Systems vs. Rhythms in Your Creative Business

I was recently chatting with a fellow mom about something you really only talk about once you’re a parent in your 30s…


She felt like she was quite literally DROWNING in baskets of single socks, t-shirts, and beloved stuffed animals at her house with no solution in sight. 

“OH! You need a system.” I chimed in (pleased with myself)…thinking I had solved her impossible problem in a pinch. 

But I quickly found out that was not the problem. 

In fact, she already HAD a system, and a very robust one at that! It involved designated folding stations, a stray sock collection, and labeled bins to sort colors, darks, and whites. 

The problem wasn’t HOW she was doing laundry in her house… it was HOW OFTEN. 

You see, she had created all of these systems and even taught her family how to work within the systems.

But she made one critical mistake. 

She had never created a schedule to oversee when laundry was done and how often. 

Her problem, it turns out, was that she had a perfect system but no RHYTHMS. 

So, she and her family let the laundry pile up and accumulate until they HAD to do it all at once (which ended up being once a month for what typically spanned several days). 

No system in the world could save her from the sheer volume of laundry and the overwhelm of chipping away at the mounds of meticulously sorted clothing. 

So, she and her family created time-based RHYTHMS to support their laundry SYSTEMS

→ They would do laundry 3 times weekly to keep up with their 5-person household.

→ Kids’ clothes were washed on Fridays

→ Parents’ clothes on Sundays

Tuesdays were reserved for last-minute wash or things that were soiled and needed to be cleaned ASAP!

Suddenly all of her systems –and her laundry room– GLISTENED!

So you’re probably wondering, 

“Why are you going on and on about LAUNDRY of all things, Erin?”

The answer is simple. 

Laundry is something we can ALL relate to. 

And while the types of systems and rhythms you use to do your laundry will definitely be different from those you use in your business (unless you own a laundromat, I suppose…), the foundations are actually EXACTLY the same. 

This blog is all about the difference between systems and rhythms. You’ll learn how to create the best systems for your creative business and the necessary rhythms to reinforce these processes in an efficient and effective way that keeps your business running like a well-oiled machine. 

What are business systems?

When planning for your business, start with systems! 

Systems serve as the building blocks of your business, just like the bricks of a house!

The Oxford Dictionary (at least according to the version sitting on my bookshelf) defines systems as “A set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized framework or method.” 

Let me translate:

SYSTEMS are HOW YOU DO THINGS in your business. 

This can include anything from how you take a project discovery call to how you create your designs to how you invoice your clients!

The beauty of being your own boss is YOU call the shots, so you get to decide what this looks like for your business!

While every business may require different systems, there are 5 core systems every business needs in order to function and thrive. 

Your creative business NEEDS a: 

→ 1: Financial System

→ 2: Sales System

→ 3: Marketing System

→ 4: Project Management System

→ 5: File and Asset Organization System

Your Systems are supported by your software and your SOPs.

Software may include tools you use for scheduling, client relationship management (CRM) like Honeybook or Dubsado, and project management software (PM) –I swear by ClickUp.

Quick Disclosure: The ClickUp link above is an affiliate link, which means when you click the link and make a purchase, it won’t cost you more, but I may receive a commission for sharing this with you. I promise I only ever share what I use and love, though, so I’d be sharing these with you anyway!

SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedure. SOPs are incredibly granular, straightforward, and 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.

SOPs will tell you:

  • Who is responsible 
  • What the timeline looks like
  • How exactly is it supposed to be done, and where
  • The tools needed to complete each task

They serve as a bridge between you and your team, concept and execution, as well as your systems and rhythms!

COO Tip: I’ve spent years streamlining creative businesses like yours. Along the way, I’ve come up with a few tips and tricks (and some tech recommendations) to make it a bit easier. Click here to grab my FREE guide: The Tools You Need to Streamline Your Business

“But, I’m not a “systems” person.”

I hear you loud and clear. 

In fact, this is the biggest hesitation I get from my business coaching clients early on in our work together. 

Most business owners know they need systems, but they struggle with implementation.

If this sounds familiar, it’s natural to automatically think you’re not a “systems person.”

While that could be true, what is more often the case is you have systems without rhythms (or without the RIGHT rhythms) to support those systems. And so they never really get the machine humming along.

Take my client Maria, for example. 

She understood the value of systems on a practical level but struggled to buy in at first. 

Once we started to unpack her hesitation, we revealed that she was avoiding systems because structure felt confining to her. 

Like you, she’s a creative business owner! 

She wants flexibility, spontaneity, and freedom in her life and work. 

The word “systems” caused her to recoil because she thought that in order to have processes and procedures (which she interpreted as “rigidity”), she would have to sacrifice the freedom she valued so much.

This is a common misconception that is SO false. 

When Maria finally committed to systems (and trusted me enough to guide her through), she found that when paired with rhythms, the structure systems provided actually offered her MORE of the flexibility she was seeking instead of less!

Once you’ve established HOW you will handle these essential components of your business and have the tools in place to support these tasks with SYSTEMS, it’s time to put RHYTHMS in place.

What are business rhythms?

Rhythms in your business are like the mortar that holds all your systems together, just like the mortar that binds the bricks of a house together. 

One of the strongest factors in how sustainable your business will be is your consistency. You could have the best system in the WORLD, but if you aren’t using it on a regular basis, it cannot serve you well!

Rhythms bring consistency to your systems, and (as you learned earlier from my friend’s laundry debacle) consistency is key.

8 Rhythms You Need In Your Business:

→ 1: CEO Time

→ 2: Financial

→ 3: Sales

→ 4: Marketing

→ 5: Engagement

→ 6: Operations

→ 7: Communication

→ 8: Creative Time

Some rhythms need to be tended to regularly, while others are less frequent. 

For example, creative time may be a rhythm you carve out one day each week to tap into your imagination and inspiration. 

Your finances may include multiple rhythms, such as reconciling your books each month, assessing your profit and revenue quarterly, AND filing your taxes each year (among other financial rhythms). 

Communication rhythms may be something you set and revisit once a year to make sure it still feels aligned. 

Moral of the story?

While all businesses need each of the above 8 rhythms, no one can just TELL you how often you should tend to them or which additional rhythms your business might need. The timing and nuances of those rhythms and how they fit with your business systems will be unique. In order to be effective, they need to work for you. This takes a bit of experimentation, trial and error, and perseverance to find the right balance. 

COO Tip: Each of the above rhythms links to topic-specific blogs that were a part of my 2022 rhythms series. You can dive deep into each of these rhythms as you implement them into your creative business!

How come there aren’t an equal number of systems and rhythms?

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve listed 5 systems and 8 rhythms and find yourself wondering, “how does that add up?”

→ There are (at least) 5 systems…because at a minimum, you NEED to have systemized these 5 aspects of your business.

→ There are 8 Rhythms because there are at least 8 areas you need to be regularly engaging with in your business, and each of these likely engages one or more of your systems.

Each system has multiple rhythms supporting it, and each rhythm supports multiple systems. They aren’t mutually exclusive! 

Plus, this will vary widely depending on how complex or simple your systems are, which can be based on a variety of factors like your stage of business, business model, and preferences. 

The thing is, while there are core systems and rhythms that are necessary for any business, your business may have additional systems and/or rhythms based on your needs! 

There are no “rules,” and nothing’s set in stone!

The number of systems and rhythms your business needs may evolve over time as you level-up, add new team members, offer new services or products, or shift priorities. This is an ongoing process. 

In fact: revising your systems and rhythms can BE a rhythm in and of itself!

Simply taking the time to get clear on what you do, how you do it, and when it needs to happen will help you stay on the pulse of your business, tasks, and goals so that you can show up, serve, and thrive as a creative entrepreneur without the burnout or overwhelm!

Pulling it all together!

Your business systems and rhythms intertwine! They fit together to create the foundation of your business. They are not standalone entities, and one will always influence another (like a domino effect). So it’s important to know you cannot treat them in isolation.

As we’ve established, your systems are what you do and how you do it, while your rhythms are when (the different parts of) those systems run and how they all fit together. BOTH are required to be working in unison to create a well-oiled machine.

Let’s look at a couple of examples for context:

  • During your CEO time rhythm, you may work within your Financial, Sales, Marketing Systems…or even your Organization System. 
  • During your Engagement Rhythm, you’ll likely run pieces of your Sales, Marketing, and Project Management Systems…etc. 

You’ll notice how closely linked each of these pieces truly are once you put them into practice. I share this as a reminder to be mindful when adjusting or changing systems and rhythms. Make sure you’re looking at the holistic ripple effect that any and all changes will have on other aspects of your business!

Time to Take Action

Now, I want to encourage you to start strategically building out your systems and rhythms! Here’s a quick-start guide as a jumping-off point!

  1. List out all of your recurring tasks (anything you do more than once needs to be systemized, so it is reproducible). 
  2. Cluster them into systems categories (or create a category of your own!)
  3. For each system, create SOPS (standard operating procedures) 
  4. Decide if you can enhance these systems with tools or software
  5. Establish rhythms for each system to fit your needs (when do these things happen and how often).
  6. Keep your systems, SOPs, and rhythms somewhere you and your team can easily access
  7. Review and update your systems and rhythms regularly to ensure they’re still aligned and working for you!

​​Looking for more support?

It is totally normal to seek out more specific, individualized support as you build out the systems and rhythms your unique business needs to thrive. 

I’ve got you covered! 

I’m launching an online course this fall specifically for creative entrepreneurs like YOU to teach you all the business stuff they didn’t teach you in art school! Click here to join my no-obligation waitlist and be the first to hear when the course goes live!


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