For many entrepreneurs, when it comes to managing your small business, the focus is often on driving sales to grow the business and not on the super smooth day-to-day running of it.
If you find yourself leaping from one fire-fighting scenario to the next, just pause and lift your chin up for a moment - you might see that the root cause of all your pain is actually the underlying process (or lack of one!).
Why is standardising your business processes important?
You may have started the business as a sole trader and wonder why you need to bother with creating standard processes and writing it all down for what you do. I get it - even the word process sounds boring, like it belongs in a stuffy corporate manual somewhere and surely not needed for your agile, super savvy online start up? right?
As you grow the business, you take on more staff and more customers - and the amount of work it takes to make sure you do things well and consistently becomes very clear.
A process document helps you:
- Set out the standard steps required to complete the task
- Define who does the work (job role)
- Define how long it should take
- Capture any dependencies or hand offs to other parts of the business
- Give clarity on which tools and systems are needed.
If you don't set your standards, clearly defining the process you want to follow, upfront - your team will quickly be running around re-working everything, making it all up as they go along or worse re-inventing the wheel each and everytime a customer needs to be served or a new order needs to be shipped.
Phew! I'm tired just thinking about all that extra effort.. your team will be too...
Great processes will power up your growth
For business owners who want to take their online business to the next level, it is vital that you get the basic process foundations in place in your business by standardising and documenting your processes BEFORE you scale...
Remember it is no use making loads of sales if you forget to re-order the stock, invoice the customer and collect the money. That bit's all about "process"...and why we love it so much. Getting your processes super slick is what helps your business scale fast.
As you scale, as a business leader you will need to control the quality of what your business does and achieve consistency in execution - which also means speed.
If your processes are standardised and documented, then this makes it so much simpler for anyone in your business to work on a process.
Your team will know exactly what is expected of them, you will clearly see when a process step has been missed and your customers will get the same, consistent (and hopefully amazing) outcome each and every time. That consistency in excellent customer service will win you referrals, accoldes and will of course drive the repeat buying cycle of growth.
The benefits become even clearer once your processes are well documented. Think about it, if you had a manual or staff handbook you could share that said "this is how we do things round here", then it would make your life as the business leader that much easier - wouldn't it?
I've often found that the very moment you start writing down your processes on paper, it can help you identify the current state of your business (does this really work like that? are we sure that's a good idea / scalable / a good use of time?) and can help us challenge how to improve it.
Why you should read the E-Myth Book
The E-Myth book is a guide to the mistakes that all small business owners make as they try to run and grow their business. It shows you what you should do to ensure that your small business avoids that pain and doesn’t follow the same path.
You want the success path !
99% of new businesses fail to scale successfully, often experiencing growing pains and all sorts of structural challenges along the way. Successful entrepreneurs do everything they can to make sure they have stable foundations and structure to their business right from the start.
This EMyth book is legendary amongst seasoned business owners and contains a huge amount of insight that will make you sit up straight and say - wow, ok I need to sort that in my business if I want to succeed.
Get started with your Priority Processes
To cut through the overwhelm and start taking action, the easiest way to tackle it is to first identify your business-critical processes. Write a list - These are the activities you have to do, without which your business will not survive.
Priority processes include things like serving and dispatching product to customers, ensuring that key suppliers are paid and that customers are invoiced, and money is collected from them.
You want to have a list of all these processes plus then go deeper and make sure you have documented step by step instructions for how each process gets completed.
This means that if you or a member of your team are unable to perform an important process for any reason, then you could, if you had to, hand the document over and get someone else to do the work without impacting your business. Or more likely when a new starter joins your business, you can get them up to speed and working brilliantly, fast.
Remember your business isn't really a business until it can operate without you! So get those processes out of your brain and onto "paper".
Use process mapping tools and templates
Your processes don't have to be written on anything fancy - just a simple google doc or a piece of paper printed in a folder will do.
If you want to create a standard template for your process documentation that can be useful to do from the start so all your processes are written up in the same format for consistency and contain the same depth of instructions.
There are also some great online process documentation tools like LucidChart if you want to take your process documentation to the next level.
Use technology to Automate or Accelerate a process
As you know I love a bit of tech so of course I am going to mention this... Technology is a wonderful thing and it can make your business processes much, much smoother, cheaper to deliver and faster too.
Your first step to consider is having integration points wherever possible - for example an easy one to set up is an integration between your website and accounting system to reduce manual work and downloading of spreadsheets.
Anywhere you find data or information that has to move from one place to another - ask yourself, could I automate this or get an integration to remove the manual work?
The more manual work you can eliminate from your processes, the easier your life will be plus it will also be more error-free too (bonus!).
Make your processes available
This really helps when you take on new staff - you want to make sure that everyone knows what is expected of them in their job and what good looks like.
One of the first things you can do is show your staff how and where to view your business processes, then give them space to read them - it is a fast way to onboard a new joiner and give them a formal induction or upskill an existing team member. It helps them understand the basics of what needs to be done with ease.
Many growing companies put all of their key processes into a staff handbook to act as a single source of truth for company standards and "how we do things around here". This handbook can be a hard copy "booklet" and / or hosted in the teams cloud file sharing space online.
Make It Happen In Your Business
Standardising your processes and writing them down as step by step instructions is a vital step on your way to growing your business. You can not run a bigger business without them. It's that simple. So if you want to scale your business or simplify what you do, now is the time to start capturing your key processes. Right now.
Don't be put off from getting started either - your first attempt honestly doesn't have to be a hefty binder the size of War and Peace - just start capturing the absolute basics and you can evolve the process documentation together with your team as you grow.
- Make a list of the key processes in your business - the ones that make your business "work".
- Choose the no. 1 most important process in your specific business (e.g. how to serve a customer) and start with that one. Write down the step by step instructions for completing this process.
- Engage with your team and ask them to write up their no.1 process and share it for their area of expertise.
- Continue to build out your process "manual" or staff handbook until all your major processes are captured.
- Celebrate the success of building the right foundations for your business.