Building systems isn’t the sexiest concept I’ve written about, but it’s a crucial next step if you feel like you’re always working and never getting ahead in your freelancing business. In this article, I share why systems are the key to taking control of your freelancing business and making more cashola than you ever could solo.
But first . . .
What Are Systems (and Why Do They Matter)?
A system is simply a documented way of doing things.
So before we get into why creating systems in your business matters, it’s important to remember that not all systems are created equal.
Good systems can be a boon to your business.
Bad systems can kill it.
As Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the man responsible for helping the Japanese become an industrial powerhouse after WW2 (think Toyota’s kaizen principle), says . . .
“A bad system will beat a good person every time.”Dr. W. Edwards Deming
Even if you’re outstanding at what you do, if you’re working a bad system it’ll be like fighting against the current. Eventually the current wins.
And it’s not just because some famous industrialist said so. According to a research study conducted with over 500 business leaders across the United States and Europe, 44% believe that wasted time during the workday is caused by inefficient processes.
So what is a system?
Simple . . . a system is a way of doing things.
For example, if you’re a designer taking on freelancing gigs, you probably have a way you like to handle your projects. That might look like this:
- Deep dive discovery call to get to the bottom of what your client wants, and what a great outcome for them looks like.
- You collect samples of designs they love, and (maybe more important) what they hate.
- You spend time creating some rough draft ideas to make sure you’re going in the direction they want.
- From there you create the design, get feedback, make edits, and submit the final design.
That’s an example of a system. You can break it down as detailed as you want. Add in goals and measurables so you can track the effectiveness of the system.
But that’s all it is.
So you may be asking . . .
How Do Systems Help My Freelancing Business?
If you’re a solopreneur and you’re just doing side projects as they come your way, you might not think systems have much to do with you.
But as we saw from the above example, you’re working systems whether you know it or not. You might as well benefit from them.
And whether you’re hoping to expand your freelancing business or just be more effective as a solopreneur, building systems can do big things for you, including:
- Increased output – Systems help you work faster and smarter. You don’t need to figure out how to do something: just follow the system.
- Maximizing your effort – When you get more output from the same effort, you’re becoming more effective. You’re also able to take on more clients.
- Your methods are documented – Systems are a documented way of doing things. This means you can hire other people, leveraging their time and talents to serve more clients. Systems also make your company more valuable (more on that later).
- Building your reputation (and your client base) – When you turn out quality work consistently, you’re already separating yourself from your competitors. Word will spread, and your clients will become fiercely loyal.
And when you tie all those benefits together, it adds up to you making more money. More output means higher client capacity. Consistent quality work builds your reputation, increasing demand for your services. Increased demand leads to you raising your prices.
Systems are a game-changer when you use them to your advantage.
Onward . . .
Systems Help You With Consistency
I mentioned consistency above, but the importance of this point deserves more attention.
Love them or hate them, Starbucks is consistent. From Seattle to Nashville, Miami to Omaha, when you walk into a Starbucks you know what you’re gonna get.
(For some folks, that’s why they avoid it, but that’s a whole other story . . . )
How is Starbucks able to maintain this consistency across its thousands of locations?
They have a system for taking orders in-store and online.
There’s a system for how to handle long drive-thru lines.
Drinks are made a certain way.
And they’re always improving.
With increased demand from customized mobile orders, Starbucks is always looking at improving how they do things (here’s their current effort at simplifying a barista’s job).
The point is, when a customer knows they’re going to get a steady, consistent experience every time you serve them, that builds trust.
And trust creates repeat customers.
Systems Fuel Time Management (and Things Clients Love)
The beauty of systems is that they can be measured. And when you do it right, you can determine how long it takes to do all the steps to fulfill a client’s request.
For example, if you know it takes you 35 hours to design a website, you can probably churn out one website per week (or two if you’re working long days).
This helps you forecast how long it takes to complete your projects, which is a huge benefit in two big ways:
- You can underpromise and overdeliver. If you know it takes you 35 hours to complete a project, but tell the client it will be done in two weeks, what will they say if you deliver ahead of time? They’ll be pretty thrilled. And if an unexpected issue causes the project to take 65 hours, you’ll still be meeting expectations.
- You can accurately forecast resources needed. Rock-solid systems help you determine how much time you need for a project (time management), or how much help you need from other contractors to complete a project. This is the key to scaling beyond yourself and multiplying your freelance income.
Systems Enable Measurement
You understand the importance of systems, but that brings up several questions . . .
- How do you know when you’re successful?
- What if your current system could be improved?
- Where are the bottlenecks that are slowing down your ability to complete your projects?
All of these are important questions that can be answered through measurement.
For example, imagine that you’re photographing a wedding and wedding reception, and you agree to a flat fee . . . but they also need video.
Was the amount enough to cover that extra bit?
Well, if you know that you need to rent a Red camera to get the high-quality you want, plus pay your videographer friend, it’s not just about cost versus pay.
Maybe you want to average $100/hour to feel like a job was a success.
If you don’t track your time, you won’t know if a job was successful by that metric. You might be charging a hefty fee, but in the end, only make $30/hour . . . not a success based on your goal of $100/hour.
Systems Drive Up Company Value
There may come a time when you decide you want to get out of your freelancing business. You might just close your doors and walk away (tons of people do that every year), but what if you could sell your business and pocket a tidy profit?
First, the bad news: companies that are solely dependent on the owner to run it aren’t worth much.
Without you, what do potential buyers of your company have? (Actually, there are ways to make this work if you have a robust client list, but more on that another day.)
Second, the good news: if you have systems that run with or without you AND a client base, you’ve got something you can sell.
Investors don’t want another job . . . they want cash flow.
And if you’ve built your freelancing business to the point where it’s humming along profitably whether you show up to work or not, you’ve got a valuable asset others would gladly buy from you.
Again, it’s all about systems.
So how do you build systems?
The Easiest Way to Build Systems in Any Business, For Any Role
Creating systems is easy. In fact, you’re already using them whether you’re aware of it or not.
Monitoring and improving them is even easier (once you’ve documented the system and can measure its output).
First, write down each of the tasks you do on a regular basis.
If you’re not sure what you do one day to the next, go through your planner and note what you were doing. That should spark some ideas.
And if you have no clue what you do every day because your work is somewhat random, start jotting down what you do. Spend a week or two tracking what you do every day. At the end of those two weeks, you’ll have a good idea of what you do on a regular basis.
Second, write down your infrequent tasks.
This might be things like financials, budgeting, entering receipts into your accounting system.
Or maybe you host a training as a lead generator once a month.
Or maybe every once and a while y
How You Can Develop Newer, Better Systems Without Doing Any of the Work
I wish I could remember where I first learned this concept, but it’s absolutely brilliant.
When you are a solo freelancer, it’s easy to come up with systems like we talked about above.
But what if there is a better way?
When you’re at the point of hiring other freelancers, they may have a better or more up-to-date way of getting the work done.
And that’s your secret weapon to always have the best, most effective systems.
When you hire someone, give them your systems and set them up for success. But once they’ve got it down and are doing great work, give them the reins.
Once they’ve proven themselves, tell them something like:
“Hey, you’re doing great work, and I appreciate how you’re helping us. Now that you’ve shown what you can do, I want you to own your process. I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas, so if you come up with a better or more efficient way of doing your job, by all means change it. But when you do, create a video walking through each of your steps. This way, as our team expands and you get promoted, you’ll have a video you can give your employees so they can pick up where you left off.”
Building Systems in Your Business is the Shortest Path to the Life You Want
Now you know why building systems in your freelancing business is important. You know what it can do for you. But in the end, it all boils down to one thing: building systems is the shortcut to the life you want.
Systems help you get more done in less time, increasing the quality of your work, and making you a reliable partner for clients who want what you offer.
What areas of your freelancing business could be served by systems? Let me know in the comments.