How to build effective systems when scaling

How many times have you heard that you need systems, tools, automations and/or a team to scale? There’s a lot of noise around it. Consultants promoting one tool or way of working as the solution to all your business growth woes. But more often than not it comes with a lack of strategy … and strategy is the difference between success and failure when it comes to systems. Learn how to build effective systems and avoid the common pitfalls in this blog.

So what is an effective system? It’s a combination of tools, processes, policies, best practices and equipment that enable you to standardise and deliver core business activities such as client management and marketing. Most importantly, they scale with you.

It might sound complicated, but it really doesn’t have to be. In fact, I’ve seen large organisations operate with very simple, effective systems. When they are designed strategically, you can avoid common pitfalls and cut right to what’s going to work in the most efficient and effective way for your business as it scales. 

Let’s explore the pitfalls …

What to avoid when setting up systems in your business

I’ve worked with a lot of businesses on their systems, from FTSE 100s to one person bands. And the challenges change the larger the business gets. Us micro and small businesses have a unique set of pitfalls to consider when setting up effective business systems, and over the years I’ve identified 5 that keep cropping up. See if they sound familiar.

Knee jerk hiring

We’re constantly bombarded with content that tells us outsourcing and delegating is the best way to free up our time, allow us to step back into a strategic role, and unlock our business growth. And for some businesses that might be true.

But we’re often influenced by what we see and what our peers are doing, so we don’t approach it strategically. Everyone’s hiring a VA? Cool, that must be the best first hire. Well, maybe. Maybe not. It could just be a really expensive way to get stuff done that could be done via tools and automations.

A strategic approach would look at all of the activities in your business over the next 12-18 months (for clients, internal and marketing). What can you do through a tool and/or automations? What must you keep hold of? What could you delegate? You might be surprised! 

Getting your hiring and outsourcing right is a key component of an effective system.

Related: Podcast – Let’s talk about building a team strategically

Throwing in a tool 

You need Dubsado. You need ClickUp. You need Flodesk. You need Zapier. Sound familiar? 

Making decisions on which tools to use based solely on a tool led sales pitch is a recipe for disaster. And, anyone who promotes a tool as the solution to your business challenges, without first understanding your business strategy and needs, is a sales person and not an operations consultant.

Tools are an incredible way to build effective systems and scale a business. But they must be selected carefully and implemented properly. 

That means defining your processes and client experience, understanding your values and culture, having a clear business strategy, so that you can select tools to support it all. When you’re clear on the above, gather your requirements. For example; a scheduler, proposals, contracts, invoicing, payment processing, questionnaires, document sharing, task management, project management, employee portal, client portal etc. 

Then research the heck out of the tools available. Ask for recommendations. It’s unlikely you’ll find the ‘perfect’ tool that gives you everything you need, but a small tech stack or low impact compromise could get you there.

Not creating and documenting processes

Processes are tedious. I know that. Aside from operations nerds like me, who likes to sit down with a mapping tool to create a set of processes? Exactly!

But, and it’s a big but, processes are absolutely essential when it comes to creating effective systems in your business. They are the foundation of a system.

And honestly, our micro-small business processes are pretty simple. You just need to know what they are. Once you do you can check that they reflect your values and culture, and use them to gather requirements for your people and tools.

Not being clear on your values and culture

This one is so often forgotten when it comes to systems. We focus on people, saving time, pricing etc and overlook how we want our business to feel to our team and clients. 

But if you say that one of your values is clear, responsive communication and then set up a complicated communication channel, regularly miss emails and messages from clients, or forget to communicate things to your team, then you are destroying your brand reputation. 

An effective system will bring your values and culture to life, and create a clear pathway for your brand to grow as a result of it.

Not having a business strategy

This is the biggie. You want to scale, so you introduce a tool or team member. But you have no direction because you have no strategy. So how effective can your tool or team member be? What is their purpose? How do they fit into the future of your business?

A business strategy is the core component of an effective system because it drives every decision you make in building it.

It doesn’t have to be a 50 page dossier, in fact, it can be really simple. It just needs to cover some key information. In this blog I share 10 steps to create a business strategy.

How to build effective systems in your business

As you’ve probably realised, there are a few steps to take before you can start to build your business systems. Here’s a summary;

  1. Create a business strategy
  2. Define your values and culture
  3. Document your processes
  4. Identify any activities to outsource or delegate and create a people plan

Once you’ve done that, you can move on to the next stage. 

  1. Audit your business and identify anything that needs to change
  2. Research and select tools based on your requirements
  3. Implement the tools
  4. Kick-off hiring/outsourcing activities when needed
  5. Schedule regular continuous improvement sessions to review your systems and improve/realign with your strategy as needed

These are exactly the steps we took with our client, Rewilders Ltd. Katie wanted to implement a client management system that elevated her business, supported her strategy and truly reflected her values. Our case study explores the work we did and the impact it made.

Why go to the effort of setting up effective business systems?

It seems like a lot, and the initial setup will be time consuming for sure. But if it’s done right, once it’s in place you’ll just be maintaining it which could be an hour a month! 

Think of the benefits of having effective systems in place;

  • You and your team will have clear responsibilities that support future growth
  • You’ll be delivering consistently, and at a standard that reflects your values and culture
  • You’ll have clear, efficient ways of working that can scale with your business
  • You’ll have tools that can scale with your business

If this sounds like something you need, but you don’t want to tackle it alone, we’re here to help. Our OpsOffice can support you with a systems audit, people planning, process mapping, and tool selection and implementation. 

We’d recommend starting with a systems audit so that we can see what you really need. This would include getting together for at least half a day to look at what you currently have in place, and identify opportunities to improve and or implement an effective system (or 2!). 

We call this a Design Workshop, because we’re all about business design – connecting all of the critical areas of your business strategically to give you the very best results. Together, we can design and build effective business systems for YOUR business.