In this show I talk to businessman and author Tony Brown about standard procedures and how they have helped him become much more productive. I do explicitly talk to him about the procedures he used for self-publishing, but I do think that procedures in general are useful for all authors however business-focused they may be.
What are standard procedures and how did they allow you to take a long holiday from your business?
Tony quoted Google for a definition of standard procedures:
It’s an established or prescribed method to be followed routinely for the performance of designated operations or in designated situations.
Simply it is a set of written procedures that tell someone “how we do things around here”, a set of steps to be followed to achieve a task.
After taking voluntary redundancy from his job of 15 years, Tony decided to start his own independent company in youth work. But he found himself constantly busy doing everything in his business and not having any time to enjoy the alleged independence of working for yourself. He was working more hours than he had as an employee. While looking for a solution he came across people like Pat Flynn and Chris Ducker who preached about the benefits of outsourcing your work.
Tony had a situation where he had a new contract that he could not fulfil on his own without dropping an existing contract. He decided to instead look to write down his procedures so he could get someone else to fulfil the new contract. He developed worksheets, templates and checklists allowing him to employ someone else to do the work he used to do.
For people who aren’t looking to outsource their tasks at the moment, what are the benefits of documenting what you do?
Tony first of all challenges the notion that people can’t afford to hire assistance or that there is only work one person can do. His first virtual assistant he hired only cost him $3-4 an hour for 5 hours a week and made a fantastic difference to his business. The benefits in terms of time saved are worth the monetary cost.
For those not wanting to outsource, there are still benefits:
- Consistency. Having a checklist means that you do things to the same standard all the time.
- Efficiency. You will be much more efficient. If you do the same task 2-3 times every week for a year and you waste 2-3 minutes due to doing tasks in the wrong order then that time adds up.
- Quality Assurance. Removing the potential for error.
- Continuity. If you need to take a break from work (that is you are sick) you can more easily delegate your business.
- Increasing the value of your brand (you are more professional with procedures).
When you self-published your book, did you write down your procedures ready for your next book?
Tony has a Trello board that has everything mapped out for publishing a book. He spent some time researching what needed to go into those lists. He found that having already mapped out all the procedures really helped him. It got him to the point where he could self-publish Standard Procedure before his 40th birthday.
What tools do you use to help you document what you are doing?
Obviously Tony uses Trello every day which is a card-based project management system. He started off using Evernote but has since discovered better tools to use for planning. In terms of documenting procedures he started using mind-mapping software called SimpleMind to begin with. But he moved on from that to using Process.st which is designed for recording processes. This is what he recommends using. Both it and Trello are free for the simplest functions. Airtable has been the latest tool he’s used for recording customer data.
How do you look to improve your procedures over time and make sure they don’t get out of date?
Tony sees his job is now to ensure the procedures are kept up to date and improved to be as efficient as possible. You can’t just set up your procedures and then never look at them again, as things change.
Is there anything you don’t have a standard procedure for?
They even have checklists for their children to tidy their bedrooms! But in reality only about 40% of Tony’s business has been systemised, but the important things are documented.
How can people find out about Tony Brown?
Business Systems Explored is a podcast about systems Tony co-hosts with the guy who created Process Street. They talk to business owners about systems.
If you liked this show then you might like Using Google for Business with Martin Shervington, How to Sell Your Books Through Bookshops with Debbie Young and Self-Publishing for Quality