It happens to almost every entrepreneur. You reach a point in your business where you feel stuck, and progress has halted. Business may be going well, but it still takes every minute of every day to stay on top of things. You think about other business owners who have managed to live the life they’ve always desired, with free time on their hands to focus on new creative endeavors or vacations with their families. What is it that they have that you don’t?
The key to their success is actually something every entrepreneur has but hasn’t taken the time to implement yet. I’ve seen far greater success from the entrepreneurs I work with who choose to use this key compared to those who don’t.
The keys to your small business success are your written systems, policies, and procedures.
The Promise of Freedom
I know that “systems, policies, and procedures” sounds intimidating and dry. I lovingly refer to this as the least sexy part of building a business but hear me out.
Like most entrepreneurs, you probably find yourself making a lot less money and working a lot longer hours than what you had planned. If you started a business because you wanted the freedom to live an exceptional life that included time with family and friends, travel, and having financial freedom, then you need to develop systems, policies, and procedures to take yourself out of the unnecessary day-to-day tasks that are keeping you from scaling. They can transform your business, and liberate you from doing everything yourself. It is the only path to true freedom in running a business.
How Systems, Policies & Procedures Work
A good system includes written policies and procedures on a topic in your business. A policy is something that gives the reason or philosophy behind the procedure, and the procedure gives the steps.
It is absolutely essential that the philosophy behind the policy is clear, so the procedure makes sense. You have a special way of doing something that is unique to your business. If you skip directly to the procedure without the underlying context of the policy, your employees won’t understand why they are doing what they are doing.
A great system is one that inspires the employee to take action in just the way you want, empowers the employee to make decisions, ensures that the process is done the same way every time, and ultimately provides clients and customers with a consistent experience. Even more importantly, a great system gives you the freedom to build your business and focus on the big picture.
Shortcuts to Developing your Systems
So where do you start with your systems? I like to start with all the things I don’t like to do. Think about the things that are the worst uses of your time, or that you do over and over. I call these repetitive processes. These can be things like monthly bookkeeping and financial review, how potential clients become actual clients, or even how you answer the phone. Write down exactly how you want these tasks to be handled. Then, gradually move on to the other parts of your business.
Next — have your employees write down the policies and procedures for their roles in your company. This includes everything from how they make the coffee to how they treat and interact with clients. This documentation by your employees also gives you an excellent chance to review any policies or procedures that you would like to improve or discard while giving employees important ownership over the process.
If you have a new hire that is walking into the job without pre-written procedures, you can also have them write down the procedures in real-time as they learn them.
Don’t Get Overwhelmed
If you’re like me (and most entrepreneurs I know) this can seem like a terrifying and overwhelming task that most go-getters would rather avoid. Just take it one step at a time. Schedule one or two days a month on the calendar to only work on your systems and procedures. But be sure to schedule it – it has to be on the calendar. At no time in my life do I think, “I have an extra hour, I’ll work on procedures.” You have to make room for you and your employees to work on this project, and the project will become much easier as you get momentum going within your company.
Getting Systematized Will Radically Improve Your Business
Since I’ve systematized my whole business with policies and procedures, I’ve seen it grow exponentially faster than I imagined. What happens now is my employees can train other employees by using the book of systems that we’ve created. They take greater ownership of the business and feel empowered and confident to make the right decisions. I can travel to Europe or Africa for weeks at a time, without checking in by phone or email, and trust my employees to run my business in my absence.
In the bigger picture, written systems give you, the owner, a platform to stand on and grow again. Think of these as the building blocks of your company. They’re the building blocks that will create the freedom you crave.
Investing the time now to create this structure in your business will liberate you, and propel your company beyond what you thought was possible.
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.