Adding real systems to your business is an awful lot like creating a culture in your company. It’s not something you can put off. It’s not really optional.
If you don’t sit down and put some thought into your corporate culture, an alternate, unplanned mess of a culture will emerge in the vacuum. In the absence of you purposely, thoughtfully establishing a strong cultural vision, employees will shoulder that burden for you. And before you know it, you are having to undo a big, confused, disgruntled mess.
Same goes for your company’s systems. You have two choices. Either put pen to paper and systemize as much as you can about your business, or let messy, inefficient systems create themselves. Stacks of post-its are a “system –a bad one, but one that too many business owners use to manage their time.
But sitting down and thinking through – and streamlining –all of your systems? This sounds like another job, doesn’t it? Like extra work you simply don’t have time to do. Yet you can’t afford not to. The Post-It method will inevitably limit your growth and maybe even slowly smother your business.
The good news is that the time you invest now in creating sound systems to everything in your business will pay off later. Times ten.
In fact, stop thinking of it in terms of how long and plodding the process of systemizing takes. Don’t think of the loss of time. Think of it in terms of gaining:
- Peace of mind. You can walk out of your businesses front doors and focus on growing it (or god forbid, spend time on non-work matters) You will suddenly be able to do this and absolutely know that every thing will still run like clockwork.
- Freedom. By having a recorded, structured system in place you will be able to hand over a manual to your new trainees. No more hovering over them and/or jumping up every time they have a question. You focus on your work and let the system train the new kids.
- Sellablity. By creating a turnkey operation with clean, clearly documented systems in place, you make your business instantly attractive to potential buyers. When and if the time comes for you to sell your business, you can hand buyers a plug and play operation. A neatly typed binder is a lot easier to sell than, say, the memory of that one savvy admin who knows where all the bodies are buried.
McDonald’s is famous for their efficient systems. The Singapore Management University cited a case study where, without adding even one extra server, they were able to speed up the time customers had to wait to place their order.
After the process was systemized, “The cash registers are operating at greater efficiency without idling, and they can have fewer cash registers as well as fewer counter staff…The servers at the cash register have fewer tasks…and make fewer mistakes.”
So we see the benefits of introducing systems? Now how do you do it with your business?
I’ve broken the general process down into about 4 phases. This post is meant to get you on the road to systemization. For more in-depth help I highly recommend the classic book about systemization called The E-Myth, by Michael Gerber.
And at the end of these steps I’ll link you to some good tools that can help you systematize.
Ground Up, Start to Finish
The first place to start is on the front lines. The people who actually touch the paperwork and answer the phones. Resist the urge to let management (or you!) impose their systems. They don’t know what does and doesn’t work in the daily operations of your business. But the guy in the warehouse does.! So does that smart intern who files the invoices. Ask them.
Once you gather up the right people in a meeting, have them outline each process from start to finish. Feel free to break it down into larger categories like billing, customer service, shipping. Whatever category you want to call it is fine. But don’t try to actually attack it in those larger, vague terms.
Instead, break it out into specific activities. From start to finish, figure out what little tasks and activities the ‘front line’ people do every day. Those are what you need to systematize.
Whats and Whys
Now determine why your people perform each of these tasks. This seems obvious but it’s really important. When you and your staff understands the real point behind each and every task, it will clarify what the value of each task and each person is there.
This is a nice side benefit to systematizing process. You really spend time talking with your people and making their job feel important. Once you know what the specific goal is, you can focus on how to systematize it in the most efficient way.
But it’s not just about the why of each task. It’s time to talk about the what. What kind of things are needed to perform each task. Not just physical things needed but esoteric stuff like “buy ins” from other departments or “signatures from management”. Listing out all the whys and whats clarifies what each specific task gives to (and needs from!) the organization.
Appoint an Owner
Each process needs a shepherd. Someone who is ultimately responsible, no matter how many people touch that process, for seeing it through. This person needs to be two things: granted the authority to push the process through and made departmentally ‘agnostic’.
Meaning, no matter what his day to day role is, when it comes to the process he has authority, even outside his regular department. There’s no sense in appointing a process owner and asking him to make sure that the system works if the customer service employee won’t listen to him because “He’s in shipping. I don’t work for him!”
Agree, Document, Communicate
Speaking of “I don’t work for him!”, now is the time to get everyone on board. End these systemization meetings with a discussion on the new system and whether anyone has any problems with the new system. Speak now or forever hold your peace kind of thing.
Once you have the new recommended system agreed upon and bought into, make sure you document it clearly. And consistently. For each system, try to use the same terminology and structure. It will be that much more simple to adopt all systems across the board if they are laid out in the same way.
And finally, communicate. Follow up after the meetings have ended and the documents have been distributed. Check in with stakeholders from time to time to see if the systems you have put in place are working or still need some work. If they do, call a follow-up meeting and tweak it as a group until it addresses everyone’s concerns.
In my a former mastermind group I was part of, the small business owners collectively found the following tools to be very useful for systematizing their processes. Check them out and find out if they can’t help you streamline your business as well:
- Sweetprocess: What a cool tool. Then you logon and use a very easy step-by-step template to create Standard Operating Procedures for everything in your company. Anyone can log on, create an SOP for anything, and then share it with the team. Easy peasy. You don’t need to install any software but instead pay a monthly fee.
- Basecamp: This powerful project management tool will help all your staff to get on the same page and track their tasks.
- Infusionsoft: This is a great tool that tracks customer data, communication and personalization and even helps you sell your product.
- Google Analytics: In order to improve how your online visitors use your site, you need to better understand how they interact with it in the first place. Google Analytics can monitor your traffic, bounce rates, conversions and so much more.
- Livechat: We call this the conversion key. It allows you to chat online with visitors who are on your site, looking to purchase from you. As simple and frictionless as texting, it makes communicating with your customer unbelievably easy.
- Skype: Speaking of keeping in touch, Skype is a fantastic tool to keep you and your team in touch. You can enjoy free video conferences, exchange files and even keep private group ‘chat rooms’ open for all of your remote staff to have ongoing group conversations throughout the workday. Like an online break room or water cooler!
So what systems works for you? What doesn’t? Have you systematized your business yet? If not, why not? Tell us in the comments below
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