How Smart Entrepreneurs Manage Inventory

By Randall Orser | Small Business

Inventory management isn't exactly made for the highlight reel. When people think of entrepreneurs, they think of bold ideas, trailblazing, and making money, not counting how much of your product you have. But inventory management is as important as accounting or securing your patents. Not enough of your big product to go around? Too bad, you just lost a chunk of your customers. The two basic things that your product needs to be are "functional" and "available for purchase". Fail the second one and it doesn't matter how good your product is - you're going to lose money.

Proper inventory management involves more than good hiring practices and keep an eye on your products. There are a couple of problems you'll need to solve.

1. Tracking Your Inventory

The Problem: So you know how much you expect to sell. The problem then becomes figuring out how much you have available for sale. Human error can put the kibosh on your finances. Inventory miscounts can occur when they're sold, when they're received, or when someone decides to use their five-finger discount. You'll also have to take scrapped items into account.

The Solution: Bar codes and electronic data interchange can help make sure that everything is accounted for. While you can count your inventory daily, it can put your employees and your finances under severe stress. A good alternative is to count a few items at a time. Pick a few of your products and see if they match your records. Put more emphasis on your best sellers - count them more often.

2. Having Too Much

The Problem: Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Making too much product can result in storage and production costs eating into what could be your profit. Anything that sits on a shelf for long enough is at risk of being stolen, damaged, or even becoming obsolete. Old product is notoriously difficult to sell, which can result in unplanned discounts or hoping that the overseas markets have room for your old stuff.

The Solution: The first thing you should do is figure out how much you need to have and when you'll need to have it. Take a look at how your sales have been over the past year. Take note of any peaks and dips and figure out if those deviations are connected to specific events or seasons. You can also figure out if you have spikes during specific times of the month, such as at the end of the month.

3. Data Loss

The Problem: Your inventory is properly marked and recorded and you're ready to turn in when your computer suddenly shuts down and refuses to turn back on. You get the repair guy to come in, and he tells you that your hard drive is gone. What do you do?

The Solution: There are a lot of things that can compromise your data, from viruses to theft. So when the inevitable "bad thing" does happen, take a deep breath. Take a look at your backup copy, which you should have. When you update your main file, make sure to update the backup as well. Software is available to both automate the process and to make sure that your data is recoverable. You can also have another copy of the file available to someone who needs it regularly, such as your accountant.

4. Skewed Priorities

The Problem: Inventory checking, for the most part, is a manual task. Someone has to visually confirm the existence of your products and note it down. This takes a lot of time and effort, both of which increase as your company grows.

The Solution: Entrepreneurs know that the first thing to do when solving a problem is to figure out your priorities. In this case, the priorities should lie in your most important products. Figure out how your best items are doing inventory-wise. Make sure that they're always in stock and up-to-date. Then take a look at your second-best items and so on and so forth. While it is possible to cover all your bases, focus on making sure that the most important products are protected. Your resources and your personnel are not unlimited.

5. Misused Spreadsheets

The Problem: Spreadsheet programs are often used as a way to easily track inventory. Microsoft Excel and OpenOffice software are used as computer lists. The problem is that computer files can be lost or modified. Changes are difficult to track, and synchronizing files across multiple branches can drive you to insanity.

The Solution: Entrepreneurs know that you have to use the right tool for the right job. Go with accounting software that has built-in inventory management systems, such as Quickbooks Online (QBO); maybe use an app for inventory that links to QBO. They'll ensure that human error is minimized and even provide vital functions such as a centralized database.

Your inventory might not be the most exciting thing in your life as an entrepreneur, but it's no less important. Mismanaged stock can easily result in lost sales, lost customers, and lost profits. Keep an eye on your product no matter how boring it gets and it will pay off.

Follow

About the Author

Bookkeeper Extraordinaire Number Crunchers® Financial Services Learn how to just say stuff it to this bookkeeping thing with our 'Just Say: "Stuff It" To Bookkeeping program.