“How Systems And Procedures Can Build You A Better Life” – that’s a heck of a promise, isn’t it?
Well, I think it’s true!
Life could be great for you right now, and you’re pumping it! But I know this – if you own and run a small business, especially if you started it within the last few years and you’re starting to get busy, you’re working pretty hard in your life right now, and dare I say, your work-life balance is probably out of whack.
I know what it’s like, I’ve been there, I’ve seen so many clients go through the same thing as well.
You start your business with a passion, you’re doing everything from opening the doors every morning to the marketing, to fronting the front-counter, to producing your service or product, to keeping the books – right up to sweeping up and locking the doors at night.
It’s pretty exhilarating at first – this is what you dreamt of, owning your own business and carving out your own pathway to business success!
But as business ramps up, it becomes a little consuming. It’s hard to maintain the energy levels and feel like you are focusing on what really drives the business because you are involved in doing everything. Even if you hire staff, it doesn’t seem to quite work out. You have to train them in what you used to do, and they don’t quite get it right, so you get re-involved. Or they leave and so you have to find and train someone else. Sometimes wires get crossed and tasks fall between the cracks because someone thought you were doing it when you thought they were. Pretty soon customers start to comment that the quality of what you deliver isn’t quite the same anymore, or worse, that it’s patchy and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not.
So you work even harder to get it right, mainly by doing it yourself and pretty soon you’re working hard every day on all the details and the direction of the business starts to stagnate, your work-life balance, that dream to earn enough to spend time with the family seems to be a long way away.
Your life might be rocking, but it’s not well balanced! Ask your spouse!
So, if you own a small business and you’re finding it hard to let go, how can systems and procedures build you a better life?
Firstly, systems make the outputs and outcomes of your business predictable. Systems make your everyday actions predictable and repeatable.
Imagine a restaurant without a set menu, without standard recipes for basic dishes. Every night, the dishes would come out different depending on which kitchen staff prepared it. Sometimes it would take 10 minutes to prepare the dish, sometimes half an hour. Sometimes it was too spicy, sometimes not salty enough. Customers would stop trusting in the quality of food served in the restaurant; you wouldn’t know how many sittings to book because you wouldn’t know how long it would take diners to get their meals.
Imagine that restaurant without a standardised way of keeping the books. Sometimes the chef would enter transactions, sometimes the Head Waiter, sometimes you. Each time the purchase of vegetables is treated differently, sometimes as cost of goods sold, sometimes as sundry expenses. Sometimes the books are entered at the end of the night, sometimes a few days later. You would lose sight of the real financial performance of the business, you would not be able to manage the finances.
Predictable systems mean that you and your staff can do the same things, day in and day out, in exactly the same way so that you can manage outcomes for customers in a totally predictable way. This maintains a standard of quality that your customers receive – every single time. It also means you can manage time and process flows. You know exactly how long it takes to do something and what resources are consumed during the process. This makes planning and managing much more effective since it is all predictable.
Once you write down clear systems, the work becomes delegatable.
You can stop being frustrated that the task is not done correctly, you don’t have to do it yourself, you don’t have to keep retraining new people personally, you don’t even have to be a hostage to an experienced employee you can never let go.
If you have clear, written systems, you can train new staff, not on the task, but on the implementation of the system by following the system’s procedures. They will know exactly what is expected of them, what the end result should look like, and how long it will take. The work in the business will happen on time, and be done in exactly the way you want, with exactly the same results you want. If a team member leaves, all you have to do is replace them with someone with the right attitude, train them in the system by taking them through the written documents, and they can follow them from there. You no longer have to show them, you just point to the part of the system they need to follow.
This makes all your processes controllable because you can easily spot when something is being done wrong, and instead of taking over, or showing them how to do it again, you refer them to the steps in the system they are not following.
Of course, because they are written down and predictable, you can scale your business because the systems are scalable.
All you have to do to scale is to add resources because you know that those resources used in the system already work to get you the result you want. You just need to do more of it. If the restaurant wanted to open a second location, you just hire more cooks and waiters and they follow the system from location 1 in location 2.
And you don’t have to be in both places at once doing everything yourself!
Having standard systems also means that you can automate your processes.
Not every system can be automated, but because the system steps are always the same, you can find software to automate some processes. For example, instead of preparing and manually sending out marketing pamphlets, you can write one out, and then add it to mailing software and have it sent out at set times, with automated responses to queries and replies.
One of the biggest advantages of having systems in the growth of your business is that systems are measurable.
Because systems make sure that every task is done in exactly the same way, that task becomes measurable. How long should something take? How many resources should it consume? Measuring these factors, you can jump on cost over-runs and inefficiency immediately.
Measurement also helps you see what works and what doesn’t.
If you had no systems for your salespeople and they present to potential customers in different ways, how do you know which presentation works and why? On the other hand if all your salespeople had a script and presented the same way, you can analyse results and tweak parts of the script to perform better.
Since systems make your work measurable, this also means that systems can be improved. When you know the result, you can make improvements on a regular basis, the philosophy of continuous improvement.
As in the example above, you can try making changes to the system, perhaps armed with feedback from your team. If the waiters in your restaurant feel that they can improve the booking system and suggest it, you can try it out to see if it speeds things up, and if it does, change the system. Or, you can test each step of a procedure by just changing one step and see how that affects the result.
The most important benefit of systems is that the presence of systems improves the value of your business for any future sale.
Potential buyers will want to know that they can reproduce the success you show. The fact that you can show them written, step-by-step systems means that they can have much more confidence that the goodwill they are valuing can be maintained.
Many small business owners build these systems out of habit. When they start their business, they have to figure out how to do things and these how-to steps evolve into something they do for themselves regularly.
They habitually remember how it’s done and as new people join the team they show them how it’s done.
But they don’t step it out in detail, and they don’t write it down, so that in time, it’s not so standard anymore, and the owner never gets to let go.
Detailing step-by-step systems and writing them down creates all the benefits that will change your life in the way you can let go in your business and let other people do what you do.
As a small business owner, you will not attain your vision of a successful business that brings financial freedom and time with family unless you invest in and design systems in your business. You cannot achieve your dream just by answering more phone calls or working more hours. You have to work on the way your business does things and focus on building value through systems.
I have a free download you can get, which gives you a template for writing the policies and procedures that make up your systems. Click here to download now.
In return, I’d like to ask for your help.
I’m thinking of creating an online workshop and training to help small businesses create systems in their business. I’d like to know if you would be interested in this online product. Please comment in the blog to let me know, or tweet me @OhTeik or put a comment on the Teik Oh Dot Com Facebook page.