Without wishing to build up too much suspense, hype or hyperbole what I’m about to lay out was a defining factor in helping me grow my business from a one-person freelance operation to a business which can now grow and thrive without my day-to-day input.
I’m talking about processes (yawn, I know but stick with it!). Whether you know it or not everything you do (in business as in personal life) can be broken down to a process. Understanding that and being able to assess each link in that ‘system’ can really help you propel to maximum productivity, fix long-term problems and enable you to work systematically rather than on a haphazard basis.
What is a process?
As I mentioned earlier, processes underpin everything that you do and sometimes its subconscious. A process, or system, is a sequence of steps working towards a defined result or outcome. I’m sure you know that already, but I really wanted to hammer home that leveraging a process can be the key to improving how you work, making your chances of success infinitely greater.
When processes break down
Whenever you have a problem, or fail to achieve a desired result you can probably track it down to a broken process. A step has gone wrong, or the wrong step is being used and this is preventing you from reaching the ideal outcome. It may be that there are several problems with the process, or just one, but there will always be at least one step that is preventing you from reaching your goal so lets take a look at how you address this and ensure you can avoid falling foul of broken processes in the future.
1. Identify the problem
So this is where you start, the first step of course is to identify a problem you’re currently facing in business, a nagging issue which is holding you back. We’ll go through an example here… so a problem you could be facing is a struggle with a particular freelancer you’re outsourcing work to.
So your starting point is that your hire isn’t up to scratch, they are under-delivering and time-keeping is an issue.
2. Remove the who, make it a “what”
When trying to fix a specific problem like this, the first step is to identify the process at work and how you got you to that point. You should remove all element of ‘who’ when finding the root issue, reframing your mindset to instead look for the ‘what’, determine what in the process has failed here. That is to say you’ll be able to look at the steps objectively to understand whether there was more you could have done at each step.
Could the budgeting step have been better, to allocate more to get a better job? Could you have done better within the job specification step? What about the selection phase? Maybe the interview step? Maybe the onboarding? What about the ongoing communication.
Lay out every step along the way, breaking it down sequentially. Understand what you did (or didn’t do) at each step, consider how it leads to the next one. At this point you’ll probably uncover some glaringly obvious fixes. Holy shit, I didn’t even do a job specification.
It should hopefully become clear which steps are problematic and preventing you reaching your goal. The next step is to change those steps or improve them and get the process back on track.
3. Understand your ideal outcome
You can’t fix or learn from a process unless you really understand the ideal outcome – this is the only way to identify which step has gone wrong and come up with a new (or much improved) step that will help you to reach your goal and outcome better, quicker, more profitably. So make sure that you really know what this process is supposed to achieve, otherwise you’ll never know how to achieve it.
So going back to the example, our ideal here would be that a remote worker joins the business and is empowered to work autonomously and deliver great work, on time.
3. Build a new process
Armed with the knowledge of where you feel your process failings are, you can build a new process which addresses every broken link and every possibility of failure.
I recommend a swimlane process map structure, the link there just gives you a quick insight to building swimlane processes. They are super-effective at separating out individual responsibilities.
4. Put it into effect
This is the fun bit, you can now hit the reset button on that particular problem in your business, starting again with your new process.
You’ll quickly find that although there may be some additional work in the early stages of developing your new processes the new steps you’ve added will help you in the long term by freeing up time and energy to go forth and fix new problems!
Learning from both your strengths and your weaknesses
Don’t just look at problematic areas to find processes. Identify areas you succeed in, or are very productive in, and try and understand the process here. See if those process can be transplanted to other areas, so that you can achieve the same success elsewhere. You should learn from your successes too, not just your failures.
Fully understanding the processes that you use, in both your personal and business life, will help you improve and fix them, giving you boosted productivity and making it possible to fix problems in such a way that they’ll never happen again.
This is the best way to learn from your own experience. The time and effort that you invest here will pay dividends down the line, improving your performance across your business.
Learn anything? Please share
When you’re held ransom by client work and income instability how are you supposed to find time to work on “growth” (whatever that means).
- Make freelancing more stable
- Repel 'bad apple' clients
- Beat "treading water" cycles
- Multiply online exposure
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