Lauren Bacon and Emira Mears Present

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Working the System: How checklists and templates can make life better for everyone

December 14th, 2009 by Lauren · 3 Comments

In the ten years Emira and I have been running our business together, we’ve developed a high level of ESP. We often joke that we are interchangeable, i.e. if you talk to one of us, we can pretty well channel what the other might say in response. However, there are also plenty of things we delegate to one another almost entirely, so for instance I have done very little sales work in the course of those ten years, while Emira has done very little design work.

With Emira’s due date fast approaching, we have been doing some very hard thinking on how to transfer knowledge between us so that as I move into the sales role in the company (and while Emira is out of the office for a few months), I have all the resources I need to perform a job that is mostly new to me. It’s sort of like training for any other job, and it’s taught us a lot about how we might also delegate work to our staff, both now and in future.

This is what a lot of people describe as “systematizing”. And in The E-Myth, Michael Gerber frames the same concept as a stepping stone on the road to franchising — which is definitely not our goal, but the idea still stands. And the idea is this: smart entrepreneurs avoid having their business rely on knowledge held by a single person, and instead create systems for getting things done well, that can be replicated consistently by anyone with the appropriate skillset and training.

We’ve been doing a lot of this at Raised Eyebrow — and in fact, on many fronts we’ve always systematized things, whether it’s creating checklists for our programmers to use when they’re building websites, developing questionnaires to use in our design workshops with clients, or setting up templates for documents ranging from estimates to wireframes and sign-off contracts. But of late we’ve been delving into areas where we’ve never thought much about systematizing before: we’re looking for the systems in our sales processes and our service offerings, to make it easier and more efficient for someone (i.e. me) without a lot of sales training to walk our prospective clients through the process of determining the size and scope of their project, and providing them with a detailed and accurate estimate for the work required. This has been an eye-opening process for us, to say the least — and one of the insights we’ve had is that we’re not the only ones benefiting from it. Since we started talking about our services in terms of “packages,” for example, we’ve found that our clients are loving it too. It helps them understand better the range of options that we offer, and where their project fits — and as a result, we’re getting better at keeping projects within scope (and therefore within budget), and I suspect we will also see an upswing in client satisfaction since when expectations are clearly defined, they are much more easily met (and ideally, exceeded).

I’m really excited to see where this systematizing process takes us. Obviously there’s a certain amount of self-interest here, in that I’m a little nervous about stepping into the sales role and I’m really happy to have these new tools available to me; but I’m also very conscious that the investment we’re making now has real long-term potential, because once the systems are in place, and we’ve documented our processes, we’ll be much better positioned to streamline and improve them in future — as well as to move some of the work onto our employees’ plates and free up our time for business development and other good things.

I’d love to hear your stories on this subject — are there systems you’ve developed (or hope to develop) that are making your business life better? Share them in the comments, or shoot ‘em my way on Twitter.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Barbara // Dec 30, 2009 at 10:25 am

    First, i just have to complement you for having a great blog. I agree with you regarding the efficiency of having a system in place.. just want to share to you that in my printing business, I basically started out as a 1-man team. I had a hard time getting the word out about the existence of my business until I used this crowdsourcing method of advertising from Prova. it was really a big help and now, things are starting to pick up. For those of you who need an extra advertising push, check them out. It really works!

  • 2 Nicole, Blue Bicicletta // Feb 8, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Just found your blog, and I find this post very interesting. I run a very small (1 person: me) business, and often everything is just in my head (and a messy and scatterbrained head it is). I don’t plan to expand my business to more employees any time soon, but it is interesting to think about systematizing at any level. This post got me thinking a bit about how I could do that. I have some systems but mostly they are just naturally occurring–meaning: I never thought through them–I just started doing things as I needed to do them. I think small businesses especially have the tendency to focus on growing and rarely take the time to think through how efficient their systems are. Good luck with your process and doing the sales part of the business!

  • 3 Violette // Mar 15, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Thanks for the wonderful thought provoking post. I have an art business which has grown organically….it’s a bit chaotic in that i don’t really have systems in place which makes tax time pretty challenging and frazzling to say the least. I’m very right brained so have no problem creating “templates” to make art creation easier for my target market…..for example i wrote a book called Journal Bliss and because i was receiving e-mails all the time about folks being fearful of the blank page and what to journal about i decided to make it easy – i created a step by step format to put a page together. Backgrounds, borders, lettering, faces etc.
    Now if i could only do that for the business side of things i would be set. How does one switch over to their left brain?