Ep. 47: Lack of Processes: How it’s Holding You Back

This might be one of the least exciting episodes I’ve ever gone into, but also maybe one of the most necessary. Today we’re going to talk about documenting systems and processes. I know that sounds real freaking dry and it kind of is, but it’s also incredibly fascinating.

So let me take you on a typical journey of a business owner. You have an idea, you start your business, and you start figuring out how things work. You figure out which apps you love, what software you want to use. You figure out how things work, right? You’re basically just figuring it out as you go.

When they say that entrepreneurs are building the plane on the way down, they’re not lying. It’s so much like parenthood, right? You have no idea what you’re doing. You’ve never done this before. There’s a first time for everything and first times are not usually the smoothest. When you’re starting your business, you’re quite literally figuring out how you’re going to do business.

You’re already amazing at your craft or your service (or whatever it is that you do). You’re already awesome at that and, sure, while there may be some imperfections overall — you’ve got that pretty much in the bag. That’s kind of why you started the business to begin with. But as you know, owning a business is not just about doing what you’re already amazing at. It’s figuring out how you do everything else.

This is your daily operation stuff. How do you answer the phone? What is the signature of your email look like? What’s your communication policy? How long does it take for you to respond to people? If you’ve got an eCommerce website, what is the packing and shipping process like? How many days a week am I doing accounting? When do I send out invoices? Do I require a deposit to get started?

This is all the granular level stuff. The things that you just honestly end up doing subconsciously because you’ve grown so accustomed to it and have developed a process (probably in your head) for it. Now, as the business owner, you’ve got it down. You know all these things like the back of your hand. You could do this stuff literally in your sleep, but then it comes time to expand your team.

Time to add people, time to add vendors — all these other people start getting involved in your business. And guess what? All of that information is a locked vault in the back of your head. And honestly, it’s not even like you are the only one who wants that information. I’m guessing you would be more than happy to teach somebody else or have someone else know this as well. Then you don’t have to be the only one who does it. But that takes time and that takes effort and it honestly just ends up becoming easier to do it yourself.

That’s where we have to shift some mindset. That’s where we’re going to dig in today because you’ve got to get that shit out of your head. I’m going to take you through a story and a process of how I completely flubbed this up so that maybe I can help prevent you from doing it.

How it goes

So every time you add an employee you have to train them, right? They rely on you, the one that’s been there, to teach them how to do things properly. So you end up scrambling at the 11th hour trying to pull some notes and information together to teach them how to do certain things.

Inevitably, you miss information or super important details, then when you go to train the person after them, they get a different training version than what that original person did. And maybe they received details the first person didn’t. So everyone’s got kind of bits and pieces of the processes, but no one’s really doing it effectively.

Here’s the hard pill to swallow (and guys, I had to swallow this one too): It’s up to the leader to properly train employees, and if they don’t have what they need to be able to work efficiently — that falls back on us.

The other thing that happens is you keep being really stressed out, right? You’re holding all of this information, the expectations are on you, and right now you’re the only person that knows how to do things efficiently. That’s a lot of weight to carry.

The crazy thing is, it’s so subconscious that you don’t even realize you’re doing these things (later on in the episode, we’ll start talking about jotting these processes down). You realize just how much is locked in there. What ends up happening is you are taking on and doing way more than you should be doing and the mentality is, It’s just easier. I’ll just do it myself.

Well, that’s great in the moment sometimes, but here’s what happens long-term. Have you ever heard the saying that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man how to fish you feed him for life? The same concept applies here. Yeah, it may be easier for you to do it real quick right now, but how many times are you doing that a day? How many times are you doing that a week?

And if you look at that over the course of a couple of months — and even over a year — you’re spending an intense amount of time doing things you could just do real quick.

My experience with this

So here’s my journey with systems and processes. I can speak so clearly on this to you today because I’m quite literally just on the other side of completing and documenting these beasts. Worx & Co is 12 and a half years old, and just like many of you, I started it on my own from my couch, just figuring things out along the way.

I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Yeah, I was a pretty decent graphic designer. But how to actually run a business? I had to figure all that shit out. I don’t have a business degree. I didn’t go to business school. I’m just kind of a learner of life and I absorb information and read lots of books and do the say yes and figure it out later.

So I went through all the motions. I figured out what email system works best for us. We have a handful of different applications that we use. I know what our voicemail greeting sounds like. I know how we work with clients, our processes for communicating with them, what kind of expectations we have. And you know, I just knew all these things by figuring them out on my own.

Over the course of a couple years, we started to expand our team. Amber was our first employee and she was super easy to train because 1. we had already worked together, but 2. she just kinda got it. We worked really closely together. Like, I’m talking real close. We worked in a 10 by 10 office across from one another. So it was really easy to exchange information and just have conversations.

Then if we fast forward a couple of years, we have a few more employees. So there are five of us total at Worx & Co right now, and we went through a pretty intensive rebranding process earlier in the year.

Just like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been training people, I’ve been teaching them the ways, how we do things, how what general business looks like at Worx, but everyone was getting a little bit of a different version of me. Not by intent, but just because I only have so much capacity in my brain for so much information.

When we think about hiring, it’s almost daunting because I’m like, Oh no, I gotta go back and like figure out how we do that. How did we do that last time? Wait, where did we get hung up? Oh, we actually needed more information over here. All the way down to details of, Oh I need to set up a box.com folder so the designer can put up samples of their work.

There are so many steps to so many things and all of it lived in my freaking head.

Now I’m not holding that shit hostage. It’s not like I’m territorial about it. Like, Oh, you can’t know all the secrets to how we do business. I really could care less about that. What was happening is I just never took the time to open up Word and document it. I mean, that takes time, right? Good heavens, I don’t have enough of that as it is, let alone sitting down and doing something that doesn’t overly excite me. It’s not the most creative thing in the world to sit and document processes.

So as we were going through our rebranding process, we were trying to get way more intentional and way more strategic with our branding and our marketing, the way we’re showing up into the world, and the way we do business. And it became glaringly obvious that none of our processes were documented.

I was getting the same questions from different employees on how to do things and every single time I’d have to sit down and think about how to get those things done and each one of them got a slightly different version of how that process goes. And then the real kicker, the straw that broke the camel’s back, is this podcast.

Honestly, creating this podcast, delivering two episodes to you every week, takes an intense amount of planning — not to mention what happens on the backside. After I record this episode, there’s a whole slew of things that happen and it passes through three people’s hands. It starts with me, then it goes to our VocalInk guy, Tim, and then it comes back to our Communication Specialist, Kelli. There is a pretty intense snowball effect that can happen if any of those steps are missed.

Well, the problem was we didn’t have those steps documented.

how to fix it

I’d mentioned earlier, I’m all about say yes and figure it out later. And one of the most beautiful lessons I have learned this year is yes, you can say yes. Yes, you can figure it out later. But know when that later is.

We winged this podcast for months. Just trying to figure out what that process was like, and then it came time to really get down into the nitty-gritty and document it. What works really well? What doesn’t work well? What is the timing? Who’s involved? What are the steps? Basically documenting this process is 1. about getting organized and 2. creating efficiency. Because if every time you’re going back to do something, you’re spending time researching or searching through files, trying to figure out how you did it the first time, you’re wasting so much of your valuable time. When you could have just gone right into it.

Not having your systems and processes documented does a lot of things.

It causes stress, lack of information, inefficiency. People are confused and stressed not knowing what they’re supposed to be doing or if they’re doing it right. There’s an enormous lack of detail and it creates a huge inconsistency in your company. So we’re gonna flip that coin on its head and we’re going to get down into the details of how to even start this process.

I’m going to be completely honest with you, when I realized we needed to do this, I was like, Yeah, this makes complete sense, I get it, and I opened up a Word document and my brain completely shut down. It’s almost like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Why is it that all of this stuff is in my head, but when I go to sit down and write it, it’s as if none of it exists?

Well, it’s because most of those things are subconscious. You’re doing them really without even realizing it.

step 1: You Document

So here’s the best place to start: Open up a Word document or grab a piece of paper and keep it with you at all times over the next week, maybe even two weeks. Every time you’re doing something, I really want you to get in the frame of mind of thinking, I need to document how we do things.

So every time you go to do something that you realize has a process, there is a way that you do these things, I want you to jot down what that is. I titled my document Processes To Be Defined. This gave me a running list of all the different aspects of my business that have a typical way of doing things, so that when I go back to write them I’m not just trying to pull things out of my ass.

The trick with this, though, is you had to flip these things from subconscious to conscious. So having a physical piece of paper is actually probably a better idea because you can have it with you, take it with you in the car, take it home with you, have it sit next to you while you’re working. Because as you start developing and realizing, Oh, there is a way that I respond to emails, Oh, there is a way that we hand off projects, Oh, there is a way that we set up invitations in our calendar, you’ll be able to jot those subjects down.

Now, if you want to break out the whole process while you’re in it and in that mindset, go for it. But really one of the greatest places to start is by creating this running list.

step 2: They Document

You’re going to quickly realize just how many things you do on a daily basis that you don’t even think about. If you work with a team, whether it’s one person or 50, chances are they have developed processes for their roles as well.

So here at Worx, we came together as a team with one goal in mind: For anyone of us to be able to train any type of employee that comes in and to create efficiency and consistency within our office. Because everyone knows their individual role better than anyone, I leaned on the experts to assist with their roles.

So each person on my team took their particular role and broke their individual lists of processes, and then we blocked out a day, no work, no phone calls, and we documented it. And I’m talking all the way down to the nitty-gritty stuff — the things you might think, Well duh. But if you think from the perspective of someone you’ve never met before, could they pick up this process, this document, read through it, and effectively do what you need them to do?

One of our other goals was to set our future team up for success. So not only are we helping ourselves, but we know as part of our growth plan, we want to expand our team and that future team relies on us teaching them how to do things effectively.

step 3: Combine + Train

Now we’re to the point where basically all of our processes are documented, formatted, and ready to rock and roll. Every once in awhile, one trickles in. Just yesterday I realized that we needed a process documented for the way we handle our proactive social media marketing.

I mean, it just opens up a whole new door. But the beautiful thing is that once it’s done, it’s in place. It may need updated or fine-tuned from time to time, but the core of your business, the way that you do things, is all documented. You’re not going to have to remember all this stuff anymore. You’re not going to be the only person that someone can go to with questions. Your office going to be in-sync and everyone’s going to be operating in the same way.

It takes a ton of guesswork off of your employees. They’re going to feel like they’re nailing it more often and you’re going to be able to provide even more incredible customer experience.

step 4: Breathe Again

I honestly never thought that I could geek out about systems and processes because that’s so far out of where my brain normally goes. But I think what I have experienced and what I want you to experience is the relief and the brain capacity that I have gained from getting this shit out of my head and onto paper.

It’s honestly made me a better leader because I can train them efficiently. I feel relieved because I know everyone is getting the same information and that it doesn’t rely on me remembering every single tiny little detail that comes about. It’s almost like I gained back an entire lobe of my brain, honestly, and now I personally can work more efficiently.

Today, I encourage you to just take a step back out of your business for a hot minute and think: Do I have any of these documented? If so, what needs updated? And if you don’t, that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. It took me 12 years to document my processes, so better late than ever. Right?

The beautiful thing is you can start today, right now, as soon as you get off this podcast. I promise you this has been one of the most transformational things I’ve ever invested time in for my business. And I wish that for you. It may take a little bit more time to do this right now, but in the long run, you’re going to gain so much time back.

Thank You, Gutsy Tribe!

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