Sally cost CDS thousands of dollars by extending her trip to Mexico for several days beyond what the company had planned for. Add to expense of meals and lodging for extra days, the cost of numerous international long distance calls every day while she was there, Sally’s trip cost the company far more than it was budgeted for.
Frankly, though, it wasn’t Sally’s fault. It was due to poor management decisions long before Sally was sent to train the staff in CDS’ new office in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Her trip merely drove home quickly how lacking the company was in systems.
CDS had a unique opportunity to expand its computer sales and service operations into that part of Mexico. It was only three hours from McAllen Texas. As a small business, CDS was already doing computer and printer maintenance in Reynosa, Matamoros, and Nuevo Laredo. Its main customer had plants in Monterrey too so this gave the company a base from which to operate and to grow.
Costs of Opening New Office in Mexico without Systems
While the company needed to act on this opportunity quickly, it lacked the manuals, training materials, and flow charts a non-management person could use to train the new staff. Thus, the small business owners of CDS decided they needed to send Sally, who was the head buyer for CDS’ office in south Texas. Sally was probably the most administratively knowledgeable manager in headquarters so the natural one to train new hires on how to run purchasing for this new subsidiary.
Unfortunately, no one in the home office was cross-trained to do Sally’s job while she was out of country. This meant that she was constantly on the phone to McAllen or to vendors in the United States to handle things there too resulting in their buyer’s travel expenses stretching out for additional days. Moreover, this experience was in the days before Skype and lower phone rates. Sally’s international phone calls were expensive.
The costs due to the lack of systems wasn’t weren’t limited to the financial ones. CDS suffered errors from people largely untrained in McAllen and from interruptions to her training in Monterrey.
Moreover, lacking proper systems in place, Sally had to wing it when training. All the employees were flying by the seat of their pants in doing their jobs; none knew what they were responsible for or by what quality standards their work would be graded. Likewise, there was no clear-cut reporting structure telling them who their bosses were.
Expensive Learning Gained from Sally’s Trip
With Sally’s experience, several expensive lessons became obvious. The time to build your systems for your small business or entrepreneurship is as you grow and before you really need them.
Elements of Proper Systems
The things that would have made Sally’s job easier and faster, therefore less expensive, and more complete are the following:
- Job Manuals with pictures and diagrams
- Training Manuals
- Flowcharts for the tasks
- Job descriptions for management
- Task sheets for non-management positions
Side Note: Though the branch manager and sales manager spoke excellent English, the other staff did not so these materials also needed to be in Spanish.
Benefits of Systems for Small Businesses
There are so many benefits to installing systems in your small business.
- They make training easier and faster
- Instill more confidence in your new hires
- Increase job satisfaction
- Improve quality
- Save time wasted “reinventing the wheel”
Then in unique situations like opening a new office, they can also save you a lot of money on travel and phone bills by minimizing the time needed to get that office up and running.
Interestingly, as a solopreneur or entrepreneur with minimal staff, create checklists and flow charts of what you are doing as you go along. That way it will be easy to train someone when you grow enough that you want to delegate some of the work that doesn’t really require the owner to do.
Tips for Implementing Systems
- Have your current staff record their action steps
- Have your employees create manuals with contacts, companies, and phone numbers used by them
- Cross train for each position to ensure their notes are complete
- Use software like Microsoft Visio or the free DIA to draw your job flow charts and organization charts
Side Note about Systems
A system is just a planned habit applied to your business or to your life to ensure it is done the same way every time.
For example, I have a system for where I put my keys at night. As long as, I put them in the same tray on my bedroom bookshelf, I can find them the next morning. Failing to follow this “system” results in many wasted minutes looking for the keys. It could be 15 minutes, 30 minutes or hours of very frustrated searching, even momentary panic until they are found.
Another simple “system” is learning how to tie your shoes. Think how time wasting it would be to have to learn every day how to tie your shoes. You’d also have to figure out how to untie them because you did it differently yesterday.
Little things like standardizing how your files are set up and how you name your digital files will save you and your staff hours a year searching for information that you need and know you have but locate.
Additional Choices for Implementing Systems in Your Company
Buy off-the-shelf software when available for standardizing how you do things. These programs are available for accounting and for human resources. You may find, however, that you will want to hire someone to set them up and to provide training.
You can also hire a consultant with business experience to develop procedures. As a consultant, coach, and trainer, I will say that this is the best approach for customizing your procedures to fit your company on how you want things done. While it is also the approach that will demand the least amount of your time because the consultant will talk to your employees for you to find out what they are doing now, you will need to be involved to confirm their recommendations.
A consultant will often identify time-saving improvements and better business practices, but you will need to agree to the changes before they are applied to your company. Should you pull yourself completely out of the equation, save your money and skip hiring a consultant as nothing will come from your investment. Your staff must see that you believe in and want the changes or two weeks after the consultant leaves, everything will be back to the way it originally was.
Implement systems as early as possible in your business to save money and ensure quality when you grow and need to delegate work to additional people. The systems will mean shorter training time thus saving you money on the cost of unproductive people which happens when you need to train new people. It will make them more effective faster too. Your new hires will be more confident in their work and find greater job satisfaction because they understand what is needed.
Applying systems to your business avoids wasting time and minimizes confusion. Everyone needing to fill in when someone is on vacation knows where to find the manual with instructions and phone numbers so as to get the job done quickly, efficiently and effectively.
Open your heart in selling,
John R. Aberle
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