One of the biggest mistakes a business owner can make is to create a company that is dependent on the owner’s involvement for the success of its daily operations. This is called working “in” your business. You’re writing basic sales letters, licking stamps, and guiding staff step-by-step through each task.
There are a number of problems with this approach. One is redundancy. You’re paying your staff to carry out tasks that you eventually complete. The second is poor time management. You’re spending your day – at your high hourly rate – on tasks as they arise, leaving little room for the tasks you need to be focused on.
However, the biggest issue I have with this approach is that countless intelligent business owners are spending the majority of their time operating their business, instead of growing it.
A good test of this is to ask yourself, what would happen if you took off to a hot sunny destination for three weeks and left your cell phone, PDA and laptop at home. Would your business be able to continue operating?
If you said no, then this chapter is for you.
Systemizing your business is about putting policies and procedures in place to make your business operations run smoother – and more importantly – without your constant involvement. With your newfound free time, you will be able to focus your efforts on the bigger picture: strategically growing your business.
For most small business owners, systems simply mean freedom from the day-to-day functioning of their organization. The company runs smoothly, makes a profit, and provides a high level of service – regardless of the owner’s involvement.
Systemizing your business is also a healthy way to plan for the future. You’re not going to be working forever – what happens when you retire? How will you transition your business to new ownership or management? How will you take that vacation you’ve been dreaming of?
Businesses that function without their ownership are also highly valuable to investors. Systemizing your business can position it in a favorable light for purchase, and merit a high price tag.
A system is any process, policy, or procedure that consistently achieves the same result, regardless of who is completing the task.
Any task that is performed in your business more than once can be systemized. Ideally, the tasks that are completed on a cyclical basis – daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly – should be systemized so much so that anyone can perform them.
Systems can take many forms – from manuals and instruction sheets, to signs, banners, and audio or video recordings. They don’t have to be elaborate or extensive, just provide enough information in step-by-step form to guide the person performing the task.
Benefits of Business Systems
There are unlimited benefits available to you and your business through systemization. The more systems you can successfully implement, the more benefits you’ll see.
- Better cost management
- Improved time management
- Clearer expectations of staff
- More effective staff training and orientation
- Increased productivity (and potentially profits)
- Happier customers (consistent service)
- Maximized conversion rates
- Increased staff respect for your time
- Increased level of individual initiative
- Greater focus on long-term business growth
Taking Stock of Your Existing Systems
The first step in systemizing your business is taking a long look at the existing systems (if any) in your business. At this point, you can look for any systems that have simply emerged as “the way we do things here.”
How do your staff answer the phone? What is the process customers go through when dealing with your business? How are employees hired? Trained? How is performance Reviewed and rewarded?
Some of your systems may be highly effective, and not require any changes. Others may be ineffective and require some reworking. If you have previously established some systems, now is a good time to check-in and evaluate how well they are functioning.
Use the following chart to record what systems currently exist in your business.
Seven Areas to Systemize
There is no doubt that system creation – especially when none exist to begin with – is a daunting and time-consuming task. For many businesses, it can be difficult to determine where to start to make the best use of their time from the onset.
Here are seven main areas of your business you can to systemize. Begin with one area, and move to the other areas as you are ready. Alternately, start with one or two systems within each area, and evaluate how those new systems affect your business. Each business will require its own unique set of systems.
This is an important area of your business to systemize because administrative roles tend to see a high turnover. A series of systems will reduce training time, and keep you from explaining how the phones are to be answered each time a new receptionist joins your team.
> Opening and closing procedures
> Phone greeting
> Mail processing
> Sending couriers
> Office maintenance (watering plants, emptying recycle bins, etc.)
> Filing and paper management
> Document production
> Inventory management
> Order processing
> Making orders
This is one area of systems that you will need to keep a close eye on – but that doesn’t mean you have to do the work yourself. Financial
management systems are everything from tracking credit card purchases to invoicing clients and following up on overdue accounts.
These systems will help to prevent employee theft, and allow you to always have a clear picture of your numbers. It will allow you to control purchasing, and ensure that each decision is signed-off on.
> Credit card purchase tracking
> Accounts payable
> Accounts receivable
> Bank deposits
> Cutting checks
> Tax payments
> Profit / loss statements
> Daily cash out
> Petty cash
> Employee expenses
> Commission payments
The area of communication is essential and time consuming for any business. Fax cover letters, sales letters, internal memos, reports, and newsletters are items that need to be created regularly by different people in your organization.
Most of the time, these communications aren’t much different from one to the next, yet each are created from scratch by a different person. There is a huge opportunity for systemization in this area of your business. Systemized communication ensures consistency and company differentiation.
> Internal memo template
> Fax cover template
> Letterhead template
> Team meeting agenda
> Sending faxes
> Internal emails
> Newsletter template
> Sales letter template(s)
> Meeting minutes template
> Report template
> Internal meetings
4. Customer Relations
Another important area for systemization is customer relations. This includes everything the customer sees or touches in your company, as well as any interaction they might have with you or your staff members.
Establishing a customer relations system will also ensure that new staff members understand how customers are handled in your business. It will allow you to maintain a high level of customer service, without constantly reminding staff of your policies. It will also ensure that the success of your customer relations and retention does not hinge on you or any other individual salesperson.
Customer Relations Systems
> Incoming phone call script
> Outgoing phone call script
> Customer service standards
> Customer retention strategy
> Customer communications templates
> Sales process
> Sales script
> Newsletter templates
> Ongoing customer communication strategy
> Customer liaison policy
Create systems in your business for hiring, training, and developing your employees. This will establish clear expectations for the employee, and streamline time consuming activities like recruitment.
Employees with clear expectations who work within clear structures are happier and more productive. They are motivated to achieve ‘A’ when they know they will receive ‘B’ if they do. Establishing a clear training manual will also save you and your staff the time and hassle of training each new staff member on the fly.
> Employee recruitment
> Employee retention
> Incentive and rewards program
> Regular employee reviews
> Employee feedback structure
> Staff uniforms or dress code
> Employee training
> Ongoing training and professional development
> Job descriptions and role profiles
This is likely an area in which you spend a large part of your time. You focus on generating new leads and getting more people to call you or walk through your doors. These efforts can be systemized and delegated to other staff members.
Use the information in this program to create simple systems for your basic promotional efforts. Any one of your staff should be able to pick up a marketing manual and implement a successful direct mail campaign or place a purposeful advertisement.
> Referral program
> Customer retention program
> Regular promotions
> Marketing calendar
> Enquiries management
> Regular advertisements
> Advertisement creation system
> Direct mail system
> Sales procedures
> Lead management
While we like to think we operate a paperless office, often the opposite is true. Your business needs to have clear systems for managing paper and electronic information to ensure that information is protected, easily accessed, and only kept when necessary.
Data management systems help you keep your office organized. Everyone knows where information is to be stored, and how it is to be handled, which prevents big stacks of paper with no place to go.
Ensure that within your data management systems you include a data backup system. That way, if anything happens to you server or computer software, your data – and potentially your business – is protected.
Data Management Systems
> IT Management
> Data backup
> Computer repairs
> Electronic information storage
> Client file system
> Project file system
> Point of sale system
> Financial data management
Implementing New Systems
If you completed the exercise earlier in this chapter, you will have a good idea of the systems that are currently in place in your business. The next step is to determine what systems you need to create in your business.
To do this you will need to get a better understanding of the tasks that you and your employees complete on a daily and weekly basis. If you operate a timesheet program, this can be a good source of information. Alternately, ask staff to keep a daily log for a week of all the tasks they contribute to or complete. Doing so will not only give you valuable insight into their how they spend their time on a daily basis, but also involve them in the systemizing process.
Review all task logs or timesheet records at the end of the week, remove duplicates, and group like tasks together. From here you can categorize the tasks into business areas like the seven listed above, or create your own categories.
Then, you will need to prioritize and plan your system creation and implementation efforts. Choose one from each category, or one category to focus on at a time. The amount you can take on will depend on your business needs, and the staff resources you have available to you for this process.
Remember that system creation is a long-term process – not something that will transform your business overnight. Be patient, and focus on the items that hold the highest priority.
Creating Your Systems
There is a big variety of ways you can create systems for your business – depending on the type of system you need and the type of
business you operate. Some systems will be short and simple – i.e., a laminated sign in the kitchen that outlines step-by-step how to make the coffee – while others will be more complex – i.e., your sales scripts or letter templates.
One thing all of your systems have in common is steps. There is a linear process involved from start to finish. Begin by writing out each of the steps involved in completing the task, and provide as much detail as you can.
Then, review your step-by-step guide with the employee(s) who regularly complete the task and gather their feedback. Once you have incorporated their input, decide what format the system needs to be in: manual, laminated instruction sheet, sign, office memo, etc.
Testing Your Systems
Now that you have created a system, you will need to make sure that it works. More specifically, you need to make sure that it works without your involvement.
Implement the new system for an appropriate period of time – a week or month – then ask for input from staff, suppliers and vendors, and customers. Evaluate if it is informative enough for your staff, seamless enough for your suppliers, and whether or not it meets or exceeds your customer’s needs.
Take that feedback and revise the system accordingly. You will rarely get the system right the first time – so be patient.
Systems will also need to be evaluated and revised on a regular basis to ensure your business processes are kept up to date. Structure an annual or bi-annual review of systems, and stick to it.
It will be nearly impossible for you to develop effective systems without the involvement and input of your employees. These are the people who will be using the systems, and who are completing the tasks on a regular basis without systems. They have a wealth of knowledge to assist you in this process.
Employees can also draft the systems for you to review and finalize. This will make the systemization process a much faster and more efficient one.
It is also important to note that when you introduce new systems into your company, there may be a natural resistance to the change. People – including your employees – are habitual people who can become set in the way they are used to doing things.
The final step to systemizing your business is delegation. What is the point of creating systems unless someone other than you can use them to perform tasks?
This doesn’t have to mean completely removing your involvement from the process, but it does mean giving your employees enough freedom to
complete the task within the structure of the systems you have spent time and considerable thought creating.
After that, allow yourself the freedom of focusing on the tasks that you most enjoy, and most deserve your time – like creating big picture strategies to grow your business and increase your profits.