The Case For Automating Your Business

By Steve Strauss

In his famous small business book, The E-Myth, author Michael Gerber says that most small business people are so busy working in their business that they don’t have time to work on their business, and that that is a fundamental mistake.

But what does he exactly mean by that, and if it is such a problem (and it is), what can you do about it?

Here’s the problem as Gerber lays it out: Most new entrepreneurs get very excited about the prospect of owning their own businesses. They come up with great plans and ideas, and they are full of anticipation and enthusiasm. But that passion too often quickly fades.

It fades because the harsh reality of actually owning and running a business is quite different than the cool vision that these entrepreneurs had in the beginning. Whereas they thought they were going to be spending their time coming up with big plans for their visionary small businesses, these entrepreneurs instead often find themselves ensconced in the day-to-day drudgery of actually running them. Everything including handling orders, making sales, answering the phone and even handling the mail and shipping falls under their purview. As such, they hit a stage of burnout way too fast.

They spend so much time working in their businesses that they don’t have the time to work on their businesses. That is Gerber’s point.

What is the solution? Automation.

I want you to think about McDonald’s for a moment. In the case of the burnt-out entrepreneur, what would a McDonald’s restaurant look like, how would it be set up and run? Well, the owner would probably try and do too many of the tasks himself. Even if he didn’t take the food order, he might prepare and serve it, and certainly he would stay until midnight most nights closing the place.

But how is a real McDonald’s operated? It is so efficient and so automated that the owner rarely even works there. Instead, in many cases, it is run by teenagers who are trained, to learn a system, and follow a prescribed recipe. Checklists of what, when, and how allow a McDonald’s in Grand Rapids, Mich. to be run in the same way as one in San Diego. This is fairly amazing, really.

That is a great lesson for all small business owners. Creating an automated system is the key. Bring in the help you need. Train them to do their jobs. Create a system, implement it, teach it, and then tinker and perfect it.

What this sort of plan will do is free you up to work on your business while your trained staff works in it and runs the day-to-day stuff. I once heard a top management guru say that an entrepreneur should spend 80 percent of his or her time marketing and growing the business and only 20 percent on the nitty-gritty things. You only are able to do that if you follow this idea and create a business that can be run without you overseeing it every moment.

What will your automated business look like? Well, it depends upon your type of business of course, but it should include everything from the phone system you have and how the phone is answered, to handling emails and orders, and onto sales and follow up. Every facet of your business should be examined for efficiencies.

Do that, and you will be in control of your business instead of it controlling you.

Steve Strauss is a senior small business columnist at USA TODAY and author of 15 books, including The Small Business Bible.

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