It sounds so easy, “create a business process” or “a system” that will enable your firm to run more smoothly. The chances are you have suggested your clients, or other business owners you know should ensure their business is “systematized” or has better processes in place. BUT – then comes the hard bit, what does everybody mean by that simple sounding trite phrase and how should you go about it?

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today. It's time to get started on your business process.

Why use a business process approach in your firm?

If you run a small Accountancy practice and just about survived January, and said “next year it will be different”. You probably need to improve the systems you work to. Maybe you’re struggling with the amount of work you have to do, and your team seem to have it easier. Time to think about getting more business processes in place.

If you want to make your life easier and allow yourself more time to go home, grow your firm, or to make it more saleable; it’s time to consider what’s actually going on in your firm, and what should be. Understanding, or at least writing down, what really goes on in your firm can be a big step to generating extra value in it – whatever you choose to do with that value.

What is a business process?

Here’s where everybody tells you something different. Some talk about process mapping, some will talk about outsourcing, some about delegation and all these things are needed. Regardless of not being able to define the term, you have a business process in place. The problem is, if it’s not followed, or if it’s not planned – it is a bad business process. The process is the way things get done, to improve this consider how things should be done. Each process will cover an area of activity (e.g. staff induction – the way you bring in new staff)

Each process you define must be:

  • Documented. – If it exists only in your head, or the heads of your team, there will be several versions of it. Even between two partners of the same firm, it needs to be written down so you’re talking about the same thing.
  • Repeatable. – can it be done the same way, time and time again?
  • Clear. – if it’s confusing, your team will need to ask you each time they do it. Does each member of the team understand it the same way? If not, it won’t work.
  • Defined. – That probably means you use a checklist (or electronic equivalent) so that – all the team know where you/ each other are. How else can you manage the flow of work in and out from clients, suppliers etc?
  • Actively managed. – Defining how your team work and delegating responsibility does not mean you sit back. Your role is now to check it runs smoothly, monitor the outputs and quality.
  • Known by clients. – Do your clients need to know what your client management process is? YES. If you want them to send in data at the right times, they need to know when and why and what your turnaround time will be.
  • Known and understood by staff . If your staff don’t know it, they can’t do it. If they don’t understand it, and the rationale, they probably won’t do it.
  • Taught to new staff. – At the relevant point in their induction process (there’s another process) they should be learning the systems you want them to work by. They should be able to learn, by reference to your document, not just your experience and verbal instruction.
  • Fit for purpose. – Finally, you should be able to monitor it. Then you know if it’s fit for purpose or not. Fit for purpose means the amount of documentation is suited to the size of your firm, as well as the process is as efficient as it should be.

How to implement ‘systemisation’

You might start by looking at the place you already know things go wrong. Spend time to look at what really happens, ask your team what they do and consider what should happen. Then you’re into ‘change management‘ – the process for getting your team on board and helping them to develop the new habits you want them to.

You might think about process mapping (click here to read the article) across your firm. Start your mapping at a high level and get an overall picture of your processes. These might be as simple as:

  1. CREATE NEW CLIENTS
  2. COMPLETE WORK FOR CLIENTS (including managing clients, doing the job, billing the client, checking the work)
  3. GET MONEY FROM CLIENTS
  4. REVIEW CLIENT PROFITABILITY

Each of these 4 areas may then have a few areas in them and maybe some more below that.

Keep it simple, choose a small area to start (e.g. client onboarding), write down what should happen, how you will manage it, and JFDI (just flipping do it). You may like to read “9 tips for improving business processes in your small firm”

What will you do to think about improving the process your business runs by, and allowing yourself to manage your firm more easily?

Written by Jon Baker The 5-50 Coach. I help professionals grow their firms from 5 to 50 employees, sustainably, profitably and still have fun. Have you got your "next step kitbag yet"? It's stuffed with guides, reports & templates helping you grow from 5 to 50 employees Click here for immediate access. This post last updated: