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Creating Systems Creates Success for your Home Business

Example of a business process chart from gliffy.com

If you’ve started your virtual assistant business, or are contemplating starting one, it’s very important that you crate business systems. Sometimes people call this a standard operating procedures manual. (SOP) But, it’s really just systems.

Every successful business has systems set up for functions such as accounting, marketing, operations, technology and  human resources. Your business is no exception. While your systems may not be as complicated as a huge corporations, and you can run your solo business lean and mean, you still need a road map to follow each day in order to be successful.

Think about the reasons you started your solo business. You probably thought of things such as:

  • Freedom
  • Success
  • Make Money
  • Raise Children
  • Replace a Job
  • Travel

Any of these reasons and more can be why you’ve started or are thinking about starting a Virtual Assistant business. One issue I’ve seen time and time again with new and even long term virtual assistants is that they often treat their business like a hobby. It’s treated as no more than a side venture that can always be put on the back burner. While that’s true, to some extent, depending upon your goals that having a home business can be a hobby or something to keep your skills up and cure boredom until you get a job — if you truly want to be successful you need to create systems. If you’re reading this blog, I believe you want to be successful.

If you want freedom to take vacations, to work from any location in the world, to be around for your kids and to make money, either pocket money or enough money to take care of your whole family on your own then you absolutely can. It is within your reach. My husband and I took three separate vacations in 2011. In 2012 we couldn’t due to so many life events.

However, even with all the following life events my business income went up for the year: 

  • Injured Relatives
  • Ill Relatives
  • Personal Health Crises
  • Moving After 10 Years of Living in One Place
  • A Child Going to College in Another State
  • A Child Getting Married in Another State

Along with those family issues, we still went on one vacation for an entire 7 days. Yet, due to having systems in place, my income for the year is slated to go up by 20 percent over last year. How did that happen? It happened because I treat my business like a business, and I make plans like any business owner should.

I have a project management system

I don’t use Basecamp or anything like that anymore, but I do recommend a system like that if you feel that it will work for you. My clients hated these systems even though I loved them. But, I created a system that they love and it works too. I use Dropbox for Teams. Every client has a Dropbox shared with me, and every service provider I work with has a Dropbox shared with me too.  I have certain days I accept work from my clients for the week, and a certain day it’s due. I have certain days and ways that I assign work to my service providers, and they know how to respond to me, and how to track everything. It works like clockwork too!

I have an accounting system with automation

Unlike some of my clients, I love technology. I use Freshbooks and Outright to track my time, manage each project in terms of invoicing, expenses, and so forth. I also use Paypal which is set up to automatically post income and expenses to my Outright account. I can look any moment of any day and see what my net income is. Taxes are a breeze when you have the proper accounting system in place. Most virtual assistants will find that they can use Outright. It’s single entry bookkeeping and is fine for a  sole proprietorship to use. If you have another business set up you may want to look into using a more powerful product such as QuickBooks.

In addition to that, I have certain ways that I bill clients, and certain ways that they can pay me. It’s all in the contract, and pretty much every client I have likes the system. Occasionally, I will agree to do it differently for a special client as part of our negotiations but generally I don’t change my procedures for someone else.

Since I use contractors to outsource some work to, such as writing, administrative tasks, and graphic design, it’s great that Outright also keeps track of what I have paid my contractors. I pay contractors monthly, as I ask them to bill me monthly on a specific date. This cuts down on time spent doing tedious labor of clicking the pay button on Paypal over and over again, because I deal with paying and (HR) related tasks only one to two days a month at most, and I ask that my service providers send me an itemized invoice once a month.

I have set times that I work, and set times I am off

One thing that often causes a solo business owner to fail,  is being burned out. If you’re not managing your time well you can literally feel like you are always working. If you’re not keeping track, you could easily work 80 hours a week without any time for fun. While some people thrive on that, I don’t. Therefore, I have set work days and set off days. Set work times and set off times. Yes, it’s very flexible, if something comes up I can rearrange the times, but for the most part I don’t. I keep track of all my deadlines in my calendar and I work about a week ahead of deadlines so that I am not doing last minute work testing Murphy’s law.

I have discovered that, if I am not careful, I will work 24/7. I get really hyper-focused on finishing what I start, and this is not good for me or anyone else. Sitting at a computer for 8 to 10 hours without getting up is dangerous. People die from doing that. Therefore, I actually set an alarm to get up every 90 minutes to go for a walk, or do housework. I don’t do the housework to have a clean house, I do it to have a healthy body that moves around during the day. The side effect is a clean, organized home. It’s kind of fun too, I set the timer for 15 minutes, pick one room, and move as fast as I can. Other times, I just leave the house and go for a 15 minute walk around the block. I try to do at least two outside walks a day to get sunshine and Vitamin D.

I have set processes that I do for each type of work 

One example is how I handle snail mail. I check the mail every single day at 3pm. I do that because I know for sure it’s been delivered by then and I am not waiting my time. I go for my walk first then on the way back in, I get the mail. I stand at the kitchen counter by the garbage and go through the mail. I toss junk mail and trash. I organize it between personal and business. Then I take the rest of the mail back to my office and I deal with each piece right then. Then I file it away. I try to only touch mail once.

I also handle my email a certain way. I have mail funneled to certain boxes. My business mail goes to my business email, and my personal goes to my personal email. I don’t check personal email unless I am off work such as during breakfast or lunch or in the evenings. I check my work email every time I get back from my 15 minute break. I find that if I leave the notifications on, I get too distracted from my work, therefore it is off unless I am actively checking it. I also deal with each email as it comes in rather than putting it off until later and forgetting.

In addition, I work on client work in the same way each time. My system and the steps vary depending on what type of work it is. If it’s writing, I have a certain way that I do the writing. I ask my clients to submit to me titles and keywords by a certain date, or if I am being paid to do that myself, I create them by a certain date. If I am building a WordPress website, I have a checklist that I go through to gather the information needed , and then a I have a certain order in which I complete each task necessary to create the full complete website.

By thinking about each task that I must do each day for my business, from actually doing client work, to doing the day to day managing of my business I’ve created systems that work for me. If you want to create systems that work for you just start in the beginning of your day and write down each step you take. As you’re writing it down, you might think of ways to streamline the process, either through actions such as deciding not to touch mail more than once, or via finding technology that automates tasks such as auto entry by connecting Paypal to Outright, for example.

It can help to create a flow chart to help you visualize each process. You can get software that is installed on your computer or you can use cloud-based technology to help you create a flow chart for each of the tasks you must do each day to create a successful virtual assistant business. Don’t bite off more than you can chew though. Start with systemizing just one or two tasks at a time until you have them down pat.  Systems save a lot of time and money, freeing up your time to devote to actually making money on a consistent basis.

About Stephanie Watson

Mom | Wife | Virtual Assistant | Content Strategist
Stephanie has been working from home for over 20 years as a virtual assistant, template bender, and content writer. She's currently transitioning to business coach. You can learn more about her at her website http://www.barrypublishing.com.

Comments

  1. Hi Stephanie,
    Great article! Thanks for sharing details about the inner working of your business.

    Also, wanted to let you know that the link for Outright is broken.

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