Clients have asked me lately how to quit the hamster wheel of overwhelm. And I get it, we’re supposed to make time for exercise, meditating, journaling, eating healthy, taking care of life and family, walk the dogs and that’s all before you’ve had time to work ON your business.

You want to move your business closer to your goals, feel like a proactive business owner instead of always in reactive business operator mode. You want to enjoy your business but sometimes it feels like you own a job.

The big shift isn’t going to be sexy. It’s not going to be glamorous. It’s not going to be a silver bullet either. Putting in place the mechanisms to creating systems and making continuous incremental improvements needs to bump up to the top of your list of priorities.

Systems are for all businesses

Whether you’re a small company that’s just you, or there’s a few of you up to a company with departments and teams, systems are for you. It’s not just for McDonald's and big corporates, they are essential to any business. I read a Forbes article recently and it quoted that systems can save up to two hours in your working day. That’s 10 hours per week or on average, 43 hours per month. Just imagine what it would feel like to recoup that much time in your business.

You might not yet be sold. To start with a system isn’t something complex. I always say that if there’s something that you do more than once, document it and now there’s a process. You’ve heard the phrase “standard operating procedures” or SOPs. It’s the same thing and by starting small and starting early, your business will be set up to scale.

Systems can become an asset in your business

If you are in a competitive market let’s say that you’re a creative agency or web agency, it’s very difficult to make your business saleable without having some serious IP. Systems for getting clients on-demand, systems for always delivering to clients make your business more desirable.

Systems scale

In any service-based business, especially a creative or digital agency, you sell your time. Your ability to make things efficient so your team can focus on billable work will put fat on your bottom line. Productivity, saving time, and delivering with more consistency are powerful multipliers.

It’s possible to go from overwhelm to getting off that hamster wheel with more organisation, more free time, and more profit.

If you’ve been working long hours, your team is staring burnout in the face, you’re getting busier and busier but making less money, it’s time to take a look at how systems can improve your business. You might be thinking that you’re too busy and you’ll never find time to create and implement systems, but the time you invest now will pay dividends down the line. When a client said to me this week that he finally feels like an agency owner, it put a spring in my step as we’d only started working on a few simple steps and it was already turning things around.

Start simple, I suggest your digital filing system is a good place to get warmed up.

When I did my law degree and started working in a big corporate law firm, it was back in the days of cd-ROMs, and before being paperless was a thing. We had these huge filing cabinets, rows and rows and rows of them lining the back of the huge corporate office. It baffled me how long it took to find files, there was no “CTRL+F”. I became obsessed with making sure that time suck doesn’t happen in my business.

With platforms like Dropbox, Google Drive, and being able to link your devices, you should never waste time looking for anything. I have a rule that nothing is stored on my desktop, if I can’t get to it or I can’t get to a team member’s computer it’s a nightmare.

Have a system for digital filing of assets and documents, naming conventions so they are searchable and you have version control, say when and how things are stored. Even if it’s just you in the team right now, when you grow, hire a VA, you’ll be doing yourself a massive favour.

Systems are for everything

You can have systems for pretty much anything in your business from emails, scheduling and automating some of your accounting tasks, sales followups, client onboarding, setting up a new project, hosting or contract renewals and the list goes on. Have a look at your current activities and workflows and start by looking for things that might have a bottleneck or things that annoy you. The trick is to look for simple ways to make incremental improvements.

Let’s talk through an example. You’re a web agency or a consultancy service provider, when enquiries come into your business, the things to look at are who deals with it, what’s the process, and how quickly is it done. This is something that happens over and over again, by having scripts for responding to the client, maybe a form with standard questions/information you need to provide an accurate quote, you can improve the process and impress the client. Next, you might have a set of proposal templates at the ready. Depending on the type of enquiry, you can save oodles of time, and chances are you’ll be less stressed.

One of my favourite tools for systems and documenting processes is Trello. In my business, I have a “run book” which has a column for each stage of my business, for example, from responding to enquiries through to onboarding new clients. In each stage, there are a set of activities and each activity has a card. That means no matter where I am and if I’m not able to do something, my wonderful, amazing VA Poppy who I couldn’t live without can pop onto the “run book” and find scripts and processes for everything that has been documented.

Every time something gets done twice, it gets popped into a process and added to the Trello board. It’s an organically growing, living breathing tool in my business that I live in every day.

The beautiful thing about setting up these systems, mapping the process, and having your SOPs, is that it creates a snowball effect. The more you get systemised, the more time you save, and the more you can get systemised. An object in motion stays in motion and the compound effect of you making these incremental improvements is exponential. This is how you build a business that works for you instead of you working for your business.

Processes make you more efficient

Steve Jobs

The next best thing about systems is that they can be automated.

Making your business flow

When you’re able to integrate your systems and start automating workflows, it’s really about joining the dots. For example, if you sell a product on your website and a separate accounting system, having the two talk to each other so you don’t need to manually add the sale to your accounting record will save time.

The first step is understanding your business and identifying where connections need to be made. Do you have a web form that isn’t linked to your CRM software or an email subscription that doesn’t link to your email database? By mapping out processes and looking at things from a 30,000-foot view, you can see the connections.

Making even a few seemingly small integrations and automations could make your business more joined-up, create fewer opportunities for tasks to be overlooked or leads and enquiries to be lost. Of course, administrative, data entry, and routine tasks can take up man-hours and are at the mercy of human error. Automating can free up valuable time for you to focus on core activities. Which let’s face it, it’s why you come to work in the first place.

I’ve helped one of my clients to identify a lead-generating strategy, validate the message and the offer, and we were then able to put ads, lead capture, and nurturing on automation so that the business is now getting on average 15 new clients per month to the business. With an average lifetime client value of around £3,000, that’s adding £45k of revenue every month with little to no manual effort (and about £930 to £1,000 PCM of ad spend). I don’t know about you, but I like those numbers.

When your systems are dialled in and you can leverage so that eventually your business is bringing in new business, running without dependence on you, can you imagine the freedom?

  • If I can help you to nail some of the processes in your business and get the ball rolling to find you more freedom, revenue, and profitability, then DM or email me at with the word ‘systems’ and I’ll do the rest.

More from Sian

View all
  • Chat with Airbnb founder, Joe Gebbia

  • How you can charge more than your competitors right now

  • Build Your Business in 90 Minutes (or Three Halves)