Most entrepreneurs have so much to do and so little time to do it, which is why creating systems within a business is crucial. By streamlining your operations and creating automated workflows, you’ll have more time so you can spend it working on your business, rather than working on the nitty gritty of daily operations.
A system is a method of solving a recurring business issue or task in a strategic way. It involves a process or routine that is usually automated, which takes away the need for manual work by you or a member of your team.
From streamlining customer acquisition to automatically sending out email newsletters or managing a company’s social media, creating systems can completely transform the way a business is run. In addition to saving you time, systemizing your business can help you be better organized and increase your productivity.
Ideal processes to systemize
As a general rule, tasks that are repetitive or data-heavy, are ideal tasks to systemize. These can include:
- Generating leads
- Onboarding new clients
- Managing sales funnels
- Managing calendars or booking appointments
- Billing customers
- Surveying customers
- Scheduling social media
- Email marketing
- Updating a website
Nearly every aspect of your business can benefit from creating a system to streamline it. While you may prefer to leave some tasks like networking outside of your systemized process, there are ways to systemize or automate certain elements of the networking process. For example, if you attend a networking event and leave with a stack of business cards, you can take photos of them to upload to an app that will create a spreadsheet of contacts, plug in dates for when you should follow up with them and even draft emails based on templates you can create.
There is literally no limit to the types of issues and tasks you can create systems around—it often just involves some creativity.
How to develop systems
The first step in systemizing your business is to determine what tasks or problems need to be streamlined through an efficient process. It’s important to take a step back and review your business from a bird’s eye perspective.
To identify possible issues in your business that could be improved by this process, ask yourself the following questions and note your responses:
- What recurring tasks are involved in running my business? I.e. finding leads, onboarding new clients, billing, posting to social media, etc.
- How do I spend my time when I work on my business? Take an inventory of how you spend your time. Look at your agenda for clues and make a list of all of the tasks you do in an average week.
- What is the role of data in my business? Am I manually inputting any of it?
- Where am I experiencing friction in my business? What isn’t as seamless as it ought to be?
- What tasks are admittedly outside of my “zone of genius” that a tool or person can take off my list?
- If I had a personal assistant, online business manager or other support staff, what tasks would I want them to manage?
These questions should help give you a better idea of the areas in your business that could benefit from systems and automation.
Once you’ve made a list, determine what the benefits to your business will be once you systemize each task—these can include generating revenue, saving time or reducing stress. Next, decide which of these is your top priority, and start working to develop systems in line with it.
How some entrepreneurs use systems to manage their businesses
- Tracy Brisson owns Savannah Custom Weddings, a wedding officiating and elopement planning business, and says processes are key to running her business. “We automate and systematize everything,” she says. “We have to because we work with 350 couples a year with 10 subcontractors and deliver our services across a large region.” Tracy uses 17hats for client workflows with automation, Slack (with automated reminders) to communicate with her officiants and photographers, and keeps extensive manuals in Evernote notebooks on all her processes.
- Matt Kohn, founder of the media agency Different Hunger Media, says using systems has allowed him to scale his freelancing business into an agency. “First, I systemised client delivery by hiring subcontractors. Then, I broke down my prospecting and lead generation and set up systems so that I could scale up my company’s operations. Lastly, I systemized and automated the day-to-day management of my business by hiring an operations manager and integrating tech tools where possible,” he explains. Matt has systems for every aspect of running his business including fostering team culture—by sending out weekly surveys to staff about their accomplishments and creating a system to automatically gather responses and share them on Slack with his team. He uses tools including Google Forms, Zapier, Slack and Trello.
- Jackie Sizemore runs an educational consulting business, Point of View Consulting, and uses systems for scheduling free consultations and billing clients. “I switched from doing my own invoices by hand via emailing pdfs, to using a system where I could schedule them in advance and set up automated invoicing for packages. I use to spend a significant number of hours each Sunday doing all my invoices but now my Sundays are free to book more client meetings.”
Behind-the-scenes: what automation looks like
Adam Marquardt, a business coach, says automation is one of the most overlooked components of running a business. “Time and time again when I’m consulting I see clients who are doing things in a very cumbersome and labor-intensive way, and in turn, wasting time and money,” he says.
Adam says automation helps him ensure nothing falls through the cracks in his business – and it has also enabled him to grow his company without drastically increasing his overhead.
Adam developed an automated system to support with onboarding new clients to his marketing agency and shares this breakdown of how it works:
- He uses a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to help track leads and clients. Each contact in the CRM has different properties and each of these properties could be a “trigger” that causes a series of actions. For example, when the contact’s property is updated to indicate they became a customer, it triggers a sequence of events.
2. When a contact becomes a customer, the CRM system fires a custom request (using webhooks) to create a new project in a third-party project management software. The new project is uniquely named automatically based on the client’s business name as shown in the CRM.
3. From there, the system will create a series of “sections” under the new project it just created.
54nder each section, it will then find, or create a new task.
5. After those tasks are created, it will create a new folder (based on the clients name in the CRM) in his Google Drive.
6. From there, it creates a spreadsheet in Google Sheets for campaign assets to be filled in by his team for the client’s marketing campaign.
7. After that, it will take the Google Sheet that was just created and add it into the appropriate area in the project management system to keep everything in an organized, easy-to-access place.
Adam says this automation sequence—which involved 20 steps—saves time and helps avoid confusion when onboarding clients. This is just one example of how systems and automation can be used to avoid much of the administrative legwork required when doing data-intensive and repetitive tasks.
Tools to help you automate your systems
The first step in finding tools to help you automate your systems is to check the options you have within the tools you’re already using for your business.
For example, tools such as Trello, Slack, and MailChimp already allow you to set certain triggers such as emailing new subscribers a specific welcome email. You can also link your accounts on most of these tools, so that for example, Trello can integrate with your Google Calendar to automatically input appointments or client meetings that you’ve noted on your Trello cards.
Within Wave, you can automate a number of processes including creating recurring invoices for clients you have on retainers. You can also integrate several third-party apps to your Wave account. For example, when you integrate Stripe, when your customers pay invoices through the app, your accounting records on Wave will automatically be updated.
Keeping your systems in check
Developing and using systems in your business will help you stay organized and focused, and free up your time and improve efficiency so your business can grow.
While some business owners may see noticeable and dramatic improvements to their business right away when using systems, keep in mind that this is an investment in your business which will pay off as your business grows. Some processes will take a significant input of time or resources—and there may be a learning curve, such as using new software or tools.
While developing systems, be sure to thoroughly document every step of your process and share the documents with any relevant team members. And as your business grows, be sure to revisit your systems and update any manuals you’ve created.
Even if you’re just starting out, don’t wait to develop systems and automate tasks in your business. As your company grows, you’ll be thankful for the foresight that led you to put these systems in place.
Jacky Habib is a freelance writer specializing in social impact and entrepreneurship. You can read more of her work on her website.
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