The Journey to a Systems Approach

The Problem.

There I was, knowing I needed an internet strategy, knowing I needed to do fortnightly newsletters, knowing I needed to add more products on the website, have more blog articles, more Youtube videos. The list just went on and on.

Every day and I’d have great new ideas for the website and everyday I would just think, “Well, there’s no point. I’ve got no time to do these things.”

Virtual Assistants

The obvious answer is get help, but how to find affordable staff on a tight budget when you’re completely flat out? Furthermore, if I could find affordable staff how would I find the time to write systems so I can train them to do these tasks for me?

Not only that, I would have to find time to write systems to things that I’m not yet doing and haven’t yet learned how to do. Today, in my businesses, I do have time. I’m not overworked. There are systems in place and there is a way I got there.

—————-

The Search

There must be a solution. It wasn’t just a matter of me working harder. I needed to learn how to leverage my time so that I could achieve all these things. And not just achieve them once but achieve them on an ongoing basis so we could deliver a consistent message and reap the benefits of engaging with our market.

Today, in my businesses, I do have time. I’m not overworked. There are systems in place and there is a way I got there.

I started reading books on efficiency. Some old favorites like “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” and “The Emyth

I listened to some podcasts. John Jonas was one of them from ReplaceMyself. And he talked about his inspiration from Tim Ferris in his 4-hour work week book. He talked about creating systems and automation. And this automation did not necessarily have to be a machine. That automation could be people. You could train people to do things and they could do them for you.

This was all great but I thought, “Where was I going to find the time to train people? How was I going to train people?” Some of the things I didn’t have time to do I didn’t yet know how to do.!

Getting Things Done CoverI continued my search and found “Getting Things Done” This one was a game changer. The main premise of that book was not keeping all the information in your RAM (relating the RAM of a computer to the memory in your brain) and that every idea you had, you had to write it down. And not just write it down, but have it in a systemised category or folder or whatever it was. He described them as buckets, different buckets of lists that have a priority and if one doesn’t need to be attended to today then it didn’t need to be thought about

I read that book and actually implemented that pretty close to his model. And I still run that today, so every time I think of something I need to remember at a future date, it gets written down. It goes in my “bucket” I call Tasks IN. And every morning, the following morning, I go through my Tasks IN and either put it into a Tasks Action with a date that needs to be done with a date so that it’s prioritised or if I can do it in under 2 minutes, I do it then or if it’s not something I can do now but perhaps when I look at it later, like “learn to surf”, then it goes in the Someday Maybe file which is actually a name that he coined.

Within a few weeks I had myself organised. My next task was to find some staff and train them. Some of the things I wanted them to do, I didn’t know how to do myself. And that was the quandary – how could I train people to do things that I didn’t know? So there was a challenge.

The Solution

I hired a number of people at once as I thought that if I hired a few people (3 or 4 at one stage) for the same job then I could compare them and the best would keep the job. I was employing through the OnlineJobs website which is a Filipino outsource website. Because the wage was really a lot less than Australia, I was able to afford to hire a few at once to test.

The work that came back wasn’t great. But I was able to test their communication skills and test who I wanted to work with and who I didn’t. I was able to keep some staff and know that they could be trained and they would be reliable and diligent. But I wasn’t able to say, “Do SEO on my website.” It wasn’t as simple as that.

Staff Training

I had to change my mindset. What I can outsource? What tasks do I have today can I give to someone else? And having a VA there, it’s in the back of my mind, “I’ve got to find work for this person.” I was able to start finding small admin tasks and before long start to change my habits and start to delegate. If something came up like I had to go through my emails, update a database or do user testing on the website, I was starting to pass along to one of my VA’s. Having some success with that, I was starting to free up some of my time.

As I write this I realise that I have not written a process for over 6 months and this is the real magic.

Some Success

I discovered the biggest leverage point were the recurring tasks that I had to do weekly or fortnightly like invoicing, approving wholesale customers, after sales email support, posting blog posts.

Before long I had shifted a little bit off my plate, that small bit of leverage did give me some time to write systems. Still not enough time, but some and the more it started to work for me the more confidence I had to just bite the bullet at times and just say well, “Some things are just going to have to slide. We just won’t do those this week or this fortnight and I’ll create the systems for them.”

The best way I found to write a system was to actually do the tasks myself and document it. It would take 2-3 times as long that way, but if done well it may be the last time I have to do that particular task. For me I use word and copy and paste screen shots into MS Paint and then crop and highlight and then copy and paste into word.

Then I email it to one of my VA’s and they upload it into dokuwiki. It takes a bit longer to upload it to dokuwiki because of the screen shots I use (hence why I have someone else do it) But once in dokuwiki it is very easy for me to make edits. The beauty of a wiki is that it can have a navigational structure like a website and makes it very easy to find things. For a while we had an “instructions procedures” folder with word docs in it, but this became cumbersome as it grew so the dokuwiki was a great way to get these organized.

Freedom

As I write this I realise that I have not written a process for over 6 months and this is the real magic. Once I had found trusted and reliable VA’s and let them cut their teeth on some simple admin tasks and graduate to following more detailed processes I grew in confidence with them. I was able to say “I want to you to learn how to do this and then write a procedure on it” As an example, we recently did some client work that included a online product catalogue. Once implemented I asked my VA John to write a process for it.

And the process he wrote was great, I reviewed it only superficially, but I know it worked because we are able to refer it to a new employee as a training manual and they were able to implement without much assistance. And to top it off we were able to deliver this process to our client as a pdf instruction manual that their internal team were very impressed with. And I was even more impressed because I didn’t get support phone calls asking me questions on how to update the catalogue.

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