Remember 2011, when every lion you knew was sporting a mullet? Photo by Dawn Ellner

Remember 2011, when every lion you knew was sporting a mullet?
Photo by Dawn Ellner (Flickr)

So much can change in four years. Think of how different things were way back in 2011. For instance, none of the calendars said “2015” on them like they do these days. Another major difference is that the iPad-as-business-device was still being debated: could it or couldn’t it? Now that we know it can, it’s fun to go back and revisit some of the small business advice that’s floating around out there on the interblogs. It’s kind of like looking at vintage advertising and giggling at the narrow-minded perception of gender roles, except without all the icky emotions that surface when confronted with your culture’s oppressive history. I hadn’t intended to have a laugh at the expense of people writing the most current business advice 2011 had to offer, but it happened anyway. So, sorry, people of the past. Please don’t take any of this personally. But, frankly, I can’t help but snicker when I read a blog post that advises you to have pens, paper, and calculators on hand for a successful stocktake. Writing on a blog about the necessity of pen and paper is like releasing a movie with a digital multichannel soundtrack about the glories of monaural recording. You just fundamentally don’t understand the tools of your trade if you’re doing that.

And OK, bloggers of the past, I get that tallying up your inventory is, at its most basic, a manual process; there’s simply no way to automate the counting. Sure, the bloggers of the future will tell you that their StockBots with internal AI processors do a mighty fine job of counting without human intervention, but the bloggers of their future would counter this, saying those counting skills are the reason those robotic overlords are so good at keeping track of their human slaves. So, let’s just agree that, as people with free will, we’re going to continue manually counting our own inventory, no matter how much we hate the task. What we can do, though, is make the process of recording that count a lot easier.  It’s 2015 now, and there are better ways to update your numbers than having people with different colored pens write valuable data on a piece of paper. There were probably better ways of doing it in 2011, too, but only incrementally so: cloud business apps hadn’t yet taken off, so if you were using some kind of software inventory solution, the best you could do was bring your laptop along for the ride. You might’ve been able to bring the laptop from section to section in your store or warehouse, but you had to set it down when the count started. You only have two hands, after all, which you needed to sort through the items you were counting. So you were either going back and forth between the laptop and your stock shelves after you counted each group of items, or you were taking a pen and paper with you and writing the numbers down before entering them into the computer all at once when you were done. This is what I mean by incrementally better. But it’s a mobile world now, and we do things a little differently.

Photo by Martin Terber (Flickr)

Caging your employees is an effective way to get them to finish the job.
Photo by Martin Terber (Flickr)

My approach to researching this post was twofold: first, I googled the term “tips for inventory check” and other variations of that phrase. This yielded a number of results, mostly to more blog posts that seem only to exist for SEO reasons. It’s hard to write 500 – 1,000 words about counting stuff that isn’t a script for a Sesame Street episode. Believe me, I know. But I came across some posts on the topic that were, to put it kindly, utterly ridiculous and unhelpful. One post–the title of and link to which I won’t provide so I can more mercilessly mock the author without hurting any feelings–included this as its first step for a successful stocktake: “Clearly identify what stock is owned by the business and where it is.” Aren’t those two out of the three goals of taking inventory? This is like writing a recipe for Macaroni and Cheese that starts with the step, “Find a recipe for Mac and Cheese, and then make it.” This goes beyond quaint notions of the time. There are a lot of “informational” posts out there that don’t do anything but waste your time. Tips like “schedule it ahead of time” and “tell your staff what you want them to do” (these are real) just aren’t helpful. No one has ever spontaneously shut a store down for inventory on a whim while giving their employees vague instructions like, “Go!”

It felt to me like these posts were complicating some very simple matters.  This was confirmed when I began the second task to prepare for this post: I read the Kounta support article about performing stocktakes. It described a much easier process than the SEO bloggers would have you believe. There are two ways to do it. You can enter in stock quantities from the Kounta backoffice console, or you can update the numbers in a CSV file and import the numbers all at once. In either case, the instructions read something like this:

  1. Count the number of items you have.
  2. Record the number in Kounta.

That’s about it. In all cases—web, mobile app, or CSV—you can accomplish this task with the smartphone you keep in your pocket. Once you update a quantity the change is recorded in the cloud, where it’s backed up and available for view on any other device.  Simple.

Cloud software pioneer Henry David Thoreau.

Cloud software pioneer Henry David Thoreau.

So, really, the best tip I can give you for a speedy, successful stocktake is this: don’t complicate matters. It’s tedious work, for sure, but it isn’t terribly complex. People have a way of complicating things like this with processes and protocols. It reminds me of what Henry David Thoreau wrote in his book Walden: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” Yes, that’s an important message. But there’s a much easier way to say it.