Systems are the solution for small business frustrations

I have long advocated systems as a solution for virtually every problem faced by small business owners. And I have often received complaints about this. I am told things like, “It isn’t that simple,” “You don’t understand my situation,” or more bluntly, “Systems aren’t the solution to everything.”

I think that these claims arise because of a misconception regarding systems.

In a certain sense, systems are indeed simple. They provide specific guidelines for accomplishing a particular task. Follow the steps and you get the desired result. When the systems are clear and complete, a novice can follow the steps and complete the task. As an example, consider the User Manual for the latest gadget you bought. If the manual is written well, you can easily follow its instructions to accomplish the desired task.

I will admit that operating a small business is more complex than using many gadgets. There can be dozens of variables involved, not to mention the physical skills required. But the fact is, you follow a system when you produce a product or provide a service. You have certain steps that you follow. You know the results that you want and the steps required to achieve those results. That is your system.

No matter how easy or complex a specific task, there is one particular series of steps that will complete the task most efficiently. This is true whether you are balancing a check book or launching a rocket. Systems are nothing more than the process of identifying the most efficient way to achieve the desired result, and then documenting those steps.

As an example, last year I began investing in rental properties. As I was preparing to do so, I asked many people about their knowledge and experience with rentals. Some offered sound advice and encouragement, while others offered little more than negativity. What I discovered was that those with a positive attitude towards rentals were following a system, while those who were more negative weren’t.

Those who were following a system avoided many of the problems the naysayers were experiencing. By following a system and avoiding problems, the desired results were more easily achieved. The same principle applies to any task, including running a small business .

Important vs. urgent

There are four ways to categorize any task:

  1. Not urgent and not important—such as playing computer games.
  2. Urgent but not important—such as answering the phone. It needs to be done now, but may have no significance.
  3. Urgent and important—such as getting an extra gallon of paint so the crew can finish the job.
  4. Not urgent but important—such as working on systems for our business.

Tasks that are not urgent and not important should generally be avoided, unless they are for purposes of relaxation. They are simply a waste of time.

Tasks that are urgent, but not important can also consume a significant part of our time. Yet they contribute little or nothing to our long-term goals. These should be delegated or outsourced whenever possible.

Tasks that are urgent and important are a major cause of stress. These tasks need to be done now because the failure to do so can create other problems. These tasks should be anticipated and addressed before they become urgent. By anticipating you can deal with them while they are important but not urgent.

Tasks that are important, but not urgent help us build our business. Planning and systems building do not need to be completed today, but these tasks move our business forward. Failing to spend time on such tasks ultimately forces us to deal with more tasks that are urgent and important.

As owners of a small business our goal should be to spend as much time as possible on this last category of tasks. The more we do so, the more efficient and smoother our businesses will operate.

Systems development is a team event

Many small business owners get overwhelmed at the thought of writing hundreds, if not thousands, of procedures. I must admit that I would find such a task overwhelming, and I enjoy writing.

So I will offer a little advice: Don’t do it. That may sound strange coming from an advocate of systems, but as the title implies, you should enlist your team in the effort.

The most effective way to do this is to ask them what part of their job is the most frustrating. Then work with them to eliminate that frustration. Not only will you make their job easier and more enjoyable, you will demonstrate the effectiveness of developing systems for the business.

Too often small business owners try to impose their ideas upon everyone else. While the owner certainly has this right, it is seldom the most effective approach. A baseball coach will not get the most out of his players if he constantly ignores their ideas and input. The same is true of a business owner.

If you feel overwhelmed by the challenges of owning a business, remember that you have a team behind you. Use them.

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