Volume 1, Issue #7
February 3, 2021
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Do you ever sit down to work on your business and feel overwhelmed?
Especially if you’re doing it all yourself, that’s pretty common. But there’s a way to turn that overwhelm into super productivity, and save time and effort in the process.
Automation, baby. . .
No, I’m not talking about fancy tech, I’m talking about creating systems within your business, to streamline your activities and save your brain for more important things.
Systems are important to your business. They help you move forward while ensuring you don’t miss steps along the way.
A system can be something as small as a checklist, or it can be a big complex workflow with variables.
In Business Systems: 5 Reasons Every Business Owner Needs to Develop and Follow Them, Ann Gatty defines five reasons why systems are vital to your business. Systems:
- Provide consistency
- Make it easier to accomplish change
- Make it easier to train new employees (or virtual assistants)
- Allow staff to focus on what they do best
- Create value
Dave Lavinsky adds a sixth reason — creating the system forces you to think through the process and improve it.
For a solo business owner, having systems in place frees your mind to focus on growth because the implementation pretty much takes care of itself.
How do you know when you need a system? The first indication is usually a feeling of overwhelm, a sense that you’re on the proverbial hamster wheel.
If systematizing your business sounds like a lot of work, well, it is and it isn’t.
Sitting down to create the system — the whole “thinking through the process and improving it” part — is work. But once it’s done, you don’t have to think about it again, except to tweak it once in a while to make it better.
So What’s a System Anyway?
As an example, let’s talk about a system that we all need — a way to make sure we get paid for our work, consistently and on time, without a lot of fuss and time spent.
If you run a retail store, it’s fairly simple. Someone comes in, they buy something, and they pay for it. They can pay with cash, with a credit card, or with a debit card. (Let’s ignore Bitcoin for the moment.)
If they pay with cash, that’s it. You don’t have to do anything more than store the cash and deposit it in your bank later.
If they pay with a credit or debit card, you have a few other steps, to make sure their payment clears. You swipe the card, depending on the amount of the purchase you may or may not need their signature, and you wait for the bank to authorize it. When authorization comes through, you’re done. If the card is declined, there’s no sale.
It all happens at the cash register before the customer leaves the premises.
But what if you’re a freelance writer?
You may never be in the same city with the client, let alone the same room, so a cash payment is out of the question.
This is where a system is vital. You want to get paid on time, and with minimal time and effort on your part chasing the payment.
To create a system, start by asking yourself some questions, like:
- Are all your writing projects similar, or are there differences in ways that could impact payment?
- Does the project have a recurring element, or is it once and done?
- Is this a new client, or someone you’ve worked well with in the past?
- What’s the size of the client company? If it’s a small company where the owner is the person you’re working with, that’s quite different from a large company where you’re dealing with the marketing manager who has to funnel invoices through an accounting department.
- How will you submit invoices?
- How will you accept payment — do you take credit cards directly using a processor like Authorize.net, or will you use PayPal, Stripe, or other similar services?
Based on your answers to these questions, you can create a system. It doesn’t need to be complicated — if you’re just starting out and all your projects are small, don’t worry about how you’ll handle bigger ones until that opportunity presents itself!
Initially I divide my projects by size. If a project is worth $500 or less, I require prepayment in full before I start work. If it’s worth more, I’ll ask for a deposit up front (1/3 to 1/2 of the total) before I start work.
Again, depending on project size, I’ll require additional payments tied to specific milestones. Essentially I want to be sure I’m paid enough in advance so if the client defaults I’ll at least receive a minimal compensation I can live with.
I also offer an incentive, in the form of a discount, for 100% up front. The lack of aggravation at the end is well worth the reduced income.
Some common types of administrative systems you’ll need as a freelancer or solopreneur:
- Estimating projects
- Writing and sending proposals
- Invoicing and collecting payments
- Onboarding new clients
But what about getting clients in the first place? You don’t need a system for getting paid until you have some work, right?
You’ll need a plan for identifying and reaching out to new prospective clients, and to go along with that, you need a contact management system. Initially that could be a combination of your calendar and email, but at some point you’ll outgrow it and need something more.
You’ll need workflow and project management systems.
Do you need a system for XX?
If you’re just starting to think about creating systems, it’s a good idea to sit down and think about your workday.
Write down all the tasks you do on a “normal” day. What tasks did you do yesterday? The day before?
Then review your list, looking for repetitive tasks. Look for places where you can add some automation, or simple processes.
This simple brainstorming exercise can show you where you may need systems in place.
Now, there are some things you just can’t systematize. You can’t create a system for being creative, but you can certainly create a system for keeping track of your creative ideas — and you should.
I’m fortunate in that it’s easy for me to think in terms of process and systems. If that’s something you struggle with, leave a comment below or contact me. Maybe I can help.
Tips & Tools
Do you want to be happy?
Yale University is offering one of its most popular courses, The Science of Well Being, online, for free. Anyone can sign up. (I just did!)
It’s basically a course in how to be happy. It’s self paced, although they suggest setting aside about 3 hours per week for it.
How to live anywhere you want
Jeff Bullas recently published a very comprehensive post on his Cheapest Destinations blog. Among other things, he’s spent the past year interviewing citizens of the USA, Canada, UK, and Australia who live and work in other countries, even during the pandemic lockdown.
It addresses the question of how to earn a living anywhere.
Do you have any of these freelance clients?
You know the type — they don’t respect your time, they keep changing what they want and then get indignant when you tell them the project will cost more. . .
Sometimes you need to fire clients. I’ve been very fortunate, and can count on one hand the number of clients I’ve needed to fire. But when you need to, you should do it sooner than later.
Build your own backyard office
If you’re working from home, is your home office workspace really meeting your needs?
If you’re out of space, or if you want more privacy than your in-home office space provides, considering building an office in your back yard.
Here are 19 classy examples of offices and studios to get your creative juices flowing. (My favorite is #3 — what’s yours?)
Just get moving
There’s tons of advice out there — how to get the best sleep, the best exercise, the best this and that.
If you’re tired of trying to follow all the (often conflicting) suggestions, here’s some easy advice from an evolutionary biology professor at Harvard — just move.
In this NPR interview with Terry Gross, he also debunks a lot of myths, like the necessity for 8 hours of sleep.
In Case You Missed It. . .
Are You a Professional Creative? Here’s Why You Should Use Milanote
If you’re a professional creative, here’s a planning and productivity tool designed with you in mind. Milanote bills itself as “the tool for organizing creative projects.”
At its most basic, it’s a note-taking app, but where something like Evernote or OneNote is designed to be read, Milanote is designed to be seen.
It’s the difference between viewing a list of ingredients (eggs, butter, flour) and a picture of the mouthwatering finished product. Read More. . .
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