business

Systems 101: Why You Need Them (And How You’re Already Using Them Anyway)

systems-graphic-what-are-systemsWhen I think systems, I think people wearing suits, being filmed in high power meetings in conference rooms, smiling their capped teeth at the camera.

Truth is, we are all already using systems whether we want to or not. A system is a process for doing something. You have a system for checking and responding to email, for example, whether you’ve thought consciously about it or not.

Sometimes people think about systems falling under two categories:

  1. Anything that needs to be done.
  2. Anything that needs to be done by someone who isn’t you.

Most people only start caring about systems when it gets to #2 (you have to tell someone else how to do it). Something about explaining or documenting a process formalizes it and can help you see inefficiencies. Starting off with making systems for scenario #2 makes sense but ultimately, the most effective people we know move on to make systems for #1.

How do you know when something needs a system?

  1. When it isn’t getting done consistently.
  2. When it isn’t getting done well.

Most systems save time and/or money. What if you came up with systems for three things in your life (personal or business) and saved yourself $500 a month or 10 hours a week? That could be game changing.

So as we head into the new year, think about what personal and professional systems you may need.



Step 1: What needs systems in my life?

If you are like me, it’s hard to view your life under the seemingly cold lens of everything being a system. Sam Carpenter’s book (which you can get as a free PDF or audiobook) called Work The System can help. One of my friends made me come up with a list of ten personal systems I needed and ten business ones to get my brain moving in this direction. Here’s my list in case it helps you start yours:

10 Business Systems I Needed:

1) Systems for ordering/purchasing needed supplies (mainly paper, toilet paper, dishwashing liquid, sponges, binders, paper towels, garbage bags, cleaner)
2) System for cleaning off computers: running scans, how often desktops and download folders get cleaned off, when do programs get deleted, etc.
3) system for papers as they come in: do they get scanned, filed? What gets thrown out?
4) System of recycling: Get a bin(s) and figure out how often it gets taken to the recycling place.
5) System for meeting scheduling/changing- Do they need confirmation? Do I need a VA? This is a time suck!
6) System for saving ideas for social sharing/blogs with my team. I use Delicious and Pocket for long term storage. How can our team be sharing post ideas? How can I be helpful in this system without taking away creative freedom?
7) System for paying bills
8) System for checking email (nicole, info, and maintenance)
9) System for editing podcast
10) System for password management (currently two Keepass files, need to be merged and have a mobile component)

10 Personal Systems I Needed:

1) Meal planning system: How can I use a combination of my farm share, the pantry, and what I have on hand to make a combination of easy to deploy (known) recipes and exciting new recipes?
2) House chores system: who does them, when, to what extent.
3) Morning routine (times when I need to be out the door vary. Need to make sure breakfast is eaten, household chores advance somewhat, dog gets some exercise, and I can leave the house somewhat attractive.)
4) Exercise system: How do I get 3-4 times weekly exercise? Scheduling walks with friends has only somewhat been reliable. Should I make it a group thing?
5) Editing/Writing My Book: How can I get new chapters planned, written, edited, collated? Do I have a deadline and if so, what do I do after?
6) Kombucha system: How to take care of scoby, when to bottle, when to feed
7) System for birthdays/events: How to remember these yearly and one off events, how do I keep others informed who’d want to be informed
8) System for getting rid of excess stuff: How often to evaluate possessions, which things get posted to what sales websites, how often to have garage sale or other mass purge event
9) System for cleaning Anchorspace: What gets cleaned, how often, how is space improved incrementally
10) System for nurturing friendships: How often to have in person events? How to build relationships one on one? How to be thoughtful from a distance (texting, cards, etc.)

Once you make yourself have ten each, it’s easier to think of a lot more. Now pick one (maybe the biggest time suck) and start with that. I’m going to use meal planning as my system because I am sitting here realizing I have no idea what I’m eating for dinner so clearly that’s an issue.



Step 2: What is your system now?

Documenting what you do now is illuminating. What you’ll notice is some gaps/assumptions in your list, like I did. (Really? I expect myself to walk into my house at 6 PM, open the fridge, and feel magically inspired to make dinner based on what is in there?)

I spend Wednesday mornings batch cooking (way to go me for at least putting time in my calendar dedicated to thinking about food when the week is half over!) and I have a system of cataloging and trying new recipes with my Pinterest board (you’ll notice there are three boards: Try This Week, Did It Meh, and Did It Loved).

Step 3: What needs to stay? How can this be better?

In my case, here is not in my system for meal planning:

  • when I go grocery shopping
  • a master list of items I keep on hand
  • an inventory control (way to record what I need or will need)
  • how many and what meals get planned (what from ‘Try This Week’ Pinterest board makes the cut? When does each recipe get moved to Did It Meh or Did It Loved boards?)



Step 4: Make a new system.

So here’s my new meal planning system, which takes what was working and adds in the parts that weren’t.

Ongoing: a piece of paper is kept on the sideboard and as items get used up, Nicole adds them to sheet of paper for weekly shop
Saturday morning: Nicole chooses two recipes to make from the ‘Try This Week’ Pinterest board and three old standby recipes to make considering a balance of breakfast, lunch, and dinner and limited cooking time most days. Nicole archives old recipes based on how good they were.
Sunday afternoon: Nicole goes grocery shopping with master list and preps three meals.
Wednesday morning: Nicole preps remaining three meals.

Step 5: Try and tweak.

It’s hard to do documentation, even if you are being really careful. The key is to try it because there is likely something you are forgetting. For example, it might make more sense for me to prep Tuesday nights between 5 and 6 pm since I have a standing 6 PM happy hour at my house and I’m getting things together for that anyway.

This month, our theme is systems. We create systems to be more efficient, to decrease stress, to make sure things get done, to be able to let others help us, to be able to reach our larger goals, and to be happier. As we head into 2017, it’s a good time to think about systems and what we want to change. We’ll be discussing how to use the internet in some of your systems for getting your favorite (or, ok, just necessary) things done.


My Five Favorite Business Books

100startupIt’s no secret that to be a good writer, it helps to be a good reader.

And when I first started this business and time was short, I decided I was only going to read business books (and occasional biography of a business person helped break things up). I now read other things for fun but someone asked me about what my favorite business books were. Here they are in no particular order. Note these are affiliate links which means we get a small commission if you buy a copy… but I love them regardless.

$100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

It’s always great to think in the bootstrapping mindset because at the beginning, you want to spend time and money on everything but can’t. His ‘launch’ checklist alone is worth the price of admission but it is available on his website too: http://100startup.com/resources/launch-checklist.pdf There is an awesome amount of case studies that will make even the most hesitant person inspired to try a business on the side.

Lessons of A Lipstick Queen by Poppy King

Mainly a memoir, this book is about a young woman running a business. In a lot of ways, I saw myself and in a lot of ways, I didn’t. She has a lot of great one liners and her candidness is appreciated because so many people aren’t. It was nice to hear about someone feeling insecure, making ‘bad’ decisions, and otherwise admitting to the things no business owner ever wants to admit. Plus I love learning from people outside our industry in particular.


Your Best Year Yet! by Jinny Ditzler

If you are worried people are going to know you read self help books, this will tip them off for sure. From the clouds on the cover to the exclamation mark in the title, you know you are in for it. I do this goal setting exercise with myself at the beginning of each year (or I guess more accurately, at the end of the current year for the following year). You don’t have to read the whole book; just use if for the questions you are supposed to ask yourself (the book has elaboration on those questions, which is sometimes needed honestly).

Problogger Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six Figure Income by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett

Written before social media was anything big, this is how to get blog traffic without it. A lot of what he says is still true today. If you want to use a blog as part of your business strategy (and if you want more traffic to your website or to build relationships, you might as well have a blog), this is a great book about the tech, the content, the marketing (though again, the social media piece is missing) and the money parts of blogging.

Jab Jab Jab Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk

The hundreds (literally) of social media case studies are great for showing and not telling. Also a great overview of each social network, its strengths, and its weaknesses. Whether you are just starting with social media or have been doing it for awhile, this will get you thinking. Content is king but context is God indeed! Enjoy all the pictures of actual posts with their own ‘how to do it better’ makeovers, I did!

I’ve certainly read more than this but these are ones I really enjoyed. What five books influenced the way you started your business/career?



Prisma & Co: The Business Application

Last week, I shared some of the new and exciting apps that have emerged recently. In the conclusion of that post, I recommended trying out one or all of them just for fun. While the fun factor still stands, this week we’re going to explore some ways that one of these apps can be used in business marketing.

Facebook 360

Unfortunately, you can’t upload a Facebook 360 image to a business page yet on Facebook, just personal profiles. However, if you’re really hoping to upload one of these, you can upload it to your personal profile, make that particular post public, and share it as your business. It’s a lot of extra steps for now, but we’re guessing businesses will be able to upload 360 images in the near future.



Prisma

There aren’t many examples of businesses incorporating Prisma in their marketing at the moment, however, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it out. One idea is using it to spruce up a “regular” picture of your business (which is what we did below with Anchorspace).

Original

Original

Prisma Edited

Prisma Edited

Another idea is taking a featured image for one of your blog posts and making it into something interesting (there’s a new Abstract filter that seems pretty fun). Basically, when an app like this is in it’s infancy, you have a wide creative range- go ahead and see what you can create!

Boomerang

Boomerang came out almost a year ago, and it’s still being used consistently by businesses as part of their marketing. As one of Instagram’s satellite apps, it’s easy to share content on social media platforms (Instagram and Facebook) that you likely already have a presence on. It’s also easy to use- all you do is download the app, hold down a button to record a video, and save. Easy shareability and use are important characteristics for marketing apps and encouraging people to adapt a new social media platform in general.

Similar to GIF for business, Boomerang’s business application creates a way to visually grab your customer’s attention. It creates something eyecatching that will grab people’s attention as they scroll through their Instagram feed. As this article points out, “GIFs could potentially be the next emoji,” and although Boomerang videos technically aren’t GIFs, it’s not a huge leap. Boomerangs are easier to make from scratch than GIFs, as mentioned before, all you do is press a button. The one downside: to record on Boomerang you have to be within the app itself (meaning you can’t prerecord on your phone’s camera and reformat), which can make it hard to capture spontaneous footage.



What should you share? 

One of the trickier parts of Boomerang can be finding out what to share. Some ideas include your a fun shot of your storefront/office/physical location:

Happy Friday! By @stuporfluous

A video posted by Boomerang from Instagram (@boomerangfrominstagram) on

Show off a product:

Squad up! ???? by @usabasketball & @easymoneysniper

A video posted by Boomerang from Instagram (@boomerangfrominstagram) on

Or show off your goofy side:

Just rolling by ? with @xantheb

A video posted by Boomerang from Instagram (@boomerangfrominstagram) on

Since Boomerang videos are on an infinite loop, using video with some action or movement typically works best. A common Boomerang example is the blowing bubblegum loop. Reaction clips (think like a mime-exaggerated, dramatic expressions), jumping and throwing are also pretty common. It’s fun to do trial and error with, too- you never know when you’ll strike gold!

If you’re more interested in showing quick demonstrations or tours, Hyperlapse is probably a better Instagram satellite app. This creates a time-lapse video (or a sped up video) that’s longer than the 1 second Boomerang and doesn’t loop back and forth. Although it might not be the best for in-depth presentations, Hyperlapse can create a teaser video that creates interest and brings people to your website or store for more information/fact gathering.

As I said last week, Boomerang is a fun, easy to use app, and can bring an element of fun to your business marketing.



Don’t Be A Multi Level Marketing Nightmare

I’ve been wanting to write this post for months. And just when I would decide to do it, I get an update from one of my friends who has added me to a group or invited me to a party and hold off.

To summarize, multilevel marketing (MLM) is where people sign up to sell products direct to the consumer with commission. So for example, if I liked Cutco knives, I could sign up to become a sales person for them. Every time I sold knives, I would get some portion of the sale. The real power with MLM companies, however, comes from recruiting others for your ‘team’ … then not only are you getting a portion of your sales but also your team’s sales.

So you can see where something like this would be attractive: you have products, a business model, sales support, and more. If you believe in what you are selling (and actually like selling), you could conceivably do well. More often than not, however, only a small percentage of people do well enough to create a full time income for themselves.

As more people are selling Shakeology, Lifevantage, Lularoe, Athena Home Novelties, Pampered Chef, Plexus, etc., now more than ever, this post is needed and maybe even appreciated by MLM people trying to do a good job. I have friends running MLM businesses that aren’t spamming everyone. If you’re considering this income option, you can be ethical, non-annoying, and profitable about it too.

mlm-catch-up

Give Me Six Months

Here’s the thing. There is a certain percentage of people in my life (and probably yours) that seem to always be onto the next thing. You know, you get another notification to like their new Facebook business page and think ‘Don’t they already have like four businesses?’

Typically, these are people who move from one MLM to the next. One month they’re selling t-shirts and next month, candles.

I get invited to like pages, go to events, etc. all the time but typically, before doing anything, I’m going to lurk for six months. If you’re really serious, you’ll still be there.

Demonstrate longevity and you’ll stand out from other people in our newsfeed trying to sell us the same things.



Social Media Isn’t An Excuse To Be Lazy

You can’t just slap an update on Facebook, connect with everyone you have ever talked to, and call yourself a marketer.

Trust me, if that’s all it took, I’d have a lot more competition.

Social media is a tool in your toolbox, not a way you run your entire business. This is why the most successful MLM people have websites, email newsletters, blogs, multiple different social media accounts, and real life events. They are in their communities, donating to worthy causes. They are actually using what they are selling and letting people ask them about it.

Diversify how you talk to people and build the relationship over time. Social media is as much pull as push so encourage interactions, questions, discussion (even if you don’t agree), and overall participation.

Do A Team Leader Gut Check

I went on a walk with one of my MLM friends. She was telling me what the ‘social media expert’ on her group call told her to do and I was shocked. The tactics were very aggressive and not at all like her.

Here are things you may be asked to do by a team leader, marketing expert, or other person in your MLM group:

  • Ask all your Facebook friends to have parties for you.
  • Add people to online groups without asking them.
  • Tag individuals in posts about your products.
  • Invite people to every ‘event’ you throw, regardless of their ability to attend or interest in attending.
  • Add people to your email list without asking.
  • Try new social platforms you don’t entirely understand. (I Periscoped via my private account there to show my sister how mean anonymous users can be. Maybe I’ll write about that sometime!)
  • Talk people into how they can ‘afford’ a product.
  • Posting 10-20 times a day on Facebook and other platforms.
  • Posting pictures of your children/family. (Everyone has different rules for this, just know how the people you involve feel about it.)
  • Using hashtags you don’t understand (trust us, hashtags can associate you with things you #sodontwant).

I personally think this whole list is gross… but you may have certain things you are and aren’t comfortable doing.

If your gut tells you something isn’t good, don’t do it, no matter what the ‘expert’ says. And if you are being pressured to sell in ways you aren’t comfortable with, ask if you really want to be part of a company like that.



Be Mindful Of Notifications

If you are using a social media platform, consider making a fake user (or enlisting a few trusted friends) to understand how your customers are seeing things. Example, how does a public post versus a private message work? Is the link in the photo caption clickable (and is it obnoxious)?

For example, if you post to your Facebook group six times in one day and I am in the group, I’m getting six notifications. Now to you, it’s easier to do it all at once but for me (your potential customer), I’m silently wishing you’d shut up and considering opting out of the group. Staggering your posts over three days, while less convenient for you, may be far less annoying to your customers.

If you don’t get how something works, do your research and test it with a small group of people (or on your fake user account). All social media sites work a little differently and understanding those differences will not only make you more successful but not alienate your base. Trust the feedback you are getting from customers. You are ‘in it’ but they aren’t… and ultimately, they need to like you and trust you before they’ll think about buying from you.

Nurture Relationships, Not Leads

If you see little dollar signs above everyone you meet, people are going to feel that in your interactions.

I know from my business experience it can take years for someone to become a customer. If you show up to one two-hour networking event and expect to leave with ten customers, you are going to be sorely disappointed.

Let people like you. Post about your life, ask people about their lives.

At social events, my goal is to put off telling someone what I do for work as long as possible. I ask them where they are from, who we know in common, where they live, what they are doing during the upcoming weekend… anything but work. Trust me, nothing makes your business more compelling to another person than seeming completely uninterested in discussing business. It’s like you don’t need the money, and isn’t that the most relaxing kind of person to do business with? You seem content and confident, rather than another person trying to close a sale.

Desperation and sales never mix, especially in the MLM world where someone else selling the same thing you are is a literal click away.

So am I saying MLMs are evil? No. 

Am I saying you should think about what you are and aren’t doing very intentionally related to marketing and running your MLM business? Yes.



Get It While It’s Hot (Ideas for Marketing in the Summer)

Happy woman jumping on blossom meadow. Beautiful day on field.For our area, summer is an important time for the local economy. From Memorial Day Weekend to mid-October, the area comes alive with businesses reopening for the season and lots of visitors. As marketers, we tend to have a watchful eye on what different businesses are doing to succeed in the summer market.

Sidewalk Fun. You’ve probably seen posts go by picturing clever sidewalk signs in front of restaurants. We’ve seen some from local businesses like MDI Ice Cream that are witty and well-illustrated. If done well, sidewalk sings/art can have roughly two different effects.



One, it catches the attention of people walking around on foot, and they decide to check your business out.

Two A, you take a picture of your sidewalk creation and share it on social media, where it can reach a wider audience (and puts you on the radar of people who aren’t around to see it IRL). Two B, the aforementioned people walking around town are so entertained by your sidewalk creation that they take a picture and share it on their social media. This has a similar result as Two A, but with an entirely different audience.

Outdoor and Indoor Options. Some people like to sit inside and others prefer outdoor seating, and most places (at least restaurants) have options for both indoor and outdoor seating. And it’s not just an idea for people who sell food or refreshments. I remember being a kid and walking around small coastal towns where my mom would want to go into a store or business that wasn’t really fun for a kid. And since we were walking around, I wanted to park it somewhere. Maybe it’s a bench outside, or places to sit inside, but it’s definitely a nice touch to have something on the outside and something on the inside, ideally a place for people to sit a spell and look around at your fabulous business.

If you really don’t have space, try to put out a dog water bowl. It gives a friendly, laid back touch… and gives dogs walking by a reason to stop and rest.

Directions and Referrals. Every now and then, people stop in to ask us for directions to a certain business, a place that sells/has X, or just recommendations in general. This just requires having a general knowledge of the area. Most people want to know about dog or kid friendly places, good hiking, where to find a lobster meal or ice cream, or want to know what a local would recommend. To handle these requests offline, you could have maps of the area (if there are any available) on hand to give out or refer to. In terms of online requests, you could dedicate a page of your website to “Things to Do” or “Our Favorite Local Places.” You could even get each employee to contribute their top recommendation for visitors.

Have physical copies of business cards or rack cards of your favorite places ready to go… and those businesses may do the same for you.

Online Menus/Information. A lot of travel-savvy people will do some reconnaissance before finding a place to eat, and the first place they’ll look is online, either a website or Facebook. Fortunately these are easy to set up, it just requires a bit of data entry. There are also plenty of free apps that will display your menu and allow for easy updates. I’ve used both MenuTab for Facebook and OpenMenu (which has you build one menu and lets you share everywhere, as opposed to entering the same information 3 times in 3 different places). Think of making frequently asked questions like tour times, services, and more easy to access from your website and social media.

As we head into a holiday weekend, some of these ideas may give you some of your own ideas for marketing in the summertime. At the very least, you’ll want to have the local ice cream places memorized!

What’s in a Ceiling?

Having boundaries, personally and professionally, is a healthy form of self-preservation that keeps us from getting burnt out. Boundaries are not meant to limit potential, but place value on our own well-being. In a different vein, I think a type of unhealthy boundary (one that constrains you in a negative way) is a limiting belief. This type of belief stunts growth in certain areas because of an ongoing story that says “I can’t,” “I’m/it’s not good enough,” “This is the way it’s always been,” and so on. Here are some of the more common limiting beliefs, and some tips on getting over them:

Not Good Enough/Not Ready. The most common limiting belief is that something isn’t good enough or ready to show the world. One example for me was the first blog post I wrote for Breaking Even. It took me a very long time to write, and I agonized over every word. When I was done, I wanted to throw the whole thing away because it was terrible and unprofound (according to my inner critic). Then, Nicole shared a video from Ira Glass (below) about how everyone starts at different points in creativity, but keeping yourself/your work hidden until absolutely perfect, you probably aren’t going to get anywhere.

When an opportunity for a job or something else comes along (like a chance for breakdancing lessons or running a marathon), it’s kind of a bummer to pass up on that opportunity because we aren’t ready yet. The key is “yet.” All of these things take preparation. You probably won’t get it on the first try, but if you’re persistent and keep showing up…anything is possible.



Not Enough ____. Another common limiting belief is scarcity. It could be telling yourself “I don’t have enough time/money” (in other words, resources) for a certain activity. In a business context, this belief manifests itself in “there’s not enough customers for me AND my competition.” Having this scarcity mentality often results in viewing the world in a narrow, short-term lens. This article from Simple Dollar suggests it breeds “sadness and jealousy.” On the flip side, an abundance mindset approaches the world from a “There’s enough here for all of us” perspective. You don’t live in constant fear that things are going to run out, but continue working hard and trust that more will come when it comes.

It’s always been this way. This belief keeps us stagnant more than any other belief. It’s death to innovation and newer, better ways of accomplishing the same work. It can be anywhere from accepting the way certain people interact with you to submitting to a larger system, simply because “that’s just the way it is.” Turning this type of belief around can be scarier than the others, maybe because rejection is a very real possibility, and who wants that feeling? My advice, if you’re standing up to the “It’s always been this way”-ers, is to have some supporting evidence for your argument, be prepared to meet some resistance, and don’t give up just yet. There might be room for a compromise, or it might take others awhile to warm up to the idea of doing something differently. I’ve been lucky in getting a sample of this work environment AND one that encourages new ideas.



Think about which one of these is creating your ceiling, then you can think about changing it. (Unless you have a very nice ceiling that you like, of course.) 

If you’re feeling generally “stuck” in an area of your life, you might want to consider looking at some potential limiting beliefs (you might not even realize you have them- I certainly didn’t). For examples of limiting beliefs related specifically to businesses, check out this article from Entrepreneur. Limiting beliefs create a kind of clogged drain situation- you can’t necessarily see what’s in the way, but you know that the system could be performing a bit better. Once it’s cleared out, there’s really no telling what successes might come to you/your business (with patience, persistence, and some elbow grease).

Limiting beliefs can fit in any of the above categories, like “I’m too young for people to take me seriously.” or “XYZ company has always had a zero telecommute policy.” It may be hard to get at yours but think about something you wanted to do but didn’t… and the excuse you gave yourself may be a good start.

Ceilings help in houses but not in people. Here’s hoping this post made you think about yours and how you can charge though it to get more height than you ever thought possible.



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