Women In Business

Systems are your ticket to more freedom, so follow these 4 steps

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As a business owner if you are starting to feel tired, stressed and burnt out it’s a sign of needing a change. But if the thought of going on holiday leaves you even more stressed thinking about the work you’ll have to come back to, it’s even more a sign your business is running you, not the other way round.  This is where systemising your business can free you up and improve performance. Where to start?

There are four questions to ask in order to systemise your business:

  1. What roles are involved in delivering your product or service?
  2. What are the priority roles?
  3. What do you do at each step?
  4. What changes as a result of your actions?

1. What roles are involved in your business?

For example, in your business you may have the following roles: Marketing, Sales, Service delivery, Customer Support, Research & Development, Sales & Marketing Support, HR, Finance, Legal, Administration, IT, Purchasing, Business Strategy, General Management.

This may be too long a list of roles, it may not be long enough. The point is by exploring each role individually, you have an opportunity to capture the tasks performed by each role, the steps taken, and their impact.

Documenting your business processes doesn’t have to be time-consuming or difficult. A simple diagram with a series of connected boxes, or even just a list of bullet points is good enough; the real value comes from thinking through the steps and recognising that you can take on many different roles during a working week.

Think of it much like breaking down the tasks within a job role: what are the tasks, outcomes and responsibilities? Documenting your processes saves you the effort of thinking it through again in future. You might start to spot areas where you can improve by streamlining the process.

2. What are your priority roles?

From the list above, identify the role that takes priority. For example, if your strength isn’t bookkeeping and numbers, and you are procrastinating on your bookwork because of your dislike, make that a priority. A great litmus test is if you find yourself muttering (often resentfully), “oh, it’s just easier if I do it rather than tell someone else what to do!”

The advantage of being the business owner is you get to be the boss! You choose what you love to do, then plan how to give away what you don’t love to someone else who does. The only way to break the cycle of ‘it’s quicker and easier if I do it’ is to break down the tasks and systemise.

3. What do you do at each step?

Take the first priority you want to work on and list what the process is currently. If you’re a visual thinker, grab a bunch of Post-It notes, write each separate task as-is on a separate Post-It note. Then, using a blank surface like a table or wall, stick them up in logical order. This method is great is it encourages you to physically engage with your space, rather than simply keeping you in front of a computer.

Let’s say you want to send out an invoice. Think about where that process starts. The outcome of your invoice is presumably to get paid. The first task would be identifying how much your customer owes, which would likely come from what has been ordered, or quoted.

So you’d write “Review accepted quotes” on your first Post-It note and stick it on the wall. What would happen next? The answer goes on a second Post-It note and placed next to, or underneath (like a flowchart) the first note on the wall, such as: “Save accepted quote as invoice.” What would happen next? “Email invoice to customer.” Keep going until your process is finished.

4. What changes as a result of your actions?

You may come across a Yes/No scenario in which case, just turn your Post-It note until it becomes a diamond shape. Then simply branch off from that with more Post-It notes based on the tasks that flow from each scenario.

Once you have read through the process, added to it and re-designed it a little, transfer it to your computer and document it. Then the fun begins – you get to test it!

Testing your business systems manual

Use caution: don’t launch a new system on your unsuspecting team or customers. Instead, ask a friend, team member or colleague to follow your system and by having them do so, it may highlight a few gaps you hadn’t thought of before. This feedback is precious as it can identify improvements or fix errors. It’s always better to change your system while it’s still in draft mode, saving you any potentially disastrous and costly mistakes.

Make a note of the gaps that are identified during your first test. Add new Post it notes into the process where appropriate and take your second test drive. Repeat until you are completely satisfied all the gaps are filled and the process is smooth.

Review and update

Your business systems manual can be kept in hard or soft copy, added to an online project management system such as Asana or Trello for easy access – but the most vital point is it shouldn’t be completed, implemented and then ignored. While a great business system ought to become a well-ingrained habit, so you or anyone else could follow it easily, things change. Therefore your system needs to change to accommodate it. Make a plan to review different roles and tasks monthly, quarterly, bi-annually and annually.

About Faye Ferris

Faye Ferris is the APAC Sales and Marketing Director for BusinessesForSale.com, one of the world’s largest online global market places for buying and selling small-to-medium sized businesses. Faye is passionate about helping Australian small business succeed and regularly writes about entrepreneurship and business management. Twitter Handle: https://twitter.com/youareyourboss

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