Change Catalyst with Shanna Mann: Strategy & Support for Sane Self-Employment

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Week 1 – Solving Common Problems

The Cumulative Effects Challenge is meant to solve several of the problems bonsai business owners have with working on their businesses instead of unrelentingly at it.

The first problem is overwhelm. Like all the things we ought to be doing, figuring out where exactly to fit it in and how to structure it leaves us with more questions than answers.

The second problem is that when you tell people you’re going to help them find time to improve their systems, they’ll tell you they don’t have systems.

Yes, you have systems

I’ve worked with many solopreneurs, and almost everyone has systems. You probably could not go through life without a systems– things would fall through the cracks constantly and no one would ever want to work with you. But people do not think of them as systems. And because they don’t think of them as systems, those systems are run inefficiently.

What people usually mean is that their systems are not codified. They are not written down. They are not thought through. But whenever I ask someone to walk me through the steps of how they do something or the other, they can nearly always tell me.

And that, my friend, is a system.

A system does not have to be good to be a system. It does not have to be effective. It does not have to be complete. What I want you to understand about systems, are that they are a series of steps or pieces moving in interconnected way.

You can think of this like middle school biology. Remember when you learned the web of life?

At the bottom there was the sun. The sun grew grass. The grass is eaten by rabbits. The rabbits were eaten by hawks. And so on. The grass fed a multitude of other creatures of course, and so did the rabbits. The hawks are not always the apex predator, and of course when they died eventually they fed the grass as well. There is a simplistic way to look at the web of life, where it has no branches and no weird complications. But the more you look at the web of life, the more you see links within loops. And of course the harder it is to map it out!

The same is true of the systems in your business.

Most of the time, when we talk business, we have a really simplistic structure. You make a thing, you sell a thing. If you want to get a little bit more complicated, you have your service, you market it, you draw potential buyers through a sales funnel until they buy.

So that was a complicated system. The next step is to realize that each of those steps contains a system as well. How you create and deliver your service; that’s a system. How you market your service; that’s a system. The sales funnel! Full of systems!

Before you start freaking out, just remember that just because a system is complicated doesn’t mean it’s hard. The only reason they are so complicated is because they’re hard to diagram. They’re hard to visualize; or at least it’s hard to visualize all the parts in all of their complexity at once. That’s just a limitation of human working memory.

But they’re not complicated to create. They are not complicated to improve. Things start to become complicated when you try to get multiple systems working in sync with each other. But it’s not like balance-the-federal-budget complicated. More like building 1000-piece puzzle complicated. It’s time-consuming, and a little bit finicky, but it’s not rocket science.

It’s not balance-the-federal-budget complicated. More like building 1000-piece puzzle complicated. It’s time-consuming, and a little bit finicky, but it’s not rocket science.

The third most common feedback I got was that some people just wanted me to tell them what to do. Other people were content to figure things out on their own and tackle their own 1% improvements, but about 60% of people wanted me to give them a specific task to add to their to do list.

So here’s my compromise: Stream A is for the people who want a specific task. Stream B is for the independent learners.

Stream A

I want you to map out the system in your business. Depending on how nuanced your understanding of your business systems is, you can do the whole business, or just one specific branch of business. Remember, we don’t want to spend more than 30 minutes or so on this project, so this isn’t a term paper or anything. Just pretend I asked you, “What are all the steps involved in becoming your customer? How would I hear about you? How would I decide to do business with you?” List all the steps in as much detail as you can. Before very long, you’ll start thinking things like “and here’s where I’d add an upsell” If you color-code your system between the existing steps and the potential steps, you’re creating a visual diagram of the places where you’re planning improvements on the basic macro-system of your business.

You don’t have to take action on these. What you’re practicing is that act of mapping out the system and visualizing ways it can be improved. Once you develop the knack, many aspects of business will get much easier for you.

Stream B

You probably have a sense of which parts of your business or suffering from ineffective or incomplete systems. So for this week’s challenge, pick the system that’s bugging you the most. Map it out, and if possible implement the quicker, easier improvements a pop out a you.

Remember, systems are usually inefficient simply because we’ve never taken a look at what they are. They just grew that way. So merely by looking at them, mapping them out, you’ll probably see several ways they can be improved.

If you see any low-hanging fruit, grasp it. And keep in mind, that if you create an efficiency, you get the benefit of that efficiency for a long time. So when you’re calculating how much time an improvement will take, make sure to balance it against the amount of time the improvement will save you in a year. This will give you a better sense of the priority it should be accorded.

By charting your systems, you gain a powerful weapon against overwhelm. The two streams allow you to simply “be told what to do” if it’s all too much right now, but hopefully as time goes on, you’ll feel empowered to tackle things without prompting.

Slow and steady wins the race here.

Don’t forget to pop into the CEC Facebook Group for discussion and encouragement.

Until next week,