Your business may be a bricks-and-mortar operation with several employees, or a solo side gig you operate from your laptop. Whatever the size, all businesses benefit from systematizing the steps involved in each process you or your employees go through in a typical work day or week. Good systems document your hard-won knowledge of operating your business, help you see where you can streamline or become more efficient, and quickly bring new hires up to speed on their tasks.

What Does Systematizing Mean?

You already have systems in place, even if you do not realize it or consciously create them. Systematizing is simply the process of recording what you do and how you do it, and maintaining and updating that document going forward.

What systems can you document? Anything you do on a regular basis where you do the same actions in a similar order. Systems your business uses can include:

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Product Sourcing
  • Purchasing
  • Customer Service
  • Product Creation
  • Billing
  • Paying operating costs

Why Systematize?

Most small business owners and entrepreneurs have developed the systems they use unconsciously, perhaps following someone else’s formula, or adapting processes learned in a previous workplace. Sometimes developing a system is as simple as trying different things and repeating what works well.

When you systematize the steps of your different processes, you are paying conscious attention to what you do in order to document it. This allows you to see what you do well and where you can improve efficiencies. Documenting all your systems may show you places where steps can be combined, eliminated, or moved to a different system to enhance your smooth operation. While systematizing takes some time and effort, it can pay dividends in making your activities more efficient, and ultimately more profitable.

Moreover, if your business is growing, sooner or later you will need to add employees, even if you simply outsource some of your functions to a contractor. Taking the time to record your steps will ease the process of bringing a new person on board. You will be able to hand them an organized list of their duties and directions on how to accomplish them. Rather than personally walking them through your whole process, you can let them review the documentation and then just answer questions as they come up.

How to Systematize Your Business

The first step in systematizing your business is to make a list of the categories of functions that you perform regularly. Typically these include marketing, sales, production, customer service, and bookkeeping.

Next, make a list of your regular tasks in each of these categories. Divide them into tasks you do on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis. This is the framework for your system.

Once you have your list, take each task, one at a time, and list the steps you take to complete that task. There are numerous ways to do this. It may be easier for you to sit at your computer or with a pad of paper and write out what you do while visualizing your typical workflow. Or you may find it easier to carry a pad or voice recorder with you through your workday and make notes on what you do.

Now that you have your steps, organize them into a written numbered or bulleted list. This is where you may see ways to reorder or combine steps to improve efficiency. Make sure you document what you actually do, then make the changes and improvements you see. If you are not comfortable writing out lists, try creating this document as a flowchart or mind map.

Create a separate document for each system, and label it with a clear name that identifies its contents. This will help you find the different systems when you need them, and indicate the contents to any employee or contractor who receives the document. It may be helpful to store them all in the same folder on your computer and to upload them to a cloud-based sharing service such as Google Archive or Dropbox. This will allow you to quickly find and share the documents as needed. You may also wish to print them out and keep them in a binder for easy reference.

As your business grows, you will add new tasks and refine the steps of the tasks you do. You may adopt technology that speeds up or replaces some of your steps. Make sure you update your systems on a regular basis so that they always describe how you currently do things. Your systems will not be helpful if they only show how you used to do it two years ago, or how you wish to do it when you get around to improving it! Many business owners make a point of reviewing all their systems once a year to make sure that the documentation matches the current operations.

Systems are a business owner’s friend, and will help you keep your work flowing smoothly and efficiently even as your business grows and changes over time. While systematizing your work may seem like a daunting and time-consuming process, in the end you are merely recording what you already do, and collecting your knowledge and experience in a way that makes it easy to analyze and share it. It may take a little time now, but you will reap the benefits of this work for years to come!

Photo courtesy of Juhan Sonin on Flickr