This blog is the fourth blog of our 8-part Rhythm Series. You can learn more about what rhythms in business are here and why I believe they are the foundation of any successful, sustainable, scalable creative business. Be sure to click here to subscribe to my email list so you’ll be the first to know when the next blog drops each week.
Do you ever feel bogged down by the sheer volume of things on your business to-do list?
Are you making silly errors or relying on your memory to keep up with all the things you need to get done?
Do you feel like the bottleneck that slows everything down?
If any (or all) of these experiences resonate with you, then you’re most likely in need of Operations Rhythms for your business.
America might run on ‘Dunkin, but successful businesses run on Operations!
As a small business owner or solopreneur your time, energy, and resources are limited. You need to be sure that you are putting your efforts towards the right things in your business to avoid burn-out, & MAXIMIZE profitability and overall success.
Rhythms for your Operations will ensure that you…
In this blog, I’ll demystify the business jargon associated with operations (“ops”) and walk you through my COO-approved process for managing your “ops”, systematizing your workflows, and supporting your work with the right tools to define clear, reproducible SOPs throughout your entire business. These rhythms will ensure that your business runs smoothly behind the scenes so you can focus on bringing your vision to life.
Before we explore the ins and outs of operations rhythms, let’s define a few essential terms. You can think of this as your operations glossary!
Business jargon can be super confusing! Not only are some terms used interchangeably, but they’re often used incorrectly or out of context which can make things even more mind-boggling.
Let’s break it down!
Operations (often called “ops”) are any and all of the tasks, responsibilities, or actions that keep your business functioning.
Systems support operations. They tell us “how” something is done within a company. Systems are repeatable and help us avoid reinventing the wheel over and over again. They are broad guides that give us a bird’s-eye view without the nitty-gritty details.
Rhythms are made up of systems and they keep your systems moving. While systems tell you what to do, rhythms tell you when and how often you’ll use that system. Ex. If your system is to “update your books”, your rhythm is, “I update my books weekly.” Rhythms are the momentum you need to be accountable to your systems.
Software includes the tools that help your systems function better. For example, your CRM (client relationship management) is part of your sales system that helps you better manage your client experience and increase sales. Some types of software can support several systems at the same time.
SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedure. SOPs are extremely granular. They are clear, detailed instructions on how to carry out your systems. SOPS are often in the form of a checklist and include each step, timing, and who is responsible. SOPs are helpful in business because they ensure quality and consistency each and every time.
A simple, familiar analogy
Imagine you’re grocery shopping.
Grocery shopping is an operation that most adults need to take care of as a weekly rhythm.
Once you get to the grocery store, you have a system you follow.
The system is general, but it provides an overview of tasks that need to be done when you go grocery shopping. Each person may have a different approach to this overall system, but the essential steps are there.
There are also tools and software that support your systems. When you shop, your grocery cart makes it easy to gather and carry your items. The cashier’s POS (point of sale) software makes it simple to ring up your items and checkout via cash or credit card.
Finally, you have your grocery shopping SOPs. Now, I’ll be honest, most people don’t go through life carrying SOPs around alongside their reusable grocery bags. You don’t need a checklist to remember the particular way you bag your groceries or the specific brand of coffee you like to buy. These preferences and routines become intuitive.
However, the game changes when you recruit someone ELSE to do your shopping for you…
Remember that time you sent your significant other to the store in your place (never again!!!)?? Did they bring back exactly what you wanted or pack it up properly?
Chances are no!
That’s because they used the same system but their own interpretation. They didn’t have an SOP to follow.
Instead, you could have prepared them with more detailed instructions to set them up for success and help them meet your expectations.
Your shopping SOPs would over-explain what and how each part of your system is to be completed. It would be detailed and unique to you and how you prefer to do things.
Imagine what you would include in your grocery shopping SOP. This is purely hypothetical, so, to be clear, I am NOT recommending you arm your significant other with an SOP next time they head to the store on your behalf (because I definitely don’t think my husband would appreciate a “How to Guide” AND the shopping list)…
I think you get the gist of it! SOPs are super specific!
Your business SOPs are similar. Ultimately they map out what you want and how you want it done in your business. Hopefully, this analogy helps you understand the hierarchical nature of operations, systems, software, and SOPs.
Now it’s time to get your business operations working for you behind the scenes so you can keep your business running like a well-oiled machine.
As you just learned, operations are an umbrella term for all the things that keep your business functioning effectively and efficiently. This can get tricky because operations tend to impact all of the other rhythms in your business.
We lean on business operations for…
…and so much more!
It’s the reason I consider operations rhythms to be the rhythms that hold all the other rhythms together.
It’s the “rhythmic glue” so to speak.
Operations Rhythms are necessary for any business because they get (and keep) your business up and running smoothly. To be an effective CEO, you need to have the right operations in place to support your goals both now and in the future without needing to have your hands in every single project or detail!
The first thing you need to do as you take inventory of your systems is get everything out of your head and onto the page! Whether you make a list, create workflows in ClickUp, or record each one as a Loom video, you need to start documenting.
Here are some commonly used internal systems in business to get you started:
With this assessment in mind, you can move through the software and SOP sections to streamline, clarify, and create ease within your systems.
Now that you have the most commonly used systems in your business outlined, brainstorm the tools you use regularly to help you get the job done.
While a tool or software isn’t always the right solution, leaning on technology to support your work is often a great way to reduce your workload, errors, and overall energy exertion!
A great way to make this decision is to do a time audit. To get started, track where your time is going for a solid 7 days. Just start (there is never a perfect time and there is always a reason why this week is different than any other week). Your time audit will help you understand how much time you are spending on specific tasks so that you can begin to interpret your current capacity. Once you see where your time is going, you will be better able to determine if investing in a tool will help you save time and energy while giving you a positive return on your financial investment (ROI).
COO Tip: I am a BIG fan of automating anything and everything you can! Not only will it save you time, but you’ll also save money and the frustration that comes with making errors!
All right. Now it’s time for the nitty-gritties of your operations rhythms: mapping out your SOPs.
With your systems and software clearly mapped out you’re ready to define each and every piece of your operations so that you can streamline your work and ensure consistency.
Now, remember, this is all about getting extremely detailed. If it feels like you’re going overboard, you’re probably doing it right!
Standard Operating Procedures support the Systems and Operations of your business. Embrace SOPs! Because they touch ALL your rhythms and systems. These are the detailed checklists behind each of your systems.
SOPs leave nothing open to interpretation and ensure that each task is delegated and reproducible. Clear SOPs will help you hand projects off without worrying about a lack of quality or consistency no matter who is doing it or when it’s happening.
Before we dive into mapping out your SOPS, I want to express how deeply detailed this SOP process is going to be. I’ll do that by talking about peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.
Back in school, I remember an activity called: “How to Make a PB&J Sandwich.” The objective was to write the steps for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich so clearly that anyone could follow the steps and create the sandwich precisely the way you intended.
It sounds easy in theory but can be tricky to reproduce without people adding their own flair or assumptions.
Remember, the system is to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The SOP requires way more detail!
The goal was to be extremely Intentional with your words and painstakingly specific about how the PB&J sandwich-maker should assemble their sandwich.
You see… people make assumptions! They fill in the gray areas and do things the way they have always done them.
The problem with leaving your systems open to interpretation is that errors are often made, inconsistencies are created, and often our systems become more complicated than necessary (wasting time, energy, and resources).
To avoid this, we’re going to create our SOPs like we created our PB&J sandwich instructions. With LOTS of detail!
You have everything mapped out. Your operations are clearly supported by systems and tools to get the job done. Your SOPs are so detailed that even your tech-illiterate Aunt Sallie could replicate the processes to a T!
Now it’s time for some refinement. With your detailed SOP in front of you, begin to assess how your SOPs can be improved and optimized. Here are some reflection questions to get started:
Ready to create the systems that make up your operations rhythms for your own business? To make this even more tangible, let’s walk through how we would create operations, systems, and SOPs for your customer service or client experience.
As you’ve built your business you’ve probably done some reflection on your Core Values. They guide the decisions you make in all aspects of your business, including your SOPs and the systems they support. Start by getting clear on how this SOP fits in and lines up with your values. Why is this operations rhythm important to your work? For me, Client Experience is at the core of everything I do. I want to be able to consistently serve my clients at a high level so I am going to focus on the recurring actions that support this value in my business.
Consider how your systems can support your current needs, your short-term goals, and your broad vision for the future.
As you align your systems to your current and future needs, remember that you don’t need to get it right the first time. You may not be able to anticipate every future need. I don’t want you to overcomplicate this process, but I DO want you to be on the pulse of your current, short-term, and long-term needs so that you can notice and prep for that “tipping point.” When you tend to your operations rhythms regularly, you’ll be better able to respond to what matters now with an eye on what’s to come!
You will naturally outgrow your systems at some point. You always want to put them in place with the eye towards growth, but you’re going to need different systems and rhythms at different points along your journey.
For example: What’s right for a team of 5 may not be right for a team of 40. You can reduce those growing pains early on by putting systems in place that anticipate growing from 5-40 with the knowledge that you may even outgrow those systems with time.
Simply put, It’s important to have the right systems and operations rhythms in place at the right time while paying attention to “what’s next” on the horizon for your business.
Current State: Focus on building out the systems and SOPs that will support and streamline your work now. Consciously stay on the pulse to ensure they are genuinely helping you move the needle forward. Also, don’t forget to leave some room for growth. You don’t want to create a new system and outgrow it within a month! Keep your eyes on the horizon.
Short-term Goals: Your systems may also allow you to sustainably scale as you work towards a short-term goal like taking on more client work or launching a new product or program. Remember, “what got you here, won’t get you there!” Consider introducing new systems, software, and SOPs that will save you time and energy as you steadily work towards meeting your short-term goals.
Long-term Vision: Lastly, you may have a big vision of growing to become an agency or hiring a team. You can successfully move towards that future vision when you have clear SOPs in place now. Documenting your systems and SOPs for your current needs will make it easier to onboard and train future team members without sacrificing quality, consistency, or your unique approach.
COO Tip: I know this can feel like a LOT to think about. But pump the brakes! You don’t need to get ahead of yourself! If you’re currently a solopreneur, for example, it doesn’t make sense to invest in expensive tools and software that are meant to support a team of 100 (even if that is the vision). You may not get there for a few years, so you can scaffold your systems intentionally as you build towards that long-term goal.
What are the general tasks that make up your customer service experience? Think back to the grocery store (1. Walk in, 2. Get a cart, 3. Select Items, 4. Checkout…)
For that system, create a detailed SOP. Dig deep into how you complete each step, where it is done, who is responsible, and how often it occurred (a rhythm). Think back to how detailed the grocery store SOPs were.
Take a look at your current SOPs and look for opportunities to streamline or be more specific. Consider how you can support your work with software and automations now and as you grow.
The front-end work isn’t helpful unless you commit to using it consistently. Keep your system and SOP in an easy-to-access location. Refer to it often until this is established as a rhythm that hums along in the background and supports your operations.
As you move forward in your business, I recommend you create quarterly maintenance rhythms to check in on your systems and SOPs. In this review stage, be on the lookout for the “tipping point” when your systems no longer support your needs in the best way.
Everything in business changes and nothing is stagnant so be aware of shifts in your work.
Aside from regular check-ins, be on the lookout for some of these red flags. They often signal that it’s time to update your systems:
There is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” plan for your operations rhythms. There are some tried and true rhythms that just make sense! Here’s some advice to help you choose the right rhythms.
You can walk away from this blog feeling confident in your business lingo! Not only are you equipped with the business jargon terms that will help you stand out as a PRO, but more importantly you will know how to use and apply them to streamline the way your business operates! This is truly that rhythm that pulls all the other rhythms together, so save this for future reference as you continue to build out rhythms for finance, sales, marketing, engagement, creative time and beyond!
This blog is part of an 8-part series on creating Rhythms to support your short-term and long-term business goals. So far we’ve explored CEO Time, Finances, Sales, and Operations Rhythms.
Next, we’ll chat about creative rhythms in your business, so be sure to subscribe HERE and keep your rhythm-setting momentum going so you can tackle those business goals and resolutions!
I am so excited to help you put rhythms in place for your business this year. I encourage you to…
With the right rhythms in place, your business will be humming along in the new year creating space, systems, and strategies that will help you to actively work towards, meet, and even exceed all the goals, resolutions, and dreams you have in mind for the year ahead!
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