This pillar is all about making sure the work of the business gets done!
Why is this a foundational pillar of business success? Well, if you do not deliver on your customers' expectations, they will not be customers for long and your business will be in trouble.
It might sound obvious that you have to deliver on your product or services, but sometimes a self-employed person wears so many hats, this actually becomes a challenge.
Many people start a business because they know how to do the work of the business. Sometimes it is their field of education. Sometimes they have been working for someone else and see an opportunity to do it for themselves.
Knowing how to do the work is usually the area most self-employed people know how to do best. However, to be efficient, particularly as your business grows, you need systems that everyone follows. As Michael Gerber says: "the system is the solution".
You may be very good at marketing and sales, and have plenty of orders. But that brings the problem of meeting customer expectations such as quality of product, timeliness of delivery, customer support and so on.
Business Fulfillment is All About Meeting Customer Expectations
Business Fulfillment begins with the customer placing an order. Customers expect that you are going to deliver exactly what they are expecting, in the time frame that they are expecting.
In fact, the rule of thumb for success in this area is to make sure you ‘over deliver’ on their expectations.
For a manufacturing business, 'product fulfillment' encompasses manufacturing your product, quality control, warehousing, and assembly. It also includes delivering the product and handling returns.
For a business that on-sells products sourced from elsewhere, the manufacturing and assembly of the products may not apply. However, storage may still be needed and, of course, quality control.
For businesses that provide a service such as an accountant, lawyer, or cleaner will be different again.
A service is really an intangible product. You will not have manufacturing, assembly or warehousing but you will still have a quality control element. Of course, you will still have to at least meet your customer's expectations and delivery of your service in a timely manner.
The fact is that fulfillment applies to your business regardless of your business size.
You may have 100 employees in your business and require a product manager or it could be that you are the only employee. You still have to deliver on the product or service you are selling.
Why Business Systemization Matters for Self-Employed Business Owners
You should continually look at how you can systemize and automate as many aspects of your business as possible to not only improve your workflow but also attend to the other important aspects of business such as marketing and sales, admin and finance etc.
Obviously this is important when you have employees and you want to keep them on the same page to provide a reliable, consistent performance, but how does this apply when you are a single operator?
Even when you have a single person business and your product or service is really simple, it's important to appreciate that business systemization is still important for you. The fact is that, even if you don’t realise it, everything you do is based on systems.
Documented systems will help you operate more effectively. This is even more critical when there is just one of you as the only way to make more money, grow your business, increase sales, and have a balance between life and business is to work faster and better. And when you get overwhelmed and need to bring someone in to help you, your documented systems will be invaluable.
This Is How We Do It HERE!
As we have already said, Product Delivery is about doing the work of the business. The actual processes will vary for different types of business. But every business will have processes for doing the actual work.
Consequently, all businesses, large and small, need standard operating procedures (SOPs) to codify their business processes.
Even when you are a small business of one and don't have employees that need to be kept on the same page, it's still good to have SOPs in place. SOPs will increase your efficiency and make your business more established and legitimate.
Here are a number of reasons your one-person business can benefit from SOPs.
- Standard procedures help you get the work done in an organized and efficient way.
- SOPs ensure a standard level of quality for your services.
- With SOPs, the sales process is smoother, with all your clients and customers treated equally.
- When you find yourself ready to hire employees or outsource, your procedures are already outlined for them.
All of these benefits lead to a more sustainable and profitable business.
What are SOPs?
Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are written instructions that outline and standardize procedures within your business.
In more common language, SOPs are ‘how-to's’ that cover every aspect of your business.
For example, a manufacturing company will have step-by-step manuals for running its machines. Businesses have customer service guides that outline how to deal with customer complaints. Tech companies have troubleshooting guides for when their systems don't work.
An SOP can be anything from a detailed written manual with diagrams to a simple picture that shows where a specific item goes in a warehouse.
However, every business is a little different and has its own way of doing things. That’s why we like to call our SOP Manual ‘This is How We Do It HERE!’
When someone comes into your business from elsewhere, they are often conditioned to do it the way they have previously. Having these documented systems and policies keeps consistency in your business. It also gives you a great tool to manage performance.
Writing Your SOPs
Standard Operating Procedures do not necessarily need to be highly detailed formal documents. Create simple documents that describe your business's essential processes. When it comes time to outsource or hire others, touch up these documents, adding detail and making sure they're clear and accurate. Remember that documents that make sense to you may not make sense to others.
Here is a basic template for writing SOPs...
- Introduction and Overview: What is the task? What is its goal? What access or tools are required to complete the task?
- Procedure: Detailed steps to complete the process.
- Administrative Information: Who is responsible for reviewing and updating this SOP? When was it last reviewed and updated?
It's a good idea to add a Frequently Asked Questions section as well in case the SOP hasn't explained every question on the reader's mind.
It's often a good idea to add other formats to the text. A few good formats include:
- Graphic Images: Graphic images always help to explain the text more clearly by providing an illustration.
- Flowcharts: Flowcharts are especially good for complex tasks that require many decisions or troubleshooting.
- Checklists: Checklists ensure you are working in the most effective way possible and prevent complacency from leading to mistakes.
- Videos: You can easily make videos of a physical process using a smartphone and create videos of computer processes using a program like 'Camtasia'. Your team members can follow your videos in the same way that people follow processes on YouTube.
Format and Accessibility
Your ‘This is How We Do It Here’ manual is a tool that you need to be easily accessible and usable.
You can format your SOPs into a printed manual, an electronic manual such as a PDF (or series of PDFs) that everyone can access while your working documents are kept separate, or online documents such as an internal website. In my previous business, we created and kept all our standard operating procedures on a website using Google Sites.
If you use a printed manual, it is a good idea to organize your SOPs using a visual index system. For example, use different colored folders for different task categories or departments. The easier you make them to find and use, the more likely they are to be used.
In conclusion, your goal should be more than having satisfied customers. Your aim should be to delight them! They will come back more often, recommend you to others and your business will grow.
Let's move on to the next pillar: Administration and Finance.
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