It’s that time of year again when you and a lot of other entrepreneurs may be looking at former 9-to-5 colleagues with some envy, as they plan their annual two-week vacation with family or friends.
One of the questions I always like to ask business owners is: “Can you afford to take two weeks away from your business and have it run as smoothly as it does when you’re in it?”
If you can, that’s great. You’ve successfully found a way to systemize your operations and put people you can trust in charge of running things and getting the job done.
If you can’t, or if you’re in a growth stage where you don’t see how it’s possible, you need to step back and assess how you’re working your business -- or how your business is working you.
My definition of a successful business is a “commercial, profitable enterprise that works without you.” Note the last part of that sentence because until you can systemize and scale your operations to work without you, all you’ve done by starting a business is given yourself a high-paying (hopefully!) job.
And unless you really like to work at your job, instead of finding ways to create a stream of income from your operation, you’ll find it very difficult to leave your company for any length of time. And that can be the quickest way to burn out.
A great resource for learning about systemization is Michael Gerber’s E-Myth book series (The E-Myth Manager and others). If you haven’t read any of his material, add it to your summer reading list. If you have, read it again with the goal of systemizing repeatable ways of generating cash flow and profits.
Systemization truly is the key to being able to step away from your operations. But it’s even more important than that. You won’t have a sustainable business until you can systematically generate cash flow and then work on doing the same for profits.
What’s the best way to go about creating a systemized company? Here are four suggestions:
1. Establish your default position. Benchmark where you are right now in your company in terms of your numbers and the different jobs in the company, including whom those positions report to. Yes, it's OK if you’re in all the positions -- at least for now. This benchmarking will give you an idea of how you can hire people to take repetitive or administrative tasks away from you. Do you really need to be doing your bookkeeping when you should be selling?
2. Begin with the end in mind. You may have a clear idea of your company’s vision, mission and culture, but if not, you should try to clarify them. You can think in terms of a sports team that you own and coach, and ask yourself these questions below. Once you know where you’re going, it’s a lot easier to get there.
• What’s your “big picture” objective: Win a lot of games or win multiple world championships?
• How will you make your vision a reality?
• What makes you different from other teams?
• What kind of team do you want to recruit and create?
• What type of acceptable behavior and work ethic are you looking for?
• How does all of this deliver value to your customer?
3. Focus first on a system for “buying customers.” Nothing in business happens until a sale is made, and to become a going and profitable concern, you need to establish a system to consistently generate cash flow and profits. This means establishing cost-effective ways to “buy customers” and sell them something over and over again. It can be as simple as tweaking your advertising or establishing better, more consistent communication with current customers to ensure repeat business. Target your top-spending and fastest-paying customers -- typically the top 20 percent or 30 percent of your base -- and you’ll do more to establish long-term cash flow in a few months than some companies do in years.
4. Keep your eye out for a good “jockey.” Start to look for a person qualified to run your business based on the systems you’re implementing. Remember, the goal is to have systems run the business and people run the systems. Unless you want to forever be tied to your company and always own a job, you need to shift your mindset from one of ownership to delegation. And once you do, you’ll be amazed to see how many people with a talent for running companies show up on your radar.
Summer is a great time for business owners to reassess and reflect on where the company is -- and where it’s going. At the same time, think about ways to systemize your business so that when you take your next vacation, you will really enjoy yourself and return to a company doing even better than when you left it.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Brad Sugars is the founder and chairman of ActionCOACH. As an entrepreneur, author and business coach, he has owned and operated more than two dozen companies including his main company, ActionCOACH, which has more than 1,000 offices in 34 countries.