Implementing Systems before Your First Hire

This post was originally written for invision app blog and can be viewed here

If you’ve been in business long enough, you know when things are about to get out of control. You’re working long days, not sleeping enough, and every time you see a new email in your inbox your cortisol levels skyrocket.

If this sounds like you, it’s time to hire someone to help!

The fact is, with success comes more work and more responsibility, and hiring employees and freelancers is inevitable. However, have you ever received bad service or got a subpar product from a previously-fantastic business? Nearly every time, the reason for the decline in service or quality is that the business simply grew too fast and wasn’t ready. Without systems in place to smooth out the transitions, you can lose valuable clients and cause damage to your company.

Of course, you’re so busy already that the idea of developing systems is merely a footnote at the bottom of your priority list. This means that it’s definitely time to carve out space in your schedule to create systems and procedures. To help you get started, here are some indispensable tips I learned as I developed Nook Design Studio.

 

1) Procedures System: Write everything down

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Write everything down as you go along. That may seem extreme, but here is the thing. When the time comes to make your first hire, it will be far too late to get all this together. At that point, you will not have the hours (if not days) needed to write up a procedures binder. Avoid the chaos. As soon as you have a task down and figured out, write a step-by-step list of the process, and keep updating it every time you improve the procedure.

For example, one of my first contracts was to prepare a daily newsletter for a client. The task was quite time-consuming and there were a lot of associated details that needed to be completed. This was one of the first jobs I wanted to delegate in order to free up my time to further develop Nook. The first thing I did was start a note called ‘Newsletter Step by Step.’ I included each and every single step it took to prepare the newsletter, along with screenshots, and kept updating the list whenever I improved the process. Super easy to follow. When the right time came along, training a new hire to take care of this task was a breeze.

Sometimes it may seem that delegating tasks is harder than doing it yourself, but if you document your activities as you go along, training new hires to do them will be much simpler. This process will also teach you to improve procedures as your company grows. I use a program called Evernote for these step-by-step guides. Evernote is great because you can share the notes with anyone, and if you or your employee or freelancer make changes, everyone who has the note has the most up-to-date version.

Just remember to save!

2) Contract System: Contract agreements are essential

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A contract between you and a client protects you both from being taken advantage of. It also ensures you both clearly understand the scope of the project, any associated fees, and expectations. The importance of an independent contractor agreement is no different and can save you many headaches in the future.

  • Protect Yourself and Your Work: the agreement should protect your intellectual property, your trademark work, confidentiality, or secret recipes.
  • Clarify Expectations: the contract should clarify your expectations of the contractor, the scope of the work, and possibly a pay scale or fee expectation—either per task or per hour. Of course this may change in the future, but at least you’re starting off with clarity.
  • Prevent Client Loss: the contract should detail the rules and regulations surrounding how your freelancer may interact with the clients they come into contact with through your business.
  • Protect Your Clients: the contract should also detail confidentiality agreements regarding client work or privileged information.

A quick online search produces many ideas on what to cover in the agreement. It also unearths several basic contract templates, but consider hiring a lawyer to review or help you craft a specific contractor agreement for your business. This contract is in place to protect you, your work, your clients, and your contractors, and to ensure smooth business operations. It’s well worth the investment.

3) Office Procedures System: Avoid common pitfalls with a few rules

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Will your freelancers or full time employees be working from your office? It’s a good idea to develop clear office rules to ensure things don’t get out of hand. For example, what equipment will you provide, and what equipment are they responsible for? What hours will your freelancer or employee be expected to work, or have access to the office and equipment?

In my experience, I found that what comes naturally to me may not be part of another person’s daily process. Everyone has their own ideas about how things work, as well as their own habits. The most valuable lesson I learned was, don’t assume anything. Introducing your employee or freelancer to a checklist of important things such as: how to properly lock the office space, what equipment needs special care, when and how to back up files (Each day? End of the week? Monthly?) and other daily tasks, will eliminate a lot of needless frustration. It will also create a much more pleasant work environment.

4) Project Management System: Time sheets & tracking project tasks

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Endless emails and threads can be a recipe for disaster. It’s so easy to open a message and forget it’s there, accidentally delete an email, or lose it in the inbox. Trying to keep multiple projects on the go with several freelancers requires a special kind of organization! I am very grateful for the many programs available online, often for free, that make this possible.

At Nook, we love to use Toggl to keep an accurate overview of a project, including detailed task descriptions, and time management for each task. The free version allows you to have up to 5 team members, unlimited projects, as well as project tracking and reporting.

You can also use Toggl to assign tasks to particular team members, but for that we use Trello, which is also free. It’s a very simple system that works like a virtual—and much more efficient—tack board. You can share tasks, mark them as completed, and assign them to team members. Everyone who is part of the project has the total overview of it in real time.

Organization isn’t the only reason to have this system in place though! Having these details and data will help you bill clients and budget for future proposals with more accuracy.

Remember…

It’s never easy for a freelancer to take the next step and hire the help they desperately need. It may even seem risky and daunting. However, once you start delegating tasks to designers, assistants, virtual assistants, copywriters, developers, and whatever else you might need, you’ll never want to do it all on your own ever again.

Just remember, be ready! Write everything down as you go along; prepare a contract that you can easily augment depending on the freelancer or project; setup office procedures or ground rules; and use a reliable project management and time keeping system. You may not be able to control everything, but developing these few systems will definitely smooth the way!

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