Whatever your business may be, there are processes in play that make it function. Processes are the “how things work” factor in both the big picture and during the day-to-day. You have a process for getting new clients. A process for handling complaints. A process for ordering inventory.
Processes such as these are absolutely critical to running a successful business, but for many entrepreneurs and small business owners, these same processes can be their biggest problem.
This is because processes are a double-edged sword. If you plan them, test them, and refine them, they will serve as the foundation for prosperity. However, if you don’t put work into developing them, they will happily form on their own — and often in less than ideal ways.
Just like people, businesses can develop “bad habits”. It’s nothing intentional, but it’s a common malady in the small business community. We start our operation while flying by the seat of our pants, and the stopgap methods that we use to get from one customer or job to the next become ingrained in our business’ DNA. Before long, that “good enough for now” approach becomes the process.
This is not what you want.
You Must Have Effective Business Processes to Grow
Not too long ago, I was working for a company that personifies bad habits becoming entrenched processes. The company was successful, but it was and remains stagnant, and it was easy to see why from inside the office walls. Every time the company tried to grow, even by a single client, the “good enough for now” operations that had served them for years would fall apart.
That’s the problem with “good enough for now” and “sticking to what’s always worked.” These old methods were fine when they had ten, twenty, maybe even a hundred clients. But they suddenly become the brick wall that stopped them from growing any further. This was the case time and time again, without fail.
It seemed like anyone new to this company would gather the same early impression: there was no method, just madness. There were no expectations, no long-term goals, no policies in place to guide you. True, most of us would spend our 40 hours a week rushing from one seemingly-random urgent task to the next, but in time we all realized there was a process. It was just an absolutely terrible one.
This company (which I’m not naming for obvious reasons) had a few operational precepts that were completely unwritten, but very much evident:
- Sign as many new clients as possible.
- The CEO gives them a few hours of attention during the onboarding.
- The staff gives them all of the boilerplate marketing materials that everyone else gets.
- Management hopes they stay quiet and keep paying their bills.
- If the client complains or gives any indication of wanting to cancel their contract, the CEO would give them lots of attention for about a week, using that time to blame everything on his staff.
Somehow, this process managed to keep over 200 clients happy enough to keep sending checks, but it was obvious that every time a new client was onboarded, an old client fell by the wayside. As the client list grew, this terrible process wasn’t able to keep up. The biggest logistical problem that this environment created would kick in at Point 5 — the point where the CEO would turn the entire staff’s attention to making the angry client happy so they wouldn’t cancel their contract. With this happening nearly every day, you can imagine how little work actually got done.
Can a business grow in this fetid soil? Of course not.
If you’re just starting out in your business venture, take your processes seriously. Don’t just plan for your current workload. Create processes that can be scaled up over time. You’ll be very glad you did in the future.
Good Business Processes Aren’t Just An Internal Asset
The primary purpose of clearly-defined and viable processes is, of course, to keep the business running well.
According to Pia Silva’s recent article in Forbes, a truly outstanding process can become part of your brand. In other words, you can not only advertise that you do something well, but also that you’ve perfected how to it well.
I’ve seen this notion proven many times over during my marketing career. The ability to show a process-driven business, complete with steps outlining that process and how it benefits the consumer, is very powerful. In consulting with hundreds of clients, I’ve always found that the analytical types who are in love with their business’ processes tend to be the most successful. Not only does such planning and mindful execution make for a smoothly-running business, but potential clients love knowing that you’ve got your crap together!
Branding and selling your known-and-proven process has tons of benefits and is one of the necessary parts of being seen as an expert: It instills trust in clients that they will get the promised results, it makes it easier to sell your services as both you and the client know exactly what to expect, it gives you the ability to confidently, simply, and succinctly explain your services to prospects, and once your clients sign on the dotted line, your job becomes much easier because you have clear steps to follow that you are confident you can execute because you have the experience.