Systems + Business = FREEDOM
We’ve all heard of scaling, and everyone in business wants to scale up. But what does that mean? For most people in business, it means more sales, more staff. But that will never allow you to truly scale. What allows you to scale is SYSTEMS.
Let me tell you, I, the CEO & Founder of LocalFi, went seven years thinking I was an entrepreneur only to realize after reading a book called The E-Myth that I was, in fact, just an employee in my own company. I wasn’t a business owner because the company couldn’t operate without me, and I was never able to scale because I didn’t have documented systems. Sure I had systems in my head that I used regularly which allowed me to be so good at what I did, but I could never duplicate my own quality of work.
More than once, I tried hiring employees as a way to scale. Sometimes it would work for a little bit. But almost always, the employee wouldn’t be doing the quality of work I expected or ended up leaving. Without systems, I couldn’t gain any traction. Without systems, I wasn’t a true business.
WHAT ARE SYSTEMS?
So what are systems? Systems and processes are documented procedures that can be replicated by others. One of the first systems LocalFi implemented was the Onboarding System. Previously, for every client that came on, I had to type out an email. I had to attach different links and then I had to follow up with them for weeks and weeks to get everything I needed from them. It was an extremely long, frustrating process.
So what did we do? We created a system around the Onboarding Process. First, we created a Google Form that the client could fill out so we would have all their information in one area.
Next, we created an email template that we could just duplicate time and time again.
Then, we created videos showing the client exactly how to get us the information we needed for them to be successful.
We tied all of it together so now all we have to do is populate one email that’s already written as a template, send it out to the client, and let them complete the entire onboarding procedure. Not only did onboarding go from taking about two to three hours to about five minutes, but we also received WAY more information at such a quicker pace than we ever had before. That one system alone has saved us hundreds and hundreds of hours in our business and has allowed us to provide higher quality service to our customers.
WHAT SYSTEMS DO YOU NEED IN YOUR BUSINESS?
So what systems do you need to accelerate your business growth and scalability?
Let’s look at this from a 1000-foot view to start with. In any typical business, there are three wings:
- Marketing Wing
- Operational Wing
- Financial Wing
All three wings are extremely important for the success of your business. The first step is to really look at the three wings and look at what you, yourself, the business owner, are currently doing in all three of those wings and start documenting it.
For me, I kept a notepad next to my computer and I literally wrote down every single task that I was doing that was a task of an employee, not one of a business owner. After about a week, I was able to clearly identify where I was spending the most time being an employee in my company. And that is where we started building systems first.
For us, we’ve always received so many referrals because of our great track record so our marketing system was never top priority. For us, it was operations. After a week of documenting all the tasks that I was doing throughout the day for my business, I identified that graphic design was one of the things that I was spending the most time on. And that’s what happens when you’re a business owner. I am not a graphic designer. I’ve had no formal education, and yet, because I’m smart enough to figure out basic graphic design, I was doing it all myself. We realized I was spending 10+ hours a week on graphic design. What could I be doing with those ten hours if I wasn’t spending it on putting out poorly designed graphics?
So we built what we called at the time our Content Creator system. This was a system specifically designed for a new graphic designer that could come in and replace me in the tasks that I was executing myself. So what does that system look like? We had to break it down into the different parts they would have to be doing.
Number #1: Communication
We wrote a clear guide for exactly how to communicate with the team. What subject lines to use for which emails, how to receive projects, and then how to deliver projects back to the team in a way where everyone understood where the graphics were and how to access them.
Next we looked at the actual graphics we would need to be creating. Since we were creating Google Posts, there are specific sizing requirements that you need in a graphic. So we wrote down the exact specifications and sizes of each of the graphics we would need created, how to space things within the graphics so they’d show up extremely well online, even how big a file size the graphics had to be, all of it documented and put into a User Manual that could be easily referenced.
We then created training videos for different things we knew the graphic designer would need to know how to do, such as keyword research and how to geotag an image. These videos were once again put into our User Manual.
By the time we were all done with the system, the User Manual was over 25 pages long, just for a graphic designer. We realized that this was a bit too long and so we took elements of the training and put them in different documents that were linked from the User Manual, so we were able to make the Manual about 18 pages overall. Think about that: 18 pages for a ten hour per week graphic designer job.
It took us over a month to create this system, and after we created it, we had to refine it, but what were the results? The first graphic designer we brought on did extremely well and stayed with us for over a year and a half, the longest a virtual assistant has ever stayed in my company. Those ten hours freed me up to start working on additional systems so that I could hire additional staff. After hiring staff with systems in place, I realized why I had failed so often when I was younger to hire staff. I hired people and told them: “Do this,” but never gave them a system on how to actually execute. Once I did that, it changed everything.
Now, a year after we started building systems, I, as the business owner, work two days a week on the operations of LocalFi and that’s it. I’ve been traveling for over 2 years straight now, living wherever I want to, exploring three to four days every single week, and the time I do spend on LocalFi is on building the business, building the systems, and the operations are executed by my team, my software, and my systems. I’ve been able to create incredible freedom – financial freedom, freedom of movement, freedom of time, freedom to explore the world – and it’s all because I put the extraordinary hard work into building systems for my business.
So How Do You Build Systems?
First, I highly recommend reading two books:
- The E Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What To Do About It by: Michael E. Gerber
- Traction by: Gino Wickman
The E Myth Revisited...terrible name, but one of the most important books I’ve ever read. This book really showed me that I was just an employee in my business and not an actual business owner. It really taught me the concepts of systems and gave me the motivation to move forward.
The next book, Traction, was lent to me by a colleague. I always suggest reading Traction second as The E Myth is more of a conceptual book that teaches you the ideas, and Traction is more of the executable book that teaches you the step-by-step methods on how to put those ideas into action.
One of the things that stood out in both books is that to start developing systems you should get your management team away from the office for a few days. So that’s what Kim (the COO of LocalFi) and I did. We went to one of our favorite places in Arizona and spent three days there dedicated to just building systems.
In our minds, we had established that we were going to build three or four systems during the three-day time period. But once we got into the thick of it, we realized how incredibly challenging building systems can be. In fact, in those three days, we built several failed systems which we knew were not great from the get-go, and after trying to build systems several times and failing, we focused on a system for building systems. And in those three days, the only system we built was the system for building systems.
Yet that laid down the framework. One of the key things that we learned with building systems is at 20% to check with the teams that would be implementing those systems. We learned that we could save a lot of time by checking in at 20% to make sure the systems were being built in a way that made sense for the end-users. The next key component of building the systems is really breaking down the job role into simplified parts.
The key to success for employees is to be able to build a system that someone can execute and start driving returns back to the company.
We realized when we tried to teach an entire role all at once, it was overwhelming and it would take too long...there was so much training. However if we could teach a single task and build a system around it, and then start having the employee execute on it, we would start getting a return to the business much quicker. So we broke down each role into individualized tasks.
For instance, one of the tasks of the Graphic Designer was developing Review Flyers that we provide to our customers to help them secure more reviews from their customers. This was one individual task. We created communication around how to execute it, we created training videos, written guides, all around this one task – and yet once we were able to train our new employee on that and she had a system that she could go back and refer to, we completely removed building Review Flyers off of the management team’s plate. Right there, that saved two hours per week of management team time.
So we kept doing it. For every individual task we recognized, like each task the Graphic Designer would have to do, we created a system around that. And then we took all those tasks and we put them together into one User Manual. While this User Manual has certainly needed to be updated multiple times, we still use the same base User Manual we created for the Graphic Designer, and ever since creating that system, we have always had excellent Graphic Designers on staff. Even when our first Graphic Designer left (because she had just graduated with a Masters in Engineering), we very quickly were able to bring on a new whole team of Graphic Designers and train them in a matter of weeks. Why? Because we had a system. Within just two weeks, these Graphic Designers were operating almost better than our initial Graphic Designer who had been with us for over a year and a half. And that is because we had systems.
So why do so few companies have great systems? The number one answer is that it is a TON of work. I still remember at the end of those first three days when we had gone away to create our first systems and we had only created one system, a system on how to create systems. I remember saying to Kim, “While I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to execute our goals for this weekend, I’m really excited. Because MAN, building systems is hard!” It drained our brain power so much that we were exhausted by the end of the three days. And that gave me hope because I knew so few people who were actually putting the time and effort into building systems. It is probably one of the most challenging mental activities that you can put your mind to, and so few people do it.
And yet for me, I would rather spend a year building systems using my mind extraordinarily hard to the point of being drained, to have the freedom of actually owning my company, the freedom to do what I’ve done – to travel for over 2 years straight. We’ve visited 36 of 63 National Parks. We’ve lived all over, in beautiful, incredible places, all while being able to grow and support our LocalFi Team and Our Community.
Because of systems, I can actually spend time volunteering my knowledge and my skillset to the communities I’m involved in. I regularly do Free Training Programs. We sponsor Not-For-Profit Organizations every quarter. Additionally, every quarter, we do a full GMB (Google My Business) Optimization for a not-for-profit, that’s a value of $3,000 normally. I’ve been able to do all this, to give back so much to communities all over America, only because I created systems. Only because I was able to pull myself out of the day-to-day operations of my company so I could focus on actually growing my company, growing my community, elevating my team members, and causing great success for my clients.
Systems. Probably the most challenging thing you could put your mind to, and one of the #1 ways that you can create true freedom in your life.