Most people start their own business for the freedom. They want to be their own boss and set their own hours. Yet, those who do make the leap to self employment often find themselves working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week and never seem to have enough time to do everything nor enough money to hire someone to do it for them.
How do you break that vicious cycle? Start putting business systems in place. Simply put, a system is a step-by-step process that you follow to complete a particular task so that you get a specific outcome. Instead of reinventing the wheel each time you must do something, you have a written checklist of steps that you (or your employees or vendors) can follow to complete the task “your way”. By creating systems, you can easily teach someone else how to do what you do, then hand off the tasks so you have more time to focus on more important things.
I once heard the analogy that a business without systems is like taking the stairs to the 35th floor of a building. It’s incredibly difficult, slow, and not tedious. In contrast, a business with systems is like taking the elevator. Instead of walking up a spiral staircase (going in circles), you take the direct path (a straight line) to accomplish your tasks – and virtually anyone who gets in the elevator will make it to the 35th floor.
Who Can Business Systems Help?
The short answer is every small business owner. Imagine having the freedom to take a 3 week vacation or deal with a major life event and having the peace of mind that your business will be able to run smoothly in your absence. Too often, you are your business – you wear all the hats. If you don’t do it, it can’t or won’t get done. Systems allow you to easily teach others to do many of your daily tasks so you don’t have to worry about them.
If either of these scenarios sound like you, systems can help.
- You have too many projects and not enough time. It seems like you’re always working and never making much progress. Because you are always rushing, you don’t do as good of a job as you could, you don’t get enough sleep, your family life starts to suffer, and you start burning out. Systems can help you figure out what is mission critical and what can be delegated. By taking an hour or two to document everything you have to do and how you’ll go about doing it, you may be able to free up considerably more time.
- You’re firm is growing too fast. You’ll often read about businesses that grow too fast. They get a stream of clients or orders and have a difficult time serving their clients because they have too much on their plates. Often, the solution is to hire people, but that means taking time out to find the right people and train new employees. Systems can make that process a lot faster and smoother.
If you ever plan to grow your business beyond you or a handful of employees, you must document the steps you take to serve your clients and run your business.
How To Create Business Systems
Creating your system doesn’t have to be complicated. Start with whatever you have to accomplish today or this week and document the steps you take to get things done. Take an hour or two and follow these steps:
- What do I have to do? Start brainstorming everything you have to do this week – whether that’s writing 2 articles for your blog or newsletter, placing an ad in your local paper, calling a prospect, having lunch with a past client, answering email, going to an industry conference, planning a talk for your local chamber of commerce, etc.
- Pick your top 3. If you try to systematize everything at once, in all likelihood, you’ll end up frustrated and overwhelmed. Instead, pick the top 3 things that have to be done and start with those.
- Decide what the outcome should be. What does success look like once the tasks are completed? What are the key milestones for that outcome? For instance, if you make a sales call and can’t close, what is the next step? Another call? Refer to someone else? Add to your mailing list?
- Create a step by step guide. Once you have an idea of key milestones, put those steps on paper. I do this step with flowcharts in SmartDraw, which is really simple to use but there are many good flowcharting programs out there. A flow chart is a visual representation of your process. The basic components are rectangles, diamonds, and arrows connecting them. In the rectangles, you place your steps – one step for each rectangle. In the diamonds, you place decisions where what you do next “depends” on an outcome. You can visit the SmartDraw website to view sample flow charts and download a free trial of the software.
You can make your flowcharts as big picture or as detailed as you’d like. Often, I create one big picture flow chart of my process, like how to respond to an email inquiry, then create more detailed flow charts for the more common scenarios. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to start documenting your step-by-step processes for all your business operations.
Systems are great for saving you time and money. When you stop to think about how many hours each year you spend hunting down missing business cards, phone numbers or important documents and multiply that by your hour rate, you realize how much wasted time is costing you. With a system in place, you know exactly what you need to do so nothing gets lost.