Working Your System

Building out systems in your business is one of those things that is important, but the “know it all” crowd of marketing experts have completely taken it over the top.  They beat you to death with discussions around “standard operating procedures” and “outsourcing to your team”.

For the most part, I think those folks are not selling the complete story.

Too often, people get the advice that they have to put all of these systems and automations in their online business to get scale and efficiency.  They focus totally on implementing technology and writing down procedures for doing just about everything with a view to handing them off to someone very lowly paid in the developing world.

And then their business struggles because of it.

They can’t figure it out, they’ve done all the hard work to get everything documented, they’ve implemented all the coolest funnel software and marketing automation, but the business just isn’t firing.  Everything should work, but it isn’t.

It would be overly simplistic to blame the processes and automation, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that their idea isn’t bad and people are interested in the topic.  Let’s remove the variable of missing the market and work backwards.

I’m really good at looking at broken things and figuring out what’s wrong.  I can also just look at a business and tell you if it’s going to work in its current form.  Based on that, here are some of the mistakes I see most often.

The biggest one is the use of way too much technology and automation.  People don’t want to do business with a bunch of robots that you’ve built out, they want to do work with and buy from other people.  You end up sending them down these impersonal sequences that are more about you than it is about them.  I had one person describe a client’s automation like walking into a haunted house at an amusement park – it was dark, annoying and not particularly enjoyable.

Marketing automation is a great tool, but it can be massively overused.  Your customers feel trapped and beaten to death by emails that aren’t congruent with why they’re interested in you in the first place.

Another big problem is that sometimes when people create their operating procedures in their new businesses.  They sit down and work out exactly how they think everything should work, the optimal process for every element of what they do and then they start running their business that way.

Except, that’s not how things work in the real world.

The business owner is trying to shoehorn the customers through a process that they created in isolation.  It’s not battle tested and under the pressure of servicing real, honest to goodness clients, that ideal pathway may not work.

The third problem I see people run into is outsourcing too early.  This is related to the last point around process in many ways.  It’s one of the suggestions you hear people make to new online business owners, “You have to get a team.”  It all sounds great in theory, “You should be only doing high-value tasks” or “You should be working on your business, not in your business.”

The truth is, when you’re just starting out, you should be working in your business somewhat.  You should be doing as many of the pieces within reason as you can so you can see how it all hangs together.  This allows you to find friction points and correct them so that everything runs more smoothly.  From there, you can start to not only improve your business activity flow but then start documenting how things DO work with confidence.

If you have a team, especially one in a place like the Philippines or India, you’re not going to discover these teething issues because your staff will just be doing what they’ve been told – they aren’t going to put the thought into solving your problems for you.  In fact, the number of people that think they can hire staff in those countries and they’ll just “figure it out” is insane.

The best way to think about your team is as human automation.  You’re having people do repetitive, low-value tasks that it’s hard to automate with technology.  They’re people and you need to treat them with dignity and respect, but you’re also probably paying very low rates, so don’t expect them to magically run your business for you.

Having said all that, I’m a big fan of creating standard operating processes and developing automation into my online businesses where appropriate.  I just like to make sure I get everything nailed down before I start down that path.  The processes are created to provide consistency and automation are implemented to ensure that consistency and generate some scalability.

When it comes to processes and automation, my rule is always less is more.  The fewer the number of processes I need, the less automation I have to implement and manage, the better it is for me and my customers in the long haul because my business feels more personal and organic to them.  I want my customers to have a relationship with me, not a machine.

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