Editor's Note: The Grind is a weekly column that asks a revolving cast of young founders to take us through the daily rigors of running a business, as well as offer up advice on how they achieved milestones or overcame challenges. Follow The Grind on Twitter with the hashtag #ENTGrind.
Starting a business is hard. Starting a restaurant is, according to many, near impossible. I knew this when I decided to open my healthy restaurant Green Bean in St. Louis a years ago, but I told myself I was young and determined enough to persevere. Still, it was no less surprising when the hardships hit.
The first day we opened is a blur to me. I thought we had everything lined up. Our produce, employees, menu and point-of-sale system were all ready to go. We were prepared.
When the first customer walked in the door, I was so excited to make my first item. When she had chosen her toppings, we proceeded down the service bar, and I asked if she would like her concoction as a salad or a wrap. "Wrap," she replied. My heart sunk. After all that, I realized we hadn't thought to practice wrapping up wraps. I did my best to cram the ingredients into the tortilla and rang up her meal. Let's just say I didn't win the most beautiful wrap award, nor was it extremely speedy (now, I can wrap a wrap in under 10 seconds flat).
The first few months were much like the first day: exhausting and full of surprises. I was standing on my feet all day, facing food emergencies, understanding how to maintain proper inventories and as a systems-engineering student, I was juggling assignments. I didn't sleep much, and, ironically, I didn't eat much either.
When the haze, daze and craze of opening a restaurant finally settled down, and as employees took on more responsibility, it was time to focus on putting systems in place to ensure the business could run without my presence.
Systems are the tools that allow you to take the success of your business from inside your own head and put it into the hands of people who will grow your company. For me this is imperative, as I believe systems are the difference between a lifestyle business and an entrepreneurial endeavor, as they allow for growth.
We started small -- a training manual for new employees, checklists for opening and closing procedures and cash-reconciliation sheets signed by the employee, among other procedures. Then, after months of operations, it was time to hire a manager. I needed one to take over my day-to-day operational responsibilities, so I could focus on top-line growth and expansion into other locations.
But how could I possibly communicate to another person what it is I do on a daily basis? So, just like other issues, I realized I needed a system. I created a manager's handbook, covering topics like marketing, vendors and catering.
The woman I hired to oversee Green Bean has now been managing the shop for four months, and the transition was flawless. Granted, she's a brilliant and hardworking girl, but also, the manual gave her the tools she needed to be successful.
I know now systemization is crucial within a business, as it creates organization. Of course, unexpected events will occur, but procedures leave the least room for error. Thinking of implementing systems? Here are a few reasons you should:
Systems give others a framework for attempting to solve problems on their own, before involving you. Also, it gives them a sense of responsibility and allows them to own certain tasks and duties.
Procedures ensure a business can operate on its own consistently, without a specific person or group of people. In other words, if you get hit by a bus, you want your business to be able to continue on without you.
Systems increase productivity within a business by creating checks and balances and routines. And when you, as the founder, are often juggling a million tasks, systems can really help you keep your company moving along.
How have systems helped you at your business? Let us know in the comments below.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Sarah is a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis where she studied systems engineering and entrepreneurship. During her junior year she opened Green Bean, an eco-healthy salad restaurant. She is now in the midst of launching her second business, a line of performance-focused men's business socks: GoodFoot. She was a finalist in the Entrepreneurs' Organization's Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in 2012. Find more about her on her website.