I really hit a nerve with this one!
Last month I gave a 15 minute presentation to a group of about 25 entrepreneurs. And the reaction it got was like none I’ve ever gotten from any other speech, seminar or presentation I’ve done.
The talk was to members of Experts4Entrepreneurs (e4e), a group I’m honored to be a part of. Those in the audience were not new to running businesses. They were all seasoned and successful entrepreneurs.
Yet the presentation resonated so much that when I finished:
- My talk was referenced by others at least a dozen times throughout the rest of our meeting
- I’ve had multiple people come up to me and say I should start a consulting business around it
- One of the members included it in a new book he’s writing, and…
- It led to the creation of a follow up exercise/game that we all took part in at the most recent e4e meeting that was designed to really drive the concept home.
Now, I’m a decent public speaker. But it wasn’t my speaking skills that got the enormous reaction.
It was the topic.
It’s a topic that strikes at the core of the struggles many entrepreneurs face each day. And I believe it’s one of the most important topics that entrepreneurs need to get a handle on if they’re gonna be successful.
This article is a transcript of that talk.
It has nothing directly to do with marketing. But it’s one of the most powerful concepts I’ve learned and it’s had a significant impact on my business and even my personal affairs. My hope is it has a big positive impact on you and your business too…
The Question That Changed My Business And Life
Last summer, I heard a question that changed my life.
It’s about the most powerful question I’ve ever heard/asked myself. It’s changed my approach to business. It’s changed my approach to a number of personal matters. It’s really changed my worldview.
So, what is this question?
Well, I’ll get to it in a minute. Not to be a tease here but it needs some set up so I’ve got another question to ask you first.
Look around you. Do you see them?
I’m sure you do. But do you see them the way I see them?
I’m talking about… The lights. The computer. The windows. The thermostat.
No, I’m not hallucinating. I do see those things for what they actually are.
But I also see them all as systems. Separate, independently operating systems. Each of them producing the result(s) they’re designed and/or programmed to produce.
And all those systems have come together to create the environment you’re in at this moment in time as you’re reading this article.
Now here’s the really important thing to understand about this…
If any one of those systems fails to operate as it’s supposed to, it doesn’t affect the operation of any of the others.
If a light bulb goes out, it may affect your environment by making the room a bit darker, but it doesn’t affect the performance of the computer or the thermostat. Those things will still work just the way they should.
So all you need to do to fix the problem is simply change the light bulb.
Makes sense, yes?
Well, while it’s easier to get this concept when you look at the inanimate objects in the world around you, it’s harder to get that this same concept applies to your business.
But it does.
See, your business is very much a collection of separate, independently operating systems.
The way you get money into the bank has nothing to do with how you hire people has nothing to do with how you bring a new client on board.
So when there are problems in a business, it’s important to realize that it’s not the entire business that’s the problem. It’s specific systems within the business that need to be fixed.
And that brings us to the BIG question that changed the way I look at the world. And the question is this…
When a problem occurs in a business, ask yourself “What system, if created or improved upon, would have prevented this problem from occurring in the first place.”
It’s a powerful question, yet most entrepreneurs are not used to looking at our businesses that way. We go through our day reacting to the latest problem, issue or “priority”. We jump around putting out fire after fire.
It’s like we’re playing a giant game of Whac-a-Mole.
An issue pops up and we try to slam it back into submission as fast as we can. Then another pops up. Then another.
The problem with Whac-a-Mole is that, over time, the moles pop up faster and faster until, ultimately, you lose.
But when you think in terms of systems, you change the game. Instead of reacting after a mole pops up, you’re reaching down into the hole and yanking those suckers out of there so they never show their ugly little faces again.
Now I’ve heard business people talking about systems for years. Like probably all of you, I read The E-Myth and know all about working on your business, not in your business.
But the systems approach never really resonated with me. I’m an entrepreneur. I like my freedom. I don’t want to feel boxed into a certain way of doing things.
Work The System
That changed last summer when I heard an interview with Sam Carpenter, author of Work The System, and the question “What system, if created or improved upon, would have prevented this problem from occurring in the first place.”
And, for the first time, I made the conscious decision to give system building a shot.
The first documented system I built was for a new AdWords campaign I was working on. In this situation, I built a new campaign and then had to replicate it 50 times over the course of a month.
Now building these campaigns was not rocket science. But the first few times I did it, I struggled. I did things in the wrong order, forgot some steps, etc. and it ended up taking a lot more time and effort than necessary. Even though I eventually got the end result I wanted, the process to get there was extremely inefficient.
So I documented the steps in a Word document as I went through them and then used that Word document the next time I went through the process.
An Unexpected Discovery
And I discovered something totally unexpected.
When following the system, I didn’t feel boxed in or that my freedom was being taken away by using a system at all.
In fact, I had quite the opposite feeling!
By following the system, I found my brain didn’t have to focus on remembering the small details of how to set up these campaigns. And that actually was very freeing. It freed my brain up to think about how to do this process even better and more efficiently.
In fact, almost every time I went through the process following the documented system, I found ways to improve it. So, by the time I finished that 50th campaign, I completed it in just a fraction of the time it took me the first few times I did it.
Ever since that experience, I’ve become a BIG believer in the systems mindset and have been changing my business around to use systems as much as possible.
The Business Benefits of Systemizing
As I see it, there are 4 main benefits to systemizing your business.
1. You make your business operate more efficiently (which helps increase profits).
2. It makes your work life MUCH less stressful when you’re not constantly playing Whac-A-Mole.
3. Outsourcing becomes a lot easier. Believe me, I know. It’s tough for us entrepreneurs to give up control of our businesses because we think no one is going to do things the way we would do them and there are things we do that no one else can do.
Well, I’m here to tell you to snap out of that way of thinking!
Yes, there are probably things you do in your business that no one else can do. BUT… if you break those things down into systems and sub-systems, I bet you’ll find there are parts you can outsource.
I know of a copywriter who took a 40 hour process of writing sales copy for clients and turned it into a 4 hour process. He did it by systemizing each part of the process and outsourcing a lot of the research that goes into copywriting projects.
And, as far as no one doing things the way you would do them… if you have the systems in place that document these things, then they will get done the way you want them done every time.
4. This one is the most important of the bunch.
See, I’m in the same boat as a lot of entrepreneurs… without me showing up every day, my business doesn’t exist. So while I love what I do and make a nice living doing it, if and when the time comes to sell my business, it ain’t worth much to someone else.
Having documented systems in place changes that. If a perspective buyer comes along and you can hand them the playbook on how to operate your business, that’s a game changer. Your business is much more attractive and incredibly more valuable to a buyer.
You may have no desire to sell your business right now, but if you’re putting in all the hard work, wouldn’t it be nice to at least have the option to sell it for a pretty penny one day?
A Challenge – How To Get Started
So that’s my case for building systems in your business. If you’re not using them in your business, I strongly recommend you buy a copy of Work The System and get started.
Here’s my challenge to you… build just 1 system.
Take a process that’s wildly inefficient and/or regularly causes problems in your business. Don’t choose one that’s too complicated… you want to find one that you should be able to get a fairly easy win with so you can see the power of systems at work for yourself.
At the very least, you’ll make an inefficient process much more efficient. But once you see the power of systems at work, you may just fully embrace the systems mindset and take your business to a new level of efficiency and profitability. (And you’ll never look at the lights, the computer or the thermostat the same way again!)