When you’re trying to grow a company efficiently, effectively, and economically, there’s no better way than by building a process-driven culture.
You might think that business processes are meant for large corporations, but consider this: I’m part of the growth team at Hubstaff, and we’ve grown from an annual recurring revenue of $200,000 to $2.2 million in barely two years. That’s around 700% percent growth, and we’re completely bootstrapped. Our team of 30 people—which was only 15 people a year ago—is 100% remote.
Processes have been part of our culture from the beginning, and they’ve played a huge part in our successful growth. Whenever we find a winning strategy, we document it and make it easy to understand so we can build a process around it.
People know that processes help businesses succeed. But very few people seem to know how to implement them. Whenever I search for information on business process ideas, I see questions like this:
And the search results go on like this ad nauseum...
I’m going to let you in on a secret: processes are not hard to build. They’re not difficult to implement. And, with the right kind of reporting, they can continue to run efficiently without much input from you.
How Process Helped Us Reach 700% ARR Growth
The biggest benefit to instituting processes is simple: they help your business run on autopilot.
When you’re managing a team, a big chunk of your time can go to managing team members’ tasks. This can take up the majority of your week, which makes it difficult to work on tasks that will help grow your company.
Managing work can be really frustrating. You aren’t learning anything new, you’re not contributing to the success of the company, your growth is slow, and you probably feel like you’re better qualified to take care of the tasks your team is working on. This can lead to excessive feedback loops, which seriously slow down production. No one’s winning here.
Processes solve this problem. Tasks stay organized and get measured, ensuring that they’re being completed at maximum efficiency. Measurement also means you can calculate the ROI of various tasks. You don’t have to get involved with the things that other team members are responsible for, because their updates are automated. Processes improves scalability, and allows you to focus your time on more important goals, like growing your business.
There are two important things to note, though:
First, the initial setup takes some time. There will be very few returns early on. You’ll need to handle the tasks that you’re turning into a process, and that might mean you’re actually being less efficient for a while. But if you’re patient, you’ll see the returns.
Second, you need to have proper reporting set up and your top KPIs defined. If you’re not measuring the success of the process, it will eventually die out.
Now that we have those timing and tracking needs outlined, let’s get to the six fundamental elements of building an effective process.
Element 1: Clarify Everything With Step-By-Step Documentation
An effective business process needs extremely detailed documentation. It’s almost like creating user documents for a piece of software (example - help.trello.com). Every single step in the process needs to be documented, and each step needs to be abundantly clear.
At every step of the process, there’s only one important question: “Is it done?” If there’s any room for an answer other than “yes” or “no,” the step needs to be adjusted. It’s likely that it simply needs more detail. There should never be a time when the answer can be “maybe” or “yes, but . . .”
Why is this clarity so crucial?
Because it doesn’t leave any room for excuses. If an employee is unclear on any part of the process, they need to ask about it right away. And once every step in the process is clear to them, the responsibility of execution lies solely with them. If steps are confusing or it’s unclear who needs to be completing any particular task, the process will run less efficiently than it should.
Element 2: Speed Up Onboarding With Solid Training Materials
Effective training materials go beyond what’s specified in the process. Even though the process documentation should be highly detailed, there’s always room for more instruction. And by creating training materials that deliver that instruction, you’ll save yourself a ton of time when a new employee needs to be trained on that process.
Pro tip: Including media in your training materials can make the learning process much easier. Screenshots and videos only take a few minutes to prepare, but they can save you hours of training once you’ve onboarded a few new employees. Of course, these training materials will need to be maintained. I train a lot of people at Hubstaff, and if I see that trainees often have the same question that isn’t answered by the training materials I’ve created, I’ll whip up a new video that answers it.
So you’ll need to continue investing time in training. But it will be significantly less than if you were to train each individual personally.
There’s another important point that I’ll emphasize here: if you’re going to effectively train someone on a task, you need to have done that task yourself. You should go through the process at least once—two or three times would be better—so you can see where there might be snags or questions. Maybe the process is missing some steps, or tracking is especially difficult.
Knowing the ins and outs and taking steps to correct them beforehand will make your training even more effective and save you more time in the long run, despite the upfront investment.
Element 3: Stay On Top Of Processes With Robust Reporting
As I mentioned earlier, business processes need to be measurable, and there needs to be a tracking system in place. If you aren’t tracking the results of a process, you may run into a number of problems, including not being able to calculate the ROI of various activities. Putting a robust reporting system in place early on will save you the time of trying to figure out if the process is working later.
Let’s look at an example. If you’re running a cold email campaign, you might track three different metrics:
- The number of valid email addresses collected
- The number of people contacted
- The number of replies received
With just these three simple measurements, you can get a good idea of how effective your process is and if your employees are improving, maintaining, or losing performance.
Keeping the number of metrics focused to a core few is generally a good idea—having more data is good, but the more complicated the reports are, the more time they’re going to take and the more difficult it will be to keep employees motivated to create them.
And, of course, the reporting system itself needs to be accessible, yet complete. It could be as simple as a Google spreadsheet, or as complex as a full-featured executive dashboard. Whatever you decide on, make it easy for everyone to use and only put information on it that’s related to the process KPIs.
If you ask team members to accomplish as much as they can, you’ll end up with one of two results: burnout or poor performance. Goals should be backed up with specific KPIs, too—and those KPIs should be directly linked to the performance of the company
Element 4: Operate At Max Productivity With Benchmarks
Because you’ve run through the process once or twice, you should have an idea of what sort of benchmarks to set. Going back to our cold email campaign, you might have found that getting 30 valid email addresses per day is a good number. You can use that as your starting benchmark.
Of course, as you continue to run the process, the benchmark will change. The first thing you should do is to set accurate benchmarks for each person running through the process. If you have six people collecting email addresses, you could have up to six different benchmarks.
Keep track of these benchmarks over time, and respond to any changes. For example, if someone consistently drops below their benchmark, find out why. You can use a time-tracking app to see where they’re spending their time, and a productivity measure to see if they’re working efficiently.
On the other hand, if someone’s numbers are consistently above the benchmark, see if you can pinpoint what has helped their efficiency. Maybe they’ve found that one step in the process isn’t necessary, and that saves time. Or perhaps they tweaked a task to make it more effective. Whatever the reason, find out how they’ve boosted their efficacy and see if you can apply that across your entire team.
As you continue to refine your process and your employees become more skilled, your benchmarks will change. By keeping a detailed log of results and benchmarks, you can continually improve the process.
Here’s how we used a simple spreadsheet to track one metric in a link-building campaign:
And this, of course, is what you like to see after some time:
Element 5: Motivate Employees With Ownership
Going through the same process repeatedly over the course of weeks and months gets boring. Even if the process is improved and results get better, employees are going to have trouble staying motivated to work on the same task over and over.
How do you keep motivation up? Instead of just delegating tasks, delegate some authority, too. Let your team members own these numbers and work with them to set a challenging goal to hit. A motivating goal is difficult, but achievable.
This goal needs to be specific. If you don’t have a clear number to aim for, employees can fall into the “as-much-as-you-can” trap. If you ask team members to accomplish as much as they can, you’ll end up with one of two results: burnout or poor performance. Goals should be backed up with specific KPIs, too—and those KPIs should be directly linked to the performance of the company.
Showing an employee that their efforts are directly affecting the bottom line is hugely motivating. It’s not always easy to figure out how to make this connection, but it can be done. If you can measure it, you can link it to your bottom line.
Another useful thing to keep in mind when you’re setting goals is to set sub-goals as well. Your goals might be quarterly or even yearly targets, and those longer-term goals can easily get lost among shorter-term concerns. If you want to send 2,000 cold emails in a year, break that down to 500 per quarter, and 170(-ish) per month. Staying on track with short-term goals is mentally easier, and will make sure that you’re always headed toward your long-term goals as well.
These types of measurable, achievable, important goals are also crucial to effective scaling. If you’re sending 50 link-building outreach emails every week, and you want to be sending 100 in two months, you can scale via the process you’ve put in place. Adjusting goals and KPIs just makes the process even more efficient.
Element 6: Keep Connected With Check-Ins
Just because you’ve now delegated both tasks and authority doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. You still need to make sure your employees are using their authority and the processes put in place to make progress. Are they on target with their goals?
If they are, offer your thanks for their hard work and give them positive feedback—it’s invaluable for motivating your employees. If they’re not meeting their goals, however, you have some work to do. Find out why things aren’t going as planned.
Maybe they’re burned out or getting bored with the repetitive tasks. It’s possible that the process itself isn’t performing well anymore. No matter what the reason, you want to know about it as soon as possible. If you find out at the end of the quarter that your team hasn’t been hitting their goals, it’s too late to make changes before you have to report your numbers. And that’s bad for everyone.
Instead, get to the root of the issue as soon as you can and make changes. Regular meetings to check in on progress ensure that you aren’t finding out about these problems too late.
The check-in doesn’t need to be a big meeting. Just jump on a call for 15 minutes every couple weeks and see how things are going. If performance needs to be improved, make a note of the changes that need to be made as an action item for the next meeting (here’s my template). Then check in at your next bi-weekly meeting to make sure the action item has been addressed.
Processes Are The Backbone Of Our Growth Engine
These six elements have been developed over the two and a half years I’ve spent focusing on growth at Hubstaff. I’ve built a number of marketing processes from scratch, including content amplification, link-building, sales outreach, and integration partnerships. Every process is built on these six principles.
Before instituting processes, I could have easily spent 30 or 40 hours a week managing the employees to whom I delegated tasks. Constant check-ins, multiple feedback loops, managing assignments, and the frustration of things not getting done how I wanted them done resulted in a huge amount of wasted time. And while I was doing all of that, the tasks I should have been doing to grow the company were ignored.
After putting effective processes in place, I can check the reports in 30 minutes, run bi-weekly check-ins for another 30 minutes, and spend an hour updating the process. Imagine what you could do with all of that extra time!
If you start using these principles to build effective processes, let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear how you’re using processes in your own business and the efficiency gains that you see because of them.
Good or bad, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Find us on Twitter (@trello)!