By Sherry Lutz Herrington
Every business needs systems as well as procedures. The procedures are the “how-tos”: the step-by-step guide on how to get anything done. But the systems are the “what.” They are the programs and apps you use to keep track of everything you are doing.
There are many different systems and every business needs those that suit its needs best. Whether that’s a reliable time clock so that your employees can clock in and out to track their work hours, an accounting system that keeps track of your money properly, or more individual systems that will support your particular business.
Everything you do requires procedures, and as long as you have your most basic systems in place, that may suffice for a while. Most businesses these days use one of two business platforms to handle their documents, email, and calendar. You are either a Microsoft 365 person or you’re a Google fan. Doesn’t matter which you use, or if you choose some other lesser-known program.
Having a basic office suite of tools is the first piece.
Many small businesses get by just fine for a long time with only the basic setup. You absolutely have to have at least a broad-spectrum office suite. Set it up with good bones and it will support you for quite some time. When I say good bones, I mean structure and layout. Even that will likely need to be tweaked as you grow. Keep it well organized and cleaned up, so it supports you while you build your business.
However, depending on the type and size of business you run, you will inevitably need more than just the basics at some point.
Although I’ve seen businesses run with just Excel spreadsheets to track their finances, I don’t recommend it. Having a solid accounting system that is set up by an expert is critical to minding your money. Starting with everything tracked properly will enable you to grow smartly as well as keep you out of trouble with the IRS.
If you have employees that work hourly, you’ll need a timekeeping system as well as a payroll program. Again, there are so many inexpensive options out there. There is no excuse for using the old-fashioned paper method. It’s too prone to errors and easily misused.
Once you have those basics in place, it’s important to evaluate what you need for the next layer.
I discovered Kanban boards a few years ago. These are great for task management. They are like living lists. I’ve always been a list maker, so moving to a digital one that was totally flexible was a huge upgrade from trying to track everything in Excel or on paper. We have used Trello quite successfully for many years. There are a multitude of others available as well.
However, as we’ve grown, we’ve outgrown the basic task management program and have found ourselves in systems failure. This means we didn’t have the bandwidth to keep track of everything that we needed to, and the balls started falling.
So, I went in search of our next solution.
Research taught me how many great options there are out there for everything from CRMs (customer relation management systems) to project management systems.
Evaluate thoroughly what it is that you need before you just jump into the next shiny thing that comes your way.
Look at where your systems are failing and evaluate why. What is it that the old system does not provide that you need? Once you figure that out, then you can figure out what kind of program you need. Follow that with research to figure out the options that are available.
Is it project management? Is it a CRM? Maybe you sell online and need to get a great shopping cart and payment system set up to meet the demand as you’ve grown.
Once you’ve identified the type of system you need, then start by searching for the top ones.
There are all kinds of great articles on which are the top products for the current year. I find this the easiest way to narrow the field. There is often a side-by-side comparison included so you can see what features each one has.
Becoming familiar with the different features will help you determine which ones are most important to you. It might be that the nuts-and-bolts basics are plenty to get started if you’re brand new to this type of system. Or it might be that you’ve outgrown your current one and need one with more bells and whistles. Either way, evaluate not just what they offer, but what you need.
It’s tempting to get the fanciest, prettiest one, but there are other variables that are important too. Don’t forget customer service, price, growth potential and ease of use. Take it for a test drive before you commit. Most offer a free trial, so grab that and use it. But if it’s only a few days, make sure you have time to play with it before the trial expires. If you’re super interested, ask for a demo. Then if you need more time, ask for an extension of the trial.
You need to fully vet the system before you commit.
Also, think long term. We have had a saying in our company since the early days: “How will this work in 5 years?” In other words, since we plan to keep growing, will the system support us as we expand?
It is time-consuming and costly to make a transition of any major system, so you don’t want to outgrow it in a year or two. You want it to keep up with your growing needs.
Keeping ahead of your company’s demands will help ease your growth and keep you from systems failure.
Believe me, it’s costly and scary when you start losing track of all the pieces. Investing the time to research and evaluate your needs fully before you reach that critical tipping point is paramount to your success.
We often get caught up in the whirlwind of selling and selling and forget to stop and build the foundation needed to keep us from crashing. You’ve probably heard about businesses that grew too fast. To me that means that they didn’t have the infrastructure in place before the growth took off and they couldn’t keep up with the demand. If that happens, you’ll start losing customers because they are unhappy. Once that starts, word spreads like wildfire and suddenly you are known as the unreliable company. Then the downward spiral begins, and it takes a tremendous amount of effort to turn it around again.
Steer clear of this scenario by taking the time to choose the right foundational systems. Set them up properly and implement their use in a step-by-step fashion that helps support the change. Keep in mind your future needs. Give yourself room to grow into everything the systems offer without overbuying.
All successful businesses need solid foundations to work.
Keeping abreast of what your company needs and making the changes in a timely manner will help reduce the chance of systems failure.
Sherry Lutz Herrington is the owner of Sherrington Financial Fitness, a business consulting and accounting firm specializing in strategic business planning and solid financial accounting for businesses. She is also the author of Strong Women Thriving (www.strongwomenthriving.com), a blog which focuses on empowering women to be financially savvy, particularly after experiencing financial abuse. Sherry is currently writing a book that both shares her personal story and addresses financial abuse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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