Put Your Business on Auto-Pilot

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If you're like many small to medium-sized business owners, you love what you do, but you often feel "trapped" in your work. You want the business to continue after you retire, but you have a hands-on role in nearly every aspect of the company, you wonder how you'll be able to. While you love the financial rewards of being a business owner, you wish you could reap those rewards without doing all the work yourself.

The problem for many business owners is not the inability to walk away from the office and leave work at work, but rather a lack of formal business systems that would essentially automate the company's processes. But since many business owners always handle the business issues themselves, they feel there's no need for systems. They believe customers need the personal interaction from them, and have a hard time delegating tasks and responsibilities.

However, by systemizing their business and creating policies and procedures, business owners can break free from the chains keeping them tethered to their desk. They can then focus on business building activities and personal interests, rather than day-to-day work.
While the systems, policies and procedures will depend on the nature of your business, following are some guidelines to keep in mind when putting systems in place.

1. Set your priorities.
Often business owners are so wrapped up in the day-to-day activities of their work they lose sight of what they should be doing in their leadership role. Therefore, take a time-out and ask yourself, "How can I grow my business and reward myself personally?" You'll likely realize that in order to grow your company and feel more personal satisfaction, you need to be spending your time on things like networking for new business, building client relationships, planning the company's future growth, or enjoying time away from the business. Once you realize what you should be doing on a regular basis, you can let go of the day-to-day tasks and employees can easily start to take over.

2. Make a list of your current activities.
Next, keep a journal of how you're spending your time at work. What specific tasks are you doing? How much time are you spending on the technical aspects of your company? How much of a hands-on role are you taking? What percentage are you spending on strategic activities? You'll likely find you spend the majority of time doing similar tasks you pay employees to do. Why? Because most small business owners started as technicians in particular fields and decided to open their own firm or business. So while they're skilled and comfortable in their trade, they lack business management and leadership training. For most small business owners, evaluating on paper the time spent on technical tasks rather than business-building activities is a real eye-opener.

3. Delegate effectively.
Delegate tasks not related to the list of what you should be doing, created in step one. This means giving the person clear directions and being sure he or she understands what you want done, how much time and money it should take, what processes should be followed, and when the task is due. Make yourself available for questions, but do not have hands-on involvement. Follow up with the person in writing, reiterating the task and all the details. When you complete this step, you will have systemized your first process!

4. Get everyone involved.
Putting processes in writing applies to everyone in the company. It needs to happen laterally as well as vertically, like creating an owner's manual for each position. Have each person list out all the tasks his or her position is responsible for. Consider that someone in the payroll department would detail how to run payroll, how to pay the withholding taxes, how to process 401K deductions, etc. The goal is that if that people suddenly quit, another person could pick up the process description sheet and perform the job. Every person, from the CEO to the janitor, needs to go through this process for every aspect of the job.

Be sure the written processes are based upon a job description and not based upon a person. Systems cannot be based on what Mary or John does, it needs to be based upon the job description for John's position. That way, if/when John leaves the company you can replace him easily.

5. Share the systems company-wide.
Once something is written down and systemized, put it into a policy and procedure manual. Also, have people cross-train for different positions so they can step in when needed, even if it's just to help out during a crunch time. Finally, since all the tasks are tied to specific job descriptions, make sure they're tied to that person's performance evaluation. That will ensure that the task is done according to the prescribed system.

Systemize Your Company's Success
Although the process of creating systems company-wide may seem overwhelming, you don't have to do it all at once. Systemizing your business is a long-range project, not something you can do quickly. Start by systemizing one position and then move onto another. Once you have one thing systemized, be sure to re-evaluate your system on an annual basis to see if you need to make changes based on new events, information or regulations.

Taking the time to systemize your company will lead to more effective leadership and a more efficient business. You'll be able to focus on things that will make your company more successful and reap the profits from your business if you're not physically there. Begin the systemization process today and you'll enjoy the rewards for years to come.

Alan Bayham is a business coach and consultant, and the president of Bayham Consulting, LLC.

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