Twenty-six years ago, I started cleaning carpet by working
out of the trunk of my car. Over 13 long years I got the business up to about
$30,000 per month. I was making good money, but everything revolved around me.
I couldn’t go on vacation without the appointment book or spending time on the
phone solving problems. I had literally become a slave to my business.
Then, in 1997, I read “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael
Gerber and my business (and life) changed forever. I started learning about
systems and something called a “turn-key business.” I decided to take a week
off and go to my favorite place in the world – Destin, Fla. – sat on the beach
and re-created my future. I went back to Houston, put my team together and
started implementing systems and, in a few short years, watched the business
grow to more than $2 million per year.
The best part,
though, is that I don’t have to be there. It is completely systematized, and I
have a staff of 27 that run my business for me. I have predictable marketing
systems in place to consistently generate high-end prospects. We have sales
scripts, service systems and tracking systems. Everything is organized and my
staff knows what they are supposed to do and why. This allows me to do the
things I want do.
In this “Systems” series, I will share how to build systems
into your business. This month we’ll look at the why behind building systems,
before delving into the what and how.
Systems are not just for large companies. Even if you work
alone, there is a specific way to do things – at a specific time. It takes a
tremendous amount of discipline to be a solo operator and still truly get the
business side done too. Most cleaners I talk to say that, by the time they get
done cleaning for the day, they don’t have much energy left. (Note: you might
want to think about doing certain things in the morning and scheduling your
start time later in the day on certain days…wow, did we just talk about one of
your first systems?)
Why should you systematize your business? Why should you do
the hard work required? Why are you in business to start with? Why do you want
to be more organized? You may say, “So that I can get more done in less time.”
That’s true, but why? Is it ultimately so that you can spend more time with
your family? Go on vacation more often? Sell your business? Retire? See, we
have to drill down to the why.
Most entrepreneurs re-invent the wheel each day. How many
times have you told an employee the same thing over and over again? Wouldn’t it
be nice if every time you had a new employee, or every time a question was
asked by one of your employees, you could simply refer to a policy or procedure
that had been created the very first time that question came up? Instead of
taking up your precious time to repeat a procedure verbally, you could simply
remind and refer your employee to a manual.
This is the value in creating systems. Taking the time to
identify and document every single policy and procedure that can be duplicated,
and creating a road map that your company intentionally operates on will save
you massive amounts of time and grief in the future. It is an investment – one
that pays great dividends.
For a business with employees, systems are essential for
growth, maximum efficiency, maximum profit, and sometimes for survival. Many
businesses that have lots of business coming in are losing money due to lack of
organization. By building systems into your business, employees are happier
because they know what to expect each day. Your customers are also happier, as
a systematized business creates a predictable, prescribed service experience.
And finally, the owner is happier because the business no longer consumes his
or her life.
The Bad News: building systems may be the most difficult
thing you ever do.
Building systems into our company was by far one of the most
difficult processes I have ever been involved in. One of the reasons is that
everything – let me repeat, everything – that happens in your business must be
documented for maximum efficiency. This requires tremendous focus and hours
upon hours of work.
Additionally, while you are focusing on one area of the
business, other areas goes “kerplunk.” For example, you train your techs to
clean the carpet a certain way, then you go off to systematize the office.
While you’re otherwise occupied, your technicians begin to do it the old way
again without your knowledge, so you have to retrain them.
Be sure to monitor your new procedures continuously to
ensure they stay intact. Your organizational system is like a lawn in the
summer– the grass keeps growing and must be mowed on a consistent basis. The
leaves have to be raked, the bushes have to be trimmed, and the edging must be
done on a regular basis. Systems require the same type of maintenance.
But Once It's Done...
Once your system is built and is being properly maintained,
your business life becomes much easier. People know what they are supposed to
do, they have the tools they need to do it, and the infrastructure is in place
to deal with change.
Your systems will be set up to account for someone who
quits, or the loss of an account. In a business that has no infrastructure, the
loss of one employee can send the owner into instant chaos. This should not be
the case. Having documented job descriptions, written policies and procedures
provide a means whereby a fellow employee can guide a new hire through their daily
activities, or you can get the new employee up faster and more efficiently.
What Is a System, Anyway?
A system is simply a group of processes working together.
The definition of a system, according to Webster’s 21st Century Dictionary of
the English Language, is: 1. order or method. 2. coordinated
arrangement of working elements.
Notice the word “coordinated.” This means that someone (you
and your employees) has intentionally and methodically put these elements in
place to work together. I also like the term “working elements.” Anytime you
have an element in your system that isn’t a working element, a bottleneck is
created in the system flow. Sometimes this is a person, a person who doesn’t
“like” your way of doing things.
This brings in a new element to systems: people. I often say
that a successful business is about people, processes and profit. The people
that work for you must buy into the system in order for it to work.
Do yourself a favor. Get their buy-in by opening a dialogue
about how you want to improve their working environment. You want to improve
their environment by building a predictable environment. Everyone knows how and
when a certain thing is done, and everyone agrees that they will follow the way
the system is set up.
Take another positive step by allowing them to give input
during the systems building process. Hold a weekly meeting to openly discuss
how things work. During the process of putting the systems together, you will
surely miss some important elements.
Your employees work these processes every day, so let them
show you what you don’t see. An example would be a step-by-step procedure. You
put the procedure together the way that you think it should be done (and the
way you think they are actually doing it), but when you talk with them, you
find out that they actually do it differently. You have saved yourself the time
and energy of having to rewrite your procedure by having their input before you
Next month, we’ll look at why systems are critical to the
success of your company.