Do you think documentation and systemisation are just for big business? That they are ‘nice to haves’ that hardly anyone has time for – and certainly not small to medium business owners who have a million and one other things to do? This is an ineffective way of thinking: you need documentation and systemisation in your business if you ever want to build and leverage a saleable asset. This article explores the key reasons all businesses need to document and systemise and the damage caused when this is neglected.
Every business owner dreams of creating an organisation that will support them, that is scalable, that doesn’t rely on them being there every second to run it and that they might be able to sell one day to secure their future. But the reality is that most people who start businesses end up creating a job for themselves rather than a saleable asset. The even harsher reality is that these ‘jobs’ they create for themselves tend to mean longer hours, less time with family and friends, more work, and far fewer rewards than they thought being a business owner would deliver. They are rarely able to accomplish the goals or lifestyle they set out to achieve by starting the business in the first place.
The difference between a job and a business is clear. A job is something that you have to do every single day in order to make money. In contrast, a business is something that you leverage so that it runs without your constant input, relying on others and on its systems and documentation to operate. In order to create a business, you need to create leverage in the form of documentation and systemisation. These are the foundations that must be laid in the business in order for it to grow.
When I talk to business owners about documenting and systemising, I commonly observe that their eyes glaze over and stare off into the distance. They typically start to tune me out and probably wonder how to end the conversation politely. I agree it isn’t a fun topic or the ‘sexy’ part of business. Admittedly, when I first started my consulting practice, I didn’t think creating documentation and systems would form a significant proportion of my work. But I noticed time and time again that business owners were coming to me with the same problems and seeking solutions for those challenges. They were disorganised, were losing money, had issues with their teams, had difficulty delivering on their client commitments, had inconsistent sales, and struggled with cash-flow problems, a lack of vision, a lack of a clear strategy, and the list goes on.
Even though these businesses were across many different industries and their challenges seemed impossible to overcome – much like your problems may seem to you – the root cause of their problems was the same across the board: a lack of documentation and systemisation. I knew I could support these businesses to solve any problem simply by having either the right documentation or the most effective system or processes in place. However, when a business owner is fighting fires every day, time-poor and overworked, it’s challenging to see clearly.
How can documenting and systemising actually help you?
Let’s start by exploring what I mean by documentation and systemisation. By documentation, I mean all the policies, procedures, checklists, forms, workflows and so on that you need in your business in order for it to function effectively. It is the documentation of every role and function in the business.
Systemisation refers to the policies and procedures that work together to produce a bigger process. For example, you may have a recruitment procedure, an onboarding procedure and a training procedure in place. When combined with a few additional documents, these policies and procedures create your staff hiring and training system. In short, systematisation is your documentation coming together and forming the systems and processes that make your business run effectively and efficiently.
Let’s take a look at a business that does this incredibly well: McDonald’s. Why is it that McDonald’s can hire teenagers, have a young management team, operate all over the world and still achieve consistent results? It comes down to one simple factor: they systemise and document everything. I’m not just talking operationally – I’m talking about every single thing that happens, from how many pickles go on a burger, to how to mop a floor and wipe a table, to recruitment. Absolutely every process has documentation and/or systems around it. McDonald’s is also meticulous about following and enforcing policies, procedures and systems. There are cross-checks and balances for everything.
Imagine if you had your business this well organised and leveraged. What would it look like if you had documentation around each role and function and efficient systems in place? For starters, you would have:
- A capable, thriving team that achieves set targets;
- A great company culture;
- Leverage to grow the business;
- Freedom, as the owner, from having to do everything;
- Freedom, as the owner, from having to be the sounding board for all questions that arise – you will no longer be the only person who has the business knowledge and ‘how-tos’;
- A standard way of doing everything, which means more consistency and efficiency;
- A more organised way of working;
- A clear vision and strategy;
- Fewer communication problems;
- Fewer people problems, because everything would be clearly laid out for everyone right from the beginning.
The list could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. You would have your entire business documented so that it could run without you. Your business would now be in a position to become scalable. It would also be on track to becoming a saleable asset because there would be tangible intellectual property in place – the business knowledge would no longer be solely in your head.
Compare what I have just described to your business currently. Does your business look like this? If it does, fantastic! If not, how much do you think a lack of systemisation and documentation is costing you in time, money and energy? Documenting and systemising your business should be a priority on your to-do list if you plan to scale your business, create a saleable asset – something bigger than just you – and enjoy more time and freedom to do the things you love. It may seem like a lot of work, but it can be achieved. I support my clients to implement documents and systems in their businesses every day. There is a method to it, and it really is quite simple when you know what to do. In a follow-up article I will outline this method and show you how to systematise and document your way to the business you always set out to have.