I recently heard two friends discussing how your inbox is ‘a To Do list everybody else has control of.‘
It was funny, but also a salient reminder of how important it is to systematize as much of your business as possible.
The goal is to document all the major processes of your business, describing exactly how each task should be performed.
The theory then is that all you have to do is hand those documents over to moderately competent staff (virtual or otherwise) and they will magically perform those procedures as if it was your hand at the pump and not theirs.
Of course it’s not exactly like that, but it’s important to make a start.
Finding Time to Find More Time
In terms of creating a well-oiled business ‘machine’, it seems that one of the biggest challenges many people have is finding time to create the process documents in the first place.
It’s a paradox.
Unless we create the systems that others can follow, we’ll be perpetually stuck having to do, manage and oversee everything ourselves.
To the perfectionists among us that probably sounds like Nirvana, but it’s sure fire way to slow down business growth.
If you don’t want to grow your business—and some don’t—that’s fine.
But if you do want to grow your business then you—the business owner who doesn’t have enough time to create systems—will be a serious ‘constraint‘.
Now ‘The Theory of Constraints’ (ToC) is a huge subject, so I won’t go into it in detail here.
‘The Goal’ by Eliyahu M. Goldratt is a great introduction to ToC.
The book revolves around a ‘race aginst time’ story to increase production in struggling factory. However, you can apply the principles in the book to just about any aspect of your business or personal life—where you’re trying to achieve an end result or ‘goal’, (hence the book title.)
It’s an old book, and paperback copies sell for as much as £50 now, (although you can pick up second hand copies for much less.)
However, to summarize — for me the key message is this…
In any system, there is always one dominant constraint.
By identifying and optimising (or even completely eliminating) that constraint, you could make exponential gains.
In terms of a small professional service business, that dominant constraint will almost certainly be you, the business owner.
I realise it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but you are probably the main reason why your business hasn’t grown as fast as you would like. (Or maybe why you can’t even get off ‘the launch pad’!)
Unless you can start finding time to work ON your business rather than IN it, you will remain the dominant constraint.
The paradox of course is that you’re currently spending your days running around like a blue-arsed fly because you don’t have systems, so you therefore don’t have time to create systems!
Some businesses are so chaotic that it’s very difficult to even identify systems that need documenting in the first place.
So the question is — how do you finally break free?
Baby Steps Break Complex Systems
As the old question goes; “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!“
On a daily basis you need to be in ‘Observer Mode’.
Each day, keep your eyes open for a single small and seemingly insignificant task that you do on a daily basis.
It doesn’t have to be much—even something that only takes a minute or two. But it has to be something that you need to do frequently.
When you identify one task, write down what you do to perform that task in an online document that can be shared with other people.
(If you use DropBox the create a new Operations folder and save it in there. Or if you have a Google account then create a Google Doc.)
Or if you want to get really fancy you can Google dedicated online services that allow you to document your business processes. (Search for phrases like ‘Knowledge management system‘ and ‘business process documentation‘.)
In a former company I ran I even used a private (password protected) installation of WordPress to manage documented processes. That worded really well because my remote working staff could log into it from anywhere with their own passwords.
Whatever system you decide to use to document your processes— the key thing is to make sure you keep things simple at this stage. Remember, complexity is the enemy of progress.
Do this first step, and congratulations! You have now just started an Operations Manual.
Keep a shortcut to that manual on your Desktop – somewhere highly visible, and open it every day.
AND KEEP IT OPEN ALL DAY.
If you close it and forget about it, you’re much less likely to keep updating it.
And that’s it.
Update that document with one small task every day from now on.
Gradually, you will start running out of small things and have to turn your attention to bigger more complex tasks… but by then you will already be in the habit of documenting your processes.
Obviously once you start compiling a list of processes, your next step is to find people to assign each task to—but the key is to create your Operations Manual first.
Then when you ‘plug people in’ to your business, you won’t have to personally micro-manage them every day.
They’ll be able to refer to the manual.
Perfectionism is a killer of (business) dreams.
It’s one of the main reasons so many entrepreneurs never escape from working in their businesses.
They think no one will be able to do some tasks better than they can. And they’re right. Some tasks will always be better performed by the business owner.
But the danger is when this thinking spills over into all areas of your business.
Because I can almost guarantee, you are not the best person to be overseeing all areas of your business.
Chances are there is only a very small number of things which you do better than anyone else.
Also, you’re better off having other people consistently do tasks to 90% of what you could do them to, rather than you doing those tings to 100% either infrequently or not at all.
If you suffer from perfectionism, you have to get over it, fast.
And I don’t say that lightly because my quests for perfection on some projects has cost me dearly over the years.
However, what I’m not saying is that you or I have to accept things to be ‘sub-standard’ just because we aren’t personally involved.
The answer is to document exactly what you want doing — to a level that if the said document is followed, step by step, then the end output will be to at least 90% of what you expect.
Anyway, hopefully using the ‘Baby Steps’ above you now have a system you can use to gradually create a comprehensive procedures document that you can use to outsource and delegate.
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I’ll be going into this in a lot more detail soon, including details of the exact software and systems I use to co-manage eight companies.
Needless to say we have a lot of systems- there’s no way I could be hands on in that many companies, hence why I’ve got a lot to share on this subject—including important topics like ‘feedback loops’, C.A.N.I and K.P.I.s..
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