Introduction: What’s a system and why do I need them?

What’s a system?

Here’s what the dictionary says about systems (or, the two applicable definitions anyways):

  1. an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole
  2. any formulated, regular, or special method or plan of procedure

Pretty jargon-y, right? We’re mostly going to be talking about definition #2 here – definition #1 is useful in theory but most of the actionable content in Systems 101 is working with definition #2. However, it is useful & necessary to recognize your business as a system and think about the smaller systems within it – marketing, follow-up, content strategy, and your actual work, for example. Recognizing that all of these things are systems in and of themselves and that they also play into the bigger system of your business can be hard to get your head around, but also really useful. Remember those diagrams we drew in middle school biology, of an ecosystem? How an ecosystem consists of different food chains that all support and play off of each other? It’s kinda like that.

On to definition #2: any formulated, regular, or special method or plan of procedure. A system can be a simple three step process (like tying your shoes!) that looks like this:

  1. Take laces in hands.
  2. Loop them about all funky-like.
  3. Pull them and you have a knot.

(Have you ever tried to write instructions for tying your shoes? It’s actually surprisingly hard. Don’t judge, y’all.)

Or it can be something more complex – systems that involve more than one person are often like this. Here’s an example of a system for follow-up with past clients:

(For more about client follow up systems & steps to set up your own, check out the Client Follow Up Action Kit!) 

Why you need them:

Systems make things easier. That’s pretty much what it comes down to, but here’s some more specific ways:

A system makes things easier to automate, whether fully or partially. I’m not one of those “automate everything about your business!” people, but it can be handy for certain things, and having a well-defined system will make automation approximately 1.5 billion times easier.

A system saves you time and mental effort, and gives you something that you can easily repeat. If you have a set of steps that you know you’re going to have to go through, then you don’t have to spend extra time and brainpower thinking “Crap. What was it I was supposed to do next? What did I do last time? I think I did this…”

A system makes it easier to fix things in the aftermath of someone messing up or someone going missing. Let’s say you take on a new team member, and during their training, something goes a bit sideways. If you have training systems in place, it’s far easier to see at which step things went wonky (“Okay, so the problem appears to have started when they were learning the client intake process…”) – and figure out how to prevent that wonkiness next time.

In the same way, if a team member suddenly has a personal emergency and has to step out of their duties, having documented (we’re going to get to documentation later) systems can save your ass – you just have another person step in to the now-empty role.

Last but not least, systems are crucial in creating a scalable, sustainable business (for all of the above reasons). 

Why systems don’t suck

A lot of people – creative types, especially – chafe at the word “system”. They imagine something incredibly complex, confusing, and confining, which is how systems can be but not how they have to be (or even how they should be in most cases!). Systems can be simple and elegant, and you can create systems that are the right size and complexity for you and your business.

Okay, that’s it for the introduction. Any questions? Come hang out on the Facebook page and hit me up. Check your email tomorrow for part one, where we’ll start figuring out what kind of systems you need!