When I first started working from home, the thing that surprised me most was how fast the days went by. I would look at the clock around 4:30 or 5:00 in the afternoon and wonder where the day had gone. Between emails, special projects, client calls, and hopefully squeezing lunch and a workout (nap) in, it seems like I rarely caught up. I felt like I would never be able to actually get ahead.
It’s especially hard as you’re first building your business because everything is being done for the first time. Invoicing clients for the first time. Completing projects for the first time. Writing blog posts for the first time. You have to figure out each process as you go. If you’re like me, it looked a little bit different each time I did it. And it took me the same amount of time, EVERY time.
That’s when I started to work smarter, not harder. I realized that there were several processes in my business that I could automate or standardize to some extent. This meant that instead of reinventing the wheel each time I closed a deal, I just followed the pre-determined steps which took me a fraction of the time. Building out these processes from start to finish also allowed me to be strategic about what I wanted each process or system to achieve.
Are you signing up for an extra hour in your day (+ adding some intentionality to your systems)? Here’s how to get started:
Determine What Processes Your Business Needs
What do you find yourself doing over and over again? I noticed that I was searching through my “sent” emails to use previous emails as a template when I was sending invoices, submitting proposals, or even following up with potential clients. That is a great indicator of where a system can come in handy. Also consider what takes up the majority of your time and determine how you can standardize parts of it to streamline your workflow. For many business owners, client management is a HUGE part of their day. Emailing back and forth, checking in on projects, and making sure that everyone is happy takes a lot of time. What portions of the client experience can be systematized? Other areas to brainstorm are your finances, marketing, and lead generation activities.
Essentially, what activities would be more efficient if you planned ahead and created a process to follow time and time again.
To give you a head start, these are the most important systems in my business:
Prospect Funnel: All of the activities that happen between someone reaching out to me and hiring me.
Client Project Management System: Once an agreement is signed, my project management system comes into play. This is somewhat customized to the project, but I have different pieces that I can pull in depending on the situation.
Post-Project Process: Once a project is completed, this series of events kicks off.
Content Calendar: This helps me consistently share my content across all of my channels.
List the Goal of Each Process
Now that you know what business operations you want to standardize, consider how you can add a little bit of strategy to each process. I like to think of it as a trail of breadcrumbs. You want to choreograph the entire experience. For example, you’re going to send final files or a project recap upon completion… why not incorporate some material about how your clients can refer you to their friends within that process?
Consider the bigger picture and what you want each step to accomplish. When you’re sending materials to prospects, what do you want them to do next? How can you customize the process so that they are encouraged to do it?
Clearly setting goals will enable you to build business systems that are both efficient and effective.
Map out the Steps
With your end goal mind, list out each step of the process that you’re building. Start by just listing everything that needs to happen then assign them the right order. For obvious reasons, I’ve found that it’s useful to do this on paper first to allow for some flexibility while you are in development mode. Steps may include sending emails, scheduling phone calls, mailing information, creating invoices, or even something as simple as adding files to Google Drive.
At this stage, you’ll also be able to highlight those areas where you need to fill in the blanks where some development is needed. Write emails that you can use as drafts. Set up your invoice template. List topics for phone calls.
Putting together the complete picture makes it easy to…
Implement a System That Works for You
A process is only as good as the system that you use to implement it. If you create processes that are so complicated that they are a pain to use, they won’t stick. Find a system or software that will manage these processes for you and prompt you when action is needed. The more that you can automate, the easier it will be for you to stay on top of things and the more time you’ll save. Wasn’t that the point of all this, anyways?
As you’re choosing your process management system, consider ease of use, cost, and functionality that is most important to you. I use a combination of Trello and Insightly to manage my processes and daily tasks. Insightly is great for client management and Trello helps me navigate my goals, daily tasks, and content calendar. If you want a peek into how I use Trello for goal setting, check out this post. Ready to get started on your own? There are many options from a simple spreadsheet to a full blown CRM system. Choose what fits your business best.
Allocating your time correctly and dedicating precious brain power to the most important tasks in your day is crucial to the success of your business. Take the time now to identify what tasks to automate and standardize. It will save you hours in the long run. What processes will you start with?