In our annual holiday greeting video, I spoke to our customers and partners about how 2016 was a year of investments. Naturally, when people hear the word “investment,” they think large capital, and big dollar signs appear. As we begin a new year, we challenge readers to not think of investment as exclusively relating to big piles of cash. Rather, look around at what your business already owns. You have already made investments in hardware and software – now is the time to get the most out of that investment.

Think about this scenario. It’s a windy day, perfect for flying a kite. You head to the craft store and buy a couple of fresh kite parts, hoping they will fit some older materials you have back home. When you return to assemble the kite, you realize none of the pieces work together. You head back out to the craft store. Because you so heavily spent on the previous trip, you cut corners and buy cheap parts. It takes a long time to assemble the mismatched pieces, but finally you have the kite ready, and you head to a field. It flies okay, but upon discussing with your friends, you realize how inefficient the day was spent and how much great weather you missed.

Could you have made a great kite with just a new piece of fabric? Where was the previous kite deficient? Without knowing the answers to these questions, you can’t know if your investment was worthwhile or wasteful.

Leveraging existing investments begins by analyzing your workflow. Here are steps you can consider while reviewing your equipment and processes:

1.) Investing time and thought into simply figuring out what you have is any important first step. From this step, you can create a document that outlines the life and health of hardware and software products, manage renewal dates, and look at any outstanding contracts and/or agreements (for example, are there any remaining, unused professional service hours for a product or service you purchased?). This document can serve as a foundation that will give a 365-degree view of your mailing operation. It will also help prioritize the next steps. This exercise may uncover lapsed renewals or dated machinery that, if addressed early in the year, can pay back dividends throughout the rest of 2017.

2.) Look for automation-friendly steps along the process. Connecting technology saves companies time and money. Big or small, operations that invest in automation see big returns on their investment. Automation capabilities may already exist on the hardware and software solutions you use in your daily operation. To make use of automation functionality, it may require an investment in a consultant or professional service to fully integrate the product into other parts of the mailing workflow. It’s important when researching solutions for your business to shop for products that are automation friendly – that way, even if your business isn’t to a point currently to become fully automated, the capabilities will be there in the future when it is.

3.) Upgrade or extend the capabilities of existing tools. Thinking back to the kite story, if you had first examined what you had, you may see some pieces with rough, fading, or aging. Or you might find one piece that’s not compatible with the others. If you’ve exhaustedly done the first two steps, you can make an investment in new kite pieces that are sound. This same scenario can be applied to business investments. When the time comes to make the investment, you can be comforted knowing a.) what exactly your business needs, and b.) make an upgrade or buying decision that will enhance the entire workflow.

4.) It’s important to keep in touch with the support or sales staff of the big investments you’ve made for the business. When it is time for these upgrades, you’ll understand what your options are, and your vendor won’t be learning from scratch about your business.

I can’t stress enough the importance we see in 2017 in investing in critical connecting points. By making a smaller scale investment in smoothing over or streamlining those manual points in your mail preparation process, the business as a whole could possibly operate better than if you made a major investment into a component that can’t be utilized to the best of its ability.