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5 Essential Steps to Automating Your Business.

Can you make money while you sleep?

Why did you get into business in the first place?

There’s one answer I hear more than any other…freedom

And yet a lot of entrepreneurs end up working more than if they had a regular job.  Working longer hours, it destroys marriages, limits vacations and time with friends.

We tell ourselves these are temporary sacrifices for long term gain but when does it end?  When does this long term gain start?

I look around me and see people who have been in business for 20 or 30 years and still the end doesn’t seem anywhere in sight.

But it doesn’t have to be that hard, it doesn’t have to take that long once you know the formula.

Here are the 5 essentials that were laid down for me by a friend who did it and that I’ve used since then:

accountable

Profitable Systems that WORK

Lots of people talk systems but the key is having profitable systems that work.  If you systemize a bad process you’re just repeating inefficiency within the company so the idea is to refine the process first then systemize it.

Systemizing means three things:

  1. Lay Out the Workflow – all work proceeds in a series of sequential steps so you want to lay out what things happen in what order in order to get the result

 

  1. Build Templates – you want to eliminate as much repeat work as possible and make as much “fill in the blank” as possible so it’s done the same way. This will include checklists

 

  1. Document the Process – here is where you record (written, audio, video, or images, whatever works best) how to actually apply the process. It should be laid out so a 10 year old could follow it but be careful if it’s too cumbersome people won’t follow it so aim to make it simple

My initial mistake was systemizing too early, my second mistake was systemizing in too much detail (long manuals that were supposed to be helpful but just overwhelmed people and they wouldn’t follow them).  When I chopped out the unnecessary and made it paint by numbers I got the best results.

Make sure systems include where to put things and where to find them so everyone is on the same page.

profitable system

Technology that Accelerates

People misuse technology all the time trying to pursue the technology then build around it instead of the other way around, building a great process and then using technology to accelerate and streamline.  This is critical because the right technology will increase what your team can do several times over, make it easy to gather good data, and frankly just eliminate a lot of work.

Note, technology fits into your systems so those systems should include how you use the technology.

Each industry has its own technology but some really useful things pretty much everyone should take advantage of are:

  1. Cloud storage software – typically this means Google Drive or Microsoft Onedrive because they allow for real time collaboration, make sure everything is always sync’d so no information gets lost not doing so in this day and age is inexcusable

 

  1. Task or project management software – two free tools I often recommend to people and use a lot myself are asana.com or www.trello.com they don’t fit every business but they are highly flexible and allow you to keep track of things that need to get done, comment, get updates, share internally with the team as well as externally to clients, etc. Bottom line you need some way of knowing what needs to be done, by when, etc.

 

  1. Cloud accounting software – in this day and age you should be able to access real time financial data from anywhere and have it shared between yourself, your book keeper, and your accountant as well as anyone else who needs it. Modern software also reduces data entry a lot by pulling your bank and credit card statements directly into the software.  There are several that you can use but some of the better options are: waveaccounting.com ; www.freshbooks.com ; www.xero.com ; www.quickbooks.com

 

  1. Contact management software – this comes in a lot of different forms at the least you’ll want contacts sync’d to your phone and the cloud but typically you want an organizational contact list, which is in a lot of software it might be marketing automation software or a CRM or your point of sale software but having the availability of contacts and contact details is critical. Also consider auto-responder software in here.

 

  1. Scheduling software – you need some way of creating reminders, scheduling time for clients with location details, sharing those details, syncing them, etc. and this should all be available on the cloud

 

  1. Messaging software – you’re going to have to communicate with people so how will you do it? It might be email but today it’s more common to have other methods such as slack, Whatsapp, Google Hangouts, Skype, or maybe something internal.  Whatever it is you need a way to easily communicate with the team and keep everyone on the same page.  For email I recommend Google Apps for Business or Microsoft Exchange (I use the later in all my businesses)

 

There are a million ways you can use technology and it’s ideal if you can find technology solutions to problems rather than people solutions because the technology will scale.

metrics

Meaningful Metrics

In order for you not to be there you need metrics that will tell you what’s going on while you’re away and the sooner the better.  You want to measure two things here: activity and results.

There’s a risk that people will lie about these metrics so you want some controls in place to prevent this or at least some checks in place to make sure even if they are that performance doesn’t slip without you knowing fairly quickly.  For example, in my recruiting company there were signed agreements from clients.  This isn’t something they can easily fake so if they claim to be making sales but the signed agreements aren’t coming in then I know there’s a problem.

This is where technology can be very helpful for example you can see the date modified of documents within the cloud storage to see if there’s activity taking place, you can see emails sent and received, etc.

The bottom line is of course always the bottom line “what are you paying them for and what are they getting done?”  Each member of the team needs to be contributing profitably and that’s what you’re measuring.  You need to know you’re getting a return on your investment.

I recommend avoiding too many metrics but have ways of digging into the details.  What these metrics are might vary with the role some cases you might be paying piece work or commission (there’s a tendency of entrepreneurs to think commission is better, generally I prefer to avoid commission where the task is critical when you pay for someone’s time they need to do what you tell them whereas on commission this relationship is distorted).

Try to choose 1-2 activity metrics and 1 result metric you can look at for each employee and make it easy to record the metrics.

people

Accountable People

Ultimately nothing gets done unless someone does it and if you’re not going to do it someone else needs to.  If we have to boil the type of person we want down to just one criteria (frequently there are many) it’s accountable.  Someone who won’t place blame, who will take ownership for what they are doing and follow through.  To have freedom you don’t want to be chasing people.

The key here is delegate jobs not tasks.

If you’re constantly assigning tasks then you’ll have to keep delegating over and over which will take you time.  Instead delegate a fixed repeatable task with a result assigned to it.  For example, enter all the expenses into the computer and send out all the invoices.  This means if a new expense shows up they enter it if a customer needs to be billed they send the invoice.

By breaking complex tasks into smaller pieces you can hire lower skilled people for less and get better results.

The key here is training, which requires patience.  Training should happen as follows:

  1. Give them the procedure to read and have them read it

 

  1. Do it showing them how

 

  1. Have them do it and correct when they get it wrong…repeat this process over and over until it’s perfect, don’t fix it for them redirect them back to the procedure

Expect to spend a couple weeks training and getting zero results it’s a mistake to throw people into the deep end to see if they can swim.  Not only will you lose a lot more people but it will actually taken them longer to get up to speed.

trust

Trust but Verify

Everything is now in place to step away so you need to trust others will do it and not be too concerned about the quality of their results they might be slightly worse than yours or might be slightly better but trust them.

Trust doesn’t mean ignore though keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on and check in with them regularly.  Even though you might only be looking at it 15 minutes a day they should feel like you’re present.  Be sure to give encouragement regularly and reprimand where things are slipping.

 

That’s literally it if you can do those things you can step away.  What this assumes though is that you’ve got a solid foundation of something that actually works in your business.  It should take a few hours per week to manage.  You can get away without managing at all for a few weeks or even months but every small business will gradually decline if not given some attention.  There’s a strategy to remove yourself entirely but that’s for another day.

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  • Willem van Heerden

    Making money whiles sleeping has a nice ring to it, already started the process!