I started a business based on what I love to do about 4 years ago. It is profitable and has almost no competitors in the market.
I have to work day and night, with no holidays for 2 years running. An average work day for me is about 12 hours.
If I take a day off or I’m too busy to check my email, my sales inquiry emails will clog up my inbox until I get back to them.
There are about 2 – 5 new inquiries coming in everyday. My business is growing, and I luckily don’t have to worry about the cash flow issue most companies face.
Every time my phone rings, I feel like a truck is hitting me because it’s probably the sales inquiry I haven’t replied to for days.
Customers are getting impatient as they wait for my email reply to buy something from me. They’ve got the cold hard cash and want to give it to me, but their problem is that they don’t know how to sign up and pay me for my services.
This is where I got stuck. I can only deliver so much, and reply to a limited amount of inquiries.
There is a ceiling to how far I can grow, and get a consistent 5-figure income every month.
It was worse than working for someone else
If you’re working for others, when it comes to 5pm, you just shut down your computer and go home.
You get to enjoy your time with your family over the weekend, hang out with friends and feel the Monday blues.
I hadn’t been able to enjoy a full weekend for years because there were still so many emails I needed to reply to.
I knew this had to stop, I had to find a solution to free up my time.
I went through that frustrating time too, and 2x of it
Building a business is already a slow and painful process. To make it worse, I’m building 2 business at the same time.
I chose not to shut down the other business & focus on WebHero alone (digital marketing agency business) because I enjoy doing this – it’s my passion.
I tried to use software or productivity tools, or hire part time employees to do the job, but none of it worked.
So I decided to do 1 thing, and here are the changes
- For 18 months I haven’t needed to check sales emails, unless I want to check customer service standards.
- All sales inquiries sent to us now receive a reply in less than 30 minutes – it used to be 2 – 3 days turnaround.
- We receive fewer phone calls asking the same, boring questions again and again.
- We waste less ‘inventory’, and sales process turnaround is just a fraction what it used to be.
- All my newly hired team members need just 2 – 3 days before they are ready to work on a task.
This is not a get-rich-quick kind of hands-off business, or an online business. It is a real business where we sell services & training courses for money.
For sure, the more complicated your business is, the longer it will take to develop a process that runs itself. That is what I’m still doing for my WebHero business.
I’m telling you this because I want to make my point clear – any business can use this strategy and free up the business owner’s time.
Extra note: I’m still working in my business at this moment, because I love the process, and I’m kind of enjoy meeting new people.
A business with no process
Most small businesses are build around a founder, or a team of founders. There isn’t a clearly defined process on how to handle things.
Now, this is not a problem if you’ve just started your business. But along the way, you need to develop your own process on handling business and tasks.
Imagine asking your team what happens when you get sales. if nobody in your company can give a firm answer about what exactly is going to happen, and when, you probably aren’t using any processes to run your business.
Here are a few consequences that most small business owners suffer from as a result.
- You’re overloaded with tasks. Every sales order that your company gets, you are involved in every stage of the delivery.
- Inconsistent deliverables & results, in the end you have to spend your personal time to fix things and keep your customers happy.
- Your team aren’t able to keep to the timeline because everything needs to be done either ASAP or yesterday! Most of the time, projects or delivery are overdue.
- Inefficiency everywhere. Your team members are just sitting around, waiting for orders, or waiting for you to teach them something.
- Tons of unwanted surprises & stress because your team is doing things their own way.
Solution: Think like you’re operating a franchise
Hiring another person to join your team simply won’t reduce your workload. I learned this the hard way: through trial & error.
It feels like the other person you just hired can’t deliver results even close to what you’re expecting.
I know, I know, there are some common excuses people will use at this point –
“I’m just running a small business, I need to stay flexible to meet my customers’ needs. I’m too busy to plan the step by step process. I can’t afford to hire another guy. My staff aren’t as good as I am.”
Yes, it is true that you are the most capable employee your business can get. But you only have 24 hours in a day. You can’t stretch yourself beyond that 24 hours. You need to get help from your team members to scale up your business.
If the process is in your head only, or with one of your employees, then you’re in trouble.
There is no way for you to scale up your business and team, and once the person you rely on so much leaves the organization, it simply won’t continue to operate as normal.
This happens often to most small business owners. They have no documentation to teach others what to do, so the business owner has to do it all on their own.
It is never an easy job for any business owner to do this. So, I would like to share how I created a process for my team members to take over my job.
Step 1: Identify my work process, set appropriate expectations, list my dos & don’ts
Identify what I do
This can be a time consuming process, and most likely can’t be done in just one day. You need to write down as much as you can.
To make this a less painful experience, you can take up to a week to list down tasks you’ve done.
Use a paper, a spreadsheet app, or a note taking app on your mobile phone to write down what you have done today.
When you do something that is not on the list, then jot it down. After a few days, you will find that most of the tasks you’re doing right now are the same throughout the week. These are the tasks you want to get a team member to do for you.
A business owner’s job in the organization is supposed to be finding ways of growing revenue, keeping the business running. You’re not supposed to waste your time on the repetitive tasks that another person can do.
Set appropriate expectations & list down dos & don’ts
When you’re doing everything by yourself, you know which tasks are high priority and which are lower, and what the end result should be.
But when you delegate these tasks to another person to execute, they might have their own standards and expectations.
For example, some people think that it is ok to read and reply to a work message or email after a few hours. But some customers expect an instant reply. You need to set an expectation on how soon they must reply, or how soon they must get a task done.
At WebHero, our standard response time for instant messenger is 30 minutes, and 3 hours for an email.
Of course, there are other specific expectations I set for other tasks. I try to make these quantifiable. If they are things I can’t put a number on, I will try to explain what is the goal, and how it should be achieved.
You will need to set some rigid rules for your team to follow, apart from the expectations for each task.
Telling your team what is definitely a big no no is the part that will lead to less frustration.
For example, certain stock photos are vastly overused, and should never be used on the designs we create for our clients.
Here are some of the examples of overused stock photos:
All these photos look familiar, right? That’s because these images appear everywhere.
Your visitors just won’t connect with your website any more. So one of the rules for our designers & developers is to not use any of these stock photos.
Think about what things your team should never do, list them down and make these clear to your team.
Step 2: Eliminate unnecessary steps, or automate them
After jotting down all these process, I noticed that some of the things I’m doing right now may not make sense at all.
For example, when someone submits a form on the website, I have to manually transfer the data to my CRM system, SMS system, and email blasting system.
It costs no money to manually sync the data across multiple platforms, and I know what data is in each system. It is just a waste of time to do the manual key in, and keep track of the sales progress.
It didn’t make sense to let my admin manually copy the data and key it in to multiple systems. So I signed up for a 3rd party tool to automate the process.
Turns out it just took a few hours for the setup, and now we spend no time at all to maintain our records.
Since it is an automated system, there’s no procrastination, no mistakes, and best of all, it won’t call in sick / take the off day.
Another process I’ve automated is our billing process. Once we send out an invoice, our accounting software will send reminder notifications 3 days later, 7 days later, and 2 weeks later.
It is easy for customers to let the billing slip through the cracks, and they need a bit of a nudge to remind them about this.
Step 3: Convert your documentation into step-by-step actionable guides
Most of our queries ask the same thing. Even when I share the information on our website, people still ask the same questions.
So I put together an FAQs for my internal team members to refer, listing all kinds of questions customers will ask, with the extra information they need to know.
My team members will act as the first level customer service, and 95% of the emails & questions are handled by one of them.
I only need to handle those tough customers, special requests, or something requiring my input to make decisions.
When I was preparing the documentation for this step, I used 2 criteria as a filter to convert all my processes to internal training, for my team members to go through.
Break down internal training documentation according to job role
I break down my training documentation according to job role. Everyone has their own login account to their role specific training video.
That way, my team won’t be confused by irrelvant training or go through training they don’t need to learn.
My goal is to provide them as much training as I can, and prepare them to work on jobs that make money for the team.
Medium to host your business knowledge base
In both businesses that I run, I use videos to demonstrate and explain processes to my team members. You can do this in any way you want, but I find that video is an easier way for me to show my team members how to get things done.
Best of all, it is as though they are watching over my shoulder as i complete tasks, even though I’m not there. They can replay the video as many time as they like because I have unlimited server bandwidth.
All you need is screen recording software like Quicktime player (native screen recording tool for Mac), or Camtasia software (a paid software for Windows users), and a place to host your training documents.
You can host your training portal on Trello if you can’t build a simple website.You can sign up for a free Trello account , then add your team members in to view the training.
The best free site to host your training videos is YouTube. You can set the videos to be unlisted, so people can’t find them unless you share the link with them.
If you need help to build a secure internal training portal instead of hosting it on Youtube, you can just drop us an email. Our team is happy to help you with that.
Step 4: Continually tweak your processes & documentation
Even today, I’m still making changes to our processes and training portal.
You can find a much better way of doing things, and there are a few scenarios which serve as a trigger to revise your internal training.
- Team members aren’t sure about processes (obviously!)
- More than 3 things have changed since the last time you recorded a training video or wrote the documentation.
For example, I changed my SMS system provider earlier this year for better delivery and better integration with my business process.
Though the system interface is easier to use and straight forward, I still updated my training portal to reflect these changes.
Many people aren’t able to cope with changes like entrepreneurs do, especially those that work in admin. Even if something looks like the simplest thing to do, they may still need a step by step guide to tell them what to do, if you expect your team to deliver perfect results.
Remember, there is no perfect process. You need to keep make improvements, optimize it.
Final quick tips for busy business owners
I wasn’t able to build this system before because I was a busy guy in a busy team. But I knew that it would stay that way forever if I didn’t make changes.
So I actually booked my own time, and told my team not to disturb me while I was working on the content or training.
After a few weeks, your team should be able to handle part of your job.
It all boils down to priorities. You have all the time you need.