Define the Process – Documentation Before Automation

Most small business owners I know want to grow their business, but most don’t take the initiative to build the systems of their business. Your job is to build the system and let the system grow your business. Without a defined system, everything you do is haphazard. You are required to lean too heavily on people or you just have to do it yourself.

If you can see this problem, in your business you can fix it! The first step is to document your ideal process. A system that isn’t documented isn’t understood and thus inefficient because you don’t have visibility into what to improve. Documentation gives you visibility, and improvement comes easily when you can see what is wrong with the system.

Once you have documented the operating steps to go through, you can start to evaluate ways to improve the process in manual ways. These solutions need to be low tech, fast and cheap. If they don’t work, just try something else. This flexibility gives you quick learning in trying out new ways of delivering value to your customer.

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

~ Bill Gates

It is common to try to apply technology to fix your system, but this is a mistake. Only after you have documented and improved the system should you start to think about automating it. If you automate too quickly, you’ll only magnify the inefficiency. As a small business owner, you don’t have the luxury of throwing money away, which is what you are doing if you automate too early.

The steps are: document, improve, automate. If you go through the proper steps, you are building an enduring competitive advantage. You are creating a learning system that gets smarter and more efficient over time. It is this system that allows you to compete with larger companies who just throw money at problems and think more automation will solve their problems.

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