Whether you’re growing right now or putting plans in motion to expand soon, many small business owners experience an amount of uncertainty when transitioning from a business of one to a team of staff.
Where do you start with handing over work? How do you figure out when and who to hire?
We’ve covered the latter topic previously, so now we wanted to take a look from a business and systems perspective as to how you can set yourself up properly to manage growth.
#1. Assess Your Business
We raised a point in our previous article that simply being busy is not a good enough reason to be hiring. The key is, are you busy with the right kind of work? Is your plate full with tasks that will grow your business, or “busy work” that has you chasing your tail?
To successfully grow and manage a team, your business really needs to consist of repeatable tasks that can easily be taken over by someone else. “Can I put a system around this?” is a key question.
If your business is heavily reliant on you as the founder—for example, if you have created the kind of business model where customers will expect a personal response all the time—then this is very difficult to simply hand over to others. You need to assess your business from that perspective. Are there tasks you could be automating or tasks that aren’t as efficient as they could be because they rely heavily on you?
How scalable are you?
Scalability is the key goal behind wanting to ensure you have repeatable tasks which can easily be systemized and assigned to others. This is one reason to look at whether turning your business into a kind of “productized service” is a good idea.
A productized service is where you create a “done for you” package of clearly defined tasks for your customers. Usually, you will charge a set monthly package amount to customers and have strict parameters around what you will and will not do.
For example, Design Pickle is a productized service. We clearly define what our service “package” includes and we charge a monthly fee. The advantage to your business doing the same? There are several, so let’s take a look at the main ones:
- This gives you the power of scalability. When you offer a set range of services in a package, it is very easy to put a system around them, hire on others, and train them in how to serve your customers.
- It helps to eliminate requests for “extras” which can take up more time and resources, especially if those are things you don’t do often.
- It helps to give you predictability in terms of income, which allows you to budget for necessary expenses—including paying staff.
- It helps to reduce time spent answering questions or giving guidance on your part as your team can follow a clear system.
#2. Create Good Systems
Good systems underpin every business that scales successfully. Without them, things can often descend into chaos with even more of your time spent reacting to situations instead of taking a proactive stance.
This is where process mapping can be helpful. Can you name every single task involved with your service and map out a system for how it happens? If you can do that, great news, you should be able to pass those tasks onto members of your team.
It may sound like overkill, but one of the keys to “good” systems is making sure you include every part, task, or known variable in them. No matter how minor it may seem, if you don’t have that tiny task “everyone knows” noted down in the process, it will get left out at some point in the future and potentially cause headaches or extra work.
Again, if it can be systemized or even automated and clearly written down, it helps you to manage a growing business.
#3. Document Everything
Sometimes people are resistant to documenting everything because it does take time and because they fall into the trap of thinking, “We’re not hiring six year olds, they’ll get it, right?” It’s not about being patronizing or distrustful, it’s simply about making sure you are crystal clear.
For all of those systems and procedures you mapped out, you should have well-documented processes for each. It might take you some time to create those documents, but it’s really a “takes time to save time” situation. Once you have a documented process—as long as you have been clear and written it well—you can probably pass it on to team members to learn from with minimal intervention needed.
A tip for creating your documentation is to use a system where you can easily store information where others can find it, as well as make updates and mind version control. A simple free tool such as Google Docs can do the job here well, with an added bonus being that you can assign other team members to update docs for you.
#4. Remember Good “People Processes”
Whether you are a business of one or a team, it is the people who always lie at the heart of your business. Your customers trust you to do a good job with whatever it is that they hired you for, but they truly relate to the people they deal with. This means you need to look after them if you’d like to keep them!
“People processes” involve all of those aspects which come up for a typical HR team in a larger company, except probably on a smaller scale for your team. It means setting expectations and laying out policies for those various items. For example:
- What is the procedure if someone is sick and can’t do their work?
- What about requests for vacations or days off?
- What are your expectations around deadlines?
- What standards do you set for interactions with customers and other team members?
- How will you communicate?
- What is your procedure for the team member resigning or for you to fire team members?
- What benefits (if any) do you provide?
- What are expectations with regard to any training or ongoing learning?
- How should team members escalate any customer issues?
- Who does each team member report to?
Another consideration, especially if you are one of the many businesses who now operate a remote-based team, is how you encourage teamwork and develop a culture within your team.
Zapier wrote an excellent piece detailing how they create culture within their remote teams. They include ideas for getting remote team members to know each other better, such as through weekly “pairings” where each team member is randomly paired with one other person for a call. This changes every week so that team members get to know each other better, even if the other person is in a different job role or team.
They highlight the importance of fostering trust within a team, especially in a remote team where it is more difficult to get to know others on a more personal level. Good work tends to be a byproduct of trust, so whatever you can do to create a trusting team environment (even occasional in-person meetups!) is a good idea.
If you’re growing your business, part of managing that is ensuring that your tasks are repeatable and systemizable. As a founder, you can’t afford to still have a finger in every pie and end up having to rush around consulting over everything. Your business should be structured so that others can take over.
You need clear systems and processes and to document them where others can refer to them. You also need to develop strong people policies so you create a good team whom you can trust.
It can be a big transition when you decide to hire and grow, but it also might just be one of the most rewarding things you do.