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How to foster continuous improvement within your business

The most successful business owners are always looking for ways to improve. Obviously, that’s much easier said than done, especially for small businesses. Small business owners have their hands in everything, so taking a step back can be difficult. But because owners understand so many parts of the company, they also have the ability to find pitfalls or inefficiencies.

As the saying goes, “adapt or die.” Here are a few ways you can foster continuous improvement within your business.

Set goals

Every project should start with quality goal setting. If you know where you want to go, then you can take steps to get there. In this case, your end goal is to create a culture where continuous improvements are always top-of-mind.

Start by making weekly or even monthly goals for different parts of the business you want to improve. Place these goals in a centralized location to remind you and your team of what needs to be done.

Make it a top-down effort

Depending on the size of your business, you may or may not be involved in the day-to-day grind. That’s why it’s of the upmost important to loop your employees into any culture change you want to undertake.

You can do this by making education and training an ongoing project. Offer continuing education and awareness sessions, as well as training programs, to keep improvements top of mind for all your workers. Oftentimes, individuals are reluctant to change, but if you can communicate the benefits of different processes, more efficiencies, etc., you can get buy-in from throughout the organization.

On a daily basis, remind them why these improvements are so important to your desired culture.

Open communication

When an issue or inefficiency arises, you want your team members to tell you right away. Many times, they are the ones who find problems, but if you don’t have an open communication channel, they might not make their opinions known.

Let your organization know that you want to know about any problems they have, however big or small. And — this is a big one — don’t be afraid of constructive criticism. You want your team members to be open with you, and taking offense to any issues will be an immediate turn-off. You can also encourage team members to speak up by giving a quarterly award, like a gift card or piece of company swag.

Take it one step at a time

Big changes in company culture don’t happen overnight. Be patient and encourage your team members to go at their own pace. Like we mentioned before, people are naturally reluctant to change — rushing it will only cause more problems.

Instead of furiously marching toward your end goal, plot out smaller steps over the next year or few years. That’ll get you to where you need to go without upsetting your company equilibrium.

NAWBO Member Q&A: Katelyn Soults

Katelyn Soults is the co-owner of Illuminated, a digital agency based in Waukee. Illuminated helps companies with better digital experiences through content marketing, software development and website design.

Soults has been a part of NAWBO Iowa for about two years. She’s active in the Waukee community, volunteering with the Waukee Area Chamber of Commerce, co-founding Waukee Young Professionals and graduating from the Waukee Leadership Institute in 2019. Also in 2019, Soults received the Waukee Young Professional of the Year Award.

Can you take me through your personal background?

I grew up in the suburbs of Cedar Rapids, in Marion, Iowa. I attended Linn-Mar High School and then moved to Des Moines to attend Drake University.

I studied magazine journalism, marketing and psychology while at Drake and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in magazine journalism. As a student, I held a variety of internships around Des Moines and knew I wanted to continue living and working here as a young professional.

I currently live and work in Waukee and enjoy being active in the community, including the Waukee Area Chamber of Commerce. In 2018, I co-founded Waukee Young Professionals, a group that connects local young professionals and helps them make an impact in the community. I also graduated from the Waukee Leadership Institute in 2019 and recently received the 2019 Waukee Young Professional of the Year award.

What is your profession/business?

I co-own Illuminated, a digital agency based in Waukee. We help companies build better digital experiences through content marketing, software development and website design. I oversee the content marketing and website design divisions of Illuminated and run the company with my husband, DJ.

I am often asked how I can work with my spouse, but I never have a great answer. Working with my husband comes naturally to me, and I find it to be a unique and rewarding experience to share.

What is your favorite part of what you do?

It has been an absolute joy to work with local business owners and leaders to drive growth, create deeper connection with prospective clients, and bring automation and innovation to systems and workflows. With a journalism degree, I knew I had a love for words and the power of storytelling, but I didn't realize my passion for websites and user experience until the opportunity appeared. Now, developing digital strategies for websites is one of my favorite tasks!

Who is someone you consider a mentor, and why?

Karen Taylor, a fellow NAWBO member and business owner, is one of my most inspiring mentors. Her passion and enthusiasm for life and doing her best for others shines through her work and everyday interactions with others. I have found her encouragement and support to be particularly helpful while navigating entrepreneurship as a young professional.

Karen actually introduced me to NAWBO and invited me to my first NAWBO event in 2018. She is fantastic at bringing community to women and extending invitations to others.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

I wish I could teleport and travel around the world. There are many destinations on my travel bucket list, and I would love to be able to be in new places instantly! I would start with Maui, and then head over to France.