Systems – they’re not just for franchises

‘Real’ entrepreneurs don’t seem to like systems. They go against the whole risk-taking, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach that characterises dynamic and innovative businesses. A system isn’t sexy. It’s boring and rigid. It’s a cookie-cutter approach that can’t be as good as anything a ‘real’ entrepreneur would do. Or is it?

Systems are the difference between having a business that runs you (into the ground) and a business that runs itself. Take big franchises like McDonalds or Subway, for example. They were both once entrepreneurial ideas, and they would simply not be what they are today without systems.

The systems they have in place dictate every service and product they offer so that, in every store, in every country, every employee knows what has to be done, how, when and by whom. When you get a Big Mac in Sydney, it’s pretty much the same as the Big Mac you would get in New York or London. It’s rigid for a reason, and the fact that the product and service can be faithfully replicated in thousands of stores is the secret to the chain’s success.

Even if you’re not planninSYstem_featuredg to franchise, there are lessons to be learned from the kings of the franchise model. With a set of systems that give detailed, step-by-step guides to everything your business does, your staff know what to do, how to do it and when – without your constant input. Just think about that – you won’t be answering the same basic questions over and over, service and information given to customers is consistent no matter who they talk to, and you no longer lose know-how every time someone leaves.

Your systems need not be as rigid as those of McDonalds – though even there I would say that systems aren’t necessarily the death of freedom and creativity in entrepreneurship. Even in McDonalds there are country-specific variations – though admittedly they are limited, and staff hardly have the opportunity to innovate or be creative. But there is absolutely no need for you to practice the same rigidity when it comes to your business.

Let’s take a particularly creative business as an example. Imagine you’re a graphic designer. Let’s say you have a process in place, a system, to deal with new jobs. Does that mean you can no longer do anything creative?

No. All it means is that you have some steps sketched out that every new job has to go through in order to progress and be delivered to the client on time and to brief. It isn’t set in stone, so you can accommodate specific client requirements, and of course the system does not mean that the design you create or the exact colours you will use are all determined in advance.

The system is there simply to make sure that the appropriate steps are being followed and nothing is missed. When it’s just you doing the work you might be able to get away with just knowing what to do next, but once you expand and start employing others, they will need to know the appropriate steps – preferably without bugging you all the time – and everything that needs to be done at each step in order to move the task or project along.

In short, the benefit of a system is that you are largely prepared for what the world throws at you, and they create a solid foundation on which you can build creatively. Start experimenting by establishing processes for simple, repetitive tasks in your business and work your way up to a level of systemisation that feels comfortable for you. In this way, you’ll stop worrying about every day tasks and can focus on the curve-balls – or the next innovation in your business.

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