Years ago when my business was only a few months old – and I was in the trenches working my tail off trying EVERYTHING to avoid becoming another startup statistic – life was often thrilling and exhilarating…
…but as the months rolled on, life became progressively overwhelming and exhausting as the ‘to-do’s’ piled up, my motivation dipped and I felt more and more as though I was ‘in over my head’.
Sound like a familiar story to any of you folks out there??
I’m guessing yes…
Then, what happened to me (and what happens in most start ups ) was…I recognised that I simply couldn’t go on like I was…then I took the plunge and hired our first employee – an Operations Manager.
Although I kind of freaked out a bit at first about the usual stuff associated with your first hire (finding the cash each fortnight to pay their wages, giving up control and empowering someone else, pissing people off that I’d worked my arse of to please and that had become used to dealing with me), I can’t articulate to you strongly enough here how much life quickly changed for the good.
I was a new man!
I had help. I had a collaborator. I could share problems…I felt the weight of the world lifting from my shoulders. I had time in my day. I had a life back.
My Ops Manager worked out beautifully.
My life and my business just got better and better. We expanded, we hired, we bought more vehicles, we smashed revenue target after revenue target.
His importance to the business grew and grew. People wanted to talk to him. Agents wanted him to solve their problems. Staff and tour guides turned to him with their issues and questions…and that was just fine by me.
I stepped out more regularly, travelled more frequently and the business became less and less reliant on me and more and more reliant on him.
But… then… one day a touch over 4 years later, he dropped it on me that he was leaving…in 3 weeks… to go travelling with his partner…indefinitely
It felt like the world was about to end. I was stunned. I just never imagined that a day would come when he wouldn’t be working for me (how dumb is that!) I just naively assumed he loved his job so much he would go on forever.
For the next few days, I was gutted. I literally felt like packing it all in – it felt like he was everything to the business – I was soon going to find myself right back where I was 4 years earlier but with double the workload and double the problems….and I definitely wasn’t up for that.
But then once I got over the shock, I started to look at things in a different way and I made a decision that I was going to learn from this experience and I was going to better for it.
I decided that our business would never again rely so heavily on one person – and more specifically – what was contained inside the head of that one person.
Anyway, why am I telling you this?
Because one of our ‘Seven Figure Tour Business’ online program members is going through exactly the same challenge right now and it brought it all back to me.
(I’m not going to embarrass her so let’s call her…“Wendy’)
Wendy reached out to me a few weeks ago. She was feeling pretty flat and wanted my help.
Her office manager had just handed in her resignation with two weeks notice and Wendy was crushed.
I said to Wendy: ‘Ok…that’s annoying…so you’ll just have to replace her’.
To this, Wendy said “But Josh, you just don’t understand. She’s irreplaceable. The business can’t run without her – she’s the only one who knows how to do x,yand z
So I said: ‘Ok, first of all I can promise you that she is replaceable. Secondly, right now if she is the only one who knows how to do these things then it’s going to be a very busy two weeks for your office manager. See this as a pivotal moment in your business. You’ve just been gifted a timely lesson and…it’s all going to be okay’.
So I went on to suggest to Wendy that what she needed to do was to direct her Office Manager at that very second to start documenting a process for literally every single thing that she does in Wendy’s business each week.
I mean everything.
Nothing was too insignificant. I’m talking…If she makes everyone in the office a cup of coffee at 830 each morning, then the way she does that – where she finds the mugs, how to turn on the coffee machine, where to locate the dishwasher tablets to wash the dirty mugs – needs to get documented
If she’s the first one into the office every day and needs to turn on the lights, get the heater going and check the answering machine…then that process needs documenting….literally everything – from the most obvious, insignificant task to the most complicated, important time consuming one.
I told Wendy I had learned the hard way that the key to a successful, scalable business is…documented systems.
I didn’t doubt that her Office Manager would be a little ‘put out’ by the prospect of having to spend her final two weeks working harder than she had at any other time in her employment…however it was unbelievably important to get everything that was in her head out of her head and onto paper before she left – and to compile a manual of these processes.
I became HUGE on processes after my first lesson and I always said to the people in my business that the end goal was for nobody to ask the same question twice. If you find the same question asked a second time then it was put into a documented system so that the answer next time became: ‘Go and read the manual’.
Anyway, so the time that my ‘irreplaceable’ employee I talked about earlier quit was the first and the last time it happened to me.
Because the impact it had on me and on my business was so massive that I vowed it would never happen again.
Nobody would ever be ‘irreplaceable’ again in my business.
So I told Wendy that what I had learnt and that what she needed to do differently next time …was to start preparing for the day somebody resigns pretty much about the time you hire them.
My advice to you therefore as a small tour or activity business with ambition to scale…(and have a life…)
…take a step backwards right now and start making everyone in your business responsible for documenting the process involved with literally every single task they perform for you.
Rather than go about it like Wendy and I did where we spent 2 or 3 weeks madly racing the clock trying to download years worth of data from inside somebody’s head and document it all in clear, easy to understand systems before that person walked out the door….
Make it a part of everybody’s job right now.
Everybody in your business right now should be doing 2 things:
Creating and/or updating a manual of processes that teach somebody else how to do every little thing that constitutes their job
There’s no magical formula.
You don’t need to have outrageously brilliant copywriting skills… It’s just got to be easy to follow, easy to digest…and it’s got to make sense.
Keep it simple!
As an example of the kind of things a small tour business should look to include in their internal manuals of processes…this is what the contents page of my internal Operations Manual looked like a few years back:
So I hope this helps all you small but ambitious businesses out there.
Remember…great processes are going to be the foundation for you to build a great business – and have a great time doing it.