Does Your Small Business Have a System?

Every aspect of business has it own unique set of rules. For example, management and building your team has rules. Connecting with your target market while seeing them as a single person with a specific need has rules. The daily operation of your business also has rules.  Even though we are in business for ourselves and can do whatever we want, there are certain rules of engagement that can lead to success and certain violations that can lead to failure. These rules, procedures or standards have great impact on our bottom line.

3 Reasons Why Systems Don’t Work in Small Business

In other words, it’s all about systems.  If you put us in charge of anything, then we  eventually come up with a way of doing it, because systems make “it” easier. Our personal morning routine is a system. Our coffee or tea before the first meeting is a system.  The way the bank processes our money is a system.   In fact, all the elements of business can be reduced to its most basic commonality—business is about systems that help us execute solutions for people.

Whether it’s a one-man production or a well-tuned creative team, there is still a system of some kind. Knowing this and maximizing it can serve us well in small business. In fact, the more order you bring to your business, the more business you can handle.

But here’s the problem. Systems don’t work in small business when they are nonexistent, inconsistent or broken.

We can’t shoot from the hip every day. There has to be some consistent way of doing things. If you intend to scale your business and eventually add to the team of people who help you, then effective systems are a requirement.

I found a few systems from some of our Small Business Trends experts that you may like:

If you are looking for a sales system for presenting your business, your products, your solutions, your books, etc., then Ivana Taylor has a quick and well-laid-out plan in how to get what you want in 7 minutes or less.  It doesn’t have to take a long time to get your point across.  This simple system can also double for an internal marketing strategy for presenting new ideas to your team.

Susan L. Reid lists 7 actions for small business owners to take now in the current economy.  Two of her actions, investing in education and following the market, are systems for me. I read the Sunday paper Monday mornings and follow Internet news throughout the week. I learn something new that relates to my business every Tuesday and Thursday before the work day begins and after it ends. For me, having a system makes the behavior automatic. It can do the same thing for your employees.

Does your small business have a coherent strategy? Anita Campbell’s discussion of a recent survey by Booz & Company, reporting that most businesses with a strategy and one to three targeted goals have higher profit margins in their business, should encourage a systematic strategy among small business owners. Plus, if you decide to use Ivana’s sales system to propose and present upcoming changes to your leadership team, then this survey could serve as excellent statistical ammunition to inform and motivate your people.

The quality of our strategy (our plans and organized communication) impacts the quality of our long-term business. But it’s the systems that make the strategy a daily part of the company.  It’s the systems that make it effective.


Jamillah Warner Jamillah Warner (Ms.J), a poet with a passion for business, is a Georgia-based writer and speaker and the Marketing Coordinator at Nobuko Solutions. She also provides marketing and communication quick tips in her getCLEAR! MicroNewsletter.

9 Reactions
  1. Most of the push-back I see with systems is that they are rigid and lack creativity. For example, when I call the basic AdWords phone support, I key in my ID number and then the first thing the rep asks me for? The ID number again. System fail. They also adhere very closely to their scripts when dealing with most issues and is seems like the eventual response is “I’ll escalate this to our X review team.” And of course you can’t actually call that team. System fail.

    The key is to have a system that allows for improvement and personalization because no matter how homogeneous you think your customers or your processes are, there is always going to be situations where you need to be flexible.

  2. Hi Jamillah. I couldn’t agree more about the need for systems in small business. I spend a lot of time talking to business owners about treating marketing (I’m a member of the Duct Tape Marketing consultant network). Marketing is definitely an area where “shooting from the hip” leads to a lot of frustration along with wasted time and money.

  3. I totally agree! Systems are the basis of any business. Lately, I read the book e-myth (old book but still true) which also pushes the importance of putting in place soft and hard systems to be able to document different system aspects and to quantify/improve them.

  4. Structure is needed, in life and in business. Without it, important things can slip through the cracks. I do believe you must be willing to change and adjust according to the times, but you still need to set guidelines, goals and deadlines to keep on track.

  5. Here is one critical question we ask our clients that acts as a litmus test for determining whether a business is “systematized” …

    “Disregarding the legal aspect,if you chose to franchise your business and expand tomorrow, would you be able to?”

    99% of the business owners we work with say no.

    Businesses of all shapes and sizes can and should get systematized in their sales, marketing, customer service, human resources, operations, and legal efforts.

    Systematization provides the following benefits and advantages:
    -Scale business faster with less hassle and needless wasted effort
    -Train new hires faster so they can begin producing
    -Increased marketing ROI and generate more leads and conversions
    -Increase customer lifetime value
    -Save time, allow employees to focus on their highest income producing activities
    -Allows a business to become palatable for sale… no company in their right mind looking for an acquisition will ever purchase a business that is not running on duplicatable systems and processes

    Ryan Metteee
    “Move Your Busines Forward Faster”

  6. Thanks for this “system” post.

    I love systems, especially in the franchise world.

    Some of the best franchisors have the best systems, and that’s what keeps them at the top of their games.

    Think McDonald’s.

    The Franchise King®

  7. Systems are critical to small businesses who must multi-task and manage all aspects of running and operating their businesses.

    Often small business owners don’t “systematize” their business because they don’t know how. I recommend that you start with a few simple tasks that you have to repeat regularly. Be willing to invest time to outline how you complete the task as if you were handing it off to a new employee. The more you repeat this process, the easiest it will be for entrepreneurs to scale the systematization process throughout their entire business.

    1. Start small
    2. Test, test, tweak and test
    3. Hire someone for the project and be willing to practice
    4. Seek the advice of others.

    Best of luck!

  8. Hi Joel–The Franchise is the master of systems :). For long term impact I’m thinking every small business has to grow up to be a little franchise. Even if they never expand beyond one location/site/office at least it will be something that they can pass on without panicking the next generation.

    François I like e-myth too. I think it should be a little Bible for small businesses.

    Bill it seems like marketing ends up being an after thought for most small businesses. They (we) get so caught up in the day to day operations OR the marketing costs and just never get to the marketing strategy–but then that’s where you guys come in.