I am a big believer in systems and processes.
I don’t mean buying the latest and greatest CRM or multi-function tool.
I mean sitting down as a business owner and thinking about how your business does run and how you want it to run and then working out how to get from point A to point B.
That tends to get treated as something that just means documenting what you’re doing now and being done with it. That’s a great start – knowing where you are is the first step in developing and refining your processes, but that’s all it is—a start.
I recommend that owners set aside time, scheduled in their calendars, to work on their business. It is as simple as setting aside an hour a week to look at some portion of your business and tease it apart and confirm that it is how you want it to be, or if it’s not, figuring out what is missing or needs to be changed.
Once you’ve spent the time to review your process yourself, take another look at it:
- If you’re a person who works better when you talk, find a trusted confidant and talk them through your process. Have them poke holes if they can and test your assumptions. If it is good, it will hold up. If not, you know it can stand some refinement
- If you work better with visuals, graph it out. Microsoft Visio, Google Drawings, or even just pen and paper. Look for where the assumptions lie and decide if you’re happy with them or not. Refine as needed.
- If you work with a team, review it with them. Take advantage of the institutional knowledge you have in your people and involve them in the process. When they’re part of the development, they’ll be more invested in it.
When it comes down to it, investing in the systems that run your business is some of the most important work you’ll do, because it will make your company run smoother, you’ll have the foundation to grow, and when the time comes, you’ll have that as yet another asset in the company that makes it that much more valuable.
One last thought – this is not a “one and done” exercise. You’re going to need to adapt as you grow and to be able to adjust as the world changes around us. Having the habit of examining your processes and systems and doing it deliberately means that you will be able to not simply stick with codifying what is already being done, but to proactively adapt and develop. It means you can choose your path, not simply react to what happens.
Common phrases I’ve heard are “I hate meetings” or “that was a meeting that could have been an email”. Much maligned, meetings can be productive, with a little preparation.
6 Tips for running an efficient meeting:
1) Have an agenda: Provide it beforehand so if anyone needs an item added, they can do so
2) Every agenda item has a time: That time should be listed by the person who needs that item on the agenda
3) Do the math: As a group, decide what items need to have their own meeting (if running long and it’s urgent) or can be pushed to a subsequent meeting.
4) Who needs to leave first and when? That decides how much time you have for the meeting total.
5) Have a timer: Both literally and a person. Someone who’s responsible for tracking the time for each item.
6) Stick to it: Once the timer goes off, make a decision. Either you know what you need to know to decide, you know what action items must be done to get you there, or you know you need to do more discussion to be able to effectively decide.
Meetings that go over time, be it 30 minutes or 2 hours, waste the time of everyone in the room. Which wastes money. Which no business should do.
One of my clients has what she calls “The Five-Second Rule”, and no, it’s not that one.
Her rule is “Spend five seconds now making the next guy’s job 10 minutes easier.”
I’ve tripped over variations of this rule in various jobs throughout my life:
- working in a restaurant, you did prep and cleaned before you left, so the next person on shift wasn’t scrambling
- working in IT, a little clearer documentation meant happier end-users
- working in a charity, taking time to quality control the database meant that when you went to create reports for the Board of Directors or the Philanthropy Manager, it was faster and easier
Notes to Future You is my homage to that rule. Spending a little time now to make Future You’s job easier.
For years I ran publicity and promotion for a set of a local theatre’s productions. I would make notes with each show, documenting what businesses would take promotional materials, what companies were willing to offer the theatre a discount on supplies, who would give me a break on printing costs in exchange for their logo included on the poster. I created a set of documents in Google Drive and with each production, it was revised and refined.
Eventually, I created a spreadsheet that had every task I knew that needed to be done along with a not-too-complicated-but-complicated-enough set of calculations. I had only to plug in the opening night and closing night dates and it would give me a schedule with every task. I could then import that into a Google Calendar I would create just for the production and could share with the cast and crew.
In a matter of minutes, thanks to the work Past Me had done, I was able to know exactly what needed doing and by when.
Take 5 minutes today and make yourself a note of what you learned or who you need to contact for the next time you’re working on a project you did today. Put it somewhere that’s intuitive to you, so, a little time now makes Future You’s job easier.