How To Create Work Systems & Be Super Efficient
Today, we’re talking about the wonder that is systems. And how they can help to make your business processes more streamlined and efficient. Let’s get moving.
What is a system?
A system is a way of doing a task or project - a set process that you follow over and over. Sometimes you’ll revise it a little, add or change things and develop more better ways over time. But essentially it stays the same.
Everyone uses systems in their businesses. But some people are more organised about it and this is what makes all the difference in efficiency. Clarifying and adhering to a system is vital. This means actually saying “This is my system for... designing a website/writing an online article/invoicing my clients”. And knowing exact what that is. Systems are so useful when you’re a small business owner. Here’s why...
Why systems are awesome in business
Keep you organised
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you do a project. Instead, it’s written down in front of you and you simple check things off as you go
Keeps your business organised
Trying to write a custom quote but can’t remember all the steps of SEO content audit? If you have a system, you can see every step and pick and choose what you need for your quote.
Want to send someone one of your processes. Done! Grab the relevant process from your files and away it goes. No trying to pull everything together last minute.
Keeps your clients in the loop
Clients love knowing that there’s a specific process in your business; it makes them feel secure. Go one step further and share your particular system with them, and they’ll be doubly impressed. It’s also a good opportunity to show them all the work you do!
Easy to outsource
One of the best things about systems is that once it’s in place, you can outsource it. Whether it’s a person or an app, you’ll know the exact steps needed and can then manage the process from afar. And breathe a big sigh of relief!
Boosts your confidence
When you have solid systems in place, you’ll exude confidence and professionalism.
You can easily explain to anyone what you do and how you work because you know the process inside out.
Helps plan for the future
If you’re changing your business, or adding services, neatly mapped out systems makes this much easier. Maybe you’d like to break up a big service into smaller parts. You can divvy it up in minutes.
Thinking about develop an online course based on one of your main services? You’ve already got the bones laid out for you. Knowing exactly what you do will give you the confidence and ease to teach it to someone else.
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I hope I’ve convinced you on the merits of systems. But if you’re still wondering if your business needs systems (and it does), I can show you how I use them.
My favourite business systems
1. Service process breakdown
Yes it’s super nerdy but I have a system (by way of a process breakdown) for each of services. For a new website design, I wrote down every single task I take from registering a domain name to providing post-project technical support. I managed to fit it all nicely into a 20 step, 1 page document.
That's my typed up system. It's not fancy but it's clear and concise. I've stuck it up on the wall behind my computer. I’ve also turned it into a "Next Steps" PDF which I send to all my new web design clients with their first invoice.
2. Invoicing system
When I invoice a client, I follow a simple system. I create an invoice in Wave Apps, label it, and email it to the client. Then I log the invoice number in my financial Excel spreadsheet and file the original PDF in my Invoices folder. I follow the same process every time. This is my invoicing system.
3. Filing system
My filing system is the joy of my nerdy small business owner’s heart. I love folders. Electronic ones, that is. I use Google Drive for the vast majority of my business organisation. That includes client folders, invoices, templates, website files, planning, ideas and more. It is my all-encompassing project management system.
I love Drive because it’s free, cloud based, does automatic saves, and provides a whopping 15GB storage. I have a tonne of folders, subfolders, files, images, videos and more on there and haven’t even cracked the 6GB mark.
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There’s loads more systems you can create for your business and they don’t have to be long and complicated. So, now, let’s start creating your systems.
A simple way to get started on systems
List out 10 things you do in your business every day. It could include: cold email clients, follow up on article pitches, write social media posts, plan out the week, draft a blog post. You get the picture. List ‘em all out.
Then number them 1 to 10 in order of what takes the most time. 10 being the biggest time suck, while 1 is quick.
Number them again (different colour pen!) 1 to 10 in order of which tasks you think have the biggest impact on your clients. For example, if you never follow up on your story pitches, you’re losing, say, 30% of your commissioned articles. Or, if you don’t respond to client quote inquiries within 24 hours, you're potential losing $2k a month. 10 is the biggest loss, 1 the smallest.
By the time you do this exercise, you’ll be able to see which tasks are scoring 8’s, 9’s and 10’s. Those are the ones you want to create systems for. These tasks need strong systems in place to push you to take action.
Go through one of your chosen tasks. Write down each step of the process. Yes, it's a boring and painstaking process but don't shirk any of the steps. Include which apps you use. If you need input from other people (the client or a team member) make it clear who does what and when.
Done! One system is catalogued. Now you can outsource it, stick it on your wall, or send it off to impress people.
Or if you need a further push to take action in your brand new system, read on...
Project management systems
I want to add one more point here about systems and that’s their role in project management software. These are professional apps such as Asana, Dubsado or Trello, that help boost your business efficiency.
PM systems can help you to take action on your system. It's not just a process stuck to a wall. Once you put it into the app, it will bombard you with notifications until to complete the project. If you need this kind of motivation (or you think your client does), a PM tool is for you.
I’ve dabbled in Dubsado and have more recently signed up to Asana. The thing I like is the ability to add team members to a project; ie your client can be a team member. Then you can assign tasks to each person, making everyone focus on the project at the same time.
No more chasing up your client trying to get them to approve a draft, or send through a new logo. Asana notifications will do it for you. Efficiency!
If you have a PM app, you’ll need to add each of your projects and tasks. This is a one off task and then you can apply the process to subsequent projects. If you already have your systems typed out, this makes setting up a PM app infinitely easier; it’s a cut and paste job. Sorted!
A final plug for systems
If you’re thinking that creating systems and writing all this stuff down sounds like a big waste of your valuable time, I get it. It sounds like a lot of hoo ha. Maybe you’ve already got a way of working and you don’t want to change.
But systems do make things easier. They bring everyone into line because there’s no confusion about who does what when or how. They help you and your client stick to deadlines so you’re not wasting time and feeling frustrated. They streamline the process and cut the crap.
Now that’s worth looking into.
Tell me, do you have systems in your business?
About the author: Lilani Goonesena is a freelance business communications specialist, based in Canberra. She’s an SEO copywriter and editor, Squarespace web designer, SEO researcher and digital marketing strategist. She writes an awesome Tuesday newsletter helping freelancers to DIY their digital marketing, social media, blogging, web design and "all that online stuff".