How to create systems for your small business

Shane Herring
Shane Herring

Course Developer at Atomic Education



Do you know why McDonalds is so successful? Well, firstly it’s a franchise business model but that’s not why it’s successful. Being a franchisor means that it’s success is driven by the success of its franchisees. To help franchisee succeed, they have created a detailed set of systems. To have the greatest chance of success, all a franchisee does is implement these systems. Because of documented systems, making consistent tasting food, ordering stock, cleaning stores and even hiring staff becomes a lot easier. All the new hire needs to do is follow the procedures.

That’s why McDonalds is so successful.

Why you should have systems

I know you’re not McDonalds. Chances are you’re a small business owner. Even so, there are several reasons why you should be creating, documenting, and following systems and processes in your business. The main ones are:

Consistency: Following documented processes gives you and your clients consistent quality results.

Saving time and money: When you and your team know exactly how to complete a task and do it the same way each time, everyone gets better and faster at performing the task. This saves time and money.

Scalability: When you have documented processes for completing tasks, it’s a lot easier to hire and train new team members and grow your business. It’s also a lot easier if you plan to sell your business.

Build business value: Developing and implementing systems allows your business to run without you. This frees up your time to focus on building your business, taking time off, and makes your business more attractive and valuable to potential buyers.

What is a system?

A system is a set of strategies, processes, tools, and people all working together to achieve an outcome.

A system can cover anything from completing simple tasks, for example creating a blog post, to more complicated tasks such a developing an online course.

If you already have a way of doing things, you have a system. You probably just need to document it. You may also look at the process and identify how to make it better.

System vs process

A system is the overall “thing”. It’s something that helps your business run. You may have a system for finance, marketing, sales, hiring.

Processes are what you do to make the system work at its best. For example, you may have a marketing system. In this marketing system are the process that someone needs to follow to place a Facebook ad, post to social media, order brochures, update a website.

How to create a system

Here are 5 simple steps to develop, test, and implement systems in your business:

Step #1: Look at your current processes

When you start developing your systems, you should first document the key tasks and processes your business carries out regularly. Tasks such as publishing a blog post or sending an email newsletter.

Next, assess each of these processes to figure out which ones to systematise first. For example, figure out which processes, if improved, could save time or improve customer satisfaction.

Step #2: Develop your systems

Once you’ve identified the process(es) that you want to start documenting first, it’s time to develop your systems. The key is to start with the outcome first. Define what the result will be when this task or process is completed correctly.

Next, work backwards to list the steps that will achieve that outcome. As you do that, compare the best way to do a task with how you’re doing it now. look for the most efficient steps and eliminate any unnecessary ones.

The most important part is documenting each step as you go. It’s as simple as “Step 1, do this”. “Step 2, do that.” The key is to make it easy and foolproof so anyone can follow it.

When I start to document a new process for the first time, I’ll list the outcome, then as I complete each step in the process, I document it.

Step #3: Test and review

Once I have a process documented, I will complete myself a few times to test it. I generally do this on live tasks. Tasks that, when completed, are needed for the business. I’ll make changes as needed along the way.

Most importantly, as I do this, I will look for steps that can be simplified or ways to reduce the time taken to complete a task. Most people don’t do this but let’s consider a task that is done each day and normally takes 11 minutes to complete. If this task can be improved so the same outcome is achieved in 9 minutes, you will save approximately 8 hours per year.

Another consideration when stepping through tasks is to look at tasks that can be automated. Payment processing is one task. Believe it or not, there are businesses that still write out customer receipts. Using an automated register saves time and give a better customer experience.

Step #4: Track and improve

Now you have a documented process, it’s time to get someone else to do it. You’ve spent time and probably made some assumptions when you were documenting a process. By getting someone else to following your document, you’ll be able to identify confusing instructions and missed steps. Someone else looking at the process may also identify steps that can be improved.

The best way to do this is ask someone who has never had to complete the task before.

It’s not unusual for your document process to differ from how it’s done now. It’s time to do some team training on the correct way things need to be done.

Step #5: Team buy in

When you’re introducing change to your business, it’s important to get your team on board. To start, you need to give your team context. They need to understand why the changes are being made, the benefits to the business, the customers, and themselves by following the new processes.

The best way to train your team is to have them complete the process using an existing task that they normally do. Once they’ve followed the new process and completed the task, get and give feedback. For example, did they follow the documented process exactly? If not, why not? Can they identify any steps that might be improved?

Ideally, you should be encouraging your team to come up with and try improvements to existing processes and systems. If you have all your processes and procedures readily available to your team, they can follow them and suggest new ways of doing things.

Wrap up

As more of your business processes are systematised and documented, and your systems become better and better, you will see the benefits to your business.

To get started, just list everything you do in your business and then prioritise these so you’re creating systems that will generate the biggest benefit.

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