3 staff management strategies for small businesses

The top challenge for 22% of small businesses is employee recruitment and retention. It can be difficult and costly to find the perfect fit for your business; even once you find new hires, training them takes time. That’s why it’s crucial to do everything you can to retain your talented workers.

Illustration-style image of an employee working in a flower shop.

Effective staff management is especially important for service industry businesses with variable demand like restaurants, dog groomers, or florists. Dealing with long lines, irate customers, or unfinished tasks due to limited staffing is mentally taxing. And, being consistently short-staffed may signal to employees that their well-being and work-life balance are not prioritized by the company.

Businesses that practice clear communication with employees and provide professional development opportunities are more likely to boost retention and engagement among their staff. 

For a small service business, the core trick is to manage its employees well during rush hour and slow seasons. Here’s a few things you can do to keep your team spirits high and never be short-staffed:

  1. Understand patterns in customer demand.
  2. Cross-train employees.
  3. Leverage technology.

1. Understand patterns in customer demand

To properly allocate staff, it’s essential to understand your customers. Waves and lapses in customer demand can feel random and unpredictable for service industry businesses. However, there are usually patterns and motivations behind your customers’ behavior. 

Use your customer data to identify these insights. With minor effort, it is possible to track data points like appointments and reservations, services, and capacity management. 

From there, your company can analyze the factors that are relevant for your business, for example:

  • Peak hours and days. Track the specific hours and days your business experiences heavy customer traffic. For many businesses, weekends are their busiest days. During the work week, they might see an uptick in customers after five o’clock. Customer demographics can impact traffic, so make sure to track your business’s unique traffic trends rather than relying on these assumptions. 
  • Seasonal trends. Certain seasons and holidays may draw more people to your business. For example, retail stores tend to have more traffic in December as customers purchase holiday gifts. Pet boarding services and travel agencies, on the other hand, will likely see more traffic during the summer when more people go on vacation. 
  • Special events and promotions. Your business can also create demand and traffic through sales and other special events. A spring sale with hefty discounts will likely draw in more customers than usual. Be sure to track these trends to determine the impact of your marketing efforts.

Other day-to-day changes can also impact customer demand. Sunny weather might bring more customers to your outdoor cafe, and a parade could attract more visitors to your downtown shop. 

Tracking this data doesn’t have to be difficult. You can use a simple spreadsheet or software to record daily customer counts and sales or implement a customer feedback system to gauge demand and satisfaction.

Once you have some data-driven insights, you can make much better guesses at the upcoming staffing needs and communicate them to your staff through your team management app to ensure they are prepared for a busy shift. Knowing when you’ll have a rush and allocating the right number of staff improves your work environment, helps with managing stress and ensuring your employees are thriving. 

2. Cross-train employees

Understanding customer traffic patterns will help you prepare for peak hours and seasons, but what if something truly unexpected happens? If you happen to experience an unanticipated influx of customers, cross-training employees can add much-needed flexibility to the mix.

Cross-training involves teaching employees how to do multiple jobs. This makes them more well-rounded workers and fills in skill gaps at your business. For instance, you might train a greeter at your boutique to manage inventory and handle transactions. 

To make the process run more smoothly, keep these tips in mind:

  • Identify essential skills. Determine which skills are the most critical to business success. These are the tasks that are necessary for your operations and positively impact customer experience. Thus, you should cross-train employees in these areas.
  • Create a training plan. Next, create a structured training plan that outlines the responsibilities and knowledge required to do the task or skill. Plan out hands-on training sessions or shadowing opportunities for employees.
  • Provide support and feedback. Make sure to answer any questions the employees have during training. Provide constructive feedback when necessary and call out good work. Encourage employees to work together, share advice and experiences, and help each other grow. 

Cross-training can also make managers and employees more willing to delegate tasks. They can rest assured that the employee they are delegating the task to has experience with a variety of jobs at your business.

3. Leverage technology

Choosing the right technology can help your business with tracking the data for identify patterns in customer traffic, and scheduling more staff members during expected busy hours. By avoiding both understaffing and overscheduling, you can save a lot on your costs.

Scheduling and communication tools are apps that are designed to connect with staff. They are different from business management software and project management software. Here’s what a good staff app can do for your business:

  • Improved efficiency. Technology streamlines boring tasks like scheduling and performance tracking. Service businesses can really benefit from the help of computer-assisted payroll, staff scheduling, and even client communications like appointment reminders. This can save you hours by removing the need to manually complete repetitive tasks.
  • More accurate data tracking. Systems with automatic checks in place limit the risk of human error for tasks like time tracking or payroll processing. This ensures that employees are compensated correctly and on time. Plus, preventing issues like double bookings can really enhance the customer experience. 
  • Better communication. Staff management tools also make it easier to reach your staff. Rather than wrangle with finding their phone numbers and email addresses, you can quickly share updates within your scheduling app if needed.

Some tools offer self-service portals and mobile apps, giving employees more independence and allowing them to access their schedules on the go. Additionally, digital channels can be used to show appreciation for employees and facilitate peer-to-peer recognition.

Effective staff management is essential to any small business, whether you’re just getting started or have been in business for years. It helps you allocate resources to optimize your staff’s skills and maximize your revenue. Over time, clear, efficient staff management will foster a positive and gratifying work environment that motivates employees to stay at your business.