My first business started with 1 contract secured and $1 in our bank account (yep, we needed to deposit at least a dollar in the account to make it official). It seems funny now but, at that moment, I remember us looking at each other with a little bit of panic/embarrassment as we tried to figure out which one of us had a buck to put in!
We may not have had a lot of money but, we had abounding optimism and energy in those early years. We leveraged anything we could to make a splash and build our reputation in the marketplace.
Soon, one client led to many clients and money was coming into our bank account pretty regularly. In fact, we soon found ourselves with more work than we could handle (what a great problem to face!). We made our first hire, increased our capacity and, as a result, we were able to take on even more clients and grow our business.
For the first several years, we were in a "later, rinse, repeat" pattern - we would take on new clients, grow our business, hire more people, and repeat.
Unfortunately, we overlooked one crucial step in our growth years - we failed to build the foundational infrastructure that would support our business for the long haul.
We didn't have a formal process in place to onboard new staff or clients. We hadn't established our standards for delivering work in a consistent way. We didn't have a sales strategy and we didn't intentionally manage our pipeline.
The result? We were spending more time managing the latest unexpected situation than growing the business. We were constantly scrambling to keep up and we had a hard time scaling our operation because we didn't have the right systems in place to support us.
We did get our 'house in order' but, it wasn't easy. Looking back, I would say it was kind of like trying to pop the hood and fix your car WHILE driving down the freeway!
It took a lot of time and energy to un-do and define the systems we needed to support our business. We had to take a step back and ask ourselves some hard questions about how we worked together, how we operated our business, and what kind of support staff we needed.
Implementing these new processes and systems in a fully functioning agency was no small task that involved not only the partners but, each and every team member. We were not just 'fixing our house' but, also creating a new way of working and every team member had to buy in.
The time we spent creating these foundational pieces and getting everyone on board was worth it, but it also came at a cost. It was extremely difficult to be in the trenches every day, working on new processes and systems while also trying to grow our business. The transition took a lot longer than I had hoped it would and it really put a damper on our revenue growth during this time period.
The biggest lesson I learned? You can avoid this if you start with the right systems in place from the beginning!
Second chances are a beautiful gift! When I set out in building my coaching business, I started by mapping out the experience I wanted to deliver and creating the systems and processes that would support that experience and, ultimately, lay the foundation for building the business I envision 5 or 10 years from now.
Doing the work upfront has provided me with efficiency and momentum so that I’m able to focus on being fully present with my clients and being able to see how I can best serve them, without worrying about the next unexpected hurdle I have to navigate.
I want to share with you some of the foundational pieces I’ve put in place to build my business. Please note that these aren’t necessarily in any particular order; they’re all equally important.
Your Purpose Statement
A purpose statement is a powerful way to define your business and set the tone for everything that follows. It’s a statement that succinctly communicates what your business is about, why it exists, and what value you provide for your customers.
Consider your purpose statement to be like the north star of your business. It gives you a sense of direction and helps you navigate through any challenges that may come your way.
Your Company Values
Defining the values that will guide your business is one of the most important elements of a strong business foundation.
Not only do your values set the tone of your culture and sets the standard of accountability but, they also serve as the guideposts that allow you to make aligned decisions quickly and confidently.
A Living Business Plan
The key word in this piece is 'living'. All too often, business plans are created to satisfy an external need, such as funding or investor requirements. After it's been sent off, it usually gets shelved and never looked at again. They take a large amount of time and effort to create and usually end up functioning more like a paperweight than a useful document.
A living business plan is light on its feet and provides you with guidance in navigating your business every day. A meaningful business plan is an ever-evolving document that is referenced, updated, and revised regularly.
A Corporate Culture Roadmap
Just like your values, defining your corporate culture is a key piece of building a rich company. It helps you build a strong foundation and gives your employees something to rally around as they work together. Your corporate culture is also an excellent way to attract people who share your values and beliefs.
Every business has a unique culture - it's created the moment you make the decision to start your business. If you don’t actively shape the culture of your organization, it will define itself - which may not always be ideal.
The best way to build your culture early on is by starting with your values (see above) and exploring what it would look and feel like to live those values out as an organization. For example, consider things like: How do you interact as a team? How do you communicate with your customers? What level of transparency is important for you to uphold? How do you handle conflict and disagreement? How do you handle change?
The answers to these questions will help you create cultural guidelines that are authentic, consistent, and aligned with your values. They'll set expectations for everyone involved in the business - from employees all the way up to partners and clients.
Your Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
Diving into the world of SOPs may not be the most exciting task for an entrepreneur but, if you want to scale your business (and, heck, maybe even take a vacation from time to time), they're essential.
SOPs are a documented set of procedures that detail how to carry out specific tasks. They're incredibly helpful for establishing consistency across your business, especially as you grow. They will also set new employees up for success by proving training support and reinforcement as they learn the ropes.
If the thought of writing your SOPs exhausts you, try approaching the task in one (or more) of these ways:
Create a list of all of the SOPs that would be important to have. Then, go through and rank them from the "most vital" through to the "nice to have". Start by creating the top 5 or 10 and then take on the next batch in the following quarter.
Create a library of short videos while you're doing the tasks that you want to document. Record yourself performing each step and narrate it as you go or add in an audio track after.
Ask a team member to create the first draft based on their experience, then revise it as necessary. This will save time by giving you something to review right away!
Your Onboarding Guide(s)
Welcoming a new employee should be an exciting time! However, it’s easy to get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of your day-to-day work that you forget to put out the welcome mat and get them started off on the right foot.
I remember my first day of an internship (way back when). I showed up, was whisked away to a cubicle, and given a vague research project to sink my teeth into. I had never worked in an office setting before. I didn't know where the restroom was, how to get an outside phone line, or even where to find some basic supplies. I eventually went to the lovely receptionist and bashfully asked her where I could find a pencil and a pad of paper to make notes with.
(You can imagine how productive and fulfilling my time there was. :-)
Creating an onboarding guide will help you prepare new hires for their first day and make it a smooth transition into the company. This will set them up for success, help them feel welcome, and give you a better chance of retaining top talent.
Consider what you'd like a new hire's first day, week, and even month to look like, and create a guide (see Standard Operating Procedures above) that can be used by your team to make sure that every new team member gets a consistent experience.
Also, consider how you can introduce your new team member to the organization's culture and make them feel a part of the team.
In addition to onboarding your own team, you should also set up a process for guiding new clients through the first stages of using your company's services.
When you begin working with a new client, it's important that they feel welcomed and understand how the project will be carried out. This may include introductions to different members of your staff or an overview of phases of the collaboration process—including instructions on where their participation is needed.
If you use specific software with your clients, it's important to get them acquainted with how to successfully navigate and use it.
It's also valuable to understand how your new client prefers to communicate with you: do they prefer a phone call, an email, or perhaps a brief text message is more their style?
A client onboarding process is an opportunity for you to build confidence and trust with new clients.
Although the little details may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things if you're trying to build a long-term relationship with a client—one that lasts for years rather than months or even just weeks —setting your relationship up for success from day one will only benefit both parties down the line.
Okay, so that might not be the most exciting list of things to tackle when thinking about all of the amazing things you want to accomplish in your business. However, I can tell you that having these items in place creates so much space and energy for you to focus on the other things that are important to your business.
Regardless of the stage your business is at, getting these pieces into place now will pay dividends down the road.
Intentionally planning how you want your business to operate will create more consistency and a better experience for everyone involved and allow you to elevate yourself and your business to the next level.
Start today. Your future self will thank you!