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Operational Processes Set Small Business Free

December 8, 2021

beyond_the_chaos_(1)Beyond the Chaos helps small professional services businesses owners (up to 25 employees) simplify their operations and manage projects so they can grow their businesses and get their lives back. The business operates much like an in-house chief operating officer but scaled down to small business needs.

With efficiency and productivity in demand these days, operational processes are where to start to set up your small business for success. It’s hard to hire. It’s hard to keep good people. And, now many businesses are struggling with how to adapt to remote, virtual, or hybrid workers’ needs.

What Do We Mean by Operational Processes

Most small business owners read “operational processes” and think “bureaucracy.” We definitely do not advise processes that make you and your team less flexible and less nimble. In fact, despite sounding contradictory, these processes are what will set your team free to be more nimble and flexible.

Operational processes are the repeatable day-to-day steps you take in your business to keep things on track. They are the backbone to your business… the “how” you operate. Some of these processes might be written, but most are in the owners’ and team members’ heads. So, the business might be doing things consistently, but it is because you have directed and trained it. Or, the undocumented processes have evolved over time.

Here are some standard examples of operational processes in most small businesses:

  • invoicing
  • payroll
  • onboarding and offboarding clients
  • onboarding and offboarding new team members
  • sales (from the first touch of a lead through a signed proposal)
  • transition from sales to fulfillment
  • opening projects
  • closing projects
  • social media management

Why Do We Need Operational Processes

The ability to build those operational processes above into templates or written processes – or even automation – is what differentiates most businesses.

Without written operational processes, the business owner loses the ability to hold the team accountable. It’s just harder to manage. It also can become challenging to delegate or to hire new team members. With the business owner tied into the day-to-day workings of the business, micromanagement can take the wind out of the sails. It also can take the wind out of your team. Plus, he or she can’t take a vacation. Your business will struggle if you are ill. It is challenging to simplify what you sell and deliver. Scaling is a challenge. And, at the end of the day, you don’t have a business that can be sold. You just are developing a really nice client list. Let’s break these down.

Accountability = Management

Many business owners struggle to hold team members accountable. Especially in the virtual environment, the owner is unaware of where the team member is during the day and may wonder if the person is working at all. Accountability comes into play when the team member is responsible for the outcome of a process, not for the hours worked. With operational processes in place, both the team member and the owner are clear on who needs to do what and when.

If something goes awry, rather than becoming angry at the team member putting you both at odds, the process becomes a management tool. Talk with the team member about what went wrong in the process, as opposed to what went wrong with the person. That approach puts you and the team member on the same page to improve the process for next time. You are now actively problem-solving together rather than creating a divide. An added benefit is that the process is better for the next time the situation occurs.

If the same team member repeatedly is just not following the process, the owner has the clarity of letting the team member go or establishing an improvement plan.

Delegation & Hiring

Job descriptions are a form of operational process that should not be overlooked. Tie each role responsibility to a written process or template. By thinking through what the team member needs to do for the company, the owner can establish an easy method to train the new hire. That new team member simply needs to review the processes or templates that are assigned to them to execute.

Sometimes, companies have grown quickly by hiring great team members who figure things out on their own and make things happen. While we all want these types of team members, if they are operating in their own worlds, it will only work for the short term. Operational processes – even if the team helps you develop them – are what create longevity, prevent burnout, and keep everyone on the same page.

Related: Mastering the Art of Delegation

Getting Out of the Day-to-Day

If a small business owner is tied to every detail of the business, growth is extremely limited. Not only is there no time to focus on the business, but the owner must also be there to make things go. Vacations with a true disconnect become impossible. And, if you are suddenly struck ill – even for a day or two – the business suffers.

The other effect of working in the day-to-day is micromanaging. If you know the minutia, you tend to direct the minutia, which can work a good team member’s last nerve.

Processes Lead to Scaling and Selling

Without operational processes, the ability to scale is impossible. To scale, operational processes must be simple. And, if there isn’t time to focus on simplifying them, your ability to scale is reduced as well. Stepping back to see the big picture is not an option either. At some point, the owner will reach their capacity and can’t stay in the day-to-day without burning out.

Operational processes grow and evolve as the business grows and evolves. They are living, breathing drivers of the company. Spending time, as a small business owner, working on developing and growing them is time very well spent.

Most owners want a business they can sell. If a buyer can’t see how the business will operate without the owner in place, they won’t buy. You might be able to sell your client list, but that’s not nearly as valuable as a business that is all set up and humming along.

But I Don't Have Time to Create Operational Processes

Enter a Catch 22. When you’re working the day-to-day, there isn’t time for proactive process development. You don’t have to do it on your own. Beyond the Chaos works with small business owners to help them create operational processes and even manage projects. Trusty Oak provides administrative and marketing support to small businesses as well.

Virtual Assistant Delegation Webinar

Join Susan Fennema of Beyond the Chaos and Amber Gray of Trusty Oak on Wednesday, January 19, at 11:30 am Central as they present on their key areas of expertise – operational efficiency and delegation – and take audience questions throughout the panel. Submit questions ahead of time or come with questions for the live event.

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About the Author

Susan Fennema

Susan Fennema is the Chaos Eradicating Officer (CEO) of Beyond the Chaos, a consultancy helping overwhelmed small business owners simplify their operations and manage their projects so they can grow their businesses and get their lives back. She and her team have served over 100 small businesses. With 30+ years of operations/project management experience in professional service industries, Susan is on a mission to improve American society exponentially. When not making multi-course dinners, she enjoys Texas A&M football games and Blackhawks hockey. She lives and works from her home in McKinney, Texas, with her husband and their dog, Shelby.

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