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The Importance of Systems and Processes in a Small Business

Published 26 July, 2021
Emily Banks
Written by Emily Banks

Recently on our podcast, “In Systems We Trust”, we had the opportunity to interview Sarah Stockdale. She’s the founder and CEO of Growclass, an online growth marketing training company. Sarah has been working with early-stage startups for the last 12 years, with her original company being sold to HR Block. This experience has made her an expert at building up systems and processes in a small business.

So, we had to ask: what’s the importance of systems and processes in a small business?



Why do small businesses need systems and processes?

When you start a small business, at first you might think everything is bliss. You get to set your hours, choose what you want to do, and you’re the boss. It sounds great. But, then you have to think of all the little things, like payroll. I don’t know of many small business owners who wake up excited about payroll...but it still has to get done. Before you know it, tasks like payroll will start to take up more time and attention than the owner ever wanted.

When your team is small, it might not be too big of a deal. As Sarah mentions, she had one employee at the beginning who would think the same way as she did. But as the business grew, Sarah realized that they needed to implement certain systems to eliminate a lot of the troubles they were experiencing. 

As more employees are added to a business, communication and deadlines can get more muddled. Then, add in payroll, daily business items, taxes and more and you’re suddenly in over your head. That’s why it’s so important to start early and build systems that can grow with you.

Systems and processes eliminate work about work.

One of the biggest struggles small businesses have is work about work. This concept has been thoroughly researched by Asana, and it involves all the things behind the scenes that keep a business running. CEOs don’t have every skill available to humans. Eventually, you’ll have to hire someone new, and when you do, you can’t expect them to be successful without your help. But, does that mean you have to constantly email them, double-check work, manage payroll, and ensure your team is moving towards their goals 24/7? No! Simply managing your team is a full-time role, and you have your own work to accomplish. 

Sarah recommends using Slack for communication with your team members, and Asana for all due dates and goals. In the episode, she brought up a great example she experienced in her business, Growclass. When you sign up for Growclass, you receive a series of emails. Imagine if Sarah had to send out every single email about classes and pricing etc. It would be time-consuming and not a great return on investment for her as the CEO, or even for her employees. Instead, she’s added software to implement her email marketing strategy for her, eliminating her work.

When small businesses start out, ruthlessly eliminating work about work is imperative. The sooner you do it, the better.

Don’t think of processes from a competition standpoint.

Many CEOs are under the impression that if they share too much information with the people they hire, they are creating their competition. Little do they realize, that in the process of trying to avoid competition they are actually breeding the culture right before their eyes. 

Sarah explained this with an example from when she was working at a startup. She went to her boss and complained about someone not doing their work. Her boss told her to help this person. Sarah’s first thought was, “Why? I want the promotion, so why should I help him?” This is a valid thought, but it’s also selfish (and exists much more than we think). A culture that values individual growth with company success means when everyone succeeds, the individual does too. 

A valuable CEO knows that they don’t know. Understanding their own limitations will only empower the team that they’ve hired. However, building systems and processes that eliminate the silos of knowledge in your organization will be vital. Sharing information and the way you’ve built company success is more likely to retain your top talent than tempt them into taking it and building your competitor.

How to create systems and processes in your small business. 

The earlier you start documenting your processes within your small business, the better. The longer you wait to do it, the more time-consuming and hard it is to start. Sarah talks about this and referred to when she spent an entire week combing through her Google Drive to make it more conducive to the business. When you don’t document everything, every employee you hire takes twice as long to onboard. You do your best to explain everything you do, and how you do it, but even then if an employee has a question weeks down the line, there is nothing to direct them to so they can find the answer. 

If you’re just starting out, it’s important to start documenting processes immediately. This might be something simple, like a Google doc with everything you currently do throughout the day. Or, you might start writing down simple things - like how to send an introductory email to a customer. While this might take a bit more time originally, it does help you out in the long run. 

In our podcast episode with Sarah, we discuss this in detail much more. She explains how to create processes, what systems they use at Growclass, and how best to interact with your team. 

Check out the episode with Sarah Stockdale here:


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Topics: Systems and Processes Podcast