The best way to have your business support your lifestyle (and build a sellable business) is to have systems in place to control your product/ service quality, manage your time, and automate your income. But what systems do you implement and how?
The Importance of Systems
Many creative entrepreneurs resent the idea of systems, feeling that they squash your capacity to innovate. Let's reframe that, shall we? Systems actually give you MORE ability to innovate. They free up your time, giving you the additional mental space you need to find creative solutions.
Systems are a business owner's best friend; once you adopt a systems approach to your business, you will never go back. They allow you to control your processes (and what good entrepreneurs aren't control freaks?), replicate your protocols, and hire people who aren't as good as you are to get things done. (And let's face it, if your team members could do what you do, they would be entrepreneurs and not employees.)
Most importantly, systems give you the ability to scale your business. If you want to grow you need systems. If you don't have systems and try to create them mid-growth-spurt, you (and your team) will be miserable. I have been there--and I promise it's no fun.
1. Quality Control Systems
Quality control is critical whether you're a service- or product-based business. If you want your business to grow, the best way to do that is to ensure that your customers stay happy by ensuring the continued quality of their purchases.
2. Time (and Task) Management Systems
In our business we use basecamp as our single hub to manage all the tasks for our virtual and local teams. Keeping all of the tasks in one place means I (as the CEO) don't feel the need to micromanage, because I know if I've assigned a task and it's been put on basecamp, someone (not me) can track it.
Task management is critical to time management because it organizes your workflow. In fact, most time management systems I've read about or studied, including Jane Wesman's notebook system, are actually task management systems.
I'll share my favorite time management system more completely in an upcoming article, but first it's critical to pay attention to how you're using your time now. Are you mostly fighting fires? Playing on social media? Do you get constantly distracted by your co-workers? Take a day or week and simply jot down notes on how you're using your time. Get a notebook, a word doc, or an excel spreadsheet, and use it to keep track of what you're doing with your workday. (When I do this with clients, I have them set an hourly alarm, and whenever it goes off, take 1 minute to write down what you've one in the last hour.) Understanding your time management strengths and challenges is illuminating!
3. Automated Income Systems
These will vary according to your business model, but Tim Ferriss' 4-hour Workweek is based in part around automated income systems. After all, if your income is automated, why would you need to work more than 4 hours each week?
If you're the sole provider in a high-touch service-based business it might seem impossible to automate your income--but it's not. The goal here is to automate whatever you can. Maybe you can condense some of your material into trainings or products. Maybe you can create recurring revenue streams or subscriptions that allow you to reduce your marketing efforts.
How to Create, Maintain, and Implement Your Systems
Systems don't have to be technological wonders you purchase from someone else--they can be as simple as checklists and step-by-step instructions. And the easiest way to create them? Have the people who are already responsible for these areas to simply write down what they do.
Next, you refine the systems. Have the people responsible for carrying out the activities follow those checklists and instructions. Then ask someone else to read through and follow the steps. If they're clear, well-written, and easy to follow, anyone with the appropriate skillset can jump in and take over if your current team member leaves.
Finally, collect all of your systems and put them into an operations manual, subdivided by department. Encourage your team to use the checklists every time they do the tasks and you can have them update them in real-time or on an annual basis. A little bit of planning and maintenance goes a long way towards reducing your (so-called) 40-hour work week!
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