Apparently the definition of a system is "an organized and coordinated method; a procedure." Well I can tell you that in the beginning, there were no systems in my business. As I have said from the beginning, I started out with an idea to sell a product on-line. What followed was a series of ad hoc decisions, a lot of trial and error, lot's of errors, which would eventually form the systems of my business. There was no "guide" or somebody next to me telling me what to do next. My gauge for when it was time to change things and develop better operations or "systems, was the business itself.
For example, as I said in the beginning of my business I was running around like a headless chicken, meeting the designer, driving to the printers; I was doing everything. And that was fine in the beginning because it was all new and I was just so excited that my idea was beginning to flourish. But after a while, I realized that there had to be a better, quicker way to do things. And as the number of my customers increased, I realized that I could not continue operating the business this way, because I was being stretched too far and just not keeping up. It was time to move to the next level and to find a better way to do things, so I could be more productive and meet the needs of my growing customer base.
An example of one of these systems was our ordering system. The way we received orders was via e-mail, fax and phone. When I started out on my own, I devised order forms with order numbers. And over time, as orders became more detailed, and required more information, the layout and content of the order forms became more sophisticated as a result. When an order was placed, the paperwork would go to the artwork designers so they could put together a proof and e-mail this to the customer.
Without going into too much detail, the ordering system involved a step by step process from when an order form is first filled in, to when the customer finalizes their payment and their order is sent to print, to orders being closed (that is, after the customer receives their product), and these orders are then filed away in folders in alphabetical order of the company or person's name (this system eventually changed over time as well). Over time this process was constantly fine tuned and I have to say that I was quite proud of where we ended up with it, because it eventually ran like clockwork. This was important because it allowed us to implement another process of following up orders, i.e., orders that had received proofs, orders that were waiting for payments to be finalized, etc. When I do business coaching, I tell my clients to systemize their business from A to Z.
We operated with this ordering system for a while, but then we found that as a lot of customers were placing re-orders, it was such an arduous task locating their original order to find out what they had ordered previously. The reason I say it was a time consuming process is because by this stage we had accumulated a lot of archive folders (where we stored all orders that had been closed off), and therefore had to be stored in a different room in our building.
It just wasted a lot of time. It was around this time that I came across a software package called " Sales force". It was a database system that we could customize to suit our business and products. After some initial training, we implemented the system into our business, which meant that whenever we received an order, the order would be entered into Sales force straightaway and therefore no paperwork was required.
This was a much more efficient way of doing things because it eliminated the use of paper and everything about an order or the company/person that placed the order could be accessed with the click of a mouse. And when customers placed a re-order, we could access this order either by their name or previous order number. In addition to this, we could run reports and do analyses on our sales. For example, if we wanted to find out which customers placed the most orders, or which products were being ordered the most, etc. When we implemented this database system it became a turning point in our company because I remember we were all so happy and relieved to have a system that was easy to use and allowed us to work more efficiently.
Looking back, I found that we changed and developed different areas of the business as their need arose. An example of this is in the beginning when I would receive endless phone calls from customers all asking the same question "where are my stickers?" This actually used to annoy me because even though I had tracking numbers, I just did not have the time to track every customers' package. Remember, I was doing everything on my own in the beginning, and if I had to respond to every customer that called and track their individual packages I would get nothing else done.
It wasn't until I employed my admin/salesperson and warned her about these calls that she suggested, "why don't you e-mail the tracking numbers to the customers so they can track their own packages and therefore leave you alone?" I remember thinking "what a great idea!" Although it might seem so simple, it was something that I probably didn't even think of because I was so involved in every minute detail of the business. So from then on, after every package was shipped out, every customer automatically received an e-mail with their tracking numbers. And this process became formed another part of the daily running of the business.
If there is only one rule you need to take from business coaching, systemize everything and you will be on the right track to small business success.