a great tool to use for tracking inventory – here’s why. Spreadsheets are easily deleted and information can be inputed incorrectly. If you’re sharing a spreadsheet amongst several employees, the odds of incorrect information, input errors, or not saving information multiplies. Not to mention, the fact that a spreadsheet isn’t the best way to show information in real-time.
How to fix it: Invest in a software program that actually has features that can eliminate the problem – Quickbooks or Peachtree are just two that are fairly common and easy to use. These programs are definitely well known for their accounting packages, but they also include features that will make it easier to see your inventory numbers and the dollar values of your stock. Not to mention that having a central database (both of these programs offer this feature) allows anyone that may need access to see things in real time because multiple people can be working in the files at once.
Problem: Lack of Priorities
Reason: It takes time to track inventory. There’s no easy way to get around it or technology that can completely eliminate the work that’s required to count and manage stock. If you’re a solopreneur or a small company that has dozens of product offerings, you’ve just multiplied your workload by well… a lot.
How to fix it: Pick a place to start and get moving. Our rule of thumb is to take a look at the products that seem to matter most. Most of the time, 80% of demand will be generated by 20% of your items. These are your A list items and should be your main focus. All of your products are important, but prioritizing your products by sales will help you make sure you’re tracking the most popular items (which makes you the most profit) first and then you’ll have more time to spend on the B and C list items that are still making you money, but that might not be driving the bulk of your sales.
Ben Sutton is the founder of Mazuma USA, an accounting firm providing tax, bookkeeping and payroll services to small businesses. Since founding Mazuma, Ben has established himself as an expert in the small business world. He’s still driven by that same desire to provide accounting help to all small businesses – from photographers, bloggers and creatives to lawyers, doctors, and dentists, everyone needs affordable accounting help. Ben is a Certified Public Accountant, and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. But Ben considers his greatest achievement and credential to be his happy wife and four children.