I recently listened to a podcast about hiring a virtual assistance and using them in a startup company. It’s entitled “How to Use a VA in Your Startup” over at the Startups for the rest of us blog. As I listened I thought about some questions that I often receive from you about business processes as follows: “Where do I start with systematizing?”, “How do I use processes to help my business?”
While the post does not get into any level of detail about the manner in which you manage the VA’s specifically (I am writing a book that will help you learn how to do that), it does a great job of identifying task that you can consider systematizing and handing off to someone else.
Some of the highlights to consider that I totally agree with:
- Repetitive task are great for systematizing
- Things that you feel only take a few minutes to complete do not account for time lost from the distraction.
- When a task is handed off to someone else, they are focusing 100% on that task and that will often yield better results than your < 100% focus while multi tasking.
If you are running a startup today then you will likely find one or many things on the list that are applicable to you. So get started today.
One of the reasons for creating documented processes for your business is portability. Meaning that the day may come when you want to hand off ownership of your business to a third party. It could be that your business is being acquired or that you have decided to bring in a manager to run it for you. Either of these scenarios are going to be a challenge if you do not have your business processes documented.
It’s like going to ikea and buying a brand new entertainment center and having the sale rep say that there is no manual. Can you figure it out without a manual? Some people can others won’t even consider trying. That is exactly how people will view your business if there is no manual and documenting business processes provides that manual.
I’ve seen this scenario play out before. A valuable deal fell apart because the companies founder had never documented any of the task required in the day-to-day operations of his company. 10 years in, he had no idea where to start and when he figured it out, the timeline was lengthy. As a result, the prospective buyer lost interest and moved on.
In fact, I am currently in a the middle of a small deal myself where I am the buyer. The original agreement was to close the deal in two days. We were making good progress toward that end, until I found some documentation to be missing. This documentation is critical to the deal. Ten days later the deal still has not closed, my time planned for other things is now being impacted as well as the sellers. The seller is scrambling through what should be a vacation to get this documentation or I will walk away.
All of this could have been avoided if the owner had documented processes for the business. Very simple if it had been done upfront or overtime and because it was not, it is difficult for him to put together now. So get your business processes documented because you never know when not having them could prevent you from handing your business off to a 3rd party for sale or to be managed.
I was at a coffee shop that I frequent and working on my book. A gentle man sat down next to me talking on his phone with what appeared to be his wife and kid. He wasn’t talking loudly but this coffee shop was small so it didn’t matter and he was only about two feet away from me anyway.
So I overheard most of his conversation not by choice and if you have ever been in a small coffee shop then you can relate. He was going on about how he needed to interview a large number of people because he at least 50% of them would leave shortly after being hired. Being a thinker by nature, I am constantly running through improvement ideas in my mind. Small or large, it doesn’t matter. It is what I do.
Now I know that churn, also know as turnover rates, can be high in some businesses by nature but if you have to replace 50% of your staff on a routine basis, then you have room for improvement somewhere inside of your business. Where is that some place? Well only you would know that for sure or maybe you have never thought about it but it’s highly likely that it is there.
He went on with the person on the other end of the phone about looking into the book and setting-up a couple of interviews per day. At first it sounded like they were using some type of guidelines to hire people so maybe lack of hiring process was not the issue. However, I later learned that was not the case. In fact, the book contained applications of candidates. My original suspensions appeared to be valid especially after he spent the next 30 minutes explaining to the person on the other end of the phone what to look for in the candidates resumes, type of attitude, background, experience, etc.
These are all things that could be documented in a hiring process of some type and provided to his team so that he would not have to spend that time himself explaining it to someone over a phone call. And considering a 50% turnover rate for employees , I can only imagine how often he is having this phone call or performing this task himself. This is a clear case where process can save tremendous amounts of time and money. Now as far as the 50% turnover rate, well I am sure there is more going on that could be improved but a hiring process appears to be an easy win to save time by avoiding repeatable task in this scenario. Of course this is all based on a conversation I overheard in a coffee shop but I have seen this scenario play out in businesses before so I know it happens.
Especially when you are supposed to be spending that time with your family, which based on the look on the womans face that was with him, is clearly what he should have been doing.
You are running your business and conducting the usual day to day operations when your phone rings and it’s one of your vendors who you contacted earlier and left a voicemail asking for a return call. You ask her a few questions and she responds with more information than you can absorb so you ask her to hold on while you grab a piece of paper to write it down.
You look for a working pen because the first one you grabbed doesn’t write. You can’t find a blank piece of paper so you turn over a piece of mail that had been opened and use that. You start writing and soon find that you are running out of space because envelopes were not designed for taking notes so your print becomes slanted and gets smaller and smaller as you try to keep up with what you are being told. You thank her and tell her to have a nice day and your call ends. A few minutes later an email comes in about an urgent matter that you must attend to immediately so you spend the next hour addressing that issue. After that, a scheduled meeting starts and you finish your day out with the meeting.
The next morning, you remember your conversation with the vendor from yesterday but there is one problem, you have no idea where the used envelope that you scribbled on is located. In fact, you can find every scrap piece of paper, junk mail, magazines, contracts, bubble gum, envelopes with notes from other phone calls and everything else except — that envelope containing the vendors notes. Do you know why that happened? I will tell you. Your business happened and as long as you are in business and your doors are open, it will continue to happen unless you stop.
This cycle plays out in business all the time over and over again like a merry go round at the carnival. How would you like to get off of that merry go round. Image if you could still record the things that you know you won’t remember later and not have to worry about losing that information when you need it. I have good news for you. You can do it and it wont cost you a dime. What is it? It is going paperless and abandoning your paper ways for digital documentation. What is that you ask? It’s quite simple, you can continue to capture your notes but you use digital tools to do it instead. Here are a few options that you can start practicing with today at no cost:
- Evernote – Lets you write, edit, categorize and saves your notes. Free
- Google Docs – Lets you write, edit, categorize and saves your notes. Free
If you really want to get productive combine a tablet computer with your new habit and you can now carry your notes with you eliminating the need to search your office for paper. These will cost you but the return on this investment will be well worth it. Here are a few you can consider in different cost ranges:
- iPad – A portable device that you can write on just like paper $250 and up
- Penultimate app – Allows you to write, edit and save notes. It also connects to Evernote (Above)
- Stylus (Optional) – Feels like a pencil or pen and allows you to write on your tablet. $30.
Note: None of these are affiliate links.
Well, there you have it. You can use these tools to stop writing things down on paper that you lose and save yourself a ton of time and time is money. You owe it to yourself to give this a try. Running a business is hard enough without these little things that kill your time getting in the way. Let me know how this works out for you.