Startup Advice: How to build systems so that you can scale

by Jun Loayza on July 28, 2009

For the past 3 weeks, I have been coming home tired, hungry, and in a bad mood.  Sure I love the work that I’m SUPPOSED to do, but that’s not what I’m doing at work.  I literally spent ALL day last Friday building proposals and agreements for potential clients.

You might say, “Hey, that’s a good thing because if you’re closing deals, then that means more money for you and your company.”  The thing is that I have been spending so much time on these proposals that it greatly limits my time to build a quality team, brand the company, and build systems and processes for my team.

I was reminded of The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss where he writes that he was working 18 hour days trying to manage all of his clients.  When he stepped back, analyzed his company, and applied the 80/20 rule, he realized that 20% of his clients were producing 80% of the revenue.  Furthermore, by giving his customer service team more responsibility and the ability to handle any problems under $100, it freed him up from having to deal with all of their problems. (Yes, I have the entire Four Hour Work Week book memorized in my head :P)

[showmyads]

So I decided to take a step back this weekend, analyze SocialMediaMarketing.com, and completely focus on building a system/process that would allow me to focus on the things that I love to do and that I’m great at.

I ended up building a completely dynamic set of proposals and agreements that the sales team can use to complete the documents themselves.  I spent a good 8 hours building it over the weekend, but man am I glad I did it.  After the entire experience and teaching some of the sales people how to use it today, this is what I’ve learned about systems and how you can apply it to your startup:

1. The beauty is in the details

Everyone falls victim to the curse of knowledge.  This is when you’re so knowledgeable about a subject or task that you completely overlook and forget what it’s like to be a novice on the subject.  What ends up happening is the following:

1. I tell my manager to research personal finance bloggers in the United States and compile a list of people we should be building relationships with.

2. My manager tells our intern to do research on personal finance bloggers in the United States and create an excel document for them

3. My manager overlooks the fact that the intern has no idea how to research bloggers.  The intern ends up spending a day on figuring out how to research bloggers, which means we ultimately lose a day because the manager was not specific with his instructions.

The solution: Use tools like Jing to create specific video tutorials that will show your team the exact processes and steps that need to be taken to effectively complete a task.  Furthermore, before you assign a task or project, try to remember what it was like when you had absolutely no idea how to complete the project.  This will help you train your team member in the best way possible.

2. A home for your systems

When you’re a startup, you’re so small and you hire so few people that you don’t take the time to document everything that you do.  What ends up happening is that people will ask you how to do the simplest things, and you’ll have to go through your Gmail account to try and find out how to do that one simple task.  Here is a great example:

We recently made some changes in our database for Viralogy.  Because of the changes, I was no longer able to log into the FTP account nor create email accounts that were needed.  I had to ask our CTO about how to access these things and he had to take the time to teach me.  I finally understood how everything worked which is great, but then another person on the team needed to access the same information.  I therefore had to take the time to teach him how to do it.  Needless to say, teaching the same thing over and over is highly ineffective.

The solution: Use the free version of PBWorks as a hub for all of your company processes.  It has a slightly steep learning curve, but once you learn how to use it effectively, your team will greatly benefit and the time you spend training your team members how to do something greatly diminishes.  Here is why I use it:

  • The free version is way more than enough for a startup.  I use the paid version for SocialMediaMarketing.com because we have a bigger team and more clients
  • You are able to create multiple PBWorks spaces with just one account.  I have a personal, Viralogy, and smmdotcom account
  • It’s better than Google Docs (the platform we used to use).  In Google Docs, you have to constantly share your documents with your teammates and the documents tend to get lost with all of the other jumbled documents in your Google Docs.  With PBWorks, I know that every page I create is seen by default by all of my team members.  I can also categorize my pages and documents into folders so that it stays uber organized.

3. Take the time to get to know your team

This is by far the most important out of the three points in this post:

It’s not about having great people on the bus, it’s about having great people in the right seats of the bus.

We have an outsourced person who didn’t really seem to be getting along with the rest of the team.  It seemed like he was doing work a lot slower than the other people on the team, and his work was always sub-par.  Before we sent him packing on his way, the company put him under my management for one final chance.

I assigned him some projects and he seemed to be doing some good work, until he made a minor blunder.  I was pretty disappointed, and I understood why the rest of the company was pretty frustrated with him.  I saw him on Gchat and decided to give him a chat:

Hey Bud, how’s it going?

Bud: Oh, it’s going ok.  How are you?

I’m doing amazing!  How can I get you to have an amazing day as well?

Bud: What do you mean?

Well, what kind of work would make you the happiest?  I want to be able to put you on those type of projects

Bud: I don’t think it works that way.  You just let me know what needs to be done and I go ahead and do it.

Nonsense!  Now tell me, what do you love to do?

Bud: Well, I love designing and building websites…

What!?!?  I had no idea you could do that!  Well, I have a project that I know you’ll love…

And just like that, his effectiveness and happiness increased by at least 100%.

Lesson learned: When I was given Bud, I had absolutely no idea what he liked to do or what he was good at – I just put him to work.  Truly taking the time to understand his skill set was not only beneficial for him, but ultimately the company benefits with a productive and happy person on the team.  Take the time to get to know your teammates and really understand what they’re good at and what they love to do.  A happy team member means a scalable company.

Startups of the world.  Just because you’re small, it doesn’t mean that you should forgo documenting all of your systems and processes.  Start now at the beginning so that when you grow, you will be able to scale the right way!

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  • http://www.rikinontheweb.com Rikin

    I REALLY can’t believe that you went up to someone and asked, “How can I get you to have an amazing day as well?”

    • http://Viralogy.com Jun Loayza

      Really, how come?

      We love having that type of company culture at Viralogy, so it’s only natural for me to bring it over to smmdotcom.

      If a person is working for you but he’s not happy with what he’s doing, then he’s going to end up doing mediocre work at best.

      Same thing with giving people a raise. I prefer to give them a raise when they’re doing good work, rather than when they threaten to leave. That just makes a person feel like the only way to get noticed in the company is to threaten to leave the company entirely.

      So yes, I really did ask him that verbatim.

      :D

  • http://yukaichou.com Yu-kai Chou

    Jun says that to me all the time!

    Great post ;)

  • http://www.bronsonharrington.com Bronson Harrington

    Thanks for a great blog post, some sterling advice and a funny story with a fantastic message. A very enjoyable read.

    I must remember to try that “How can I get you to have an amazing day as well?” line tomorrow, I know it’s going to floor someone. ;)

    I don’t remember where it was, but I heard the very same words leave another uber entrepreneurs mouth long ago and it stuck with me – get the formula right first, then scale up.

    • http://Viralogy.com Jun Loayza

      Hey Bronson,

      Yea, let me know what the person says when you ask her that. Should be a fun experience!

      Yup, you have to have a strong base before you can grow. Woohoo! for startup life

  • http://healthmoneysuccess.com Vincent

    Hey Jun,

    I had picked up some great knowledge over here. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

    Cheers,
    Vincent

    • http://Viralogy.com Jun Loayza

      Thanks for stopping by Vincent.

      Glad I could contribute some of my knowledge :D

  • http://www.thebigdreamer.com Mark Foo | TheBigDreamer.com

    I love to learn about the nuts and bolts of building a business system. A great system is what enabled McDonald’s to become the world’s No. 1 restaurant chain. Great post, Jun! I hope you’ll post more on what you’ve learnt about building a system. I think this is an area many entrepreneurs and small business owners have missed.

    Cheers~

    Mark

    • http://Viralogy.com Jun Loayza

      I agree. It’s an area that is easily overlooked but is super important in building a startup. I will definitely write more about this

  • http://www.anthonyliang.com Anthony Liang

    Great article :) I don’t remember how I stumbled onto your site but reading through this post I realized that’s exactly how I look at things. There have been countless times where I could have just made a simple video or email instead of explaining it to 1 person, and then another person needs the information. I haven’t tried PBWorks or Jing yet, but I’ll definitely check it out. Have you looked at Thymer.com or Acrobat.com?

    I always find it funny when people are surprised when I ask them what THEY like to do. Some people still feel like they have to be unhappy when they first start working, but it’s not like that anymore. I want everyone I work with to be happy, it only makes sense if you want to produce the best work. Of course there’s always those little tasks that need to be done, but being happy at the end of the day is what matters most.

    • http://Viralogy.com Jun Loayza

      I agree. There are always “those tasks”, but if your company culture is fun and exciting, then people will love their work because they love the team.

      I haven’t tried those other sites. I’ll go ahead and check them out. Thanks!

  • BookEmDano

    Can you give us more info on smmdotcom. How many employees are part of you team, what types of clients are you looking for, what services will you offer, etc etc. Might be another post; this was a good read.

    • http://Viralogy.com Jun Loayza

      Sure thing:

      1. My team is currently 10 people strong
      2. We are looking for enterprise companies who are looking to build a social media presence online
      3. We help companies build a fan base that will evangelize them online

      I could possibly make it a bigger post later on.

  • http://gracegoesthrulife.blogspot.com Grace

    I’ve worked with three virtual companies and no one has EVER had any instructional material. For my current position, I was trained over the phone by the person who was leaving (and moving out of the country). So I took notes like crazy and put together step-by-step instructions (with printscreens) on what needed to be done. This way if I’m ever totally unavailable, someone can step up and do what needs to be done. You know?

    • http://Viralogy.com Jun Loayza

      Wow, that’s awesome Grace!

      That’s exactly what everyone SHOULD be doing in their position. Try using Jing with printscreens. It makes learning very easy

  • http://www.jetsetcitizen.com John Bardos – JetSetCitizen

    Great advice again Jun.

    Many small business people keep everything in their heads. That works fine when you have few customers and no employees but is bound to explode with even a small amount of growth.

    Document everything that you are going to do more than once. Do it even for simple things, like re-sizing images you use on your website. It may seem simple now, but if you don’t do the work for many months you will probably have to re-learn it all over again.

    Documenting the process the first time takes marginally longer, but it will save you a lot of hassles the second time around. Plus you will already have the instructions should you need to hand off the work to someone else.

    Google Docs is great when you only have a few projects and limited contacts. However, when you start managing a dozen or more on-going projects, employees, outsourced workers and hundreds of contacts, a more robust application is needed.

    A lot of people recommend the suite of products, but I use because everything is all integrated, rather than using several different applications.

    I will definitely give PBWorks a try though. I have been looking for a Wiki.

    • http://Viralogy.com Jun Loayza

      Thanks for the comment John. It’s really great to hear from you.

      I’ll check out the applications you recommend. I’ve had nothing but great experiences with PBWorks.

      Get the paid version! Only $20/month!

  • http://www.olinaqian.com olina

    Great blogpost! Lots of great points that we can learn to build up a system. Thanks for sharing! :)

  • http://www.heathero.com HeatherO

    Super post! Well thought out and inspiring to a creative type who often struggles with her own “tennis match” between being highly creative & wanting few boundaries, and craving structured systems & less time wasted on minutia!
    .

  • http://www.salambc.com Khalil Aleker

    You make me cry every time I read your blog posts :)

  • http://www.richestmanintown.com mei

    Can’t state enough how important the entrepreneurial spirit is.

    Curious if anyone has caught this book yet? “The Richest Man in Town” by W Randall Jones. I’ve read half of it so far and let me tell you it is well worth it. Would like to hear what everyone else thought of it?

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0446537837?ie=UTF8&tag=richestmanint-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0446537837

  • http://www.opheliaswebb.com Elisa

    One of the biggest dangers of start-up life is everyone running on all cylinders in different directions trying to get things done. When you are small and starting no one can ever be working “too much” or “too hard.” That being said, when one of those people is unavailable or worse (gone,) then you end up now running twice as hard and much in different directions trying to figure out what the heck they did/do.

    Kudos to you for streamlining that craziness and trying to get some solid systems in place!

  • http://www.havemybook.com Jerico Landingin

    damn…great post Jun!

    U hit me at the spot.

    I am working on my first startup – havemybook.com.

    We’re a group of three. I will for sure look at the and PBworks. It might make my life easier.

  • http://celestinechua.com Celes | The Personal Excellence Blog

    Hey Jun, extremely helpful post – you hit critical points here! I’ll like to add that having one central document that houses the company’s vision, strategy, goals, etc is extremely helpful in keeping everyone on the same page. Everyone should have instant ready access to the latest version of the document. That’s what I’m doing in my start-up (I’m starting a personal development school called The School of Personal Excellence). Thanks a lot Jun!

  • Ashwin

    It was worth reading ur post, got to know new things like jing and pb works

    thanks

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    Thank you for some other magnificent article. Where else may just anyone get that type of information in such a perfect method of writing? Ive a presentation next week, and Im on the look for such information.

  • gerald

    am impressed, actively using the 80/20 rule

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