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SOPs - The 5% activities that will make 95% of the difference

For today's read, I want to dive into some things around SYSTEMS and TEAM. I know I've been talking a lot about sales and marketing, and that's because the sales and marketing stuff is much harder to nail. SOPs, not so much – but there is a part of SOPs, which is really related to the management and few other things, that makes it much harder than it should be.

So, let's jump in and learn some stuff that will move the needle today or another day, depending on whether you've got team now, or you intend to hire.

Working out the SOPs, systems and team for a thriving bookkeeping practice

I'm sure you've noticed that our podcasts and blogs around sales and marketing are micro niched into bookkeepers. And that is, to help you with exactly what you need to know – I'm not a generalist, I'm a specialist, right?

Sales and marketing for bookkeepers is a lot like painting a Picasso.

It is not linear.

It is throwing paint on a canvas, and it is a windy road down the customer journey from A to Z. It is the science and art. It interacts with so many things. Even Google! The algorithms change – what works one day doesn't work another day. Different referral partners work differently. You get information off people that's completely wrong. It is not your specialty. It is not what bookkeepers generally do well, right? I could go on and on.

So the sales and marketing stuff is really hard to nail and honestly, globally, I've seen what's on offer out there. And look, this is probably why nobody in the bookkeeping space is offering the kind of help and support that I am offering because, you know what? It's much easier to offer support around systems and standard operating procedures. And actually ,it's easy to sell that to bookkeepers because your profile is such that you naturally bias into wanting to believe that standards, systems, and SOPs are what will build your thriving practice, when actually they're just a piece of the puzzle.

If we can't find new clients when we need them,

if we can't create a beautiful pipeline strategy,

not only will we not grow our business, but we won't have much fun

– because we'll be on the seesaw strategy.

When you find a new client, you certainly need to know what to do with them as well. I give you lots of stuff on that if that is a problem that you really, really want to solve. The book is great, the podcast is great, but there is nothing like the program. It is a Ferrari. So I would encourage you to either join, or begin to look at what's inside and the value of it.

Now, let's talk about the 5% things around standard operating procedures that will make all the difference. And as I talk to you today, I'm holding a bookkeeper in my mind that reached out to me not long ago. We had a beautiful chat. We had so much in common. It was just open hearts, open minds, amazing. And, she has taken over a bookkeeping practice. So I know that she's got team, right? She's got heaps of clients, and she said to me, I'm so bogged down with trying to kind of fix everything, the infrastructure, the back end – because the sales and marketing is the front end, and the administration is the backend.

Imagine the front end of your business like a little girl running around with a flower in her hair skipping, and then the back end, imagine that as a serious woman with glasses on, sitting at a desk, ticking off tasks. The backend, like I say, is very structured and linear, and the front end, not at all. So I hold this bookkeeper in my mind because it's a great example of someone who really needs this kind of information.

So whether you have a team now or you're going to recruit a team in the future, the minute you have one person, everything will completely change; you go from you, to plus one. I remember doing that and you think, it's just someone helping me, right? Oh my goodness, no – read the E-myth or do the Blinkist up E-myth summary, 10 to 15 minutes.

Here's the thing about RECRUITING your first staff member or recruiting team:

You are recruiting humans, not robots.

You are recruiting messy, beautiful, flawed humans.

And I did a podcast that talked to you about the four types. So you've got the superstar, the workhorse – that's who we want on our team. And then unfortunately, you've got yo-yos and time wasters, and we need to hire slow and fire fast. And one of the reasons for that is because, unlike the creative windy road of sales and marketing where things are all over the place (and it's hard to even tell what's correct and what's not!), in the backend, things are very linear, very black and white, and there's not much room for movement – which in my opinion makes the backend a lot easier if you are prepared, or rather, makes it simpler, because simple isn't always easy.

My friends, I have learned the hard way that in terms of the backend,

we need to be prepared to make the hard decisions far more than we need to be prepared to work hard.

Hard decisions, rather than working hard.

Hire slow, fire fast.

Hold people accountable, no excuses.

So when you recruit your first team member, let me tell you, your business is going to change. Imagine it going from one to 10 in terms of the challenges that you'll face. And the way that you can minimize those challenges is to really absorb and implement the things I give you. And, the best way you can implement what I give you is to absolutely use the invisible hats.

So when you're implementing what I give you, I want you to take your personal or parent or friend hat off, and you're going to have to put your big boss manager hat on. But the great news is that you don't always have to wear it for very long and you can interchange hats, but you absolutely are going to have to do it.

I absolutely wish I had done this better in my business over the years prior to starting my bookkeeping practice. I did it really, really well in other people's businesses. And I firmly believe that's because we're not at the top in a way. We get to blame the owner of the business or whatever, not verbally, but in our mind it's like, well, I'm being paid to do a job. I'm being paid to manage this team and I'm going to do it in a very structured box ticking way. I'm going to be fair, I'm going to keep my values intact.

But then, when it comes to our own business, there's nobody – we can't look over our shoulder at the big boss who everybody knows is to blame. Do you know what I mean? I certainly found it completely different doing it in my own business versus doing it in someone else's business. And what I'm talking about is that people pleasing manager, the people pleasing monster, leaving the friend hat on. And then when I did wear the manager hat on, having half the friend hat, half the mom hat, half the manager hat, and even having the sales and marketing hat on, we definitely don't want to have that on when we are in the backend dealing with administration and dealing with staff. The only hats we want to wear when we are in the backend are the manager and leader.

So, if you have a team of one or more, or you're going to recruit: In terms of standard operating procedures and developing those for yourself, or even if you come into the program and we give you everything done for you and then we hold your hand for a year –

As the owner of the business,

you are not the best person to develop the SOPs

or roll out the SOPs, whether it is outside or inside of our program.

If you have a team of one or more, usually that person or someone on your team is the one who is best heading it up. Now, in the book I give you psychometric testing, which is really easy to do and I do recommend that you get that done with you and your team.

Everybody on my team has theirs done. I don't recruit before I have it. And we all share it and we laugh a lot about it. And then we're able to really understand each other's strengths and weaknesses. So, this will really help you understand this person's aptitude for taking care of the standing operating procedures.

So that is number one, hold it in your mind. Number one, you are not the best person to do it. If you are all by yourself, then absolutely you can document what you do in order to create SOPs. I call it the "I did it" document. If you're working all by yourself, you could have a document open and you say what you're doing, how often you do it, how long approximately it takes is a really good one. And then, the last column is a link to a basic SOP that tells someone if I became unavailable, this is how you would do it. Remembering that we're not teaching someone how to be a bookkeeper either – because we recruit bookkeepers, and this is going to be for the day-to-day bookkeeping primarily because we always want to be documenting the critical client flow first.

But, there is a crossover into the admin onboarding et cetera, because the administration of your business happens while the critical client flow is happening. And then, the onboarding and offboarding is to be considered as well. So, the second thing is a mistake I've definitely made before, and I think most bookkeepers make it. It's back to the fact that we recruit humans, not robots, and that is that.

So we recruit a human and it's easy to feel like, okay, great, I'm just going to ask them to do something and they're going to do it. And they're always going to tell me the truth.

The truth is not a black and white.

What I would say with regard to that is, when you bring on a team member, it is natural for them to want to, I think of Frank Sinatra when I say this, do it my way.

You need them to do it your way.

Your way is your standard operating procedures.

We call our SOPs The Strategic Bookkeeper's Way, and then we turn it into the Cloud 9 Way – we've built it off the back of ours. So, what I say to my team is, you need to believe in my way and you need to trust me and you need to do it my way. Zero tolerance. There's no room for movements. If you don't want to do it my way, that is okay, but you can't work for my brand if you don't do it my way.

Because, we are going from our vision for our clients to our mission, and that is all backed up by our processes. So if you're not going to do it our way, then best of luck and let's keep the friendship and end the employee-employer relationship or subcontractor, whatever you want to call it. I actually once had a really amazing employee and as we began to turnkey the business, she said to me, I don't like that you are turnkeying. I don't like that. I have to follow processes. And I said, well, this is business 101, and you're amazing, and I love working with you. That's not something I can be flexible on. Every business needs to turnkey. And so she moved on. And to this day, we are still friends. We still get along really, really, well, but I couldn't keep someone on my team that had such a major conflict.

So then, what do we do about that? Well, number one, we manage them. Alright? In terms of getting your SOPs in place, the team has to be using them 100%.

Zero tolerance.

I believe you should give yourself a special project that is over one year. Begin it, you monitor it, you manage it, and you celebrate at the end. Now, there was a time that if you told me that, I would go, but they're just SOPs and I just give them to the staff and they follow them – I wish it was that simple.

These are humans. We have habits at play. They all want to do it their way, and often they feel like they know better than you, and also that you don't understand their workload, you don't understand all the different excuses they've got for skipping steps, and just telling you they're doing it because you don't really understand.

Now, let's say you came into the program (and actually, it's the same if you don't come into the program, but it's going to be easier for me to brain dump thinking of it that way) – and we give you the SOPs and we kind of help you with how to get started. Let's imagine for a minute that you've got two on the team. So the day-to-day of what you do, the work is the ongoing stuff. Anything that you need to introduce and implement is, to some extent, a special project. And using that phrase "special project" is great because we can also say, okay, this is the beginning of the project, here's what we need to do, and I'm going to check in and check on the progress, so you can have a way to understand how it's all going.

So somebody on your team, for example, if you're in our program, they would head up all the standard operating procedures. Now, what they need to do is pretty simple. They need to take the SOPs, learn them, implement them. If there's anyone else on the team, they need to help them with how they implement them, then they need to look at if everything is working in respect of, is everyone doing all the things that they are meant to do in the timeframe they are meant to do them. And then, they need to have a way and a forum to tackle things that come up weekly. In our team, we have something called "The better every week" process and sheet. We don't do interruptions. We have ways to tackle all that so that every week, everybody has a forum to talk about the things that need to be modified and improved, and who's going to do it.

So, over that year, let's say you are just catching up with the person involved once a month, just to look at how everything's going. And internally, we have things like the critical drivers of profit. We can see profitability on jobs.

SOPs are to primarily keep your promises to your clients.

They are the second thing. They are to make your business super efficient, okay? Time wasters and yo-yos will make your business inefficient and cost you a fortune and your profits will drop. Very linear, very black and white. So that is a mistake I see bookkeepers make, and I've made it myself. Okay? So SOPs, SOPs, here you go. So easy – bookkeepers are built for them. Implement, go. Absolutely, make it a year long special project.

Now, that does not mean that you can't implement and start using them very quickly. Your team needs to be following a process and checklist, and they can all jump in and get all that cracking immediately and use them.

What happens when you have it as a special project? I talk about it in the program with everything – I can give you everything and you can get cracking in a month. But then, what we want to do is hold your hand while we look at what's working, what's not working,

and we progress and we practice – and in terms of standard operating procedures, until it is perfect, until it is turnkey,

until there are no excuses.

To give you an example of exactly what happened in my practice, I've had standard operating procedures from the get go, but over the years, we've tested and measured different kind of formats, and I have recruited team and I haven't been zero tolerance.

And then, I've had to tackle the fact that they are not following the SOPs. Here's something that I did as a mistake: When team members weren't 100% performing, when there was little cracks happening, when there were problems happening rather than zero tolerance managed, I tried to improve the SOP – and I now know that what I should have done was just hire slow, fire fast, zero tolerance. It doesn't have to be mean like, I talked about with the team member who has moved on because she wasn't keen on turnkey. It was fine. I've referred work to her. And I'm a marshmallow, I'm such a softie, but there's no real place for the wearing the wrong hat when you're at work.

Another example is a beautiful friend of mine, first person I ever worked with, worked with me for ages – we've known each other half my life. And when we updated our vision and our mission and started moving to strategic bookkeeping, she said to me, I love your vision. I love your mission, and I don't want to be part of it.

And I loved her honesty so much and she moved on. She's so amazing because see, she knows if she's not 100% on board, then it's not going to work. So these things don't have to be yucky at all. And then another example, so some years ago I decided, I want to change up the way the SOPs are working, and I'm going to create this special project and come hell or high water, I'm going to move heaven and earth to make sure I get the result that I want.

Turnkey operations.

So, I appointed someone to head it up exactly like I'm talking to you about, just in a simple way. And then we had regular meetings to track what everyone was doing.

In this case, one of the things I decided that I wanted the team to do was to create client how to videos, and also written instructions. 80% of what we do for our clients is pretty much the same. 20% is the nuances that we really need to document. And especially when it comes to payroll, I just found that this stuff was kind of keeping me up at night. So what I wanted to create was more business continuity planning. I love business continuity planning for my clients, for my practice, so that if a staff member left suddenly, the business continuity around that client's account was very streamlined and easy. So you would think, this is pretty easy. I said to the team, as you do your work on a client's account, I just want you to create a set of how two videos.

So literally, when you're working on the account, you just press record on your Loom, you explain what you're doing, and that goes into the folder and then we have something. There's a document that we have that details and the little nuances as well. So that's for their task instructions. All right? So pretty simple. Now, one team member in particular pushed back and just pretty much said, I'm not going to do it, and tried to tell me why. So in this case, I've got too much work on, so I can't do it. And I said, no, that's okay. I'll take the workload off you. There you go. You've got time now.

She did not want to do it.

Now, why she didn't want to do it is actually irrelevant. The fact is, I guess the point I want for you to take home on this is, that humans are messy. Why we do what we do, who bloody knows, right?

So what I said to that team member and to the whole group was, come hell or high water, this project will get done. I will remove any barrier that you have. This is my highest priority right now. You're on board or you're not on board. There is no gray. And so very reluctantly, this team member did that, because I was quite happy to take all her work off her if that needed to be her priority, all right? But, I needed to be prepared to do what I needed to do.

And another example is another team member we had. Now, this team member was working remotely, and he simply wasn't doing his job and he was kind of telling untruths about it. He was actually a really nice guy. And once we implemented Precision by Dext together with the workflows, we could really visually see that he wasn't doing what he needed to do in terms of process, time and task. And so throughout the project, we were able to quickly have a discussion with him. And again, hire slow, fire fast. He really wanted to stay on the team, but we could see that he had really poor habits that prevented him from being able to work from home. So we parted on really lovely terms, but it was what it was.

Another one is that, I have a price and service guarantee in my practice. Attached to the service guarantee, we need to deliver all parts of the SLA. And, I discovered that some team were simply not sending out end-of-month financial reports. They were telling me they were, but they weren't. And again, the excuses in their mind, well, I'm really busy. Jeannie doesn't understand, and I know better than her, so I'll just nod and say yes.

I needed to be zero tolerance about that. Now, what has been the effect of me doing all the things that I've told you that I have done?

RETENTION has been one of them.

Our client retention has gone from good to great, to exceptional.

Another one is PROFITABILITY. Our profitability has gone up and up and up and up.

And the third one is CAPACITY. So our capacity to do work has opened and opened and opened, as we've become more and more efficient.

We've been able to reduce our team by natural attrition as people left, and not have to replace them because of committing to wear the manager hat and wearing it well. I don't actually have to do it much because my right hand manages the practice, but, commit to do this and be zero tolerance, and accept that when you put the manager hat on, you're not going to make friends. The good news is, you can take it off and put the friend hat on again.

And, committing to all of this has truly meant that piece of the puzzle has allowed my business to thrive.

This is not just about finding clients – this is about find and on board, without price as a priority. That's being able to convey your value, and talk about your why rather than just your what, supported by your SOPs.

If you need to, re-read this, and really do think about your decision to step up, make the hard decisions, and wear the manager hat, and wear it well.


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