It may sound odd for someone (such as yours truly) who tries very hard to avoid blood, vomit, shots, etc. to find themselves in medical school. But that’s exactly where I found myself about 20 years ago… for ONE day.
Knowing my general squeamishness with most things medical, I knew enough to not actually APPLY to medical school. But I found myself dating (and eventually marrying) someone who did apply to, and attend, medical school. So on one occasion, for reasons I can’t remember (other than being young and in love), I tagged along with her to a special weekend class the med students had to attend.
The professor was a medical ethicist and one topic he lectured about really caught my attention. It was about the difference between treating symptoms vs. addressing the ROOT cause of an illness or injury. Hearing him talk about it, it seemed like an obvious issue but was not one I had really thought about before his lecture.
The gist of what he said was that many of the treatments doctors prescribe and/or administer do a good job of reducing or eliminating the symptoms a patient is experiencing. However, he said that doctors generally don’t spend enough time with patients to ask the probing questions that would let them dig down to try to uncover and address any underlying issues that may actually be causing the symptoms the patient is experiencing.
An example he gave was treating abdominal pain and cramping or anemia… but not understanding that these symptoms are being caused by lead poisoning. A doctor can offer treatment to lessen the effect of these symptoms, but without uncovering and addressing the lead exposure issue, the patient will keep battling these symptoms.
The ethicist’s point in this lecture was to make the med students aware that, while they are learning about effective treatments for a wide range of medical issues, there may be more going on with a patient than meets the eye.
(And, by the way, this issue is not squarely on the doctor’s shoulders… a health care system that favors speed and profits as well as patients who actively seek a quick fix/magic pill so they don’t have to change their lifestyle certainly are big contributors here.)
That said, I am not sharing this with you to get into a whole discussion about our society and modern day medicine.
The reason I AM sharing this with you is that we often do something very similar in our businesses…
We often make decisions that may temporarily alleviate the symptoms of problems we face but don’t do anything about the underlying causes (often because we don’t see or understand them).
Here are a few examples:
1. A business owner who is constantly running around putting out fire after fire.
You might try to address this issue by working longer hours, hiring someone to help you out or even by cutting corners on some things at work or home to try to give yourself some breathing room.
However, we usually fail to address the underlying cause of our constantly putting out fires in our businesses which is we don’t have systems in place to make things operate more effectively and efficiently. (Which, as I’ve written about before, the fix usually involves creating a set of written, documented procedures.)
2. An employee who doesn’t seem to be pulling their weight.
The easy thing to do is fire them. But maybe the underlying problem is that your company doesn’t have a good training system in place for new employees. Or maybe the problem runs even deeper than that… it could be your hiring process that’s at fault and you hired the wrong person for the job (or the right person that you have doing the wrong job for their skill set).
3. An AdWords campaign (or any marketing campaign, for that matter) that isn’t producing an ROI.
The quick, easy thing to do is pull the plug on the campaign and assume that AdWords doesn’t work. But often the real problem is that your landing page/website/messaging is weak and does not resonate with your prospects. Or you may not have a strong sales system in place and the way you and/or your employees handle incoming leads is to blame because you are unable to close as much business as you should be if you had some proper sales training.
Next time you have a problem in your business, stop and think about what the ROOT cause of it is instead of coming up with a temporary, knee-jerk solution.
Because if you just try to take the quick, band-aid approach that addresses the symptoms, you’ll end up dealing with the same problems over and over again.
However, if you can go a level deeper and pinpoint the root cause of the problem, then you can develop a system that has a much better shot of being an effective long term solution that eliminates the problem once and for all.
Taking that approach may be just what the doctor ordered!
This story came out the other day when a friend was interviewing me for his podcast and thought it would be helpful to many of you…
Since I started my business almost 8 years ago, it’s always been about me. No, it’s not branded with my name but, if I were to get hit by a bus, the business is finished.
More importantly (and in a less morbid scenario!), if I ever decided to do something else, Words That Click has very little value to anyone else. Without my involvement I really couldn’t sell it for much.
That last scenario kind of bothered me over the years. If I’m putting in the investment of time, money, blood/sweat/tears into the business, it’d sure be nice to be able to cash out for a nice chunk of change one day if I ever wanted to sell.
This didn’t bother me in the “keeping me up at night” kind of way, but it was just a nagging issue I had in the back of my mind.
A couple of years ago, that changed. I was at a PPC conference and one of the presenters was someone who I’ve respected for a long time and has been involved in building a number of large PPC agencies. One of the things he shared really resonated with me.
He said that when running an agency (and this applies to any business) you have to decide whether you want a lifestyle business or want to build a business you can sell. His take was that you have to choose one or the other because the way you manage things and way you make decisions in each scenario is very different.
That resonated with me because I realized I very much wanted (and had) a lifestyle business. I have two young kids who are growing up faster than I thought possible. Soon enough they’re not gonna want me around as much and I want to spend as much time as possible with them before that happens.
(I remember hearing a child psychologist once say your relationship with your kids is like a bank account… you need to make as many deposits as possible when they’re young because once they hit the teenage years, you’re gonna be making A LOT of withdrawals!)
So I left that conference with my mind much more at ease than ever about my business. I had a lifestyle business that provided a nice income, I enjoyed what I was doing and got to spend a lot of time with my family. All was right with the world.
Well that feeling lasted for about 8 months!!
What changed things was listening to an interview Perry Marshall did with Sam Carpenter, the author of the book Work The System.
While I’d certainly heard others talk about the importance of systems before, none of it had resonated with me like this interview did.
There were a few significant takeaways for me from the interview, but the biggest concerned having to choose between a lifestyle business and building a business you can sell (a topic Perry and Sam didn’t directly address during the interview).
What dawned on me after listening to the interview was the idea that you don’t have to choose. That it’s actually possible to have a lifestyle business while ALSO building a business that has value to others.
And the key to doing that is through implementing systems.
When a business has systems in place – documented procedures that detail how it operates – that adds value to the business. A LOT of value.
Why? Because those procedures become the BLUEPRINT for a prospective owner on how to run the business. The procedures show them, step-by-step, exactly what needs to be done to keep the business running smoothly.
See, creating those documented systems makes the business about the SYSTEMS… not about the owner or any other individual. It’s the systems, not the owner, that are the essential ingredient to making the business run smoothly.
And by creating these documented systems, I’ve managed to keep my lifestyle business while also starting to build something that will have real value to prospective buyers in the future.
I’m about a year into the systemization of Words That Click and it still couldn’t survive for long without me BUT…
It’s much less about me than it was 6 or 12 months ago. And it’s gonna be even less about me in 6 or 12 months than it is today. (Which is a great thing for our clients and for me.)
If you haven’t been able to guess, I’m a HUGE evangelist for using systems in a business.
From delivering better and more consistent service to scaling a business to making the entire business run more efficiently, the benefits of well implemented systems are manifold.
The fact that they can also significantly increase the value of your business is just the icing on the cake!
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:
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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!)