When I started my design business I was so sure that my creativity was enough to build a successful business. I actually didn’t know the first thing about how to organize a business. I was managing to keep things moving but didn’t realize how drastically the wheels were coming off the bus UNTIL…
It was Sunday evening and my kids were young. We were at home getting ready for the week ahead when there was a knock at the door. My husband answered and I could hear a woman’s voice asking for me but couldn’t quite put a face to the voice.
I was more than surprised to walk to the door and find one of my clients standing there. On a Sunday night! At my front door!
I don’t even remember what she was asking for but it was a piece of documentation that the builder wanted. It was ridiculous that she showed up at my house instead of waiting until Monday morning and calling me but I learned an important lesson that day – if you’re not a step ahead of everything someone might come knocking on your door.
That was such an embarrassing and uncomfortable situation for me that I decided that night to change the way I ran my business. I did a deep dive into all things operations, processes and systems. And over the next year or 2 I implemented everything I learned.
Eventually, I had a business that ran like a well-oiled machine. And I’m glad to report that I never had another client knock on my door!
THE SIMPLE STEPS TO ORGANIZE YOUR BUSINESS
Here are the simplest steps you can take in your business today to start creating organization. And if you’re short on time just commit to doing something small every week or month until eventually you feel like you’re seeing the changes impact your business.
1. WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING YOU DO
I know, boring! It’s necessary though so hang in there with me. Documenting what you do right now is the cornerstone to figuring out and implementing an A+ practice. It’ll take some work on your part to really understand your own process. You may want to keep your notebook close by over the next month as opposed to trying to write everything down in one sitting.
Clients tell me all the time that they don’t have a process or a workflow. You may not think of it in those terms but you do have one. What do you do with each new client during each stage? That’s your process. And if it varies slightly because you’re doing everything from scratch, write down all the variations.
Start by looking at your stages – inquiry, onboarding, design implementation and offboarding. Write down every step you take during each of these stages.
For instance, your onboarding stage may be written down like this:
- Consultation with client
- Send Proposal
- Client signs the contract
- Do a site visit to measure and photograph
- Send welcome email
2. LOOK FOR GAPS IN YOUR PROCESS
This is where you can start to examine your process and find some glaring and some subtle gaps. You want to be able to look over your steps and realize ways to optimize. Ask yourself where things have gone wrong and what was missing? That will be your most valuable insight into what needs to improve.
Let’s use the example above of the onboarding stage. The basics are definitely being covered but there are pieces missing. If I were working with the designer that created this I’d say it’s a C+ process. There are a few puzzle pieces that could be added to improve this process and turn it into an A+ process.
- After the consultation send an email thanking the client for their time.
- Send a follow-up email after 3 days if you haven’t heard back from the client.
- Send an email with a zoom link for the Proposal presentation.
- Discuss company policies and present your SOPs (standard operating procedures).
- Send a questionnaire if it hasn’t been sent already.
- Use a checklist for the site visit to save time.
This is just an example of the types of steps that you’re likely already doing but you may not be documenting.
It’s important because if it’s not documented and automated you’re wasting time reinventing the wheel. You’re likely spending hours rewriting emails when a templated systems of emails would cut down on these hours.
3. IMPLEMENT TEMPLATES & AUTOMATION
These 2 things combined will put your business into a different category of organized. Not everyone has the time or the money to be able to implement all these changes at one time. If that’s the case for you start with templates first.
This simple change alone will create more time and a whole lot less stress in your business. The way I like to decide whether something needs a template is to ask whether this is a repeatable step. You may not even realize just how much can be templated.
A good example of this is the client presentation. If you start every new client presentation from scratch you’re wasting too much time. Create a template that includes pages for materials, design concept, 3D renders and elevations. It will be branded with all your company colours, logo, etc. Now when you’re ready to create a new presentation you just duplicate your template and drop all the various pieces into their correct place.
Automation is often more expensive and time consuming so you may add it to your wish list for the future. Some of the bigger automation implementations you want are your onboarding and offboarding process (Dubsado) and how you communicate with clients (CRMs like Clickup, Mydoma, Design Files, etc).
Some of the less expensive (even free) tools you can use right away are calendar scheduling so clients can book their own calls and cut down on the back and forth emails (Acuity Scheduling and Calendly) and creating project folder templates in Dropbox or Google Drive to keep your projects uber organized.
4. TEST AND REVISE CONSTANTLY
Once you’ve implemented some of these changes you want to be sure that you schedule some time into your calendar (once a month to start). Go through the changes you’ve made. Are they helping? If they are, great but if not look for ways to improve them even more. The practice of having a great business with solid processes is something you’ll work on forever.
And the hardest part of all of this is in taking action! It does nothing for you to know what needs to be done and still not do it. You have to be so committed to your business that this is a no-brainer. You’ll have to start to carve out time either in the evening or weekend initially. Over time, you’ll start to see that the changes are saving you time and you can book 1/2 day a week to work on the business practices.
Happy organizing! If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of creating your own templates, visit the template shop instead.