Whenever I talk with my coaching clients, the topic of food always comes up.
No, not as an ice breaker (although I could talk about my favorite dishes and desserts for quite a while). The topic of food, specifically the food industry, comes up because it’s a great way to explain systems.
Take chefs, for example. The quality and taste of a restaurant dish that a professional chef produces need to be exactly the same for each customer who orders it. This requires them to be very methodical, disciplined, and focused. If they veer away from the standard recipe or use the wrong tools, then the dish will be affected, the customers will notice, and their restaurant reputation could suffer.
Another example is McDonald’s—the hundred billion dollar company that’s responsible for systematizing the fast food industry. The McDonald’s franchise works in a way that anyone can go in and implement their exact proven system, and they’ll have a high chance of succeeding. They can also hire almost anyone to work in any McDonald’s kitchen and following a systematic set of procedures, that person can produce the same food every time.
That is the beauty of creating systems.
Systems allow your business to run like a well-oiled machine while making it more streamlined, more productive, and ultimately, more profitable.
When a huge portion of your business is running smoothly and with less supervision, you can step back and let the systems do the work for you, thereby making you a smarter business owner.
You’re then free to focus on more high-touch and profitable activities that are the best use of your time, energy, skills, and expertise, all while you generate more and more profits.
Ever thought about getting things done faster? Eliminating bottlenecks? Reducing your workload? Taking a month-long vacation? Working in a different country? Hiring more people? Scaling your business to multiple 7-figures?
Systems allow you to do all these things and more.
But first, what is a system anyway?
A system is defined as a set of processes, tools, people, and strategies that all work together to solve a problem or achieve a goal.
Since a system can cover anything from completing simple tasks (ex. sending email newsletters) to finishing more complicated projects (ex. creating automated sales funnels), you probably have your own business systems set up already.
But the same way that there are good systems and there are great systems, there are also bad systems or ones that are unnecessary, counterproductive, overly expensive, or too time-consuming.
So, anytime you have a certain way of doing things, that in itself is a system. It’s just a matter of making your system the most streamlined, efficient, and effective it can be based on your business goals.
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Here are five steps to create business systems that help you work smarter:
Step 1: Identify your business activities
Systems come in all shapes and forms so take this opportunity to document the activities you do to run your business.
It could be activities you do regularly (ex. publishing blog posts, sending email newsletters, going on discovery calls) or a single activity that you think you’ll repeat in the future (ex. hosting a webinar, launching a product, writing a guest post).
Note: If you already have standard operating procedures (SOPs) or an operations manual, you can go straight to step 3.
To help you add more structure to your systems, categorize your activities in terms of your business functions: Operations, Sales and Marketing, and Finance.
Operational activities are what you do on the backend of your business. Examples are business planning and goal-setting, project management, email management, conducting meetings, website maintenance, etc.
02. Sales and Marketing
Sales and marketing activities are what you do to attract and convert customers. Examples are content marketing, email marketing, automated sales funnels, affiliate partnerships, advertising, product launches, etc.
Financial activities cover what you do with your money. Examples are bookkeeping, filing taxes, payroll, affiliate payouts, etc.
Step 2. Break down each activity
Once you have a list of activities your business needs to function, break down each activity according to the process, tools, people, and strategies needed to complete it from start to finish.
Process - the step-by-step sequence of actions
Tools - the required devices, apps, or software
People - the person/s in charge of each step of the process
Strategies - the tactics, tips, or techniques you use
Here’s an example if your activity is publishing a blog post:
write blog post
schedule blog post
your research tool (Google, Pinterest, Buzzsumo, etc.)
your writing application (MS Word, Google Docs, Pages, etc.)
your website platform (Squarespace, Wordpress, Wix, etc.), and
your design application (Canva, Adobe CC, PicMonkey, etc.)
you and your assistant
you might use search engine optimization (SEO), list building strategies, copywriting strategies, etc. to improve your blog post
Here’s another example for sending email newsletters:
choose a segment of your email list
choose an email template
write email subject
include a call-to-action (CTA)
your email marketing platform (Convertkit, Mailchimp, Drip, etc.)
you and your assistant
you might use A/B testing, sending different emails based on subscriber tags, adding several CTA buttons, etc. to improve your email deliverability, open rates, and click-through rates
As you can see, all four components (process, tools, people, and strategies) together make up your business systems, and in the case of our two examples above, your entire blogging system and email marketing system.
Step 3: Identify ways to improve the system
Remember how we defined a system as a way to solve a problem or complete a process? Now, imagine the outcomes or results you want and answer:
What do you want your system to do for you?
Do you want your system to finish the process faster? Make it more streamlined or automated? Do you want to reduce your workload and free up your time? Do you want to eliminate bottlenecks? Do you want the process to make more money for your business or eat up less expenses?
Then work backwards from your goal by using this simple framework I created to help you brainstorm ways to improve your system. It works like a funnel that you can use to filter all your tasks until you’re left with only the ones that are the best use of your time, energy, and other resources:
What can you eliminate from the system because the tasks, tools, people, or strategies are time-consuming, unnecessary, redundant, no longer relevant, or no longer productive?
Which aspects of the system could be helpful but don’t really need to be part of the system right now? (Ex. up-sells for a product launch, graphics for emails, hiring a Facebook ads manager, etc.)
What tasks can you automate using software, apps, or other tools? Is it time to upgrade from free tools to paid tools so you can access more features? Do you have two tools completing tasks that can be done by one tool instead?
What tasks are not the best use of your time, energy, skills, or expertise? What tasks frustrate you? What tasks do you dislike doing? These are often the tasks that you should be delegating or outsourcing to others.
Given all the tasks left, is it possible to consolidate or batch them so you can knock them out one after the other, faster? (Ex. replying to comments, answering emails, writing blog posts, scheduling social media posts, etc.)
Another way to help you identify ways to improve your systems is to critique each of the four components separately.
Are all steps of the process necessary or should I delete some of them?
Are all steps of the process being completed in the correct order?
Are all steps of the process generating the results that I want?
Are the tools I’m using the best tools for the job based on price, performance, and maintenance?
Are there more sophisticated tools out there that could serve my business better?
Are there less expensive tools that could complete the job better or faster?
Are the right people in charge of the right tasks?
Do I need to hire more people or am I employing more than I need?
Who are able to take on more responsibility and how?
Are my strategies actually working?
Which 20% of my strategies are bringing in 80% of my results?
Are there other strategies I could implement to make my business run better and generate more profits?
Step 4: Track and Test
It’s now time to test the theories you made in step 3 and make sure you track important factors relating to the before, during, and after—what you started with, what you did, and what kind of impact it made.
If you’re familiar, this is where key performance indicators (KPIs) come in. But if not, simply identify measurable factors to determine whether your system is working well or not. This could include your revenue, expenses, profit margins, sales conversions, other financial ratios, etc.
Did you earn more profit? Did you sell more products but earn less profit? Did your process take too long to complete? Were there any bottlenecks, glitches, or hiccups? What was the reaction of your customers? What about your employees?
Step 5: Evaluate and Improve
After tracking and testing your theories, take time to evaluate your system. You can evaluate the system as a whole or each of the four components (process, tools, people, and strategies) separately.
Did your systems actually solve a problem or reach a goal? If so, what change is responsible for the improvement? Can you replicate it easily? How much improvement did you see exactly? If it did not, what was the cause? How can you remedy the situation or go back to the way things were?
Go back to the drawing board and continue to tweak and refine your system. Take note, however, that your systems aren’t meant to be set in stone; as your business grows and the environment changes, your systems can be made to adapt and evolve along with it.
As you go through this process of creating business systems that help you work smarter, consider where you want to house all this valuable information. Sticky notes and scraps of paper won’t do you any good because it will only lead to chaos, confusion, and overwhelm.
Instead, document your systems (processes, tools, people, and strategies) using organized, well-designed, and robust tools that complement each of your business systems. You do not need to have just one tool for all of your systems but I do recommend using a set of tools that work well together.
I recommend starting with Asana to document and monitor your systems but check out this post for more ideas: 15 Essential Online Business Tools.
Creating business systems allows your business to run as streamlined, efficient, and effective as possible. It might take some time and trial and error to get your systems up and running the way you want it to, but the rewards of doing it will be well worth it after. Consider identifying your business activities, breaking them down, coming up with ways to improve the system, tracking and testing, and then evaluating and improving it.
Share in the comments below: What is your biggest takeaway from this article? Which of your business systems needs improvement? Which are functioning well and are producing the results you want?
It’s time to take action!
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