Put Your Business on Auto-Pilot
By Alan Bayham
you’re like many small to medium-sized business owners, you love
what you do, but you may often feel “trapped” in your work. You want
the business to continue after you retire, but because you have such
a hands-on role in nearly every aspect of the company, you wonder
how you’ll ever be able to walk away. You dream of being able to
take a month-long vacation, but you fear the business would suffer
without you there every day. And while you love the financial
rewards being a business owner affords, you wish you could reap
those rewards without having to do all the work yourself.
problem for many business owners is not the inability to walk away
from the office and leave work at work, but rather a lack of formal
business systems that would essentially automate the company’s
processes. But since many business owners have always handled the
business issues themselves, they feel there’s no need for systems.
They believe that customers need the personal interaction from them,
and they have a hard time delegating tasks and responsibilities
by simply systemizing their business and by creating policies and
procedures, business owners can break free from the chains that keep
them tethered to their desk. They can then focus on business
building activities and personal interests, rather than day-to-day
the exact systems, policies and procedures you create will depend on
the nature of your business, following are some guidelines to keep
in mind when putting systems in place.
Set your priorities: Often, business owners are so wrapped up in
the day-to-day activities of their work that they lose sight of what
they really should be doing in their leadership role. Therefore,
take a time-out and ask yourself, “How can I grow my business?” and
“What activities are the most rewarding to me, both professionally
and personally?” You’ll likely realize that in order to grow your
company and feel more personal satisfaction, you need to be spending
your time on such things as networking for new business, building
client relationships, planning the company’s future growth, or
simply enjoying some time away from the business. Once you realize
what you should be doing on a regular basis, you can let go of the
day-to-day tasks that your employees can easily start to take over.
Make a list of your current activities: Next, keep a journal of
how you’re currently spending your time at work. What specific tasks
are you doing? How much time are you spending on the technical
aspects of what your company produces or offers? How much of a
hands-on role are you taking? What percentage of your time are you
spending on strategic activities? You’ll likely find that you spend
the majority of your time doing the same or similar tasks that you
pay employees to do. Why? Because most small business owners started
as technicians in particular fields and then decided to open their
own firm or business. So while they’re skilled plumbers, graphic
designers, computer programmers, etc. (and feel most comfortable in
that role), they lack business management and leadership training.
For most small business owners, evaluating on paper just how much
time they spend doing technical tasks rather than business-building
activities is a real eye-opener.
Delegate effectively: Delegate all tasks not related to the
list of what you should be doing, created in step one. But don’t
hand someone a task and say, “do it.” You need to delegate
correctly. That means giving the person clear directions and being
sure he or she understands what you want done, how much time it
should take, how much money it should take, what processes you want
the person to follow, and when the task is due. While you should
make yourself available for questions, you should not have hands-on
involvement with the task. Follow up with the person in writing,
reiterating the agreed-to task and all the details of the task. When
you complete this step, you will have systemized your first process!
Get everyone involved: Putting processes in writing like this
applies to everyone in the company. It needs to happen laterally as
well as vertically. Think of it like creating an owner’s manual for
each position. Have each person list out all the tasks his or her
position is responsible for. Consider that someone in the payroll
department would detail how to run payroll, how to pay the
withholding taxes, how to process 401K deductions, etc. The goal is
that if that person were out sick or to suddenly quit, another
person could pick up the process description sheet and perform the
job. Every person, from the CEO to the janitor, needs to go through
this process for every single aspect of his or her job.
important point here: Be sure the written processes are based upon a
job description and not based upon a person. You can’t have systems
based on what Mary or John does. It needs to be based upon the
actual job description for John’s position. That way, if/when John
leaves the company, you don’t have to find someone just like him to
do the job (a virtually impossible task). You need to be able to
replace people easily.
Share the systems company-wide: Once something is written down
and systemized, put it into a policy and procedure manual. Also,
have people cross-train for different positions so they can step in
when needed, even if it’s just to help out during a crunch time.
Finally, since all the tasks are tied to specific job descriptions,
also make sure they’re tied to that person’s performance evaluation.
That will ensure that the task is done according to the prescribed
system every time.
Systemize Your Company’s Success: While the process of creating
systems company-wide may seem overwhelming, remember that you don’t
have to do it all at once. Systemizing your business is a long-range
project, not something you can do in a week. Start by systemizing
just one position and then move onto another. Once you do have one
thing systemized, be sure to re-evaluate your system on an annual
basis to see if you need to make changes based on new events,
information or regulations.
taking the time to systemize your company, you’ll have a more
efficient business and will be more effective in your leadership
role. You’ll actually have time to do things you enjoy and that are
important to the business. You’ll be able to focus on things that
will make your company more successful and will be able to reap the
profits from your business even when you’re not physically there.
Begin the systemization process today and you’ll enjoy the rewards
for years to come.
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