In case no one has told you recently: it’s okay to take some time to stop focusing on growing your business all the time, and just focus on maintaining what you’ve built. If you believe a lot of the “experts,” growth should be your only business goal; if you’re not growing, they’d have you believe you’re failing. The truth is, however, that 100% growth 100% of the time just isn’t sustainable – and if your business isn’t sustainable, that’s the real problem.
You may find yourself reaching the point where you’re very comfortable with your business where it is right in that moment, and you’re ready to just keep that level going. Other times, you may need to take a season or two to just hold your business where it is, because the things going on in your life outside of work need more of your attention. In any case, sustainability is a perfectly acceptable business plan. Being in a constant state of stress about your business is the thing that’s really not sustainable; if that’s where you are, it might be time to take a step back and focus on maintenance.
Questions to ask yourself when you’re evaluating the sustainability of your business:
1. Does my income meet all of my financial needs? Whether you want your business to supplement a household income or pay every bill, is it able to do that every month with consistency?
2. Am I happy with my income? Do you feel good about what you make, and do you feel it’s worth the amount of time and effort you’re putting into your business in order to earn that income?
3. Am I able to maintain my desired lifestyle? Remember, YOU get to decide what success looks like in your business, so now it’s time to decide: do you feel successful with the income you’re earning?
4. Am I working a schedule I’m comfortable maintaining in the long term? Does your business schedule suit your lifestyle? Are you working a reasonable amount of hours, or working yourself to death? Can you keep up with your current pace over the next several years?
5. Am I happy with the people I work with? This includes your clients or customers, employees, contractors, colleagues, and mentors. Are you surrounded by people who light your enthusiasm from within? Do you enjoy the people you communicate with in order to run your business?
6. Am I confident and content with the actual work I do? Think about the daily tasks you have to complete in your business as well as the services you offer your clients. Do you actually enjoy doing those things, day in and day out? Would you be happy doing them for the next five or ten years?
7. If I lost a client or customer, could I replace that income? The thing about sustainability is that it does require some growth; however, instead of growing bigger each year, you’re just growing to replace anything that changes or is lost. If you are able to replace clients when you lose them, then you have a sustainable business.
Once you can say “YES” to the questions above, then you’ve got a sustainable business. It’s time to just keep doing the work you’ve been doing, growing to replace or replenish rather than to increase and expand. Make sure to check in regularly with your measurable outcomes so that you know you actually are sustaining your current level of business, and you’re good to keep going for the next season or all the seasons to come, whatever you choose to do.
If you’re not quite able to confidently answer those questions, I’d love to help! Click here to schedule a call and see if for the Operations Engine, a group coaching program where we will work on fixing any misaligned GEARS in your small business. We’ll figure out where you need to make any necessary changes in order to get your business to full sustainability, and also identify the areas that are already working exactly how they should be.
The secret to a successful business isn’t glamorous or exciting; it’s all in the details. Creating and maintaining consistent, regular systems is absolutely essential to the overall health and growth of your business. If you don’t have a system for everything in your business, it’s time to create one.
Systems help every single person in your company do their job accurately and effectively. A good system eliminates the need for most questions, clarifies any confusing areas, and streamlines the process of onboarding new people or transitioning roles within the company. Every standard operating procedure (SOP) in your company needs its own system, and that needs to be well documented. Take a look at the SOPs in your business, and use the process outlined below to make sure each one functions as part of an effective system.
Identify the SOPs
What are the everyday procedures you follow in your company? Think about every single aspect, everyone’s role, every internal process and client interaction. If you repeat a task more than once ever, it needs a system.
Here are a few areas that might need a system in your company:
- Customer service communication (emails, phone calls, in-person)
- Customer interactions (sales, returns, leads & funnels)
- Content production (blog posts, newsletters, sales funnels)
- Social media (posting, commenting, messages)
- Financial tracking
- Goals & priorities, vision planning
- Specific procedures related to creating or delivering what you sell
- Technology issues, web maintenance
- Inter-office communications
- Chain of command explanations
- Any task that any member of your team regularly performs
It may feel redundant to document some of these things that you have been doing for a long time, but doing so helps you plan for the future of your business.
Document Every Procedure
Once you know what needs to be part of a system in your business, the next step is to document it. The goal is that a new person with a reasonable amount of skill who is taking on this task or role would be able to have an 80% chance of success in following your system without a lot of extra help. Choose an app or location to document all of your company’s systems, and begin by asking the person who currently does this task to start by making a list of the steps they take to complete that task each time.
Tip: A simple document works fine, but a task or project management app is often better, only because it allows you to duplicate the task each time it needs to be repeated, and to assign due dates or repeated cycles of the same task.
Here are some things that should be included in your documented system:
- Login information, passwords, or other access-related information
- If the task involves unique technology, a how-to for accessing or using the technology should be included (separately or within the task documentation, whichever is more appropriate)
- Brand-specific information that will be needed (HEX color codes, fonts, links to specific products, common terminology you want a person to use when completing this task)
- A step-by-step process of how to complete the task from start to finish
- Information about how to mark the task as completed or notify a person who needs to know when it has been completed
Once the system has been documented, it’s important to remember that this is a living document; it can and should change as you streamline and update the systems in your company.
Put the Systems to Work
Once your systems have been created, it will take some time to practice using them. If at all possible, ask your team members to trade tasks for one day, just to see if a person who didn’t create the procedure is still able to follow it. If that isn’t practical for your company, just make sure that the people who created the system continue to use them, and add in any updates that they notice as they do so.
The key to consistency in your business is to follow the same procedures every time; so once you have created these systems, you have to actually use them regularly. Even when a task becomes familiar or comfortable, a solid system prevents someone from missing a key step.
Do you need some help identifying and creating the systems for your business? Creating and maintaining systems is one of my favorite things to do, and I’d be happy to help you put this gear into place for YOUR business – click here to book a consultation.
If you’ve been feeling like your business is a little bit chaotic or scattered, it’s time to get some consistency. A significant factor in the success of any business is having consistent processes; not only will this increase productivity, it also improves your relationships with clients or customers and gives you a clear path to growing your business. The regular processes in your business need to be streamlined in order to be efficient and productive.
Here’s how to get there:
1. Figure out what you’re already doing well.
Being more consistent isn’t about finding a whole new way of running your business; it’s about capitalizing on what you’re already doing. You already have a product or service that you offer to every person who comes into contact with your business. Figuring out HOW you deliver that product or service is the first step to consistency. If you’ve been trying different ways of doing this, pick the one that has worked the best for you and your customer and go from there.
For example: Let’s say you have a business that involves 1-on-1 consulting sessions. Some of your former clients have sent you an e-mail, and you’ve gone back and forth with your separate calendars, trying to figure out a time that works to meet. Maybe during that process you’ve even wound up giving away quite a bit of free advice, to the point where some clients have walked away without booking a session. Another time, you tried using a shared calendar app, and booking that appointment was a smooth process that led to a successful consulting appointment. Tha shared calendar app needs to be your process from now on, with every client.
2. Stop making exceptions.
If you want to grow your business, you can’t offer a unique product or service to every customer. You need to reduce the variables between customers so that you can streamline your systems and create consistency. If you have been creating a custom package for every customer, instead try offering some options like add-on packages or a limited number of custom choices. This way you can give your customers a product that feels personalized, but you don’t have to start from scratch every time.
For example: Let’s say you have a business selling t-shirts. When you first started, maybe you would design anything on a shirt that a customer wanted. Now that your business has grown to a certain level, it makes more sense to choose your 10 most popular designs and only offer those, on a limited number of t-shirt colors. You will be able to sell more shirts because you can produce them more efficiently, but having those choices still makes your customers feel like they are getting a unique product when they come to your shop.
3. Refine and perfect your systems over time.
Just because you’re working on consistency doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself into a situation that never changes. As you go through this process of repeating your systems with consistency, you are naturally going to find ways to refine those processes and make them more streamlined. Take note of this, and be willing to adapt your processes over time. This will only add to your overall efficiency.
For example: If you run a business that involves packing and shipping a physical product, your method of shipping may change over time. You may have started with a regular home printer and the USPS website, but over time you may discover that you could outsource your shipping to a third party and free up more of your time to do other tasks. There’s no need to stick to a system that no longer works for you – this is an opportunity to build new consistency into your business.
4. Document your systems as you get comfortable.
If you’re stuck in your business, it’s often that you’re wasting time trying to remember all the things you need to do, or reinventing the wheel every time you do them. Documenting the processes can help you take those tasks off your mental load now, and also assign them to someone else later. Doing this will help you eventually hand off those tasks to someone else, such as an employee or an independent contractor. This is what makes it possible for you to scale, because you have processes that can expand to serve a bigger audience and you can hire employees to do them over time.
For example: A task management app like Trello or Asana can be a good place to document the steps in your processes, but you can also just use a Word or Google doc to accomplish the same thing. The idea is just to get your process down in writing, so that you can eventually hand that To Do List over to someone else, and stop giving it prime real estate in your own head.
5. Get help from an outside source.
It’s often hard to identify your consistent business processes internally – you have gotten so comfortable with doing all the work of your business that you don’t even realize what you’re doing most of the time. Figuring out systems is one of my stronger gifts, and I still struggle with it within my own business. It’s hard to DIY this process, but it’s also hard to hire someone to do it entirely for you. The best solution is to hire someone to work WITH you to identify and create these processes within your business. They can ask questions to get you started, and then also watch what you do as you complete your business tasks. Working together, the two of you can figure out your existing processes as well as ways to streamline them for more consistency.
If you’re wondering whether consistent processes would improve YOUR business, it might be time to get some clarity. I have a free GEARS Assessment, which will walk you through the process of evaluating your business in five key areas in order to determine which areas would benefit from some improved consistency.
Click HERE for the free gears assessment to get clarity in your business and start leveraging the power of consistency.
For as long as I can remember, my productivity has been guided by two things: my task list and my calendar. Depending on my role, one would always be the more dominant over the other. However, over time I have learned that managing them in tandem is almost always the most productive.
There are multiple ways to leverage your calendar to maximize productivity. By understanding the options, the pros and cons of each and your personal work style, you are more likely to select a method that leads to long term productivity.
Breaking your day into chunks of time to increase productivity is not a new concept. Even so, it is not as widely discussed as some other methods of time/task management.
The basic concept is rather simple:
- Break your day into functional chunks of time (usually 30 – 120 minutes).
- Analyze your levels of focus and productivity for each chunk.
- Assign types of activities to each chunk of time in order to best utilize that time slot.
- Only do those activities until they are done or time is up (whichever comes first).
This type of chunking can be particularly helpful when you have lots of tasks to do and certain types never seem to make it to the top of the list. Even if they only get 30 minutes each week, it is probably more than they would get otherwise.
The downside is, this version might be too restrictive for some types of business ventures.
Another variation of chunking time is to look at bigger chunks of time (1/2 day or full day) and assign larger groups of activities to each. For example, to minimize interruptions, appointments are only to be scheduled on Tuesday afternoons or Thursday mornings. Monday mornings are for planning, strategizing and prepping for the week ahead and so on.
This version has more flexibility within the chunks of time, but still has enough structure to create a framework for productivity.
Another upside is if you are working with others, either in-person or virtually, team members can also have a reasonable idea of what to expect and how to work with you effectively.
The challenge is that it can become too restrictive making scheduling challenging or difficult to complete certain tasks.
If your work requires you to participate in a large number of meetings or appointments, it may make better sense to start with getting those in your calendar first. You can still leverage a bit of the chunking concept by limiting the times people can schedule meetings, but this approach assumes that a large percentage of your work calendar is open.
The challenge is this method can make it difficult to get any task work done. However, a way to minimize this challenge is at the end of each week, block chunks of task specific time for the following week so very few additional appointments can be scheduled. This allows your clients and associates to have reasonable and flexible access, while at the same time ensuring you have some time for task work.
Obviously this method is best for roles that require at least as much, if not more, time allocated to meetings as opposed to getting tasks done.
Another method for using your calendar to increase your productivity is to actually make an appointment with yourself. Most of us are pretty good at showing up at the designated time/place for a meeting with another person. The concept is to apply the same rigor to your most important tasks. For some, leaving the office and working in a remote location like a library or coffee shop helps in making the “meeting” happen.
This is a great method for who automatically break projects down into milestones or steps and can easily place them on the calendar weeks and months in advance.
The challenge is to hold firm on your own appointments. It can be easy to convince yourself to “reschedule” when something else comes up, but if you are not careful a task appointment will get regularly rescheduled and never get done.
Block and Tackle
The idea of blocking time and tackling tasks is a method that can be used in combination with some of the previous calendar management concepts or on its own. The idea is first thing in the morning to look at the day ahead, given the appointments, work blocks, etc. on the calendar, assign the remaining time slots (usually smaller slots like 15 – 60 minutes), to very specific tasks.
This method works well in concert with other time management techniques like the Pomodoro method. It is also a great way to ensure you make time for your personal activities, like running errands, or ensuring you get to important but less urgent tasks.
Personally, my favorite is to create a mash-up of several methodologies. I am a firm believer in systems, but I also know that customization is often the key to success. Rarely does one system fulfill all of a person’s needs. But when you combine elements, you get the best of both worlds — systems and customization.
I personally combine the “Meetings First” and “Block and Tackle” methods. Although I loved the concept of chunking time, I could never make it work for myself. As a natural project planner it would seem like scheduling tasks into the future would make sense, but I know that I am not good about honoring appointments with myself. So everything ended up getting moved around anyway. The combination of “Meetings First” and “Block and Tackle” gives me just the balance I need.
The Reality of Managing Your Calendar
The reality is no system is perfect, but systems invariably increase our productivity. We also all have the same number of hours in a day. The difference is seen in how those hours are utilized.
When you realize that your tasks are ultimately part of your calendar, it becomes so much easier to have them work together. And when your calendar and tasks are working together, you will feel less overwhelmed and get so much more accomplished.
As a successful entrepreneur and small business owner/CEO I know a few things about you:
- You are passionate about your business idea and the products and/or services you offer.
- You are most likely a visionary — with lots of ideas and the ability to see the amazing possibilities.
- Marketing and/or sales either comes naturally and has been your primary focus as you have created, developed, and grown your business.
All of these are excellent traits for an entrepreneur to possess and fundamentally are a key component to your success thus far. But in almost every small business there is an inflection point.
This point of inflection is fairly easy to identify for the owner as they start feeling stuck.
Stuck at a particular income level instead of consistently growing.
Stuck doing the same “boring” tasks instead of working in their zone of genius.
Stuck carrying all the burden of the business instead of enjoying the elusive entrepreneurial freedom so often touted.
Feeling stuck is your business trying to tell you that something is wrong (or maybe several somethings).
When most entrepreneurs feel stuck, their go-to solution is marketing. More ads, more posts, more offers. New tactics, new products, new programs. But, it is rare that the business’ marketing is actually the problem. So marketing will rarely help and in some cases will actually make things worse.
Instead it is time to look at the business’ operations.
I use the acronym GEARS for the parts of your business’ operations:
- Goods – Products and services you sell
- Effectiveness – Personal and team productivity, business leadership
- Accountability – Prioritizing what is important and taking consistent action to reach goals
- Resources – People, money, equipment, technology, and similar
- Systems – Processes, routines, and reporting
Most entrepreneurs are not operationally inclined; it is counter to their visionary gifts. So operations get overlooked or put on the back burner until an issue becomes critical. And then it gets addressed quickly, in a “make do” manner without lots of consideration for longer term effectiveness.
At the point of “stuck”, all of the patches, quick-fixes, and band-aids are no longer serving the business and the internal gears of your business are about to break. Your business has hit its operational capacity limit.
Unfortunately, what got you here (stuck), will rarely get you there (unstuck).
If you are feeling stuck and not sure where to start, sign up below to download your GEARS self-assessment, or click here to learn more. In just a few minutes you will identify which GEARS need to be addressed and how to prioritize your efforts for maximum benefit. Optimize your GEARS and you will be unstuck and moving forward before you know it!