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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Systems, authenticity and marketing

How important are solid business systems? In the last month, we had more staff turnover and disruption than I would wish on anyone; individually the reasons all make sense and, while we can draw some collective conclusions for the reasons, the losses were painful.

But the business is rebounding effectively, operations continue uninterrupted, and while client service continued seamlessly through the transition, it will now improve because of lessons learned and new processes and improvements put in place.

Systems, of course, saved the day. I turned on our "recruiting and employee selection" system several times, and it worked to quickly allow us to make the correct choices. But we modified the rules and processes by adapting, listening, and respecting some flexibility --- this allowed me to speed up some critical hiring decisions, while minimizing risk of bad choices.

Then, the new employees (in one case, a returning employee) generally knew what to do because we have established operating procedures. They of course need some guidance for the exceptions and special circumstances that occur less often, but generally, they could find out what to do and when.

Fair enough. Systems can save a business. But can they make one?

Systems-focused people advocate building the systems into your business from day one. They say you should visualize your end-result and then design all your operations to fit a structured, systematic model -- to avoid the seat-of-your-pants and chaotic environment where your personality and bad choices rule the day.

There are merits in these approaches; you certainly wouldn't want to make all the mistakes I made in my early days (and still do now!)

But there is a problem with this approach, and it is "authenticity". I sense if your business is excessively systematized at the beginning, the creative spark which defines it may be lost. You also risk putting on airs about being something you are not.

If you are operating a part-time, one person Internet marketing service you are not a "Professional Contractors Association" even if the materials you have systematically devised are as good as any I've seen for truly professional associations. (Is that a mixed review? Yes, but you should really read Steve Seller's stuff. His resources are excellent. See yesterday's blog posting for the relevant links.)

Then, can you solve your marketing problems with marketing systems? Here, again, the answer is yes, with a big caution. I'm really wary of prepackaged and ready-to-go solutions sold by third party vendors. These are probably much better than the seat-of-your-pants and hope-for-the-best approaches most start-up businesses use, but I sense the best systems are the ones you build yourself, by combining the best practices and advice of others with your own personality, temperament and values.

Sellers acknowledges he is a systems person, but he learned (through purchase of a bad franchise) that systems themselves don't work if they aren't right for the particular business and market you are serving.

One-size-fits all marketing solutions for contractors may deliver core value and can save you a lot of time on the learning curve, but they won't respect your individuality and may be a mismatch for who you actually are.

In other words, learn from others, use systems, but be sure to devise something that is right for you. And be real.

(P.S. The bi-weekly newsletter is a little late -- I expect it will be ready later today but you may receive it tomorrow morning.)

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