4 pillars of a solid business foundation

4-pillars-solid-business-foundation
Even if you never plan to sell your company act as if that's the goal.Click To Tweet

You may never sell your company.

Most people don’t.

But what if you were to act as if that were the ultimate goal?

How would that impact your company on a day to day basis?

What I’ve found is that if you constantly ask yourself…

“how do I sell my business for the largest possible dollar sum?”

…you will automatically make better business decisions.

You’ll focus on systems, automation, delegation and other “big picture” issues because these are the things that a buyer looks for.

And because focusing on the areas of your business that we’re about to discuss makes it run so incredibly well, you may decide that you’d rather keep your biz than to sell it!

According to research done by John Warrillow of www.valuebuildersystem.com, a highly automated company (among other things) can fetch a roughly 2x higher valuation than a poorly automated company

According to research done by John Warrillow, a highly hands-off company (among other factors) can fetch a roughly 2x higher valuation than a poorly automated company. Image credit: www.ValueBuilderSystem.com

Look at the image above.

If you know that a buyer will offer you a significantly larger hunk of cash for your business if it runs like a well-oiled machine (and he will if it does), then do you reckon you’d do what it takes to build this machine and get that hunk of cash…?

Even if you do not sell your company, you still reap the benefits of having acted as if a sale was on the table.

The result?

Instead of a surreal amount of money hitting your bank account in one go, a tax bill that turns you into a libertarian overnight, and the inevitable existential pondering over “what now?”, you would instead remain the owner of a company that:

  • runs with the elegance of a Japanese assembly line
  • is fun as hell to work at
  • earns you and your team a very good living
  • does something positive/valuable for the world (hopefully!)
  • lets you spend more time in your “genius zone”
  • continues to grow and prosper without your constant, direct involvement(!)
  • finds you waking up every morning full of passionate intensity

…boom!

THAT’S the kind of business I want to build, run and (possibly) sell.

How about you…?

Does your business sit on a solid foundation?

Creating a highly sellable company is a deliberate effort.

While there are many factors that influence the sale price you can command when an exit is on the table, an 80/20 approach gives you 4 high-impact areas to focus on.

Like the 4 pillars that support a physical structure these 4 pillars ensure that your company is able to grow because it sits atop an unshakeable, well-built foundation.

They are:

Applications - Apps and tools that help your business run well.

Documentation - The "directions" on how to run your business that gives your team a clear direction and ensures consistent results.

Organization - The art of keeping your business clean, uncluttered, navigable.

Automation - The judicious use of systems, frameworks and software that saves staggering amounts of time, money and effort.

Luckily, unlike a real building, changing and strengthening your business foundation well after your company is built and posting 6 to 7 figures revenues is relatively simple.

What are some of the questions you can ask yourself to objectively assess how sound your business foundation is?

I’ve put together a short, 8-question survey that will give you a quick general idea of where your business is at.

Fill out the survey below (it takes 60 seconds):

* * * * * * * * * * *

Step 1 of 10

10%
  • 1 - My business completely lacks automation2 - My business features a small amount of automation3 - My business is somewhat automated4 - My business features a significant degree of automation5 - My business is almost entirely automated
    For our purposes "automation" is defined as the use of systems, procedures, software and human resources in such a way that business processes occur in a predictable, consistent fashion and in the most efficient manner possible.

* * * * * * * * * * *

If you didn’t do so hot on the survey above don’t worry.

It’s just a diagnostic tool meant to give you a rough idea of the parts of your business that need your attention.

And in the following post you’ll learn exactly what to do in order to improve your score, make running your business more enjoyable, and increase your company’s value.

Pillar I: The 5 core apps

First you’ll want to set up what I call the 5 core apps.

Each of these apps addresses a fundamental business need and, collectively, they form the first sturdy pillar of your business foundation.

They are:

Slack - addresses the need for effective team communication.

Trello - addresses the need to get sh*t done.

Google Drive - addresses the need to store files in the cloud and easily share and collaborate.

FreshDesk - addresses the need for a customizable customer support system with automation features.

Zapier - addresses the need to integrate various web apps and automate repetitive tasks.

Wait a minute, Vic.

What about lead management, tracking business metrics, human resources, CRMs, and apps that pertain to other important aspects of a business?

You’re right, those are indeed parts of a business you can’t ignore.

But each of those categories deserves its own article (or several).

And you can get by without them well into 6 figures territory.

So we’ll keep it simple for now and focus on the bare essentials.

Must I use these particular core apps, Vic? MUST I?

No, you mustn’t.

You can use whatever comparable apps work for you.

I recommend these tools simply because:

A) I have ample experience with all of them and can personally attest to the magnitude of posterior they calcitrate.

B) Regardless of your industry or business model you can benefit from using them.

C) They’re free to use at the basic plans without any significant feature restrictions, which makes them perfect for boostrapped startups (and mewagers there are any number of hotshot, venture-backed companies that run on some permutation of this simple yet powerful architecture as well).

Slack

Slack bills itself as a powerful team chat solution.

No argument there, Slack is the best team chat app this side of the Neutral Zone.

But it’s so much more…

Think of Slack as your team’s command center.

DUUUN, dun dun DUUUN, dun dun DUUUUN, dun dun dun dun dun DUUN, DUUN, DUUN, dun dun dun DUUUUN

DUUUN dun dun DUUUN, dun dun DUUUUN, dun dun dun dun dun DUUN DUUN DUUN, dun dun
dun DUUUUN

It’s intuitive, easy to use, feature-rich, boasts excellent search, and it integrates with a plethora of other useful apps.

Slack is like “sweetness”: you won’t get it unless you try it.

No matter how I try to explain it, you simply won’t understand the taste of it until you take a spoonful of sugar in your mouth.

Once you try Slack and “get it”, however, chances are good that you, too, will become a Slackolyte.

Here are a few reasons you’ll love Slack:

Reduce your reliance on email 

Unlike with email, you can quickly sort out issues with team members via Slack private message.

Or, if something concerns several team members at once, use a group chat or open a new channel devoted specifically to that conversation.

This means you spend less time in your email inbox.

You can even fire up a Google Hangout right from within a Slack channel for an impromptu team conference.

Just activate the Google Hangouts extension and then type /hangout.

It’s that simple.

Search that fails to suck

Slack search

Imagine that last week you had a conversation about something related to “Trello”.

You know it was an important convo but you only vaguely remember the details.

No problemo – just type “Trello” in the search box and you’ll get a neatly organized list of results including the surrounding conversations.

You and your team may have mentioned “Trello” a million times but because the search results bring up the context, you’re able to quickly locate the specific chat you’re looking for.

You can almost always find exactly what you’re looking for in 30 seconds flat.

I thought you wanted to express yourself

brian-flair

If you’ve ever visited the Google offices in Silicon Valley, you probably stood there trying to figure out whether it’s a place of business or a YMCA.

Switched on companies understand that team members are more likely to do epic things if they can play, have fun and receive some healthy ego nourishment at their jobs.

All work and no play makes jack a dull boy

Slack encourages this.

It lets you post GIFs and videos, start private channels/groups, fire up on-demand video chats, and much more.

In short, you’re not only better able to communicate but you’re better able to communicate who you are.

After all, what’s the point of being a special snowflake if nobody knows about it…? 🙂

slack express personality

My experience working with teams has been that giving the crew an excuse to goof off a little builds a fun company culture organically by making work more light-hearted.

Don’t get me wrong: you’re still getting sh*t done.

But you’re not being so darn serious about it!

Integrations are the future

three-seashells

Did you know that Slack integrates with your toilet?

It’s true.

Whenever you type /flush you will hear the mighty whir of your throne jettisoning water.

I am, of course, joking.

Although…somebody in Japan is probably working on this.

While lavatory integration may be the last item on their development roadmap, Slack has already included integrations with most every other app that matters including Trello, Stripe, Paypal and FreshDesk.

Even if no direct integration exists between Slack and another app, it’s still probably doable with Zapier (more on this below).

So a bunch of stuff integrates with Slack, who gives a hoot?

Well, with the FreshDesk integration, for example, you can feed your support desk tickets directly into a Slack channel based on certain criteria, or “filters”, you select.

Or you can devote a channel to Twitter mentions so your customer happiness team can respond to social conversations as they happen in real time.

OR you can automatically have a Trello card created anytime you “star” a message in Slack (which saves you the trouble of going into Trello and creating a card manually).

The possibilities to improve efficiency and productivity in your business by making judicious use of various integrations are truly endless.

Discourages distraction

lumberg-memo

Last but certainly not least, Slack lets team members easily join/leave channels so they only see what they need to see to do their job without getting distracted by info that doesn’t apply to them.

For instance, while your customer happiness reps should be seeing notifications from Twitter mentions or FreshDesk tickets, showing your developer that info would just distract him needlessly.

The art of using Slack is all about showing the appropriate things to the appropriate individuals at the appropriate time and guarding your team members’ limited attention from information that isn’t relevant to their role.

The art of using @SlackHQ is guarding your team's attention from info that isn't relevant to themClick To Tweet

Trello

Trello is your virtual to-do list.

It consists of 3 simple elements: boards, lists and cards.

This is a Trello board (the whole screen):

This is a Trello list:

trello-list

And this is a Trello card:

trello-card

The primary value of Trello is the peace of mind you get once you add a Trello card to your to-do list.

Because you’ve added it to Trello it no longer weighs on your mind, and you can be sure you won’t forget to do it sooner or later (whatever “it” happens to be).

You can use Trello in any number of other creative ways.

For example, the folks at WPCurve use Trello for their content marketing schedule, among other things.

We also keep a Trello board for Content Marketing:

trello-content-marketing-board

For our Operations we’ve found that simply having 3 boards – “To Do”, “In Progress”, “Completed” – for each team member works quite well.

This arrangement gives you an instant overview of where your team is at on various tasks.

Geordi Says

data says

Using a little engineering from the future, you can make your Trello board display as a Gantt chart using a free Chrome extension called Elegantt.

Gantt charts give you an instant visual snapshot of your team's tasks and their associated timelines, which comes in very handy when managing large, complex projects (like repairing a warp core breach).

You can toggle/untoggle the chart view with a single click.

(Thanks to James from TokyoWheel for recommending Gantt charts.)

You may also find, as I have, that Trello is invaluable to you personally as a private to-do list and vision board of sorts:

personal-trello-lists

While there are gobs of dedicated project management apps out there such as Basecamp, Asana, Teamwork and others, we’ve found Trello to be so versatile, lightweight, intuitive and powerful that we quite simply haven’t needed to try anything else!

Google Drive

Warp Drive

Warp drive lets you traverse entire galaxies at faster-than-light speed.

Google Drive, on the other hand, is your place in the cloud to store all of your files and folders.

It’s intuitive and powerful.

And it’s free up to 15GB.

If you need more storage, it’s dirt cheap:

google-drive-pricing-storage

We use Google Drive internally for storage, collaboration, and to organize our business.

“Wait a minute, Vic. What about Dropbox…?”

Dropbox, shmopbox.

In my opinion, Google Drive outperforms Dropbox across the board.

It’s more feature-rich, cheaper, downloads are faster (at least for me, I’m in Thailand. And yes, I’ve tested it!), it’s more intuitive, it has great search that includes your email inbox, and it allows you to create docs, spreadsheets and forms right on the spizot.

Can Dropbox do all that?

hell-no

I helped a client migrate away from Dropbox entirely to Google Drive and she’s tickled with the result.

One reason we like Drive is that we can organize our entire business with a simple folder architecture that looks something like this:

google-drive-folder

It’s vital that your team members know where to find the files they’re looking for quickly.

And because we use Drive exclusively for all storage and uploading needs there can be no doubt as to where a file might be located…it’s in Drive!

We also create all of our SOPs in docs within Drive, which is made even easier by our screenshot tool — the Snagit Chrome Extension (free) — which uploads images, GIFs and videos directly to our Drive account!

Data Says

data says

Name all of your files and folders descriptively.

Suppose you have a Google Sheet file named "Rolodex" in which you store contact info for various contractors and service providers.

When you type "Rolodex" into your Google Chrome URL box, it will suggest a URL that matches that term based on your browsing history.

This is similar to the Google search auto-complete feature, appearing like so:

Chrome search autocomplete

You may further "assist" the search by first typing "Drive" and then typing keywords related to the file or folder which you are attempting to locate, thusly:

Drive makes it easy to set permissions on all of your files and folders so that the right people have the right level of access to the right things.

Easily share things with team members and customers alike, and transfer ownership of entire folders to your clients (this really comes in handy).

The combination of Drive, Trello and LastPass (for password management) have made storage, collaboration and sharing in your business not only easier but also more secure than ever before.

FreshDesk

tech-support-sucks

We went through a period of trying every support desk app we could get our hands on, including Groove, Teamwork Desk, Reamaze, Zendesk, Hesk, LiveAgentHelp Scout and some others I can’t remember now.

In the end FreshDesk won.

It’s incredibly powerful, reasonably priced for a startup (free for the first 3 agents!), has a great user interface, and has a suite of powerful automation tools.

Several of my private coaching clients use it and we also use it internally here at JustRecord.it.

We couldn’t be happier.

Note: Alec Kinnear of FolioVision.com joined me on the Membership Site Success podcast recently and weighed in on support desk software (starts at 0:54:10)

If you have multiple agents answering tickets (like in Alec’s case) then FreshDesk can become expensive.

For this reason Alec and his team use Teamwork, which is much more reasonably priced at scale.

If you reckon you’ll only ever have a small handful of agents answering tickets then FreshDesk will work great.

Honorable mentions go to Help Scout and Reamaze, which are awesome apps that parallel FreshDesk in terms of feature set and ease of use.

My suggestion?

Just pick one you like and stick with it!

Zapier

Zapier is our not-so-secret, secret sauce.

Without it our business (and many other businesses) would be impossible.

In a nutshell, Zapier connects one web app to another.

The way it works is that you pick a source application (let’s say Trello).

Then you pick a destination app (let’s say Slack).

Now you select the trigger in the source app which produces the action you want performed in the destination app.

This is all done in a simple Zap-creation wizard.

An example:

One of our “Zaps” sends team members a private message in Slack anytime they get an @ mention comment in Trello.

slack-trello-zap

You see, comments “hide” in Trello cards and it’s super easy to miss them.

Trello comment

Because of this fact, we found ourselves neglecting to address comments made in Trello cards, which was halting progress.

So we Zapped the problem!

Now whenever a team member gets @ mentioned in Trello he gets a private message in Slack from Slackbot.

And because Slack chat, unlike Trello, is organized in a chronological fashion, it’s easy to go through systematically and make sure you’ve responded to all of the comments in your Trello cards.

Worf Says

data says

Do not dishonor your team members by ignoring their concerns.

Have engineering enable the Slack integration with Trello described above.

Then star each comment in Slack as you reply to it in Trello so you know you have addressed it.

star-messages-slack

Happier with Zapier

When I said our business would be impossible without Zapier, hyperbole it wasn’t.

Our checkout form connects Gravity Forms to Google Sheets and Drip via Zapier and automatically adds customer info to a spreadsheet and email list in Drip.

Likewise, our podcast submission form is also a Gravity Form that sends data to Google Sheets, Trello and Slack via Zapier.

Basically, whenever an important action happens in our business all of the corresponding “machinery” kicks in:

  • The appropriate team members are notified and sent the info they need to get to work
  • Spreadsheet entries are made
  • Trello cards are created
  • Tasks are scheduled
  • Emails and Slack messages are sent
  • Accounts are created

…and so forth.

Methinks at this point the merits of Zapier should be fairly obvious!

And now that they’ve introduced multi-step Zaps it will continue to play an even more integral role in countless businesses including our own.

Pillar II: Documentation with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

work itself out naturally

The hell it will.

Standard operating procedures — or SOPs — are step-by-step instructions on how to perform the operations in your business.

If you don’t have solid SOPs in place your business won’t be able to scale smoothly (or at all).

Without SOPs the day-to-day of your business is likely to be clumsy, the results inconsistent, and your operations overly reliant on your team members’ talent to make up for a lack of process.

What kind of things should I document in SOPs?

Every recurring operation performed by you and your team should be documented.

After all, how else can you ensure that everything is done the same way (and the right way!) each and every time?

McDonald’s employees follow a very specific cheeseburger-making formula which ensures you get a consistent cheeseburger whether you’re in Paris or Penang; Madrid or Medellín, New York or New Delhi.

That’s because an SOP is essentially a checklist that ensures your business processes are performed correctly each and every time.

Not sometimes, not when the team member doing the procedure is feeling “on”, but ALL the time.

But Vic, won’t SOP’ing my business turn my team into a bunch of checklist-ticking drones devoid of all creativity?

borg

We WILL assimilate your time-wasting business processes into our collective. You WILL join us in working less hours in your business and making more money. Resistance is futile.

I’ll answer that question with another question:

Do you consider airline pilots drones? How about surgeons?

In his awesome book The Checklist Manifesto, author Atul Gawande details how the introduction of simple checklists into the aviation world led to a drastic reduction in accidents.

Likewise, the author found that implementing checklists in hospitals caused a substantial reduction in preventable infections (so called “line” infections), medicine mix-ups, and other dangerous episodes that it’s all too easy to overlook when a dying patient comes flying into your operating room on a crash cart.

Surely you wouldn’t argue that a pilot is any less skilled because he follows a strict pre-flight checklist.

Nor could we honestly say that a surgeon and his team are less effective just because they go through a pre-surgery procedure.

Quite the contrary, they become more effective because they have fewer non-essential details to think about.

However, SOPs can’t solve your Who problems.

Beavis_and_Butthead

You can’t just hand an SOP on how to do open-heart surgery to someone with no training and expect them to operate.

Why would it be any different in a business?

Back when I was running my MemberFix service (unlimited membership site support) as an agency it was critical for us to hire relatively cheap labor in order to to get decent margins given our competitive pricing.

However, despite my best efforts to hire and train A players and make well-written SOPs available for just about every kind of task, we were still plagued by incompetence and unprofessionalism.

At first I externalized my frustration in unhealthy ways.

I bemoaned the fact that Upwork is teeming with incompetents.

I cursed lady luck with clichés like “good help is so hard to find!”

And then when I sobered up I realized that in fact, I was the one who’d been “incompetent”.

It was I who had:

A) Recruited team members on Upwork (fishing in the wrong pond)

B) Failed to implement a rigorous, proven hiring process such as Topgrading or the A Method, which would have at least allowed us to find the diamonds in the rough.

C) Refused to accept responsibility for my failure.

I wound up having to pay my team for slipshod work, going back and redoing most of it myself, and talking several irritated customers down off of a ledge.

I had one more go at the agency model with a new set of team members but in the end decided to face the facts:

Not all business models are equally scalable.

I realized that I couldn’t possibly deliver the value that my name and reputation promised with this business model.

I was earning less income, working twice as much, and spending my time managing hard-to-manage people and forever correcting their crappy work.

Thus, the agency promptly imploded and I ended up repositioning MemberFix as a limited-slot, premium support service that I run myself.

I thought I was sitting on a niche version of WPCurve but in the end it became clear to me that some business models and markets are inherently more scalable than others.

Sure, you can document a position down to how often to blink every minute but it won’t magically transform maladroits into A players.

If you have any experience with hiring and running a team, you already know how seldom people follow directions as written.

homer-fire-tablet

SOPs can’t help these people not suck but they can help you to weed them out of your company early on.

While a prospective team member may look good on paper, if he demonstrates an inability to go down a simple checklist (or an inability to correct his inability) then he doesn’t belong on your payroll.

In fact, I’ve found that A players actually appreciate having well-defined roles, expectations and documentation on how to do their jobs.

Plus, if a team member follows an SOP correctly but the result is sub-par then you can’t blame him for performing poorly; he did exactly what was asked of him.

It’s the process that needs to be improved.

Another unexpected benefit is that team members know that as long as they’re doing what they’re supposed to, they needn’t live in a state of chronic anxiety that they’ll be unfairly evaluated, reprimanded or worse.

If you’ve ever worked in a corporate environment then you know just how serious a problem this can be.

People will invent all sorts of pretend work if they think their job is in danger so that they look busy and useful.

office-space-do-here-bobs

It’s an understandable defense mechanism that can tempt otherwise good workers and infect an otherwise solid team.

So immunize your business against it from the very start!

Who should write documentation?

Everybody.

Documentation is a living, breathing process for which all team members should be responsible.

After all, who better to write an SOP than the person doing the job?

While team members should follow SOPs exactly as written, if somebody sees an inaccuracy or inefficiency in a procedure, there should be a very simple way for them to let you know about it so you can improve your process right then and there.

In other words, the processes you have in place are rigid but it’s easy to amend and constantly improve them.

Simply create an SOPs folder in your Google Drive account and get documentin’!

So how exactly do you write an SOP?

Simple.

You follow the SOP on how to write SOPs!

(Which you can get along with 4 other SOPs by clicking the link below.)

An example of one of the very first SOPs I wrote is our “How to take screenshots” procedure (which you’ll also get in the 5-pack above).

While it may seem silly to document such a thing as how to take a screenshot, the truth is that it would be silly not to document it.

The fact is that we take heaps of screenshots in our business.

And if you make SOPs a priority, you and your team will be taking screenshots galore as well!

It’s a recurring task that everybody on your team performs so it should be performed the same way and produce the same result every time.

Do you really want your team members wasting time (time you’re paying for) fiddling with a bunch of different screen capture tools that all have different features and produce different image sizes/quality and that may or may not even integrate with the apps you need?

Why not do your team a big favor and save them (and yourself) the cost of thinking about this by simply standardizing the procedure and documenting it?

Here at JustRecord.it we use a screenshot tool called Snagit (we use the free Chrome extension as well as the paid desktop version).

Snagit connects directly to our Google Drive and YouTube accounts so we always have screenshots, GIFs and videos in the cloud ready to insert into SOPs or share with team members and customers.

I don’t know whether or not business colleges offer a course on writing business documentation as a part of their core curricula but I’d be skeptical of any programs that gloss over this crucial habit.

SOPs force you, the entrepreneur, to externalize your expertise.

I feel this is an immensely valuable skill to develop, especially if you’re used to doing business intuitively.

SOPs liberate you from doing everything yourself because an SOP, once written and tested for accuracy, can be followed by anybody with the requisite skill set and threshold cranial volume.

And therefore, they allow you to delegate.

They deliver you and your customers from the stress and disappointment of inconsistent results.

Don’t be surprised if a successful entrepreneur you meet waxes pornographic about the role of SOPs in his company.

In short, they are essential for a bona fide business.

Pillar III: Organization

milton-waddams-office-space-organization

A surprisingly common theme I see when I begin working with a client is an almost-complete lack of organization in his/her business.

And these aren’t bloggers in Chiang Mai living on a grand a month, these are 6 and 7 figure revenue business owners!

They have files and folders strewn about across different platforms:

Their computer, Amazon S3, Dropbox, Google Drive, their WordPress library, their email inbox, their OTHER email inbox…

Files and folders are named and arranged whimsically at best, randomly at worst.

Finding a simple file can prove time-consuming and frustrating.

They often don’t keep a rolodex, nor a business metrics dashboard, nor SOPs, nor a content marketing framework, nor…you get the point.

Say Vic, 6-7 figures? These entrepreneurs are doing pretty well, so maybe they don’t need all your apps and SOPs and organization schemes ‘n shit.

Maybe.

After all, Hemingway drank like a fish and produced brilliant works of literature.

So getting black out drunk down in Key West every night is the secret to winning a Pulitzer prize, right?

Let’s get real:

Getting everything neatly organized, and organized in as few places as possible (preferably one) is going to make your working life a lot easier.

While it’s true that the apps above conveniently solve a lot of organization problems by their very natures, it’s prudent to have a central location for your files, folders, SOPs, legal docs, etc.

I suggest that Google Drive be this location.

(Note: if Google Drive seems too hackneyed to you, there are some awesome dedicated SOP creation apps out there such as Sweet Process)

At the very least you should start out with the following folders (indicated by the red arrows):

Google Drive Organization

Obviously, you may need some of these folders and not others, depending on the nature of your business.

The point is to begin to systematically organize your business by function/department.

What does organization “look” like? Some real life examples

Example #1 – When we’re about to publish a blog post we first go to:

Google Drive => JustRecord.it => Content Marketing => Content Machine Framework for Blog

Content machine framework for blog

We then check the post against the style and content guidelines we have in place for blog posts.

Our content marketing framework comes largely from Dan Norris’s fantastic book, Content Machine and its free, accompanying resources.

Example #2 – When we bring a new team member on board (let’s say an Audio Engineer), we give him access to the Drive folder that corresponds to his role.

Google Drive => JustRecord.it => HR => Roles => Audio Engineer

This folder contains:

  • Hiring Procedures – Our exact method for hiring for this role is documented here.
  • Onboarding materials – These materials serve as the orientation to this job. They give the audio engineer everything he needs to get started productively from day one.
  • KPIs – Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, are the hard, measurable results each team member is expected to deliver within a given timeframe. For example, a Content Manager might be expected to produce 8 high quality posts every month, get half of those posts 50+ Tweets, and manage 4 high quality guest posts every month. KPIs circumvent voodoo methods of evaluating a team member: he’s either achieved his KPIs or he’s failed to achieve them. Check out this great talk by Chris Winters (whose presentation I had the pleasure of seeing live at DCBKK 2015) about KPIs:
  • SOPs – Each team member’s Role folder contains links to the SOPs they need to do their job. There’s no need to fumble around and have interminable conversations with the founder or project manager because what to do and how to do it are made abundantly clear from the very beginning.

…and so forth.

All of the items relevant to this role are neatly organized in the corresponding folder.

Example #3 – When your V.A. asks how she can create a Zap to schedule a weekly reminder for herself, you can simply point her to the Zapier SOP in:

Your biz folder => SOPs => How to use Zapier

Example #4 – When your Customer Happiness rep wants to know how to issue a refund, you simply point her to the “Save the Sale” and “How to issue a refund” SOPs.

As you can see, you can swiftly answer countless questions by simply pointing your team member to the relevant folder or SOP.

Furthermore, your team will get in the habit of simply searching Google Drive themselves whenever they need to know something (since that’s what you’ll tell them to do anyway if they ask you).

So rather than constantly distracting you and your project manager, your team will go straight to the source: the relevant folder and corresponding SOPs.

Can you see how much more economical it is to run your biz when you keep everything neatly organized in a logical hierarchy of folders in Drive…?

Example #5 – Customer folders:

We organize all of our customers’ files in their respective customer folders.

When a customer signs up with us, all of his folder architecture is automatically created in Drive via a multi-step Zap in Zapier.

Let’s say we have a customer named Jean-Luc Picard.

We’d create the following folder architecture for him:

Google Drive => JustRecord.it => Customers => Jean-Luc Picard

jean-luc

Every time El Capitán submits a new podcast episode for production, we create a folder to go along with it (that is, Zapier creates it automatically with another multi-step Zap).

If the episode is an interview with say, a Dr. Wesley Crusher, then the folder would be:

Google Drive => JustRecord.it => Customers => Jean-Luc Picard => Episodes => Dr. Wesley Crusher

dr-wesley-crusher

Thus, every single team member knows exactly where to find all of the files related to this particular customer and to the episode we’re currently working on.

Moreover, it becomes incredibly simple to share various files with the customer since they’re all sitting in one central location.

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"It's in Drive!"

“It’s in Drive!”

When in doubt, clean

gold jerry gold

This tip is so stupidly simple that you might think it’s merely stupid.

But it ain’t; it’s gold!

Here it is:

When you’re working and you get stuck, stop what you’re doing, close your laptop, and clean your room.

I don’t know the science behind why this works but I have a hare-brained theory:

Perhaps by exercising control over your immediate environment and bringing it from a state of chaos into a state of order, you “prove” to yourself that you’re not so ineffectual after all.

When you take the time to get everything organized on your computer and in your Google Drive account you get the same effect!

You feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.

And I submit that this housekeeping is so important that you ought to build it directly into your business.

One way to do this is to schedule a Zap which creates a Trello card weekly telling you to clean up Drive, then places it in your “To Do” list, and labels it “high priority” so you know to address it first.

Frankly, I don’t know how businesses even get to the 6/7 figure revenue neighborhood in such a state of disarray.

But I do know that the founder who finds himself with a successful but disorganized business is usually stressed out and unable to focus on higher level progress because he’s constantly expending his own time in an attempt to compensate for the lack of order and process in his company.

Luckily, by building/strengthening this pillar you can get almost immediate relief.

For an even more in-depth guide on organizing and naming files and folders, check out this stellar post on the Zapier blog.

Pillar IV: Automation & Delegation

automation-delegation
The reason I put automation and delegation under one roof is because they both make your job and your team’s jobs easier but in slightly different ways.

The difference is that “automation” uses technological resources to offload tasks while “delegation” uses human resources.

But they both have the lovely effect of unburdening you.

What should you automate?

Tim Ferriss wrote in his classic The 4 Hour Workweek:

Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined. Otherwise, you waste someone else’s time instead of your own, which now wastes your hard-earned cash.

You see, it’s cheaper and more reliable to create a Zap for a simple, repetitive task than to have a V.A. do it (and to actually remember to do it among her multitude of responsibilities).

It’s rather economical to create a Zap, for instance, that searches your new FreshDesk support tickets for refund requests, automatically assigns them to your customer happiness rep, and sends that rep a message in Slack so he/she knows to address it ASAP.

Why do any of that stuff manually when it can be automated?

When you “automate”, you use these software systems to carry out various tasks consistently and reliably (that is, free of human error).

Initially you may not be able to think of many things to automate.

And there’s certainly no reason to invent unnecessary automations.

However, it’s often the case that founders simply aren’t aware of what’s possible using a tool like Zapier; I certainly wasn’t!

That’s why I highly recommend taking a little time to read 101 Ways to Use Zapier.

Once you realize that you can get almost any app to “talk with” almost any other app you’ll finally see the Matrix.

And then you’ll begin to notice opportunities to automate all sorts of tasks in your company, even those that may have been performed by a human in the past.

the-matrix

Also see: Zapier alternatives

For some incredibly useful, practical examples of how real businesses use Zapier to run more efficiently, see: Zapier Case Studies

What about delegation?

What you can’t eliminate (“is this really necessary?”), you automate.

What you can’t automate, you delegate.

An example!

We here at JustRecord.it automate the creation of a lot of core folders and files when a customer submits a podcast episode for production.

We accomplish this using Zaps that connect Gravity Forms with Drive, Trello, and Slack.

Even though we automate as much as Vulcanly possible, there remain many things we obviously can’t automate.

Such as:

  • writing a customer’s blog post
  • writing the broadcast email that a customer then sends to his list
  • writing the social media snippets we prepare to help promote the episode
  • taking accompanying screenshots
  • adding ID3 tags to the podcast episode
  • logging into a customer’s audio hosting service and uploading the latest podcast episode
  • formatting transcriptions for the web

…among other “non-automatable” stuff.

And of course, the core part of our product that we most definitely can NOT automate is audio editing.

This needs to be done by a humanoid.

But as I mentioned earlier, delegation is essentially automation using people instead of apps.

And the main issue that founders encounter when they try to delegate tasks is that their team members or contractors don’t do them correctly.

This goes back to the fundamental reasons of why anything would get done incorrectly to begin with:

1 – Lack of clear, detailed SOPs for your team members to follow so that they can’t screw it up so long as they simply follow directions and know their craft.

2 – Lack of A players who know to follow directions in the first place AND know what they’re doing, so when an unexpected situations comes up they can think on their feet (recalling that great SOPs can’t turn poor team members into rockstars or make up for incompetence).

What should you delegate?

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The answer you’ll hear echoing in the online biz community is “delegate everything!”

But my experience tells me that this answer should come with a few caveats.

Caveat #1 – First, you can’t delegate jack squat if you don’t have any money to pay the people you’re supposedly delegating to.

So if you’re bootstrapping — really bootstrapping — you might have to wait on delegating until you’ve got some funds coming in.

I admit this slows you down but when you’re impecunious what can be done?

Besides, it gives you the opportunity to do a lot of things in your business yourself and document them!

When I started JustRecord.it, I edited podcasts myself even though I’m not an audio engineer.

And it’s precisely because I’m not an audio engineer that I focused on creating great processes for producing podcasts that don’t rely on the person performing them to be some rockstar audio wiz.

So when Roland, our lead Audio Engineer came on board, he started by following the processes I had created.

Because he actually is a rockstar audio wiz, he quickly saw areas to improve upon and updated the documentation accordingly.

In fact, Rolz almost single-handedly wrote what has become our entire SOP for producing podcasts.

And it’s one big-ass SOP! (Good job Rolz!)

The point is that the documentation I’d created set the tone for how we do things at JustRecord.it:

We are a process-oriented culture.

We “work the system”.

And if the system needs to be improved upon, then by golly we do that, too!

Caveat #2 – you can’t delegate complicated tasks in the absence of SOPs and expect consistent results.

beavis-butthead-work-sucks

The word “consistent” is of paramount importance here.

How would it affect your business (and your peace of mind) if half of the orders you fulfilled had various mistakes in them?

You probably wouldn’t last very long!

Likewise, how would it look if half of our customers here at JustRecord.it got back pristine, perfectly produced podcasts and the other half got back funky-sounding audio with background noise and missing ID3 tags?

When you rely on great people in the absence of great processes you won’t get consistently great results.

Even top notch team members are going to make mistakes, especially if their work is complex and requires ticking dozens of little items off a checklist.

This scenario illustrates exactly what an SOP does for you in the context of delegation:

It allows you to delegate and forget about the thing you’ve delegated!

After all, what good is it to hand off a bunch of work to your team if you’re going to spend your newly liberated hours worrying that they might screw it up?

Caveat #3 – Just because a team member is an expert in whatever you hired him for, doesn’t mean he’s in expert in writing SOPs.

Your business depends upon delivering a consistently awesome product.

That, in turn, depends upon having awesome team members do their jobs well.

And THAT depends upon your team members having great SOPs to work from.

And the creation of great SOPs has to be supervised by somebody.

True, you needn’t necessarily be that somebody.

But somebody has got to be that somebody!

Let’s say you have a developer on your team who wrote an SOP.

You then review the document.

Even though you’re the furthest thing from a developer, it’s clear to you that there are several extraneous steps, vague instructions that could easily be misinterpreted, and the formatting of the SOP itself is disorganized.

You don’t need to be a developer to see that the SOP is a mess and needs to be improved upon.

You don’t need to be a developer to see that your developer needs to revisit your “how to document stuff” SOP and, if need be, help you to improve it so that future misunderstandings about how to document things can be avoided.

It does of course take some time to get into the habit of writing SOPs well so we can’t be too harsh.

But the point remains:

Delegating anything but the simplest of tasks will require you to follow up with your team and check work until they’ve become effective delegatees.

The corollary to this is that you have to be an effective delegator.

Luckily, effectively delegating something is the same process as writing an SOP.

And if the tasks you’re delegating are already documented, all you have to do is point your team member to that documentation.

Once your team is switched on to the process-oriented culture and the logical, orderly way in which business is conducted they will thrive and in turn liberate you to do your job to the fullest as well.

Last caveat – Delegate delegation.

delegate-delegation-kung-fu

I’ve heard many successful entrepreneurs say that hiring a project manager was a game changer for their businesses and their personal lives.

We entrepreneurs hate to love being the bottlenecks in our companies.

Even if you’re not doing all of the jobs in your business yourself, you’re still supervising the team, delegating stuff, chatting with everybody, checking work, etc.

But who says you need to do that either?

The founder isn’t the puppetmaster, he’s the theatre owner where the puppetmaster performs.

His job is to bring in new business and grow the company.

Again, you need to be at a certain level in your business to be able to afford and make full use of a project manager.

But once you’re at that level, bringing on this PM should become a priority.

Pro tip I learned from my friend Russ Perry of design pickle in a mastermind we used to be in together.

Russ Says

Russ says

If you have a distributed team, hire project managers for each region who come from that region.

For example, if your VAs are in the Philippines, hire a Filipino PM to manage them.

If your developers are in Ukraine, hire a Ukrainian PM to work with them.

This goes a long way towards preventing unintentional but significant culture clashes that can really hurt morale.

What did we miss?

Guess what?

You’ve just read over 7000 words!

you made it

I want this post to be as useful and actionable as possible which is why we consider it a work in progress.

If you have any tips to add or questions to ask – leave a comment below! 🙂

  • Hi Vic,

    Great article. Quick warning: you’ll lose a good part of your professional/American audience with this line: “Slack is like taking magic mushrooms: you won’t get it unless you try it.” It doesn’t bother me at all. We aren’t Slack users as we try to discourage chat.

    Next warning: you are locking almost all businesses into a very Patriot Act, American heavy set of cloud providers. I.e. all business data and ke You are speaking to small and at the most medium sized businesses and the government hasn’t gotten around to robbing us via business intelligence (they do on the large scale: the cloud is considered part of an American business intelligence advantage to multinationals: see Snowden). There is a chance that rogue actors within the system could get busy though taking the opportunities which top spooks haven’t got time for.

    I’d suggest offering your system in an American cloud and non-American cloud version.

    Microsoft 10 is simply spyware and unfortunately Microsoft has done the same thing to 7, 8 and 8.1 with updates. Any responsible business should be removing all Microsoft OS from their operations. We’ll probably cut back to two or three MS Windows 7 machines locked down against updates (we’ll find other ways to protect them from viruses, like removing Internet Explorer).

    I agree with the effect of building to sell, except that the mentality of building to sell is fundamentally corrupt and lazy. I think a business person has to be in love with his/her business to do it really well.

    Next: you aren’t covering consultancy. When people hire Foliovision they want Alec or Martin. Clients may and do like the rest of the team but they are after the innovation of the leaders which is not replaceable by a system.

    In a fast moving field like internet marketing and software development, if you cut off the head, the body stops developing.

    Look at Microsoft post-Gates: a gradual sinking ship until lately. Look at Apple post-Jobs: riding on the projects and ideas Jobs put in.

    On a smaller scale, Freshbooks is mainly the creation of its founder Mike McDerment. His commitment to his customers and his ethical foundations (he refunded whole months in the first year if Freshbooks went down for a few hours), as well as a commitment to ease of use and open web standards (Freshbooks behaves better on more computers with less hassle than any other SAAS we use: worryling Freshbooks plan to replace their platform this summer) are not replaceable.

    My examples do show that if you build good enough systems the company can continue along without you. But those are product companies not consultancies.

    In a consultancy the plunge down is much faster. Look at advertising companies: it’s mainly about the genius employees led by a genius leader (Grey was the boring gray exception to the rule: it was run just for the bottom line on systems).

    Returning to software and web development, there are people trying to systematise creativity and innovation in a repeatable pattern. Take a look at Tomaž Zaman’s and Per Esbensen’s Codeable.io) which is kind of call girl development (with an agency making the dates). Nothing to stop a client setting up a permanent relationship or marrying the developer. Just like in real life. But in this case Zaman and Esbensen are selling the GFE not creating the innovation themselves. It’s an interesting approach to development: high end outsourcing.

    On reflection, looking at Codeable’s pricing ($60/hour to $120/hour) at an enterprise level it’s not high end but mid-market: an enterprise would not be comfortable with that much information and code going outside its four walls and control. So there’s still a place for marriage in Babylon.

    While the boundary between a consultancy and a product business remains blurry, any business owner should know where s/he stands. Trying to pretend a consultancy is an assembly line is nonsense. Systematisation has its place inside a consultancy too though: everything and anything which can be systematised should be.

    Checklists play a big role at Foliovision, even on Martin and my desks.

    People make systematisation out to be more complicated than it is, btw. Sytematisation at the root of it is just checklists.

    Catch you later. Thanks for the good read.

  • Loved the article and I will definitely be making some changes after reading this????

  • Great article Vic! Just a minor, some BONUS links just point to this page, not to any other bonus page.

    I think that a section on Lastpass and how to protect your data would be interesting. Putting all your files in the cloud is handy, but what happens if you lose your mobile phone where there’s access to all the files? Maybe the files got no value for the thief, but just for fun they could easily erase them before the mobile phone can be remotely locked/erase. Would be interesting knowing how you deal with this side of security.

    All in all, great stuff that I can apply to some of my customers too! 🙂

    • Valerio,

      1. “Great article Vic! Just a minor, some BONUS links just point to this page, not to any other bonus page.”

      What device are you viewing this article on?

      Clicking on the BONUS links should bring up a lightbox popup with an optin form.

      2. “I think that a section on Lastpass and how to protect your data would be interesting. Putting all your files in the cloud is handy, but what happens if you lose your mobile phone where there’s access to all the files?”

      I don’t use LastPass on my mobile and I wouldn’t recommend your team do so either, for exactly this reason.

      LastPass should be kept in-house.

      However, if that’s too restrictive I suppose you could write an SOP on what to do if your phone got stolen and share it with your team.

      I understand the concern: it’s a rare situation but if it happens the consequences could be catastrophic.

      I’d say the best approach if you’re handling a large amount of sensitive data and client accounts is of a preventative nature.

      i.e. Don’t allow team members to install LastPass on their phones.

      Or, for that matter, to have any work-related data accessible via mobile.

      Otherwise, take the appropriate security precautions.

      3. “Maybe the files got no value for the thief, but just for fun they could easily erase them before the mobile phone can be remotely locked/erase. Would be interesting knowing how you deal with this side of security.”

      I haven’t had to deal with it, knock on wood.

      Do you have some specific concern in your business that would allow me to recommend a specific solution?

      • 1. What device are you viewing this article on? >> Chrome on Mac, but now is working. I guess was by browser instance stuck.. All good now!

        2. work-related data accessible via mobile: I think having work files at hand on mobile/tablet is a strong requirement from customers nowadays…I am wondering where’s the tradeoff between accessing vs protecting the files? I thought Lastpass could be a solution, so in case the mobile phone is lost, it should be enough changing the Lastpass master password and erasing the phone from remote – of course quickly after the loss. Plus, the mobile phones need to be screen locked all the time and encrypted. Would you still consider this too weak security-wise?

        3. this is related to (2), so either using lastpass or not, my customers want to access the files from mobile devices. I think NOT using lastpass could be even riskier, because with last pass is enough changing 1 master password to lock all the logins, while with a plain iOS/Android mobile phones we got so many passwords to deal with (gmail/gdrive, facebook, twitter, etc..). I believe a reliable password manager is a key component of the cloud infrastructure?

        4. I also wonder what kind of REAL data recovery is Google Drive offering in case of unintentional or malicious file deletion. Here some info but would be good to hear some hands on experience. https://support.google.com/drive/answer/1716222?hl=en

        Here some more info from a vendor: http://spanning.com/blog/3-options-for-restoring-lost-data-in-google-apps/

  • Great post Vic!

  • You really went above and beyond with this post, Vic. An incredible blueprint for any business wanting to scale. Awesome!

    • I appreciate the kind words, Dana! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read. 🙂