Whether or not you are thinking of selling your business, these strategies will make your life and your business easier to run!

The first part of this process is to make sure your business can be run without you, so Louise Lee of Saunders and Lee took questions on this, as this is her much acclaimed area of expertise!

Louise has included 5 free templates to make it easy to carry out the recommended strategies mentioned here. Follow the links in each section to download them.  

Helen Lindop How is setting up systems to make a business saleable different from setting it up to make your own life easier? Or are they the same?

Louise Lee I think the main difference is that when creating processes that make a business saleable, you need to create repeatable, teachable processes and these need to be supported by specific systems, for example project management software or finance software.

What you do to make your own life easier is up to you but if you want someone else to carry out the activity then you need to create a repeatable, teachable process. Then, once someone else is doing the activity your life becomes a lot easier!

Helen Lindop What are potential buyers looking for in terms of systems when looking to buy a business?

Louise Lee I think a potential buyer wants to know that everything that happens in a business is documented (standard operating procedures), there’s a process in place that’s repeatable and teachable and that no business activity relies on any one person to carry it out.

Andy Boothman Bigger businesses have certain expectations of any business they buy or merge with. If they find the SOP’s and other automation aren’t in place you’ll find yourself on the back foot in terms of the negotiations on the value of the business to them, not to mention the issues this will cause internally within your teams – this is much harder to solve as people genuinely don’t like change, and in this circumstance you’d be creating a double whammy of change – new owners and new systems, that would be a very hard transition to manage.

Helen Lindop Can you give some examples of SOPs?

Louise Lee Pretty much anything can (and should) have an SOP, from answering the phone in a certain way, taking messages, capturing and entering data, raising an enquiry or ticket, giving a quote for work, etc.

Step 1 – Create a workflow

Keep a log of the tasks and activities you perform that keep your business running on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. I’m specifically talking about the activities that you can’t invoice anyone for, but it’s all necessary work to keep your business running.

While you’re keeping a log of what you do, identify those tasks that could be done by someone else or that could be automated or standardised, i.e., anything that is repeated.

Basically it’s documenting EVERYTHING that happens in your business. It’s easy to do with a screen recorder because you can record what you’re doing when you do it. Then save the video as your SOP for that activity.

In principle raising an invoice will be similar in every organisation, but the exact process will depend on the accounts software and some orgs may have added quirks like this:

  1. In finance software, select XX to create an invoice
  2. Type in the name of the company
  3. Add the project reference in field XXX
  4. Add the sales rep in column XXX

Andy Boothman Basically its about making sure that anyone can run the necessary activities and the business is unaffected by any particular absences.

Louise Lee Yes, exactly that. And it doesn’t just have to be about the business owner. Everyone involved in a business needs to be dispensable. All the knowledge they have needs to be documented.

Helen Lindop …writing an SOP from scratch feels daunting enough that it could be filed at the bottom of a to-do list!

Louise Lee An easy way to do this without extra work is with a screen recorder. Just create videos as you do each task. I also love Google Docs for this because the outline view is great for switching between headings. To store, share and keep up to date, create a project in Asana and separate that out into the different areas of the business:

  • Finance
  • Clients
  • Marketing
  • Etc
  • Add sub tasks in each with either written procedures and/or videos.

Also think about canned responses to emails. A suite of canned responses can be rolled out to all your team members thereby keeping the same tone of voice and information every time. These can also be saved within your Asana process project or in a word document.

For more information on this see  PDF 1. What do you do

Step 2 – Manage the Information (aka Document filing. (Don’t yawn!))

Once you have documented the work flow and identified teachable, repeatable systems that anyone can perform, you need to support these systems with a fool proof filing structure that anyone can navigate.

Start with easily identifiable master documents (your sources of truth). Some documents will be downloadable links in your email templates and some will be for in house use only.

Think of folders as sign posts. You want to have as few top tier folders as possible because they are your team’s first sign post to find what they’re looking for, so the fewer options you have, the easier it will be for anyone to find their way around. The main rule is not to have any documents that are not in folders.

Canned responses are fabulous and they take away our desire to overthink. For example, a client is late paying an invoice. If you’ve already crafted a fabulous canned response you can just send that. If you don’t have a canned response you’ll spend ages crafting the perfect email that gently chases but which doesn’t annoy your client.

Every time you send an email think about whether a canned response will work in that situation. Create it, and add it to your SOP.

For more information on this see PDF 2. Information Management

STEP 3 – Get your email set up properly!

Most email clients come with pre-loaded folders and the ones you add appear alphabetically. BUT, if you preface the folder name with a number they’ll appear in the order you want them. Do this either by most used or to visualise a process.

For more information on this see PDF 3. Email Management

And there’s more!

Create as many templates as possible because these are repeatable and teachable. Taking templates one step further, if you’re frequently asked questions about your services or products consider creating an FAQ page or a suite of email FAQ templates.

With all the information you’ve gathered you’ll be able to see what items you can delegate. As you list these, consider whether you already follow a process. If you do make a note of it. When you delegate you need to consider how the systems will hold folk accountable. If a mistake happens the process can be interrogated, then the system, and if both are sound then it’s a human error.

Keep a time log to know exactly how you spend your time and how much of it is chargeable!

Hard Landscape your Diary – this has become a watchword for Louise’s influence on the Drive community!

For more information on this see PDF 4. Time is Money

Finally

A good way to test if your business can run without you is to outsource some of the tasks that you don’t have to do.
For more information on this see  PDF 5. Outsourcing Plan

There is a wealth of information on how to make your business more efficient, stress free and profitable on Louise’s blog at Saunders and Lee Ltd 

Follow Louise on Twitter @TheLouiseLee

The second part of this Ask the Expert is “How to make you business attractive to a potential buyer”