If you’ve ever looked at other entrepreneurs and wondered how they manage to get it all done, it very likely boils down to having great business systems in place. In fact, I’d hazard a guess and say that the most productive people out there have one thing in common — they refuse to reinvent the wheel. Instead, they go into every recurring task, process or project challenging its value to the bottom-line. And having passed that test, they then look for the most efficient (and if possible, automated) way of doing it. Period. Nothing sexy.
No matter what business you’re in and what projects you find yourself tackling, a systemized approach will help you:
- Work faster
- Produce more and better
- Make fewer mistakes
- Delegate the tasks you don’t like doing with ease
- Scale and grow your business.
So where should you start when you’re ready to systemize everything as a small business owner?
It is time to face facts.
When it comes to moving your tasks and projects along, post-it notes, emails and random, scribbled reminders on loose bits of paper aren’t going to cut it. They may work for you while you’re only just starting out but they just aren’t a sustainable, scalable option. Not only are they prone to being lost, they also don’t offer you an overview of where you are vs. where you want/need to be.
What I suggest is take all your post-it notes, emails and scribbled reminders, get them into a project management tool you can get behind.
I think you’ll find that as you work through a few cycles of a project, you’ll appreciate having all the info you need in one central spot but also – you’ll start to see patterns in what needs to get done and when. You will, without really setting out to do so, end up documenting how things are done as a by-product of your planning process — a massive bonus for when you’re ready to hire out some of the work.
In the last 18 months, I’ve had to work in a whole range of project management environments — from the more conventional Microsoft Planner and Microsoft Project to web-based tools like Teamwork, Asana, and Trello.
Personally, I am a huge Trello fan. Here are a few examples of how you can use Trello:
As a Content Calendar
This could look something like this…
1 list for the planning-type documents like keyword research, competitor posts that are noteworthy, ideas that you might get whenever etc.
A further 12 more lists – 1 for each month of the year.
Each month would then have 4 cards – 1 for each weekly blog to be released.
Every card would carry the intended blog title, a due date, any additional research or key messages that need to be included in the final blog, a link to the final blog post and the post image.
As a Weekly Sprint
This is a very focused board carrying only those projects that must be moved forward in the week (anything else is non-critical) and has several lists:
- What’s on this week
- Projects that need the client’s input
- Projects that are ready for review/approval
- Projects that have been completed (these get archived routinely after 2 weeks)
As a General To-Do List
This can end up being a rather large board but the board could potentially include the following lists:
- To do
- In progress
- Recurring tasks (this is for those tasks that happen every month like expenses tracking, social media planning, MailChimp list clean up etc.)
- Resources (I like using this for holding links to Google Docs which define critical processes, or Trello cards with pre-defined checklists for common tasks like uploading a blog post onto WordPress or sending a newsletter from MailChimp).
If you want to dive a little more into the world of Trello, here’s a blog post I wrote that gives you the low down on what it can and cannot do.
The Magic of Templates
How many times do you answer email from potential clients? Or mail your JV partners about an upcoming launch? Or email your podcast guests to let them know their episode is live? Or send out pre-discovery call emails to clients with questions about their needs? Or send out a pitch for a project? Or send out a service agreement to be signed? Or tell people how you work?
Do you see what I’m saying?
All of these tasks (and many others) become effortless when you create fill-in-the-blank templates that can be repurposed for specific cases/clients.
Templates can be as simple as a canned response in your email client or you can use software such as Text Expander (for Mac) or Phrase Express (for Windows).
You might even create template documents in Dropbox or Google Drive to house all your templates for quick and easy access.
While templates will undoubtedly save you time, the real beauty is that once they’re created, you can easily outsource things like email and even sales. Simply instruct your assistant on the proper use of your templates, and you’ll be free to do other, more important things like making money or serving your clients.
Checklists Prevent Mistakes
It might seem counterintuitive, but when you perform the same tasks over and over again, it’s easy to miss a critical step. You might think you paid your affiliates this month—you might even remember doing it—only to look back and see it was never completed.
But when you implement checklists, it takes a lot to actually miss an important task.
You can easily create checklists for all your common tasks and projects using nothing more than a Google Docs document but checklists in your project management system offer you a greater level of oversight and transparency. Create checklists on there and you can see exactly what tasks are complete, and which are still outstanding.
Automate Key Processes
When you are the only one performing key tasks in your business, you run the risk of becoming the bottleneck. Every task requires your time and attention, and all the knowledge required to get things done lives inside your head (or on your post-it notes and random scribbles).
Adding a project management tool begins to solve this problem, but this is really just a first step.
To truly become more efficient, you need to automate wherever you can.
To start, I would automate your scheduling processes with a tool like Acuity or Calendly which integrates with your electronic calendar and allows for you to set availability rules and in turn enables clients (potential and existing) to book time with you online and without the inevitable to-ing and fro-ing of doing this the old-fashioned way.
If you find that you get a ton of the same questions from people who’ve visited your website, you might want to consider creating a ‘Common Questions’ page on your website that fields some of those questions for you. If a lot of those questions are centered around the way you work, a ‘How I Work’ page might help too.
Client onboarding is yet another high-value, high-impact process that can stand to be automated. Depending on the type of business you run, you could create a Trello board that actually guides your client through the end-to-end process. Say for example you are a Facebook Ads VA, your client onboarding Trello environment could have the following lists:
- Onboarding to do list: this one could include things like a card which shows your new client how to add you as an admin user of their account
- Intake research: this could be where the client provides insight into their competition, key players in their industry, links to all relevant websites, social profiles, existing sales pages etc.
- Campaign goals and objectives: Are we going for likes, clicks, sign-ups? How much are we spending, and over what period? Inputs into what our target audience would look like?
- Insights and lessons learned
Running a small business takes a lot of work.
Templates and checklists turn smart business owners into productivity superstars, and it’s easy to get started. The next time you answer an email you’ve answered before, save your response. The next time you set up a new product in your shopping cart or create a new opt-in page, take the time to record the steps. The next time you create a new event in Eventzilla, document your steps there too. These documents will make future projects easier and faster to complete, and best of all, you can hand them off to your team to do and know that they have everything they need to get the job done right, first time around.