There’s got to be a more efficient system than what I have…

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Hi, I'm currently sitting here, scratching my head as to how I can improve the whole efficiency and effectiveness of running my mountain guiding business, which currently seems messy, clunky and quite time-consuming. It all feels quite manual and there must be systems and apps that could both speed things up and ensure fewer things are missed. I can't be the only one to come up against these issues.

If I list out the process and some of the potential flaws, that might hopefully give you an idea of where I'm at.

There are two of us that deal with the admin (and do most of the guiding).
We use Office 365 Business to store files, calendar and emails (I personally use Thunderbird with an Exchange plug-in, as I find it quicker than using the desktop version of Outlook).
Our website is built using WordPress and we use Gravity Forms.
We use Quickbooks for invoices.
Most of our clients pay by BACS (to a Barclays business account, which doesn't give instant notifications when we are paid).
We also take the odd card payment via Stripe and recommend that international clients pay by Transferwise.

1) Clients get in touch either via contact forms on the website or via direct email.
I use colour tags within Thunderbird to donate the status of each email, e.g. ORANGE for awaiting reply from the client, RED for I need to do something with the email, GREEN for invoice sent and awaiting payment, however, these colours don't show on my colleague's email client. He has a series of folders that he moves emails into, depending on the stage.

2) We reply to enquiries, which tend to turn into short dialogues, to pin down dates and to discuss exact requirements. We offer a mix of fixed-date courses (which in theory, people can just book straight on to, these could be 'buy-now' items) and private guiding on dates to suit the client, which generally requires a bit more to-ing and fro-ing to establish what the client wants.

At this stage, it's quite tricky to keep tabs on where in the sales funnel clients are at. Some need a gentle nudge to get them back on board, others will have enquired elsewhere and we may not hear from them again. There's nothing automated in place to chase up leads.

3) Once dates have been established, I email our guides (I send an email putting the guides addresses, taken out of the address book, as BCC and put our email address in the TO field). The guides are split up into broad categories, depending on skillset.

4) Guides reply with their availability.
We can get quite a few replies from guides, which can clog up the inbox. I try to keep those emails until the client has booked, just so I can easily see which guides are available up until the point of booking. I’ve recently just thrown all availability emails into a separate folder so that my own inbox is just for client emails. As the guides work on a freelance basis, they’ll be entitled to take work from elsewhere as well, and if a client leaves it a while, this can mean that some guides are no longer available at the time of booking.

5) Once I know we have a guide available, I’ll let the client know, and send them a link to their Quickbooks invoice, asking them to pay 50% deposit unless it’s less than 6 weeks prior to the start date, in which case, they need to pay the full amount. I also ask them to complete an on-line booking form, which when submitted, sends the info to me as an email. This gets saved to a One Drive folder. The folder is specific to each booking and the link for which will be sent to guides nearer the course date.

Payments will appear on the bank feed within Quickbooks, which I need to manually update. Otherwise, unless the client tells me that they’ve paid, or I manually check the bank account, a payment can go unnoticed for a couple of days.

6) Once the client has paid (either a deposit or full amount), by either card payment or BACS, I confirm date/work with guide and enter the booking onto the Office 365 Calendar.

7) With about a week to go, so long as I remember, I send client details (as a One Drive Folder link) to the guide and ask them to get in touch with the client. At the same time, I send the client contact details for their guide.

8) Guide and clients go out in the mountains

9) Afterwards, I then email the client, asking for feedback. If excellent, which it almost always is, I then send another email asking them to post reviews on Trip Advisor, Google My Business and Facebook. I may also send a link to a Google Photos Album, which contains photos taken.

So that’s it in a nutshell. There’s very little integration of the above processes, it’s largely all my doing, but also, I’m out guiding in the hills as much as possible, as that’s when I really earn money, rather than when I’m paying freelance staff to do it.

I have a box on the booking form to ask whether clients want to sign up to the newsletter, but in reality, I’ve not had the time to do anything with those email address, such as enter them into our Mail Chimp account, never mind actually publish any newsletters.

Any recommendations would be hugely appreciated, as things stand, the admin isn't exactly a barrel of laughs. From a financial perspective, hiring another pair of hands isn't really an option.

submitted by /u/KenA2000
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