Quick-Start Guide to Systems for Business Owners — What Systems Are, Why You Need Them, and How to Create Them Fast
Systems are a topic people find life-changing when they implement them, but very few people seek to learn more about, and almost no one prioritizes them in their business. How do I know this? A few years ago I thought I’d launch a program about systems, but my market research strongly indicated it was a “nice to have” for people but a “not right now”. And yet, in my coaching practice I often find myself coaching clients through creating these foundational systems in their business.
Why is that?
Because the solution to their problem is not usually what they think the solution should be.
Cashflow is a problem because you don’t send invoices promptly? You don’t need more clients (probably), you need an invoicing system.
You’re bogged down in administrative work for your clients and you keep forgetting things? You don’t need an assistant (yet), you need a system for the work you do.
You often end up double-booking yourself or feeling disorganized? You don’t need a vacation (well, you probably do), you (also) need a calendar management system.
Instead of creating a whole program around systems, now I just offer clients deep dive calls where we work on a particular thing for 2 hours all at once. Often people use these to create systems in their business, among other things. (I also do them for creating a signature system, offerings, or whatever else just needs a little more time. Ask me about it if you’re curious.)
So why do people resist systems if they’re so helpful? The usual culprits: time, money, energy. They’re so busy they don’t sit back to look at how they’re working. They think it will be expensive to create, or it will take away time from their paying work. The most interesting one, though, is that they don’t identify as being “a systems person”, which to them means their brain doesn’t think of things this way so it feels difficult and doesn’t come naturally.
Now a small digression to illustrate just how valuable systems can be:
For many years in my business I didn’t take on private clients. Instead, larger coaching businesses would hire me to coach their clients on their behalf (I still do this, just not as 100% of my business). This is how those engagements typically went:
1. I would learn their methods and help them update their program so it was more effective and comprehensive. (I used systems and checklists to do this)
2. I created a client onboarding system so all new clients had an amazing experience. This included agendas, checklists, tracking, ways of measuring their progress, and more.
3. I created a client check-in process so we could see before/during/after measurements, improve client retention, reduce complaints, increase renewals, and more.
4. I created a client offboarding process so when a client did leave we were still able to keep in touch, they gave a testimonial, and we learned more about how we could improve.
5. I created a hiring system so we could hire more coaches to work with the clients.
6. I created a coaching manual so everything a new coach to this company would need would be in there. This included how they submit their invoices, tips on getting best results with the clients, internal best practices, how to work with clients, and so much more.
7. While I was doing all of this, I would keep tweaking the checklists and process I had already written so they were always up-to-date.
8. Eventually, and inevitably (typically after a year or two), once all of this was done and we had hired less expensive coaches, the company would be able to run smoothly without me. I would move on to another company.
I share this story for two reasons. First, I totally understand why on paper this looks time consuming and expensive. Second, because in the end the companies were able to function more smoothly on less expensive team members because they had this in place.
But the truth is, creating these systems actually doesn’t take long and isn’t complicated! And it certainly doesn’t just apply to the coaching industry.
Here’s What You Need to Know About Systems
WHO should have systems?
Anyone who wants to make their life easier! Business owner or not, systems are critical.
WHAT is a system?
I define a system as a series of processes, tools, or steps you take to complete something. My go-to is in the form of a checklist, but it can also be documented in longer-form writing, photos, or videos.
WHEN should you document a system?
The truth is you already have systems for everything — they just might not be very efficient, consistent, or documented. You should document your system whenever you’re about to do something you’ll likely do more times, or when you need to teach your process to someone else. It may take you a few years to build up your bank of documentation, and that’s okay.
WHERE should you document your systems?
The most important thing is to create them in a place you can duplicate them. This could just be a document that you can print or photocopy, it could be a document you duplicate, or you can use a project/task management system (I use Asana).
WHY should you have systems?
Let me count the ways!
· Documenting something you do infrequently will make it faster and easier when you tackle the task later
· It’s easier to notice what’s working and what isn’t, and update your processes once you have them documented
· When you go to do the task, you’ll make fewer mistakes if you’re following steps
· Once you see all the steps, it’s easier to see opportunities for automation (especially since the steps will be consistent moving forward)
· Documentation makes it easier to delegate/teach someone how to take over the task
· Reduces decision fatigue because you aren’t having to think through the steps each time
· Makes you feel like an organized, professional, “real” business owner
HOW do you create a system?
If you’re a beginner to this, pick something you’re working on today or in the near future. Set aside a tiny bit of extra time to do the task. As you do the task, just jot down what you’re doing as you do it. If as you’re doing it you reference something else, add that reference to your documentation. If you need to remind yourself to do something, add that too. It can be in bullet points or sentences, or you can add screenshots or photos if something is too hard to describe. When you’re done, you’ll have documented your first process!
Your system may be made up of multiple processes, or it might simply be one. There’s no right answer here.
HOW do you use your systems?
Systems are meant to be used, so keep them somewhere handy and remind yourself to open the documentation when you go to do the task the next time. Follow along your reference, making changes as needed to the master document as you go.
Systems to Document
Here’s a start of some systems you could consider documenting. You shouldn’t sit down and just create them all at once, though! Set the intention to create them as you use them to start building your muscle in this area. You certainly don’t need all of these, and you may need some that aren’t even on here. Just start with something that has been frustrating you, something where the steps are hard to remember, or something that takes more time than it should to do. Those are where you’ll find the biggest wins.
· Sales — scripts, booking appointments, processing online sales, etc.
· Marketing — content creation, emailing your list, planning an event, giving a talk, social media, podcast production, setting up for video production, placing an ad, etc.
· Onboarding a new client — agreements, contracts, welcome package, setting expectations and next steps, intake assessments, etc.
· Working together — check-in, tools, worksheets, meetings, etc.
· Offboarding — final invoice/payments, collecting testimonials, asking for referrals, keeping in touch
· Following up/keeping in touch with prospects, colleagues, past clients, etc.
· Hiring — interview process, job postings, resume vetting, etc.
· Onboarding team (and offboarding) — adding/removing them in systems, paying them, teaching them the job, legal documents required, etc.
· Finances — sending invoices, paying taxes, paying yourself and others, following up unpaid invoices, etc.
· Doing your work –start/end day checklist, safety protocol, working on client deliverables
· Admin — ordering supplies, sending reminders, booking appointments, calendar management
And I could go on and on about the processes you can use in your personal life. I even have a “going to the beach” checklist because we kept forgetting to pack important things!
Examples from My Business
This is my checklist in Asana for creating a new podcast episode. I duplicate the template in Asana, then fill in the episode name. Each task with a little arrow next to it means there are additional instructions in that task. Without this it would take me so much extra time to produce an episode, and guaranteed I would forget steps or forget how to do things.
Here’s my new client onboarding checklist, which doubles as where I keep track of everything for that client. I use this Asana task to take notes in our calls and track what invoices have been sent, too.
And here’s my beach packing checklist. Just scratched into a notebook we keep in our kitchen. Most importantly, this meant that my partner could pack for the beach without asking me a million questions!
I know this was long, but my hope is you’ll use this as a reference guide moving forward. In future articles I’ll go into more depth about some foundational systems you must have, but for now consider this your overview. It should be enough to get you started.
If you have ANY questions at all about this topic, please reach out. This stuff comes very naturally to me, and I absolutely love using this superpower to help other business owners get the clarity and efficiency they need. After all, more efficiency can very easily translate to more profitability!