Setting Up a Business: 5 Plans + Systems to Have in Place

We have a problem in the online business community: too much planning and not enough doing.

In an attempt to avoid being another wantrepreneur dreamer with big ideas and little action, many new business owners are diving head first into their work without taking the time to put together some thoughtful strategy.

While the advice to “start before you’re ready” is on point, you can get started in a smart way that allows you to set yourself up for success from the start.

A combination of planning and systems implementation will save you hours of heartache in the long run.

1. Get clear on your business model

The first, big-picture thing you should do, before planning out any systems or tools, is to get clarity on what kind of business you want to have.

Short-term, you may be focusing on 1-on-1 freelance work, and nothing else, which is fine.

But if you’re wanting to evolve quickly from a 1-on-1 model to an agency model or a products and courses model, you need to plan accordingly.

Map out your one-year plan, then set up the following systems with the long-term goal in mind. It will minimize the number of changes you’ll need to make as your business evolves.

2. Map out your project workflows

The next thing you should do is put together a rough outline of what tasks you’ll be doing, and in what order, to complete your work. For example, if you’re a copywriter, you may have the following workflow:

1. New client intake
2. Create first drafts
3. 30-minute client feedback call
4. Create second drafts
5. Final client approval
6. Finalize drafts
7. Copy delivery
8. Client offboarding

Now your initial reaction may be, “but why? I know I have to do that anyway.” And it does seem like something that’s easy to handle…at first. But as you get deeper into projects, it will be easy to forget exactly which stage you are in for each client.

In an interesting research study, a checklist system, inspired by the one pilots use before each flight, was introduced to hospital surgeons. Many surgeons were against the idea of being forced to use a checklist to do something they were experts at. The results, however, surprised them, and the researchers found that being forced to use the checklist brought the hospital consistently better surgery results.

When the 20% of surgeons who remained opposed to using a checklist by the end of the study were asked if they would like a doctor to use a checklist when operating on them, 94% responded yes.

So even if you don’t believe the checklist will help you, outlining your workflow for the client can give them peace of mind that you have a process they can rely on to get their deliverable. It’s a win-win.

(More: Step-by-step instructions for creating an effective workflow.)

3. Make your client management effortless

In addition to delivering a good product in a timely manner, making your client feel taken care of from the minute they apply for a discovery call is a surefire way to ensure a smooth experience that results in testimonials and referrals.

Have you ever started work with someone only to have them forget to send you all the things they said they would — notes from your intake call, a contract, your invoice, information about how to schedule another call…?

It’s both maddening and disconcerting, because you’re not quite sure if this person knows what they’re doing.

Be certain you have processes in place for client onboarding that includes a welcome pack with:

  • A contract
  • An invoice
  • Information about how to schedule calls/office hours/etc.
  • Project timelines and/or deliverables

Once you’ve wrapped up your project, it’s also great to have an offboarding packet that includes:

  • A summary of your work together
  • Any relevant deliverables in one easy-to-find location
  • Maintenance information, if relevant
  • Ways you could continue working together
  • A request for a testimonial if they had a good experience
  • A request for at least one referral to replace the client’s spot

If you’re really wanting to improve the experience, be sure to get their address during the onboarding process so you can send them a gift during the offboarding process!

4. Put social media on autopilot

You don’t need a full sales or marketing funnel when you’re first starting out, but it is great to make yourself more visible every day just by planning your social media in advance.

If you’re willing to invest some money in tools that will do it all for you, Edgar or TweetJukebox are good options that allow you to simply upload content that they will recycle for you.

If you’re wanting to bootstrap at the start, have no fear! Batching your work is wonderful for many aspects of your business, especially social media.

Set aside a few hours in one block at the beginning or end of the month to create and schedule your social media, either natively within the platform (like Facebook) or with the free version of a tool like Hootsuite.

Now, instead of getting bogged down in an endless cycle of daily social media, you take care of it in one day and just check in and respond to messages throughout the month!

If engaging in Facebook groups is on your marketing to-do list, set aside one to three 1-hour long blocks each week to check in and offer advice or feedback to others. Put it on your schedule so that it’s an appointment, not just something to get around to when you’re bored, and you’ll treat it like a real marketing task instead of a time suck.

5. Schedule time away from your business

That’s right, the best system you can implement in your business at the start is one for self-care and balance. The 80-hour weeks can be necessary at times, but time to recharge is always necessary.

Your turn: What do you think you need to make your business successful from the start?

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Mallie Rydzik is a business coach and consultant to creative entrepreneurs, helping service-based business owners establish and scale their businesses online. As a tornado scientist turned serial online entrepreneur, she has experience in various industries, including writing, editing, marketing, systems, strategy, and operations. Learn more about her work at her primary digital home.

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