Processes: Why, what [and how] (part 1)

How putting your processes down on paper can save you time, energy and money.

Processes: Why, what [and how] (part 1)

In case you're new here, ๐Ÿ‘‹๐Ÿผ hello ๐Ÿ‘‹๐Ÿผ I'm Meri and I'm a process nerd.

Over the last few years I've noticed that small teams, startups and sole founders are a bit allergic to writing down their repeat processes (actually so are loads of big companies I've worked for). I am a firm believer that any repeatable task should have a process. Although this is based on personal experience, digging in a bit deeper to research this post, there are actually two key reasons:

It helps us psychologically.

We have a specific amount of 'decision-making energy' every day. Waste too much of it on re-deciding things that you've done before, and you won't have enough left for the truly important stuff.

If you are someone who suffers from overwhelm (which let's face it, is super common among founders and business owners) then this is especially important. The more decisions you make in a day, the harder it gets.

So when you put it like this, it seems pretty common-sensical to try and reduce the amount of decisions we make that could have been made already, right?

It helps us to analyse and scale.

This is true even if you're a sole founder. No business can scale past a certain point without consistent processes, and one of the major traps I see small teams fall into is creating them but keeping it all in one or two people's heads. This is just all around unhelpful.

If you have simple documentation that everyone can access, it means that:

a) decision making is faster for simple repeat tasks, freeing up brain time for more interesting work

b) if everyone knows the process they can all be held accountable to it (especially useful as you get more people involved)

c) as it's written down, it can be evaluated and periodically iterated upon

I should note that this is what process can do in theory. However, it's not a silver bullet, because when processes are implemented badly, they can actually cause more inefficiencies than they solve.

Here is the important caveat: Processes only work well when everyone is committed to following them. You must all be accountable to the documented system, and one person must have ultimate responsibility for deciding what is and is not a part of the company 'way' to do something. This sounds overly hierarchical, but you can imagine the chaos that happens if anyone can change any process whenever they like.

So what the heck is documenting process, how do you do it, where should you keep it and what do you do with it once it's documented?

What is a process?

The way I define it is pretty straightforward:

A step-by-step list to achieve a specific task that can be repeated.

Essentially, you're making a checklist. It should be simple enough that you can give it to someone else and they can follow it with minimal explanation required.

Here is one of my own processes as an example:

A screenshot showing a 5-step list including 2 'shortcuts' for standard responses.

Five steps, two canned responses, with a little flexibility where required. "Research" is deliberately left very vague as each person has their own preferences there.

TIP: If you're a Mac user and aren't using keyboard shortcuts to input chunks of text you use often, it's a gamechanger!

How do I get started?

Map your key business areas

Of course, everyone is different and you may well have some other areas, but these are the base fields that all businesses need to have at some level in order to function, listed in no particular order.

1. Production: Actually making / providing whatever it is you sell

2. Marketing / New Business / Sales / Customer Service: Anything and everything related to getting new customers through the door, and managing the ones you have

3. Finance: Money stuff

4. Operations: Keeping the lights on and other admin things not related to finance

5. HR: Everything to do with your people. Even if you're a sole founder, don't overlook this one!

Ok, so now you have a list of key areas you can start jotting down the major processes that go with each one. Don't worry at this stage about whether they're right or not, and you'll probably find a few that don't exist yet but should.

TIP: If you're struggling to do this all at once, just dedicate some brain space for a week or two noting the processes you use down as you use them. I find this also creates much more accurate maps of how the process actually works.

For example, I work with an external accountant but I do all my daily finance records (bookkeeping) myself. So, I have a simple checklist to make sure that I've saved receipts and invoices from things I've ordered in the right place, and a process to reconcile them with my business bank account once a week.

What the finance reconciliation process looked like as I was jotting it down

The final version in notion is very similar to my initial map, just split into what I do every time I buy anything, and the more involved weekly reconciliation process. I don't have to refer to the 'every purchase' section really, but it's useful to have the reconciliation piece and be able to look at that whole process to see if I can make it better. You can also see how easy it would be to hand this task over to someone else as and when required.

What the current process looks like in Notion

Where should I keep them?

How you initially capture things doesn't really matter, but once you've got your processes outlined, you need to make sure they are ACCESSIBLE to everyone.

This doesn't necessarily mean everyone should have access to every process outline (although in my experience that's not really a problem as you're only sharing the process not the actual information). Find a way to put them somewhere centrally so that anyone working with you has the appropriate permissions to access what they need to reference.

In my case, that's a Notion page. But it could be an intranet, or a well-organised shared folder on your local computer network. However you do it, make sure that everyone knows where it is and how to find what they need.

Come back next week when we'll go into what to do once you've documented your processes and how this can help your team as it moves forward!

I hope this helps you start centralising your processes so you can get them out of your brain and laid out so they're more useful in future. If you need help getting started or would just like a chat about which processes are important for your business right now, get in touch and let's see if I can help!