Amazingly, being dispensable is better for your business

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As David Allen said, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them”. I work with micro-businesses, and it’s to you I write because if your mind isn’t holding all your great ideas, plans and all the other information that makes your business run, who, or what is?

When YOU are the business

You are the:

  1. Marketing Department
  2. Finance Department
  3. Sales Department
  4. Juggler of Many Tasks

Plus, you have a lot of information to sort through and deadlines to manage.

In larger organisations, each department will use specialist software to track deadlines and manage information, and your business is no different.

One software to rule them all

Wouldn’t that be nice. At the very least you need three systems!

  1. One to keep track of your leads
  2. another to keep track of live projects/client work
  3. and one to manage your finances.

If you’re lucky enough to be an Accountant, then you have the upper hand because accountancy processes are all pretty much documented and you can run this logic across your other business processes.

If, like me, you’re not an accountant, then documenting your business processes is the first step so you can stop holding information in your mind.

Mind over Matter

There are two problems associated with using your mind to hold ideas:

The first problem is that your brain rarely reminds you of important things at the time you need to be reminded. Usually, you’re deep in thought, focusing on a pitch, or presenting to a new client and Wham! Your mind decides that now is the time you need to remember to buy toilet roll. Important, yes, but not at that moment because you can’t do anything about it. Now your brain has to try and remember to remind you again.

The second problem is that when you store everything in your head, it makes you indispensable, and the problem with being indispensable is that the job can’t be done without you.  This is perfectly fine if you don’t have any plans to grow your business and you know you always want to be the one doing all the work because, hey, you are the business. It works for many people and for a while it worked for me until I listened to employed friends telling me about all their two week holidays. It sounded heavenly and because I craved what they had I was determined to find a way to achieve it.

In this situation, I think the objectivity of the If This Then That formula makes finding the solution much more natural. Let’s start with the problem:

Example Problem:

I am indispensable to my business

  1. If I am indispensable, then only I can do the work
  2. If I am dispensable, then someone else can do the work
  3. If only I know the processes no one else can do the work
  4. If I write out every process, then everything I know is documented
  5. If everything I know is documented, then someone else can follow the process
  6. If someone else can follow the process, they can do the work
  7. If someone else can do the work, I am dispensable
  8. If I am dispensable, I can be away from the business

Example Solution:

I need a user manual for my business

And that’s what I created. I worked out all the steps that make up the essential processes within my company, and I made them as simple as possible, or I automated them.

Lead Management, for example. I documented the processes and I set up the software to mirror them and I then created a set of standardised email responses along with supporting documents and so when a lead comes in, it’s logged, and from there, anyone can access my software and pick up the next task to take that lead through to a client.

I’ve done the same with projects, and so when a project goes live, anyone can access my system, follow the steps and use the supporting documents and take that project through to completion.

Finally, I collated all of my business processes into one place and created a Learning Library, and I created my learning library in Asana. Within that learning library it’s stuffed it full of How To Videos so that every aspect of my business has a corresponding video. Now, when I am asked “How do I do this?”, I point them to the Library where they will find a video.

These three systems mean I am dispensable, and because I’m dispensable I can spend my time as I please. And you can too. How?

Let’s start with what you know

You know everything in your business, and so every time you do something you write it down, record a video or document the process in a way that will work for you and which is easy for others to access. Here you can see my Learning Library and I’ve set up as a list because that’s the view I prefer. If you don’t like lists, you can set it up to look like a Trello Board. Content-wise, they’re identical, they’re just different layouts. I shall go back to the list because that makes me more comfortable!

You can see here that I’ve documented many elements of my business and I’ve created short videos to accompany each process. So when someone clicks on creating a quote, there’s a little video showing how to create a quote. I still have many videos to record, but it gives you the flavour.

You don’t have to create a video, you can add text instead. For example, documenting the process to create a PO and at the end of the process steps are the guidelines for creating a task in the Asana project so that once the PO is sent it’s logged and tracked in the Asana project. If you prefer, you can create a process document in Google Docs and use Outline View to jump between sections. When I’m mapping processes for clients, I usually start with a document like this and then I record the videos and set up the Learning Library. Whichever method you opt for, once you have the processes documented, anyone can follow the steps, and this makes for swift and easy onboarding of staff or freelancers, and it makes delegating a breeze.

Once they’re a signed-up client with me, they need to be onboarded, and so they move from Hubspot to Asana. Technically they could stay in Hubspot, but my preference is to have the onboarding process in Asana, and here, in my Operations Team, you can see the Client Onboarding Board. In this instance, I’ve used a board because, like manufacturing, there is a specific process to follow. The new client enters the process on the left and moves along the process until they end up in the final column which tells me they’ve been onboarded.

In column 1 I’ve created a template card and so when a new client enters the process, this template card is copied, and a due date is added to the first task, and this due date alerts Frank that he needs to do something. Within this card, all the tasks are dependent upon the previous task being completed, and once a task is completed, Asana will notify the assignee of the next task. The new client moves through the process and bounces around the various people in the organisation until the card ends up in the final column. When I want to see the status of that board, I run a report to show the outstanding tasks. If anything has stood still for a while, I can comment on the card, @mention the current task holder, and ask them if they have a problem.

Although I use software to manage my business, spreadsheets and a diary will work just as well to get you started. As long as the information is out of your head and deposited in a central repository, you’re well on your way to making yourself indispensable.

If you’re still unsure about how to get started?

Here are 6 essential tips that will make it easier for you to create your businesses user manual:

  1. While you work, keep a note of the actions you take to complete every process in your business. Don’t feel like you must document the whole process in one go. Instead, keep a running document that you add to every time you’re working through a process and over time you add information to the document.
  2. As you document your actions and processes, consider the number of days you’re happy to leave a step inactive. For example, you receive an email lead, and you respond. How many days will you wait before chasing that lead? How many days will you wait before chasing a payment, or will you send a reminder in advance? Document these preferences because they prevent the “Should I…” questions and these are the small details that really make you dispensable.
  3. Consider what your sources of truth are. For the money, it’s your accounting system. For leads, your lead management system, for projects your project management system but what about project documents? Will you keep these within the project management system or will your source of truth be cloud-based document storage?
  4. Consider naming conventions. If you’re a psychologist, then you may need a patient numbering system. If you run multiple projects for the same client, you may want to consider a Project Numbering system.
  5. As you document your activities, consider what type of information you want to store, who needs to have access and whether you need to pass tasks to others. Do you need to manage ongoing customer or client relationships or perhaps you only manage leads? Do you need to see relationships within your CRM, for example, Patient, Parent, GP?
  6. While you are plotting your processes, always ask the If This Then That question. The answer to the That is the next step in the process.

Creating a process document or a user manual doesn’t just make for easy delegation and swift and easy onboarding of staff or freelancers. It also gives you an excellent understanding of what you need your software to do and so when you are conducting your software research you’ll have a shopping list of requirements which will help you work smarter, not harder.

As David Allen said, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them”. When you document your processes, and you have systems to support them, your mind is free to think about interesting and exciting things. Your mind can wander freely because no more will your brain interrupt your creative thoughts to remind you of something you need to do.