I love business systems and the freedom and clarity they bring. When I start talking systems, I sometimes find that people’s eyes glaze over because they don’t actually understand what they are or why they’re important. So let’s talk business systems!
Business systems are the processes, tools, and technologies that you, as a solopreneur or leader of a small team, use to manage your day-to-day operations. They cover everything your business does including sales and marketing, service or product delivery, accounting, and customer service.
Creating and documenting your business systems helps you and your small team run more efficiently, effectively, and profitably by optimizing your workflows, streamlining your communication, and reducing operational costs.
It’s a great idea to have these systems written out, easy to find for everyone in your team, and reviewed periodically for accuracy. I know creating processes for the things you do in your business every day may not sound fun, but there are amazing benefits to doing so! By completing your business tasks the same way all (or most) of the time, you speed up your workflows and save tons of time every week.
With that extra time, you can take more time off and spend it with family, catching up on household tasks, or even take a vacation.
Another advantage is that, if your processes are documented, you can easily hire a new team member to do some of the work in your business. In addition, if you lose a team member, it’s quick and painless to onboard a new one.
How Business Systems Can Go Wrong (It’s the People Part)
There are many reasons that creative entrepreneurs skip the step of solidifying and documenting their processes. For starters, my clients often say to me, “My brain just doesn’t work that way!” They’re referring to the structured list of repeatable steps.
Creative entrepreneurs tend to be very visual in their approach to life and business. They see the big picture rather than the nitty-gritty detail. They often think out loud and talk with their hands. They are vibrant, passionate, individuals whose thinking process is more like an ever-expanding mind map than a bulleted list – and that’s okay!
I understand this is an over-generalization because every one of us falls somewhere on the spectrum of navigating life more with our right brain or our left brain, but the point is – creating systems can be difficult for someone who has trouble sitting still and focusing on detailed, linear steps rather than people, conversations, ideas, and visions.
If you find yourself agreeing with me on this, you might be wondering how systems can work for you. Keep reading and I’ll explain.
Keep It Simple
If you find yourself avoiding creating systems, or repeatable processes, for your business, I want to encourage you to get started with this #1 rule: Keep It Simple.
When you finally start to think about how to organize your business processes – meaning you’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s a necessary step in order to take back your time and scale the way that you want to, and there’s no way around it – you may find yourself researching new technology and how OTHER people do things. Stop yourself there. Don’t overthink it.
Instead, pick ONE part of your process, such as fulfilling a new customer order, and write down the steps you CURRENTLY take.
You may find that there are variations to your process based on what your customer ordered, where they live, their answers to a questionnaire, or any number of things. Don’t focus on those details yet. Just write down the major steps that you GENERALLY take with every order.
It could look like this:
- The order comes to my email inbox
- I write a “thank you” note
- I pack the order
- I print a shipping label
- I go to the post office and drop off the package
- I follow up with an email to the customer 1 week later
This is a workflow!
Break it down even further into a set of specific instructions, or even a video training to visually demonstrate the steps, and you’ll have an SOP (standard operating procedure).
To continue this process, think about every little thing you do for your clients and write them down: invoicing, closing out a project, sending a birthday email or card, reminding them to book their next call. Each of these processes can be documented in the same way. Take it slow – try to complete one SOP per week until you’ve got them all.
I recommend saving all of your SOPs into a folder in Google Drive or whatever you use to organize your documents. (If organization is a problem, book a call with yours truly and we’ll get you squared away!) Google Drive, OneDrive, and iCloud are all cloud-based file storage applications and will make it easier to share your SOPs with your team when needed.
Once you’ve got your product or service fulfillment processes documented, I recommend creating processes for how to spend your time. What are the first few things you do every morning when you start working on your business). Write those down and follow the same process for creating additional SOPs, if needed.
It’s smart to have repeatable tasks for each day or week, but it can also seem daunting because we all know it’s easy to fall off track. It will happen, and when it does, I have 3 tips for you!
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Anytime you create or adjust a system for your business, it involves adjusting your habits as well. It’s important to remember that you are a human and not a robot. You’re not a failure if you miss a day or skip a step. We all get busy or have moments where we need to direct our focus to something else going on in our lives.
In addition, we get too caught up thinking we need to be rockstars in EVERY area of our lives, all at once, all the time. Life doesn’t work that way because of things like time, energy, mental health, and outside influences, like family friends, and events we have to attend.
Give yourself grace. Allow yourself to slack off now and then and plan for it ahead of time when you can.
As you’re creating new habits, whether it’s exercising for your physical health or creating systems for your busy, growing company, it’s helpful to have support from people who have been successful before you or are navigating the same challenges.
Find a support and accountability group or a coach to help motivate you, remind you to stay on track, guide you to the next step, or help you get over any hurdles.
Have a Backup Plan
Design your systems with failure in mind.
You might be saying, “WHAT?! I don’t want to fail!”
Accept that failure is sometimes part of the process. At times, your team will let you down or you’ll let yourself down. How will you handle that?
Here are some ideas:
- Make sure your SOPs are designed to pick up where you left off.
- Create an FAQ bank to document issues that come up, that way, you and your team can deal with them faster next time
- Create email templates for when things go wrong, like you’ve taken too long to respond to an email or you’re out of stock on an item someone ordered
- Cross-train your employees and contractors so that they can cover for one another when needed
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of focusing on their marketing first without having solid business processes in place and then they end up overwhelmed with too many clients or customers and no systems, employees, resources, or automations to handle the workflow. Don’t let this be you!
Becoming an organized and efficient business owner can seem daunting. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and you don’t know where to start, just remember to take it one step at a time, or one process at a time.
If you want to move faster, don’t forget that you can hire someone to do this work for you!