How do I stop having to repeat myself? I feel like my expectations of others is increasingly lowering. Will there ever be progress? What am I doing wrong?
That was a week ago. I was the one to blame. The bottle neck was my mouth. Everything trapped inside my head, living in a crystal clear environment that only I could release in fragments…. no one fragment painted a full picture. My expectations were completely unrealistic, thinking that my team was already inside my head.
Frustration building through out our record start to the year, I could feel that something was not right. Something was dead weight. Then all the signs last week pointed to scale, systems and SOP. My shift in headspace happened like being hit by a milk truck. I reflected back to the final course of my BBA when I was introduced to the milk truck theory by my professor; it goes something like this:
“If someone important on your team was hit by a milk truck today, what’s your plan for tomorrow? Or forever? Can that person’s work be given to someone else? Does the business keep going, or does it stop dead in its tracks”
It hit me hard. I had a milk truck scenario built in my head for everyone around me expect for myself. I’m not invincible, and there wasn’t a plan. Maybe I was expecting someone else to be building a milk truck scenario for me, but that wouldn’t be fair. The team is counting on me for direction, process, controls and – of course – milk truck scenarios. Going into business is a positive and optimistic endeavour. No matter the statistics of new business failure, startups see an opportunity to make it. To make a company. To make an impact. To make a dollar.
Here’s what I realized what was missing. This is my milk truck:
Business Growth Requires Scale
My optimism was dashed in the midst of record setting sales because I feared the grand slam home-run. I can easily deal with failure. (Analyze. Reposition. Plan. Execute.) The fear was of having massive success and not being able to deal with the workflow. Too many projects, too many clients… not enough resources. Not being scalable. Being suffocated by rapid growth in a shirt period of time.
- Streamline the sales process so we can more accurately plan the prospects we have in our funnel categorized by estimating value, timing, resources and project size.
- Change the on-boarding process to make it more duplicatable and allow for feedback and revisions. One of the main problems we have is the length of time from getting a new client to actually starting work.
- Create a larger network of freelancers and have them “on-call” for any overflow. Having a measurement for skill set will help qualify and call the right person when necessary, but it will also allow for training between work.
- Actively promote ongoing learning and certifications for our team. Like many founders, I initially would have liked numerous clones of myself. Is that unrealistic? Yes. Whats better? Having a staff of mixed skills that collectively outperform the founders by a long shot. This starts with surrounding myself with the smartest people, sharing knowledge, encouraging education and being vocal about opportunities for personal growth.
Business Growth Requires Systems
This balance will come with systems. Systems are put in place for various reasons, for me its a time equation. If a new system won’t unlock more time or resources, then I don’t think its beneficial.
My current problem can be solved with systems. Not just technology, but simple things like the process to answering emails. Or arranging tasks. Or starting my day.
Planning my week was a tremendous boost to productivity, now it’s the daily metrics:
- Getting up and clearing my email by 7am. Early mornings are a major key to success.
- Taking physical breaks through the day (even if it’s just doing 10 push-ups, or taking the dog for a walk) so that my head can clear, I can refresh my muscles and get a little more oxygen flowing.
- Have safety capacity. I learned about safety capacity in Operations Management and I’ve worked out a schedule with my wife that gives me a couple nights per week for work overflow.
- Linking apps and software to reduce duplication. Working on numerous projects and using different apps, software and tools can be challenging. I’ve started to use Zapier to streamline this. The most beneficial so far is moving all my tasks and follow-up to Remember the Milk.
- Communicating with my team regularly and at the right time. Team meetings don’t work for us. Weekly time together to just “recap” is like having a live version of what’s happening on slack. It has become redundant. Whats more beneficial is one-on-one calls or face-to-face time before or after client meetings or project work. Our headspace is already in the right space and the conversation has valuable context.
Business Growth Requires Standard Operating Procedures
Getting back to the repetition problem. Not repeating myself can only be solved by creating Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for each part of the business. Every little thing that our team has done, can be done again and more efficiently. If we cannot start with the best known practice, we cannot improve. This needs to be documented and available for all of our team to see. Some of this can even be client friendly, like how to name files, organize photos or discuss layouts for marketing materials.
This one isn’t a quick fix. It’s developing habits of recording and documenting processes and making them available. I’ve seen a couple good examples of this for publishing guidelines recently and have worked on operation manuals with clients. Now it’s my time to publish my marketing manifesto for my team.
Here’s the plan:
- Capture the moment of each task by either writing, taking a screen shot or screen capture. By doing this in the moment, it slows down the workflow, but it’s much faster than trying to recreate the scenario.
- Publish based on the audience. If it’s something that is valuable for clients or prospects as well, then it’ll be a blog post or publicly available on our YouTube channel. If it’s for the team only, then it will be part of our SOP on Google Docs or as an unlisted video on YouTube.
- Classify and group all of this magic into products or services we offer, or by team. Making this readily available is going to be the biggest internal marketing strategy I’ve taken on, and I think it’s going to really help with the scale issues I mentioned above. Referencing documentation essentially duplicates myself and team leaders to be free from the repetition of daily tasks and it offers the formal platform for editing, improvement and feedback without it feeling personal.