So you’re making some sales and the days of bootstrapping from your walk-in closet are over. You’ve got a nice little team humming along, and maybe even a brick-and-mortar space. Perhaps you’re even further along the entrepreneurial journey.
But something’s not right.
When you look away from a project, it stalls or collapses. As you’re adding products, services, and layers of operations, it still feels like you’re the one manually controlling them all. All of this creates a sensation of being one of those old timey one-man bands. But as the company scales up, the machine on your back just keeps growing and growing.
Most business owners have a desire to expand from a one-person show to a fully established institution. But for that to happen, the person at the center of it all has to be able to step away and know things will run smoothly. Decision-making can’t be totally dependent on one person, as that person may not always be in the capacity to make the best decisions.
In other words, there must be systems that allow others to execute tasks, independently, by following documented procedures.
This is what we call systematization, a long word that means leaving behind the one-person band, and creating a well-oiled machine of a business that can run—and scale—on its own.
Sam Craven, co-founder at Senna House Buyers, is one of the many business owners who have scaled their businesses with systematization. Implementing the right systems in their real estate business took away some of the uncertainty that comes with unstable operations and gave them clarity and direction.
Running a cash-intensive business, things were going quite well with several property sales, but there was no system in place for cash flow. With so much cash outflow and no inflow, they began to run out of cash. Faced with the possibility of a halt in business operations, they decided to systematize, for a change. They were able to create a system that enabled them to spend less money on walking properties and also bill clients by answering relevant questions related to the property, via a checklist.
Systematizing is the process of creating standard operating procedures or policies that are tailor made for your business, to ensure smooth operations, orderliness and productivity. You get to seize upon your business’s strengths and find continuous success by replicating those procedures that work best.
Some of the benefits can include:
It synchronizes your operations
It enables you to document a step-by-step procedure for getting things done and aligns the various aspects of your work to create an easy flow. As every aspect of your business contributes to the overall success, you can create a kind of clockwork relationship between the different components and then monitor the performance of each element.
It gives you quality control
Systematizing gives your business quality and consistency as your laid down procedures build a routine for employees to replicate the same quality service by replicating the same actions. You don’t have to worry about a drop in the quality of service delivery, which leads to client dissatisfaction.
It empowers your employees
It sounds at first like systematizing is turning your staff into cogs in a machine, but the opposite is actually true. When done right, it distributes power to your employees, as it shows them exactly what to do and how to do it right, without a manager lording over their every move or signing off on every task. It saves them the trouble of having to ask questions that make them look and feel incompetent and prevents them from relying on uncertainties to make decisions. When employees perform documented procedures over time, they get familiar with them and their skills are honed, making them experts on the job.
How to Systematize for Success
Systemization means, you guessed it, building and formalizing systems that work. The process combines interlocking processes that together guide your day-to-day operations from start to finish.
Here’s how you do it:
1. Outline existing systems that work
If you run a business that has been around for some time, you likely already have some systems in place. This process is not about dismantling and reassembling your business, but rather, making either old or new procedures work as best they can, without fail. While your entire operation may not be giving you your desired results, there is a good chance that you have things that do work well for you. You need to maximize their full potential.
CEO of SUM Innovation, Mathew Heggem, can attest to this. Before systematizing their business, one thing they had going well was generating sales. But while sales were coming in, they had a problem with adequately satisfying every client’s needs. It was clear that their sales-generating system was good, so they had to create effective systems to ensure that sales were then fully serviced to make clients happy.
Start this process by making a list of all your systems. Go through your list and ask yourself these questions for every item: Why is this system in place? What problem(s) does it solve? For a system to be effective, it must solve a problem, otherwise, it is irrelevant. When every system is an answer to a question, you are bound to have positive results.
2. Identify repetitive tasks and the best way(s) to execute them
What are the tasks that you and your employees perform to get the job done? Before you go through this process, I would bet there are some you don’t even know about—the connective tissue that holds everything together, but that you never really formalized. That means it’s possible you haven’t taken note of some of the little-but-important tasks that fine-tune your operations, hence, leaving them out every now and then to the detriment of your business.
To wrap your head around all of these details, instruct your employees to keep a record of their daily individual and team activities, for about a week or thereabout. At the end of this period, their records will give you clear sense of what each employee performs and contributes to.
Study the records of their operations to identify irrelevant and duplicate tasks—perhaps, “Candy Crush 1-4 p.m.”—and then identify tasks that can be better performed individually or in a group. You don’t want two or more employees doing the same thing or wasting time on procedures that you can do without. Group similar tasks together and assign specific employees to handle them.
3. Create a sequence
This may seem basic but sometimes, employees juggle procedures up, without realizing the effect it has on the final outcome. Working without an arranged flow of procedures, creates disorderliness in your operations, and makes things difficult.
Identify primary tasks that must be done before the secondary ones, to achieve good results. It is important to note that for things to be perfect, every task counts. The primary tasks must be properly executed, otherwise, they will affect the quality of the secondary ones due to their shaky foundation.
Who has to do what first? For example, an employee who is responsible for data entry must do so accurately, so that the employee in charge of data analysis can do so effectively, without any mix-up. If there’s an error in the entry, the analysis will be inaccurate.
4. Document your procedures
Now that you know the different systems, eliminated repetitive tasks, and determined the sequence, you need to put everything down in writing.
The idea is for you to give your employees a step-by-step guide of what to do and how to do it, in your absence. You need to create an instructional document that an employee can understand and interpret with little or no supervision, from the get go.
For DJ Carroll, president and founder of EasyPro Property, the turning point in his business was having employees start doing work without having to babysit them, and having the assurance that they would do it well because they had step-by-step procedures. He divided his business into three departments: Administration, Operations, and Marketing, and put team leaders in charge of the Administration and Operations departments, while he focused on his specialty and passion of Marketing.
Write your procedures with action, using a “how-to” format. Don’t just tell employees what you want them to do, show them how to do it. To achieve better results, make do with more visuals than texts because they are easier to understand and last longer in the minds of employees.
5. Test your systems
Try out your procedures by assigning tasks to employees to execute a few times. Monitor their progress as they work. If, in the end, results achieved at the different trials don’t tally, it means they haven’t gotten the hang of things, and from your observation, you can tell where the mix-up came from. Go over the procedures with them again and guide them through the steps until they are able to perfect it.
Do You Want to Systematize and Scale Your Business?
When it comes to the big questions of how to scale your business, systematization has a lot of the answers. If nothing else, going through a process like this helps you get the full picture of what exactly it is you’re doing on a daily basis. But it ultimately enables you to take yourself out of every single process happening in your shop. If the components of your business can’t work on their own, you’re still basically running a one-person operation, with a bunch of other people sort of hanging out on the clock.
If you decide to go down this path, there are many tools out there to help you systematize. They start with a pen and a pad of paper, and build up to resources like those offered by my company SweetProcess, which specializes in helping business owners create such systems.
See if you can put these principles to work to give your business a more organized structure, iron out all those kinks, satisfy your clients, and create the conditions for growth that draw investors.
Got your own tips, tools, or experiences for creating systems? Let us know in the comments!