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Implementing systems before your first hire

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I started Nook Design Studio 5 years ago. I dreamed of being my own boss and having the freedom to travel while doing something I loved: helping the small business owner succeed at reaching their own dreams.

At first, keeping up with my clients was manageable. But as my roster expanded, so did my work day. Next thing I knew, I was skipping meals, staying up past midnight, and answering texts in my sleep.

If this sounds like you, it’s time to hire someone to help!

With success comes more work and more responsibility. Ever notice the decline in services of a business you used to love? Typically, the reason for this is that the business grew too fast without preparing for the change. Without proper systems in place to keep moving forward at a smooth pace as you grow, you risk losing clients and doing damage to your company. Hiring employees and freelancers is inevitable.

“Without proper systems in place as you grow, you risk losing clients.”

Of course, you’re so busy already that the idea of developing systems is merely a footnote at the bottom of your priority list. This means that it’s definitely time to carve out space in your schedule to create systems and procedures. To help you get started, here are some indispensable tips I learned as I developed Nook Design Studio.

1. Procedures system: write everything down

writedown

Write everything down as you go along. That may seem extreme, but here’s the thing: when the time comes to make your first hire, it’ll be far too late to get all this together. At that point, you won’t have the hours (if not days) needed to write up a procedures binder. Avoid the chaos. As soon as you have a task down and figured out, write a step-by-step list of the process, and keep updating it every time you improve the procedure.

“As soon as you have a task figured out, write a step-by-step list of the process.”

For example, one of my first contracts was to prepare a daily newsletter for a client. The task was quite time-consuming and there were a lot of associated details that needed to be completed. This was one of the first jobs I wanted to delegate in order to free up my time to further develop Nook.

The first thing I did was start a note called “Newsletter Step by Step.” I included each and every step it took to prepare the newsletter, along with screenshots, and kept updating the list whenever I improved the process. Super easy to follow. When the right time came along, training a new hire to take care of this task was a breeze.

Sometimes it may seem that delegating tasks is harder than doing it yourself, but if you document your activities as you go, training new hires to do them will be much simper. This process will also teach you to improve procedures as your company grows. I use a program called Evernote for these step-by-step guides. Evernote is great because you can share the notes with anyone, and if you or your employee or freelancer make changes, everyone who has the note has the most up-to-date version.

Just remember to save!

2. Contract system: contract agreements are essential

contractsystem

A contract between you and a client protects you both from being taken advantage of. It also ensures you both clearly understand the scope of the project, any associated fees, and expectations. The importance of an independent contractor agreement is no different and can save you many headaches in the future.

  1. Protect yourself and your work: the agreement should protect your intellectual property, your trademark work, confidentiality, or secret recipes.
  2. Clarify expectations: the contract should clarify your expectations of the contractor, the scope of the work, and possibly a pay scale or fee expectation—either per task or per hour. Of course this may change in the future, but at least you’re starting off with clarity.
  3. Prevent client loss: the contract should detail the rules and regulations surrounding how your freelancer may interact with the clients they come into contact with through your business
  4. Protect your clients: the contract should also detail confidentiality agreements regarding client work or privileged information

A quick online search produces many ideas on what to cover in the agreement. It also unearths several basic contract templates, but consider hiring a lawyer to review or help you craft a specific contractor agreement for your business. This contract is in place to protect you, your work, your clients, and your contractors and to ensure smooth business operations. It’s well worth the investment.

“Consider hiring a lawyer to review or help you craft a specific contractor agreement.”

3. Office procedures system: avoid common pitfalls with a few rules

officeprocedures

Will your freelancers or full-time employees be working from your office? It’s a good idea to develop clear office rules to ensure things don’t get out of hand. For example, what equipment will you provide, and what equipment are they responsible for? During which hours will your freelancer or employee be expected to work or have access to the office and equipment?

In my experience, I found that what comes naturally to me may not be part of another person’s daily process. Everyone has their own ideas about how things work, as well as their own habits. The most valuable lesson I learned: don’t assume anything.

Introducing your employee or freelancer to a checklist of important things will eliminate a lot of needless frustration. Examples:

  • How to properly lock the office space
  • What equipment needs special care
  • When and how to back up files (Each day? End of the week? Monthly?)
  • Other daily tasks

It will also create a much more pleasant work environment.

4. Project management system: time sheets and tracking project tasks

timesheets

Endless emails and threads can be a recipe for disaster. It’s so easy to open a message and forget it’s there, accidentally delete an email, or lose it in the inbox. Trying to keep multiple projects on the go with several freelancers requires a special kind of organization! I’m grateful for the many programs available online, often for free, that make this possible.

At Nook, we love to use Toggl to keep an accurate overview of a project, including detailed task descriptions and time management for each task. The free version allows you to have up to 5 team members, unlimited projects, as well as project tracking and reporting.

“Keeping track of details will help you budget for future proposals with more accuracy.”

You can also use Toggl to assign tasks to particular team members, but for that we use Trello, which is also free. It’s a simple system that works like a virtual—and much more efficient—tack board. You can share tasks, mark them as completed, and assign them to team members. Everyone on the project has the total overview of it in real time.

Organization isn’t the only reason to have this system in place though. Having these details and data will help you bill clients and budget for future proposals with more accuracy.

Remember…

It’s never easy for a freelancer to take the next step and hire the help they desperately need. It may even seem risky and daunting. However, once you start delegating tasks to designers, assistants, virtual assistants, copywriters, developers, and whatever else you might need, you’ll never want to do it all on your own ever again.

Just remember: be ready! Write everything down as you go along; prepare a contract that you can easily augment depending on the freelancer or project; set up office procedures or ground rules; and use a reliable project management and time keeping system. You may not be able to control everything, but developing these few systems will smooth the way.

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Author

Isabel Boschi, Creator of Nook Design Studio
Isabel has always had a passion for design, marketing, and adventure. She graduated from the Interior Design program at the University of Fine Arts in São Paulo, Brazil, and got her start as a professional Designer in film and television. For several years she worked as a set decorator and props master, before relocating to Vancouver, Canada. In her new city, Isabel jumped at the chance to work on a sales team of a local custom apparel company. There she developed a mastery of customer service and sales, and the company thrived as a premier sports apparel supplier thanks to her keen understanding of the relationship between cohesive branding and marketing. Before creating Nook Design Studio, Isabel was the manager of Flüff Design & Decor, a large design and home staging company in Vancouver. She worked closely with the marketing and branding of the company, further sharpening her skills. Now, Isabel is thrilled to bring her years of experience and expertise in design, customer service, and marketing to the development of your online presence.

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