I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog that we’ve been piloting our 7 Graces ethical marketing courses over the past year (we’ll be launching them to the public in a few months). One of the things we asked our pilot participants to do was to create and implement systems for their business and marketing. Originally, we course developers didn’t want to ‘spell out’ what we meant by the word ‘systems’, because we respected their experience in business and wanted them to define things their own way. But actually, we misjudged. Over time, we realised that many independent business owners (especially ‘solopreneurs’) don’t actually know what ‘systems’ are. And those who do, don’t always know what kinds of systems they might need, or how to create and implement them.
Lack of systems keeps us stuck in our businesses. Whether you are running a social enterprise or are a sole proprietor service provider, without systems in place, your company will not be able to grow and
- Your financial situation will always be tenuous.
- Your work schedule will be erratic and demanding.
- Your professional performance will be inconsistent.
In short, without systems in place, a sole-proprietor business owner is unlikely to move from ‘flying solo’ to ‘flying free’.
10 Things You Should Systematise in Your Business
So what kinds of things should we be systematising in our business? Why should we systematise these things? And how can we create these systems (preferably cheaply, quickly and easily)? While there are a gazillion things for which a system could benefit a business, there are several that are particularly pertinent to one-person operations, which are vital not just for our business growth, but for our own sanity. Here are my top 10 suggestions:
System 1: Calendar and Appointment Bookings
One of the best things I ever did was to systematise the way people book appointments with me. It spared me from the disorganised, confusing and inefficient ordeal of going back and forth via email to set up appointments with my clients or others who wanted to meet with me. Before I put systems in place, I frequently ended up double-booked, and my clients (who often lived in different time zones to me) would get confused about the time we were meeting. This wasted time for everyone, and made more work for me.
The tool I use to systematise my bookings is a programme called Time Trade. This online software allows you to create different kinds of appointments, define when clients can/cannot book with you, etc. It shows your availability in the viewer’s local time, which means no more confusion over time zones. It shows you as ‘unavailable’ if another appointment is already booked during that slot, which means no more double-booking. It can also integrate with your iCal, Outlook or Google Calendar. The cost of the ‘Professional Edition’ is currently $49 per year, which I feel is well worth the price, having saved me from countless hours of wasted time.
One limitation with Time Trade is that it only allows you to connect one calendar. I like to use my Outlook Calendar, but I also have a PA who needs to see my diary. The solution we used was to set up a Google Calendar that synchs with my Outlook calendar, using another tool called gSyncit. There is a free evaluation version that works just fine to do a basic synchronisation of your calendars. This way, my PA can also enter or edit appointments for me in my Google calendar. These are, in turn, automatically synched back to TimeTrade so my clients don’t book during those times.
If you add no other system to your business, at least systematise your appointments and bookings. When you do, you’ll suddenly realise how much time and mental energy you’ve been wasting by not having this in place.
System 2: Client Contract Dates and Details
Many service professionals work with clients on a contract basis. They might agree to provide their clients with a service over a specified period of time OR they might agree to a specified number of tasks, hours, sessions, etc. Keeping an accurate, updated log of start/end dates and work completed is an essential both for you and your clients. It’s also crucial if you have admin or other staff who will be managing some of these tasks for you. Without a clear record, you could end up paying your staff for jobs they didn’t need to do!.
Creating a system for this could be as easy as making a spreadsheet. Another tool that many people find useful is Trello.
However, creating the system is not nearly as much of a challenge as staying on top of it. So, it’s also a good idea to systematise how and when you’ll go through and update this data. For example, you might set aside the first hour of the morning every Monday to go through your current contracts and job list for the week.
System 3: Invoicing and Taking/Making Payments
Systematising the way your money moves around in your business is also essential. Without it, you’re likely to overlook payments your clients owe you, forget to pay people you need to pay, and drive your tax accountant crazy.
You should create an invoice for every single job you do for someone. This invoice can be as simple as an invoice template in Word or Excel. PayPal also enables you to create invoices.
You can also create nice-looking invoices for free with an online software programme called Freshbooks at https://www.freeinvoicecreator.com/. If you want to make your invoicing systems even more organised, they have a paid service starting at $20 a month.
Whatever method you use, always be sure:
- That every invoice spells out the exact work for which you’ve been contracted, including start/end dates, quantity, or whatever is relevant. Spelling it all out on the invoice makes in clear for everyone involved, and easy to find if you need to check the terms of your agreement.
- To devise a consistent numbering system for your invoices, so you can identify them easily.
- To include your payment details: your bank account details, your PayPal address, or whatever method you use.
- To spell out your terms of payment clearly, e.g. upon receipt, within 30 days, monthly payments, or whatever terms you use.
- To send out your invoice immediately upon agreement of contract. Delaying not only means your payment will be late, but it also can result if you both forgetting what was agreed.
If you hire staff or outsourced support, make sure THEY invoice you too. Then, be sure to have a written, standardised system for paying your support staff, so they know how and when they should expect payment from you.
System 4: Blogging and Newsletter Schedule
Systematising your blogging and/or newsletter includes several things. Yes, it means that you create a schedule and timetable for your publications, so you are sure to publish regularly on specific days. But it also means that you set up your schedule so you have time to write and prepare your content (including editing, proofreading, formatting, image preparation, SEO, etc.). As your company grows, you’re probably going to need to hire someone (or more than one person) to help with the preparation. Having a schedule makes things easier and more efficient for everyone.
Systematising your blogging also involves creating a quarterly strategy for your blogging topics, so that you are sure your content ties into your most current offering(s). For example, if you have a new book coming out, then the blog articles you publish in the weeks leading up to the launch should be on topics related to the book, and relevant to your potential readers. If you are getting ready to launch a new training programme, then your blogs should be on topics related to the content of that course.
FYI, I talk in depth about all these things (and many more) in my upcoming book The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Blogging. You can get a sneak peek at that by clicking here.
System 5: Social Media
Systematising social media is something I talk a lot about in my book Tweep-e-licious (with specific reference to Twitter, of course). Being systematised in social media is not just about using automation software; it primarily means having a clear strategy for growth and expansion, and knowing what you want to gain from doing it. This entails:
- Defining/profiling your audience in detail.
- Identifying where you can find them (tip: in Tweep-e-licious, two of the methods I use are Twitter lists and hashtags),
- Creating (and/or curating) informational content on your blog that is relevant to their specific needs and interests.
- Using your social media networks to direct people to your blog content.
- Knowing what, when and how often to post to a particular social network.
- Using automation tools (again, I refer you to Tweep-e-licious) to ensure your content is going out regularly, at the times you know are best for your audience; using the right automation tools allows you to focus on content creation and engagement.
- Using tools (such as HootSuite) to filter out the ‘noise’ so you can focus on the things more relevant to you and your business.
- Allotting time in your daily or weekly schedule for the purpose of engaging and building rapport with your network.
- Using spreadsheets or online applications to monitor how many followers you have, how many clicks your links receive, how many times people share your content, etc.
If you are doing social media in an ad hoc fashion or missing any of the components above, you are unlikely to reap much tangible benefit from it. But if you go through these bullet points and start to tighten up your social media systems, you will start to get a feel for where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there.
System 6: Marketing Campaigns
Any time you have a project, the process should be systematised by creating a detailed timetable. This means breaking down tasks into their smallest components, and saying who will do things and when. If the project is complex (as most are), you will probably need to break it down into ‘sub-projects’ or teams, each of which has its own timeline.
While you may never have thought of them as such, marketing campaigns are projects. They have many ‘moving parts’, all of which need to be created, coordinated and managed.
For example, whenever our team are hired to do a book launch for a client, the very first thing I do is create the timetables. From experience, I know a full-blown launch takes six months to execute. When I create the timeline, I start from the end and work my way backwards. I know how long each major component takes, so I’ll plot them in. Only after I’ve done that can I see where I am right now, and what needs to be done immediately.
After the main project timetable is done, I’ll take each sub-project within the main project, and create separate timetable for each. For example, in a book launch, we would need different timelines for the blog tour, the media tour, the telesummit, the joint venture partner part of the campaign. Typically, we will also need another timeline for the book production itself, to ensure that the author stays on top of what he or she needs to have completed and by when, in order to have the book ready in time for the launch.
Choreographing how all those components dance together is what ‘project management’ is all about. Even if you are a one-person operation, if you have a new product you want to promote by means of an official ‘launch’ campaign, you need a way to systematise it. If you’ve never done an actual campaign before, you might consider hiring someone either to mentor you through the process or manage the project for you. Once you’ve done it a few times, and you have defined the ‘system’ that works for you, you can then hand over most of the administrative and technical responsibilities to other people, giving you time and headspace to focus on your business.
System 7: Client Project Management
By ‘client projects’ I’m referring to when we have agreed to deliver a set of services during a specified period of time. For example, in our 7 Graces Platform Building Package, our team deliver many services to clients over a 13-week period. One part of the service is to edit, proof, format and publish our clients’ blogs. To do that, we need a way to manage the process, so that the clients have their content ready in time, and we have time to deliver what we promised. That way, we all stay on schedule and none of the details inadvertently get overlooked.
My colleague Nancy Goodyear has devised an excellent system for managing client projects, using Trello, which I mentioned earlier. Next Tuesday, Nancy will be publishing an article with details on how she uses Trello to break down every component of a project, to see each project to completion. I highly recommend subscribing to this blog (just enter your email address in the form at the top of this page) so you’ll be sure to receive that article when it comes out next week.
System 8: Article Marketing and Guest Writing
Something I talk about in The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Bloggingis repurposing your blog content in article directories and guest writing on other blogsites. Like any other aspect of our business, getting this systematised makes these marketing strategies far more effective than doing them ad hoc.
A simple way to systematise your article marketing is to create a spreadsheet to track your publication history. Information you might wish to include is:
- A list of all the directories or blogs where you intend to publish content.
- Summary of their guidelines or policy (e.g. how many links they permit; their review process, how many articles you need to post to get preferential listings, etc.).
- Page rank or Alexa rank of the site.
- Details about their readership, article categories, etc.
- A link to their author/contributor log-in page.
- Your log in details (user name, email, password).
- A list of articles you have already posted there.
- Dates of each publication.
- Links to the live articles.
- Traffic (if known) your articles have received.
With this information in hand, you can easily log into your accounts for each site, knowing what to expect. And by monitoring the traffic you receive on each site, you will see which sites are proving the most fruitful for you, and develop a regular article marketing regime.
System 9: House Style and Templates
A ‘house style’ means a standardised way you content ‘looks’ to the public. For example, the way we format the blogs and the images on this site is a definable house style. We always have a ‘teaser’ at the top of the blog, which we put in bold italics. Recently, we’ve started putting the title of the article and the URL of the blog in the featured image of every post. Those kinds of details give a consistency and a branded feeling to your content, and they also make it easier for new members of your team to emulate.
A ‘template’ refers to the standardised style of documents you use within your business. For example, on our 7 Graces ethical marketing courses, we’re still tweaking the templates for our assignment briefs and course materials. When we do a blog tour for our clients, we always create a bespoke template that we use to structure the blog posts for our partners. When we do a book launch, we use web page templates that we made specifically for that function.
Like house style, templates bring consistency and branding to your work. But they also make your work easier, faster and more effective. Templates are not something you create once and then use ‘as is’ forever. You tweak them; you improve them; you streamline them. But with every improvement, they become a greater resource to your company, making it easier for your company to expand and deliver larger-scale projects.
System 10: Job Tasks
Last but not least, we come to the topic of systematising job tasks. By this I mean systematising the WAY a job is done within your company.
For example, we at 7 Graces support clients with their Twitter accounts using a programme called Tweet Adder. Twice a week, a member of our team (Lucy) goes into each account to follow new people, unfollow dead wood, follow back new followers and search for new people to follow. There are a lot of different ‘tasks’ to do to go through all these variables. The problem is, if you don’t have a systematised order and parameters for working through the tasks, you will end up with very inconsistent (and usually unreliable) results.
To rectify this problem, it was necessary to codify how Lucy goes through all the tasks for each ‘job’ for each client. We broke down all the tasks that had to be done, put them in the most effective order and defined the parameters for each tasks. By ‘parameter’ in this case, I might mean something like ‘how many new people should so-and-so follow this week’ or ‘how many days do we wait before so-and-so unfollows non-followers’.
Putting all of this in writing and making it part of our company systems means that Lucy can get her job done more easily and effectively. It takes out the guesswork and makes things consistent across the board. Furthermore, if we ever need to hire another ‘Lucy’ because the client load has become too big for one person, it will be easier for the new person to understand exactly what they need to do.
Closing Thoughts: How Systems Set You FREE
Creating systems is one of the best things you can do for yourself, your team, your clients, your business and your marketing. Here are just a few ways they can help liberate an independent business owner:
- Systems mean you do it BETTER.
- Systems mean you do it FASTER.
- Systems mean you do it more CONSISTENTLY.
- Systems make it easier to CHANGE things down the line.
- Systems make it possible for you to hand tasks over to SOMEONE ELSE.
- Systems make you LESS VULNERABLE in the event that people leave your team.
- Systems can turn you into a ‘TURNKEY’ company, meaning that someday, someone else will do what you’re doing right now and you can finally ascend to the level of CEO.
I hope you found this article useful, and that it has given you some food for thought on how to systematise YOUR business. I know this list of 10 can seem daunting, especially if you are a one-person enterprise. Don’t try to take it all on at once. Try to develop ONE of these systems and really make it work for you.
Then, after you see how much it changes the way you work – and the way you feel about your work – start to develop another system, and another, until you find yourself no longer a one-person show where your entire business is ‘in your head’, but an organised, systematised business person with a trained, competent and confident team supporting you every step of the way.
11 July 2014
P.S.: If you’re looking to bring more systems into your business, reach out to us via the Contact Form on this site. We can set up a Skype appointment to discuss the different options that could serve your needs.
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Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:
The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing. Brit Writers Awards Finalist eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media. eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Blogging: An Effective, Creative & Ethical Way of Marketing for Visionaries & New Paradigm Business Leaders. To receive an update when that book is available, just click here. As a thank-you gift for showing your interest, you’ll get instant access to an exclusive, free 5-page PDF revealing the exact same blogging template we use with our clients and we teach to participants on the ethical marketing training courses at the 7 Graces Project.
LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.
Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)