Your Business is about Systems: Here’s How to Improve Them

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For me, our current phase of growth (from micro-mini business to small business) has been even more challenging than starting up. I think the reason is that as we started, so much of what we did in our test prep tutoring business was in my head. I don't think I'm alone here -- so many small businesses that are started by one or two experts or artisans seem to have a similar problem. I've become laser-focused on setting up systems, and every time I do so I wish I would have done so earlier. Here have been some of the biggest wins:

Invest in a great Customer Relationship Management system. I don't know why, but of all the vendors that call me every day about SEO, web design, ad buys and everything else under the sun I don't think I was ever approached by the big CRM providers -- and I honestly wish I would have been. So much of our business is organization and repetitive tasks -- both of which can be helped enormously by a CRM. It's worth the investment to have someone set it up right. And the good news is that prices seem to have dropped significantly as more cloud-based platforms have become available.

Automation tools are incredible. Our business is highly hands-on and customized -- but even so, so much of our process could be automated. From sending email follow-ups to entering balance sheet transactions, there's a tool for nearly everything (many integrated into that all-important CRM above). 

There is more in your head than you know. As I transitioned from working "in the business" to working "on the business," I kept surprising myself with things only I knew that I had to get down on paper and train for. As we professionalized our sales operation I continued to find areas where I would not have dreamed of putting together training materials. I think it helped that I tried to be vulnerable and open to criticism from my initial hires -- I asked for feedback on everything they hadn't been trained on or equipped to do, and then I fixed it (or had them do so).

Figure out what eats your time. You know, I wish that for the last four years I could have kept track of my time in 15-minute increments like my wife does (she's a lawyer). There were so many little tasks that ate at my time constantly. Now I've started to do almost exactly that -- keep a log of what I work on, and at the end of the week think about what I could hire for or contract for. Ultimately, there are 3-4 big projects that I need to be working on, and my goal is to get 80-90 percent of my attention on those big projects.

John Rood is the founder and president of Next Step Test Preparation, which provides one-on-one test prep tutoring for the professional school entrance exams nationwide.

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