Putting systems in place for a creative team is tough.
Correction: putting systems in place for any team is tough.
My job as I see it is to enable and empower my team to be as creative as possible. This sounds great, but it doesn't come without its challenges. We, like most businesses, have deadlines, customer expectations to meet and operational tasks to take care of.
I started my business by launching an online magazine. That quickly transitioned to me doing SEO, content creation and social media for a few local businesses. I had some creative ideas, but I lacked any formal systems to get work done. I'd work a few hours on client A, then a few hours on client B without a concrete plan of action.
It wasn't until I quit my job bartending to take on building a company, not just creating some side-cash that things got serious. I needed to be creative, but I knew that if I wanted to maximize my output I needed (some) structure.
And as my company grew, and as the clients got bigger the stakes got higher. Fortune 500s don't care about your internal processes, they care about you hitting outputs. Creative freedom and freewheeling are two different things.
Today I encourage creative freedom within our team, but they are held accountable for deadlines. Here are four things that'll help you build better systems for your business.
1. Let big clients bring out the best in you.
I believe in systematically putting your back against the wall. It leaves you with two options: fold like a $3 chair or figure out a way to fight out of the corner. That's what happened when we got our first major client.
This client wanted content and a lot of it. It would require a full editorial team, a creative director, and a social media team. I remember walking into the boardroom of the client my company started working with--I was anxious. I was presenting our ideas to a team of 12 people in the marketing department. These people had worked with biggest marketing agencies in the world, so I made sure to bring my A game. They were expecting much deeper systems and analysis than we had in place at the time, so we took on building new systems as a top priority.
The nice thing here is we built new systems out of necessity to get a big client, but this system would also work for all of our existing clients.
In Ben Horowitz's book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, he spends a good amount of time explaining the idea of management debt. He says, "Like technical debt, management debt is incurred when you make an expedient, short-term management decision with an expensive, long-term consequence." This is when you keep putting band-aids on parts of your business that need stitches. Relieving management debt, is done by putting in better systems, even if they take some time to get set up because they will save you time in the long run.
2. Let your systems evolve over time.
How many system overhauls have you tried that completely flopped when you went to implement them? You need to create systems intended to solve your problems today, but that can evolve to handle your issues of tomorrow.
Whether it's the injection of technology or talent propelling the evolution, it doesn't matter. What matters is that your business improves how it serves customers.
3. Use tools to make things easier.
Our company used to send word documents back and forth with edits marked up, and version numbers attached to the titles. Then we discovered Google Drive. This completely changed the game for us as a content marketing agency. We could cut so much time by moving all of our work to Drive.
This allowed us to simultaneously write and edit documents, as well it ensured that we would have access to the documents no matter what computer we were on. There are a plethora of communication, project management, and accounting software options available for businesses--do your research and implement one.
When you select tools you want to start using in your business, don't bite off more than you can chew. For instance, Salesforce is a great project but if you're not going to have complete buy-in and a custom implementation I'd argue it's too much to handle for the average corporation.
4. Hold yourself accountable for implementation.
Accountability is everything in business, and holding yourself accountable for implementing new systems is a must.
When we started using Trello, a project management tool, at our company to get the team using it I set reminders to go off every three hours for me to remind everyone to update Trello with what they're working on--this was important due to having our entire team spread across three cities. I did this for a week before our team had this all under control and people were updating the program without prompts from me.