When you’re in charge of a business, your to-do list can seem never-ending.
However, putting in long, busy days that end with you exhausted doesn’t mean you’re truly showing up where your business needs it the most.
Without you behind the wheel, your business will head in the wrong direction and maybe even crash. However, too many business owners find themselves doing the equivalent of swabbing the deck instead of climbing into the captain’s chair each day.
Good systems and processes can help you put down the mop and grab the wheel. By keeping your business’ day-to-day operations running smoothly with less oversight from you, systems let you focus on the big picture.
And thankfully, plenty of tools are available to help you create and automate those systems.
Working IN Your Business Vs. ON Your Business
The the idea that entrepreneurs should “work on it, not just in it,” was popularized by Michael Gerber’s 1986 book The E-Myth, but it still applies today.
Most business leaders and owners know on some level that they shouldn’t be handling day-to-day work. However, they still get mired in it regularly.
Systems and tools can help, but even the best ones can’t fix your tendency to jump into day-to-day work if you’re using it to fulfil some mental or emotional need.
Take a moment to see if any of these roadblocks resonate with you.
Big picture work and focusing on what matters can be difficult and devoid of instant gratification.
On the other hand, it’s easy to achieve a small sense of accomplishment from easy tasks such as answering an email, responding to anyone who walks in your office door, or completing a simple administrative task.
With these small tasks, we can even convince ourselves that we’re not actually procrastinating because the tasks are technically work.
If you make these excuses frequently, it’s time to start being honest with yourself about what’s really happening — you’re putting off working ON the business.
Needing to Feel Important
We all like to feel needed and depended upon. An easy way to feel like that is to make sure your input is necessary to lots of different operations in your business.
There can even be a pleasant rush of adrenaline when things get chaotic and you have to jump into the fray to handle it yourself.
Sometimes, of course, you really are needed in the day-to-day. Other times it’s simply an excuse to stay in your comfort zone or avoid the more difficult leadership tasks waiting for you.
Remember that the less important you personally are to a company’s operations, the more likely it is to succeed.
Fear of Letting Go
It’s uncomfortable to hand off the tasks that are so important to your business. Delegating them requires trusting a new person or program.
It also takes time to create processes or learn new software, and the potential learning curve can be used as an excuse to keep doing things yourself until you find the time.
However, in reality the odds are small that you’re going to suddenly “find” the time. You have to make the time.
Ready to move forward and get streamlined? Let’s get started.
Intro to Business Systems & Processes
Your business systems don’t have to be complicated to be extremely helpful.
They’re just step-by-step instructions that can be followed to get the same results each time they’re used. Systems and processes usually take the form of a simple outlined list in a word document, with the addition of a few screen shots or images.
Their benefits include:
– Ensuring that your business will keep running when you (or your staff) inevitably get sick or have to deal with an emergency.
– Saving the time that’s wasted when you don’t follow a uniform process for similar, repetitive tasks
– Making it much easier to train new people or agencies
– Making your business more attractive to potential buyers
Even more than that, systems help you become a better leader. They free up your time to work on what matters, but they also give your team a concrete way to carry out your vision.
That’s why spending time creating and improving systems instead of working within them is almost always a winning move for an owner.
Automation and Software to the Rescue
Once you’ve tackled creating and documenting your systems, you can start looking for ways to improve them.
One of the best ways to do that is with software and apps designed to automate some of the repetitive and time-consuming tasks businesses face.
Below is a list of areas you may want to improve on in your own business, along with some example programs for each.
Don’t get overwhelmed. You can tackle one problem area at a time, keeping in mind that many of these systems may be integrated later.
Customer relationship management
CRM programs are meant to automate all the interactions your company has with your customers. These programs can also generate powerful reports that save time and lend clarity. Because CRM programs are complex and often incorporate marketing, sales and support tools, they can get expensive.
CRM program examples: HubSpot, Salesforce, Insightly, Infusionsoft
Programs abound to help you automate marketing, particularly via email and social media. With email marketing programs, you can schedule and segment campaigns and messages and add landing pages and forms to your web site. Social media marketing programs let you schedule posts across many platforms. (Some email marketing tools have social media marketing components built in, as well.)
Email marketing examples: Drip, Mailchimp, Constant Contact
Social media automation tool examples: Hootsuite, Buffer, CoSchedule
Do you and your team routinely work on projects? Project management tools can streamline communications, file sharing, checklists and other procedures. If you work on similar projects regularly, you can copy the project files easily instead of re-creating them each time.
Project management tool examples: Trello, Asana, Basecamp, Slack
Help desk programs are designed to streamline support issues. With these tools, your customers can create their own create tickets and receive automatic updates as their issues are addressed. You can even create a knowledge base or FAQ section to cut down on support requests.
Customer support tool examples: Helpscout, Zendesk, Freshdesk
There are programs to help you with payroll, hiring, insurance, worker’s compensation and employee benefits like 401Ks. Some programs even have features that let your employees onboard themselves, potentially saving you lots of time and paperwork.
Human resources tools examples: Zenefits, Justworks, Gusto
Accounting programs are always improving their ability to manage the financial end of your business. Invoicing, reports, expense tracking — there are apps for all of it, and they generate lots of helpful reports, too.
Accounting tools examples: Freshbooks, Kashflow, Bench.co, Expensify
Ready to outsource some of your day-to-day operations but not quite ready to hire an employee? These programs streamline the process of finding and working with a contractor — taking care of things like contracts and invoicing automatically.
Outsourcing tools examples: Upwork, Fiverr, FancyHands
In for the Long Haul
Left to our own devices, we tend to stick to what’s comfortable. It’s easier to ignore new procedures, stick to the existing inefficient programs, and start a project on the fly instead of by a checklist.
That’s why it takes consistent leadership to enforce a systems-based business.
Keep in mind that documenting, improving and automating your systems is not something you can finish in an afternoon or knock out in a staff meeting.
In fact, becoming a systems-driven company is a long-term commitment that requires ongoing maintenance. But the benefits are well worth the investment.