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  • Writer's pictureBrooke Thomas

Building Block #6: Systematize Your Burnout-Proof Business

Prefer to listen rather than read? You can find this episode on the podcast here.

We made it to the final building block! This week I’m discussing building block number 6: how to systematize your burnout-proof business. (Or as burnout-proof as possible- days off, vacation days, and a sane workload are also essential!)

If you missed building blocks 1 through 5, you can go back through the blog’s most recent essays, and/or you can download the free ebook You Need a Holistic Business here.

On to building block 6, how to systematize your burnout proof business. Building blocks 1 through 5 are all about attaining liftoff. It’s not that you don’t return to those things many times and learn, tweak, and repeat,  but most of what you will be doing in your business is running your actual business! In our cases that means delivering your service, whatever it might be. 

The long term health of your business will be built on all the ongoing, repeating actions which sustain you and make your clients happy over time.

This is when the challenge becomes how to streamline and systematize the operations of your business so that you don’t wind up constantly in the weeds or constantly reinventing the wheel (I’m going to go ahead and mix metaphors here!).

Unfortunately, here in the land of late capitalism, what we have seen in many mega corporations is that “streamline and systemize your business” means find ways to hoard more profit, while giving as little as possible to your customers or employees, or both.

That is not what I mean here. We are not looking to cut corners so that we can pack in more and more clients who are getting less and less from us- or in the case of larger businesses to hire more employees and then keep asking them to do more for less. 

Instead, for tiny (but mighty!) service providing businesses, we want to make sure we can keep delighting our clients while also not sacrificing our own wellbeing at the altar of “good service”.

Let’s look at the 3 core things everyone needs to be consistently attending to in their business (i.e the stuff that will need systems):

  • Following through on your marketing and sales processes 

  • Delivering the service your clients have purchased from you 

  • Paying attention to how the business is doing financially

To attend to the challenges that can crop up within any of these, I want to introduce the concept of boundaries vs. guardrails. This comes from an excellent article by Tara McMullin which I recommend you check out: How to Give Yourself a Break: Boundaries vs. Guardrails.

In the article McMullin describes boundaries as a personal limit you set and are responsible for upholding (which takes a lot of ongoing repetitive labor). Guardrails on the other hand are a structural limit that prevents unwanted actions or decisions (set it once and it takes a lot less draining labor).

In other words, guardrails are the things you build into how you do things, so that you don’t have to constantly be making the same decisions over and over, finding yourself in scope-creep with clients, overworking yourself, or overextending the finances of your business.

Marketing guardrails might be things like committing to regular days of the week dedicated to marketing, or publishing schedules for content-based marketing. For example, every Thursday is a marketing day in my calendar. I use that time to work on my weekly podcast episodes, to teach workshops, or to write.

Sales guardrails will involve coming up with a consistent process, for example a fit call that lasts 15-30 minutes. Or a sales page that has the frequently asked questions section to clearly articulate the guardrails of how you work with clients. Or utilizing booking/calendar software so that you don't have to be your own front desk receptionist on top of everything else.

Delivery guardrails are about how you deliver the service you provide to clients. There is a ton of opportunity for creativity here, so exploring that is beyond the range of this article- particularly because it will depend on what you actually do.

However, for yourself take stock of what’s not working: where do you get into scope-creep, what annoys you the most about your least favorite clients or least favorite tasks, what is draining your time, energy and enthusiasm?

Once you’ve looked at those things (I call this the airing of grievances process, which we do with and for ourselves, not publicly), then you can get creative about what guardrails will help to resolve the issues. Maybe you drop one of your offerings altogether? Maybe you limit the distance you are willing to travel for in-person services? Maybe you want to re-tool your business model entirely?

Financial guardrails require some system for looking at and understanding your numbers. I like setting this up as a once or twice per week exercise (because it takes less time this way, if you are doing it only once per month or per quarter the information doesn’t help you in real time, and it takes forever to catch up, which disincentivizes you from doing the numbers piece). This is still the case even if you have a bookkeeper. You do not need to be the one inputting the financial data, but you do need to look at it regularly.

As for a financial system, I can recommend the book Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. It is a simple business accounting and budgeting system that makes sure you don’t wind up in the red, and is pretty easy to follow once you have your accounts set up.

All systems will be fine-tuned over time, so it’s not a problem if (when) you wind up in the weeds and don’t know how you got there! Take that as a normal part of being self-employed and as an opportunity to revisit your systems to see where the guardrails could be built a little better.

As crazy as it may sound, creatively figuring out the systems for how you do things can become a very satisfying part of your work. Systems = fun. I swear!

But to discover that for yourself, you first need to make the decision not to be at the mercy of your business, and instead to take the helm and set things up in ways that work for you, your clients, and, honestly, for a humane society with less workaholism embedded within it!

Setting up your systems and processes, as I just mentioned, is an ongoing creative act. Often, we don't even know how to think creatively about unburdening ourselves with useful guardrails, or what those might even be.

For some support in systems thinking, two people whose work I trust and Jenny Blake and Tara McMullin. Check out Jenny's book Free Time, and Tara's book What Works.

And that concludes the 6 building blocks needed for a holistic, health business. yes it's just that easy!

I'm kidding. Running a business is a delicious, creative, surprising, challenging, exhausting endeavor. Sometimes (often) all at the same time. I personally think the downsides are worth it to have the upsides, and if you've read this far, maybe you agree!

We covered some bite-sized portions related to the six building blocks you will need to take into consideration in your own business. My experience is that things never feel perfect or "done". It's more like an ongoing relationship with all these pieces. There is no such thing as getting it wrong! Literally every entrepreneur can tell you tales... so go easy on yourself and see how you can bring some affectionate curiosity to sorting out your own building blocks.

I’m wishing you lots of wind at your back.

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