The ultimate guide to order & inventory management for small businesses

So, you’re looking to get started with an Order and Inventory Management system?

Here at Workhorse we know it can be a big step for a small business, so we’re here to give you the know-how to smoothly transition your business process and your colleagues into order management pro’s.

Reaching the stage where your business can seamlessly process thousands of orders might seem like a big jump from where you are now, but with this guide we’ll show you how easy it can be.

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One

What is order and inventory management?

Simply put, order and inventory management is the process of managing your incoming orders through their arrival, processing and delivery. Order management systems are systems which allow you to do this in an easy, seamless way using automation.

Diving in a bit further, order management done well, coordinates all aspects of your order processing and gives your business the ability to know what’s going on with all your clients and key metrics in an instant. Information on your customers, suppliers, orders, warehouses, inventory tracking, delivery and invoicing will all be kept in one place.

Improving your order management capabilities can help your business to unlock a whole host of happier customers. An effective order management system (OMS) will help you to improve internal efficiency and reduce order incorrectness or lateness. In a world of fast-changing customer needs, order management can help you be more responsive, making it easier to put a smile on the faces of your customers and have them coming back for more.

Two

The order & inventory management process

To fully understand how you can crank up your systems to maximum efficiency, first let’s look at what the order and inventory management process is. Your order process probably looks something like this:

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So how does order and inventory management software improve this process for the small business?

An order and inventory management system helps you tie all these stages together and when done well, it creates a seamless flow between them. The order and inventory management process helps to improve communication and task workflows between these stages, without having to jump across multiple systems, or rely on manual orders or spreadsheets. As a result, you get up-to-the-minute business information and automated communication driving your workflows with the goal of creating more happy customers.

Improving your order management process will allow you to:

  • Integrate with key sales channels (such as your website or Amazon).

  • Receive all orders in one centralised system for action – as soon as that order is placed.

  • Reduce errors with information entered into a single system for the whole business.

  • Easily manage requirements for multi-pick, bespoke or personalised products.

  • Alert your team the minute an order is placed so that picking and packing can begin straightaway.

  • Generate invoices, credit notes and despatch notes from your client record.

  • Automatically send all order details to your accounting software.

  • Keep track of stock levels and automate re-orders, so no order is delayed and you never hold too much stock.

  • Track your sales order pipeline statistics from enquiry to sale.

  • Automated alerts help you keep track of delayed orders and customer actions.

Three

Do you need to add an order management system?

What can it do?

If you’re a small business, it’s likely that many office tasks rely on spreadsheets, like orders, sales pipelines, inventory tracking and more. Spreadsheets can be a valuable tool when you are first starting a business, but as you grow, they can become more of a hindrance than a help. 

Moving away from spreadsheet dependence is one of the biggest reasons we encourage small businesses to move to an order management system.

Screenshot 2019-12-11 at 12.21.21The problem with spreadsheets is…

They can be inaccurate. No matter how meticulous you are, human error is unavoidable. Wrong data inputted into your spreadsheets can skew pipelines, cashflow and order accuracy.

They can also take a long time to update. Whereas order management systems upload new data instantly, spreadsheets require updating and reporting often takes weeks to trudge through to add the latest information.

It’s easy to get lost in multiple versions. Often spreadsheets end up  being duplicated as they get updated, making it hard to keep track of where you’re up to or worse still – what information is correct.

 

Besides spreadsheets, there are several ways order management system can benefit businesses.

Speedier order processing: if customers’ orders are arriving late, it’s likely because you’re struggling to process them fast enough. Operating an order management system can help businesses get faster at processing- particularly when it takes more than one department to get your product out the door. By automatically passing information between departments in realtime, your order management system can reduce inefficiencies and speed up processing.

Managing a complex supply chain: if you’re a company that transacts orders through multiple on and offline channels, you’ll know how hard it can be to keep all your order information organised and prioritised. An order management system is helpful for tracking all incoming orders in one channel, making them easier to keep tabs on.

Who needs it?

An order management system might not be the best solution for every company, so who should implement one? As we mentioned, some businesses are managing complex supply chains. This is a great example of a type of business that can reap the rewards of an order management system.

Reasons a business should use an order management system:

  • They are an SME that wants to grow but admin is hampering progress

  • They process a large volume of orders

  • They have a lean team that needs to work as efficiently as possible

  • They don’t know what’s happening if a key person is away from the office

  • They transact orders through several different channels

  • They find it hard to track stock levels and orders get delayed when no stock is available

  • The business is looking to remove their reliance on spreadsheets and manual admin processes

Four

Automation for better order fulfilment

Where can automation improve workflows?

Order fulfilment is the process undertaken for receiving, processing and delivering customer orders. Automating your order fulfilment can be a sure-fire way to plug inefficiency gaps. So where can your order fulfilment can be automated?

Where incoming orders are concerned, automation can save time and mistakes. It can provide you with a platform through which all your incoming orders flow. This can gather vital information in one place, allowing your workforce to react to order needs more quickly without spending all their time typing!

If ‘how can I get faster at processing orders’ is the question, automation is the answer. It can offer a seamless flow between each stage in your order processing. Real-time updates on the status of orders, automated production jobs, task management and reminders, and dynamic re-ordering of stock makes it easy for workflows to work more smoothly, making room for faster order processing.

Once you’ve cracked quick order processing and have orders leaving the warehouse on time, automating your order management ensures you go the full mile, bringing updates on the status of out-for-delivery orders to you lets you keep track of your on-time orders rate.

Integrating systems makes you more streamlined

We know managing visibility of your business information across different systems, channels and teams can be a pain – but it’s vital. That’s why integrating your systems for increasingly smoother workflows can be beneficial for small businesses because it brings all your business information together in one place helping you track key KPIs.

Integrating systems provides deeper visibility when it comes to fulfilling orders. Gaining full visibility of your information, from sales forecasts to delivery data, can be a pivotal move for small businesses. When set up with relevant access levels for employees, integrated systems can provide each employee with the information they need to get your order fulfilment running like a well-oiled machine.

What kind of systems can be integrated?

The ideal system is one that enables you to run your business from end-to-end. For example, integrate with your e-commerce engine on your website, third party sales channels like Amazon, payment platforms like WorldPay, email marketing like Mailchimp, or your accounting software such as Xero or Sage.

Five

How to choose an order management platform for your business

Know what you need

Like with anything new you’re looking to adopt, it’s important to know what you need from an order management system. Take a look at your business internally and map your processes and identify where efficiency-gaps are then create a checklist of your requirements.

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Once you’re clear on what you need from your OMS, do your research. There are lots of different order management systems out there, so finding one that meets the needs of your business is paramount.

Remember an order management system is different to CRM. Where an OMS can provide end-to-end seamless integration of your order fulfilment, customers, suppliers, inventory and data, CRM software will provide you with in detail records of all communications with your customers. Be that phone calls, Facebook messages or emails. Although this is great for oversight of all communications with your customers, it doesn’t provide the holistic visibility of your order management that an OMS will.

How much do order management systems cost?

When shopping around for your OMS, bear in mind your budget, the number of people that need to use it and the value you can get from different systems. There are a few options

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SaaS Only

This option is often the cheapest but requires time to implement across your business. If your team are unsure and need to learn to implement the system themselves, you can end up with a system that doesn’t quite do what you needed. Choose to retain a consultant to adapt a SaaS product for you can be costly, easily reaching £10-20k.

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Bespoke

Traditionally, if a business wanted to customise software to meet their needs, they would need to go the bespoke route. The challenge with a bespoke build for SMEs is the cost. This can easily drift into tens of thousands of pounds and a long development and implementation cycle. Many small businesses are looking for faster-to-implement software.

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Hybrid

Thanks to changing technology, there is another option. Hybrid services like Workhorse provide a customisable SaaS technology, that they implement on your behalf. This doesn’t have budget or time restrictions like most systems have since it’s built from the ground up for your business’ requirements and can be delivered in a matter of weeks, not months.

Pricing is designed with small businesses in mind- with a small implementation fee and a manageable monthly subscription fee for unlimited users (currently £395+VAT per month).

8 Key things to look out for in pricing:

  1. Is pricing per user or for unlimited users?
  2. Is storage included?
  3. Do I pay for implementation?
  4. Is there a restrictive contract, e.g. minimum term?
  5. How quickly can my solution be implemented?
  6. Does it include support?
  7. Does it include updates and changes to the system over time?
  8. Do you have to pay up-front, or when you go live?
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Checklist

Here’s what can be included with a system for maximum efficiency:

  • Customisation (fields, languages, currencies and more)
  • Automation
  • Systems Integration
  • Data reporting
  • Varying access levels for different employees
  • Support
  • Implementation & Consultancy

Six

Why Workhorse?

  • At Workhorse, we believe that software should be tailored to the way you want to work. Your business deserves software that powers growth, not spreadsheets that slow you down.
  • We take a software-with-a-service approach, giving you time to build your business, leaving the software implementation to us. More time on your business, not on your admin.
  • We put you back in control by providing a holistic software which lets your business solve order management problems and create more happy, returning customers.
  • Our software can be delivered fast, at a price SMEs can afford. No lock-in, unlimited users.
  • Click here to discover the benefits of Workhorse's order management system.

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