Business systems and processes – in some cases, these are things that we do really well for other businesses (our customers!), helping them work more efficiently and effectively, but often find challenging in our own business due to the fact that the investment of time required to do this takes away from our availability to carry out paid-for client work. Trust me, I know how easy it is to put my own business tasks at the bottom of my daily to-do list; it’s easy to think that as long as the business is functioning successfully now, that these jobs don’t need to be a priority. But my question to you is this – if not now, when?
Things may be going swimmingly in your business at the moment, but there are always things you can do to help future-proof your business. Here are a few examples:
- Systems for onboarding and offboarding new clients – when you bring on a new client, do you have a process in place where you know exactly what to send them (i.e. contracts, etc.) and what to ask for (access to key software tools, etc.) in order to get working effectively as soon as possible? Having a written process for this makes it easy for you to replicate this, and allows other team members to do this for you successfully in the future if you decide to grow your team. The same thing with offboarding – when a client leaves, how do you ensure that access to key systems is revoked? How long do you keep any data relating to them for? Offboarding is perfectly natural as projects come to an end or clients move on to pastures new, so doing what you can to make the process as seamless and stress-free as possible (from your end!) is incredibly helpful.
- Developing marketing plans for attracting new clients – yes, you might have enough customers now, but what happens if there’s a bit of a work-related drought one month? Building up your marketing and networking from a standing start can be incredibly challenging, so a ‘little and often’ approach to marketing, even when you are already fully booked, can help keep visibility high and therefore make it easier to reach out to prospects in the future when you do have availability.
- Keeping up to date with business income and expenditure, and forecasting for the future– your annual self-assessment tax return doesn’t have to be a mad panic or massive task. By keeping track of your business outgoings (and collating receipts!), and keeping clear records of the money in to your business on a weekly or monthly basis, you can split up a mammoth task into manageable chunks, saving you time and effort when it comes round to tax return time!
- Ensuring that all software is up to date, that you know how to use it effectively (as it’s undoubtably had an upgrade since you first started using it!), and that you aren’t paying for tools that are no longer required. How many of us have subscribed to a handy bit of software months ago that asks for micropayments in order to use it? If it’s only a few pounds here and there, it’s easy to forget about, but small payments can eat into your profits if left unchecked for a long period of time, so regularly reviewing your business statements can help you identify potential issues before they get bigger!
- Reviewing your services and prices – are they relevant and competitive? Does your hourly rate cover all of the outgoings it needs to, whilst still bringing in enough money to meet your needs? If you think about the businesses you frequent on the high street, I’m sure that you’ve noticed price increases over the past few years, and in many cases have been happy to pay these as you understand that the cost of living, and of materials, naturally increases year on year. Try and apply this same reasoning to your prices – your customers are likely to be predominantly business owners too, many of whom will also be reviewing their prices regularly, so don’t feel compelled to keep your prices low if your expenditure is increasing. Your customers should understand.
- Professional Memberships and Registrations – Membership (of industry specific associations like the Chartered Institute of Marketing, etc.) needs to be updated and maintained; registration with the Information Commissioner’s Office or with HMRC’s anti-money laundering regulations needs to be renewed; insurance needs to be checked and contracts need to be up to date – these are incredibly important tasks for any professional business owner that shouldn’t ever be at the bottom of your to-do list. These need to be done in order to maintain your professional and reputable business and protect yourself from potential legal action or fines.
One of the wonderful VAs I know talks about contingency plans in her business as her ‘under a bus’ plan. Yes, it might seem overly dramatic, but what would happen to your business if the worst happened to you? Who would notify your customers? Who would ensure that any client data that you held was dealt with safely and appropriately? Who could provide temporary or long-term cover in the event of your absence? Whether you decide to take on a team of associates to support you, or simply have an ‘open in the event of an emergency’ document that provides a list of exactly who to call and what to do for a trusted friend, colleague, or loved one to do on your behalf, it’s worth thinking about potential worst-case scenarios to ensure that your customers receive the service that they deserve (even if that’s just being informed about what’s going on!), whatever happens.
Why not start building in some ‘systems and processes’ time to your weekly schedule? It’s incredibly important and can really help to ensure long term business success.