Hello everyone, welcome to the Balanced Business Leaders Podcast hosted by yours truly, Claire Jones, owner of Liminal Clarity. We are a business development agency that helps small business leaders scale and grow without burning out.
This is the next podcast in a series where we will be discussing the various trials and tribulations that lead me to creating my Three Pillars of Business Success, a framework that represents the foundational systems that contribute to sustainable business growth.
If you’re interested in learning more, please join us in our free Balanced Business Leaders Facebook Group at facebook.com/groups/balancedbusinessleaders.
Ready? Alright, let’s dive in.
So I started this podcast as a way to tell my story, particularly when it comes to the many, many different lessons that I have learned over the years when it comes to founding, developing, running, and growing small businesses.
This particular episode is about the fourth step to creating effective Processes & Systems for your business – Company Structures & Workflows. This is important because you need to set internal expectations so that your team members know what exactly they’re responsible for.
Company Structures and Work Flows are important aspects to the long term success of your business because they document and distribute the weight of task responsibility evenly across the company so that one person (or one software application) doesn’t become a bottleneck.
They also provide some fail safes in the sense that if one person or one software application is suddenly out of commission, then the business can continue functioning.
Some people call this the “Bus Factor”. The bus factor is a measurement of the risk resulting from information and capabilities not being shared among team members, derived from the phrase “in case they get hit by a bus.” The term was first applied to software development, where a team member might create critical components by crafting code that performs well, but which also is unavailable to other team members, such as work that was undocumented, never shared, encrypted, obfuscated, unpublished, or otherwise incomprehensible to others. Thus a key component would be effectively lost as a direct consequence of the absence of that team member, making the member key. If this component was key to the project’s advancement, the project would stall.
This again boils down to the concept of diversification and not putting all of your eggs in one basket. This applies to marketing methods – for example, you don’t want all of your marketing eggs to be devoted to one marketing platform because what happens when that platform disappears?
The same applies to task responsibility and business management in general. We want to document as many processes, procedures, systems, and tasks as possible so that the information is still available when/if key people or softwares run into problems.
These systems also help with micromanagement. For example, I once worked with an Operations Manager who often needed to know all the details, wanted to be “the decider”, had difficulties delegating tasks, was suspicious of staff members, and often reacted alarmingly to inter-team collaborations that occurred without her prior approval.
But the problem was that she often acted as a bottleneck because, since she wanted to approve every action that any team member made, she was overwhelmed, harried, and frustrated – taking it out on the company founder and the employees. She halfheartedly took a vacation once per year and, even then, she was still micromanaging the day to day operations from afar because she didn’t have faith in the team members’ ability to function without her.
That’s not how you grow and scale a business sustainably. Because what happens when the team grows to a size where she can’t feasibly manage them all? What happens when she inevitably burns out and/or gets injured?
That’s why Company Structures and Work Flows are so important.
Alright, so let’s dive in…
I’m going to start with the big picture here, which is the overarching Company Structure. This is going to be entirely dependent on how many people (or softwares) are involved in running the business.
If you’re a solopreneur, it is still important to set this up because you’re going to want to start delegating or automating tasks at some point. So I recommend setting this up sooner rather than later. To start, you’ll probably be putting your name in each position title but this gives you a great picture of the various categories of tasks and how they can be divided up.
If you already have some people or softwares that you work with, start filling out the position titles accordingly. For example, you might want to include your bookkeeper, your social media management software, your VA… basically anyone or anything that you rely on for recurring tasks.
You can make this chart in a variety of programs: spreadsheets, powerpoints, Canva, Google Docs, Word Docs, paper and pen, anything really. Some people call this an organization chart, but it’s just a visual representation of your company’s positions and their relationships to one another.
It’s going to provide you with a really clear picture of what categories of tasks are needed in the company, which people or softwares are responsible for them, and how each of the positions or tech programs communicate with each other in order to achieve company-wide goals.
Remember, these positions are going to change based on your specific business model. If you map this out sooner rather than later, you will get a clear picture of what positions you may need to hire for, what software applications you may need to implement, who reports to whom, and how tasks are distributed across roles.
Once you have these overarching structures set up, then you can easily translate them into task responsibilities.
You can use a variety of applications for this. Going off of what we covered in the Client Journey podcast when we talked about project management, what specific actions need to be taken by each position on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis and how are those actions going to be tracked?
There are project management softwares like Trello, Basecamp, Asana, or Monday.com but you can also use simple Google Docs or Words Docs that are shared on a common platform like Google Drive, OneDrive, or DropBox.
I personally like to use Google Docs because that’s where I host all of my business files, but you need to find a system that works for you and your team. Prioritize user experience here, because you don’t want to waste time and money setting up a system that your team isn’t going to use. You need to make sure that the system is accessible and easy to use for everyone involved.
The overarching goal here is to document who is responsible for which tasks, when those tasks should be done, and how they are going to be kept accountable to those tasks.
No matter where you decide to host this system, they are meant to be living, breathing documents that are routinely updated when things change – because things always change.
I recommend that you set up quarterly check-ins with each team member to go over their responsibilities and positions to make sure that everyone is still on the same page. Most companies do yearly reviews, but I recommend setting up a more frequent schedule because you are better able to adjust or redirect quickly and easily if things are caught early on.
A quick note on performance reviews –
Keep in mind that you are on the same team as your team members, so performance reviews should not be something that is dreaded, feared, or avoided. They should be collaborative meetings in which you honestly and openly ask for feedback from your team members. I encourage you to use self-reflective performance reviews in which the team members review their own performance. If you want any more information on this, I provide some guidelines in my Sustainable Schedules podcasts in regards to effective delegation and team management techniques.
You need to have a list of task responsibilities for each position – including both people and softwares. It will detail what tasks they are specifically responsible for as well as the frequency of those tasks, due dates, and who (or what) they need to collaborate with in order to complete those tasks.
It is helpful to break these tasks down into daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly tasks. Then, you can easily translate these responsibilities into a project management software that will track their completion.
I know a lot of this stuff is going to be inside your head, as the business owner. But, the key here is getting it out of your head and onto paper so that anyone can understand exactly what is expected of them in order to be successful in that particular role.
Especially when it comes to software applications, having these tasks laid out clearly will help you make better decisions when choosing between softwares. There are a ton of different softwares out there with a ton of different features and I often see business owners cobbling together multiple softwares when they could, instead, streamline and choose one or two softwares that combine tasks together.
Some softwares that I often recommend to my clients are:
- Airtable: which has completely customizable spreadsheets and boards that can be used for Customer Project Management, workflow automations, forms, and/or sales pipelines (it is free, up to limit). Airtable is a product of Zapier and has a ton of different integrations, templates, and automations. It’s what I use for my CRM and task tracking.
- Apptivo: which is used for Customer Relationship Management, contracts, project management, estimates, invoices, email marketing, and ecommerce (it is $8/mo). It’s a great low-cost option that has robust features.
- And Nimble: which is used for Customer Relationship Management, marketing outreach (emails & social media), and sales pipeline management (it is ~$18/mo). Nimble is particularly unique in that it connects directly with your social media accounts and tracks your engagement automatically in your CRM.
The point here is – Documenting the task responsibilities, timelines, and accountabilities makes each position’s routine workflows very straightforward and transparent. It eliminates the guessing game when it comes to who is responsible for what, when, and with whom. This greatly reduces potential confusion and duplicated efforts, which is a waste of time, money, and energy.
Again, if you’re a solopreneur, you’re probably going to start out with your name as the supervisor and assignee for almost every task. But, remember, this is a great way to start delegating and automating tasks – because you will already have a very clear view of what tasks are on the table and how they’re divided, so then you can more easily find people or softwares to offload them to.
Tasks also don’t fall through the cracks this way. Once you’re able to set up a system that will notify everyone of their daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly responsibilities, then you can very easily track – did this particular task get done? Why or why not?
That’s why company structures and position workflows are key to sustainable business success.
So next time, we’ll be going more in depth into the fifth step of Processes & Systems, Operations Manuals. I hope to interweave my personal experiences with the business lessons I learned along the way so that I can paint a full picture for you guys.
And please let me know what you think! I am always open to feedback and love connecting with my audiences.
If you want to learn more, I personally invite you to join us in the Balanced Business Leaders VIP Group Program. In as little as one hour per week, you will walk away with a clear action plan to grow and scale your business sustainably.
Please visit linktr.ee/liminalclarity for more information.
You can find the episode outline, video recording, transcript downloads, related links, etc. below.
And, until next time, love you all, take care, and I hope you have a good day wherever you are.