#7 fundamental systems for a lifestyle business

Things I'm grateful for this week

You don't need more shiny objects. You need to work on the foundations. Here are the building blocks of a 6 fig solo business

“you’re just being anal”

“that’s overboard, it only takes 5 minutes”

“why are you always trying to fix it when it isn’t broken?”

“there’s no point in being a perfectionist”

“this is what we’ve always done”

These are some phrases I’ve heard many times before in my career that always drive me nuts.

When I worked for other people, I often saw things that just seemed stupid. But when I tried to improve it I hit resistance. Even when I would point out the significant costs in time and money of doing it that way, often things wouldn’t change.

Why? 🤬

I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to continue doing things one way, when another would get it done faster or better.

I wasn’t obtuse in pitching my ideas. I didn’t hit people over the head with them. I was polite but results focussed. But you’ll still see this resistance a lot, particularly in corporate structures. In fact I’d say it’s more common than not.

People don’t like doing things differently and they don’t like change.

I used to find this incredibly frustrating until I read surrounded by idiots, which helped me understand the mechanisms behind this better.
I remember in a design job bumping up against a senior who had been in the role for a lot longer than me.

In the internet age, it has become easier to promote your products and content. The opportunity to reach a vast audience that the internet and content marketing provides cannot be overemphasized.
For example, Dollar Shave Club launched its online video campaign on March 6, 2012. In the first 48 hours after their video was released on YouTube, over 12,000 people subscribed to the service. The video only cost $4,500 to create and as of November 2015, it had over 21 million views.

I had similar ideas and wanted to run some digital marketing that would help the company reach a new audience, as well as a new system to manage our work.

So I pitched spending 1 day to develop global templates on Indesign, which would mean we wouldn’t have to do repeated, monotonous tasks when creating each new project.

The result would cut about 10-20% of our workload every day, for all x5 designers, every day, forever, with zero costs.

Of course, it didn’t happen.

Why?

“We’ve always used Illustrator.”

It was more comfortable to stick with what they knew, even if it was costing them money. Many would rather be comfortable than profitable, which is why many never reach their full potential. It’s much easier to take the obvious route, and do what everyone else does.

Needless to say I wasn’t there for long. Only 3 months in fact.

There were other more obvious reasons to leave which I won’t go into, but I realised then that I’m not built to work in a heel dragging culture or a corporate environment.

I used to think it was my thinking was weird and maybe I had an uptight personality.

I’ve always had a compulsion to optimize thing;

I like to lump things into buckets or categories,
My brain always tries to connect the dots,
I like a tidy work space.

It’s just the way my head works.
Now I realise its my superpower and it lets me operate the way I do.
Now I have the freedom to implement and improve within my own business as I see fit, so bumping against sticks in the mud is no longer a problem.

This hands-on impact is one reason why having a lifestyle business is so attractive to me.

In my own business, I vowed, any process is open to optimization, nothing would be untouchable.
I try to continuously improve my processes, systems and strategies.
But usually it comes down to make small changes to the foundations, rather than new fancy tricks or tools.

This week I’m making a quick and dirty list of all the systems I use across Design Hero.

But first, why are these systems so important?

What people think you do to grow a business

Most people start a business, then burn themselves out trying to grow it, and fit their life around what little time remains.

I want to help you design your lifestyle first, then build a lifestyle business around it, without the burnout.
If you do things the same way as everyone else, then the only way to get ahead is to do more and work harder.
Everyone says do this, do that.
So you’re going to need to think differently.

Most people default to more.
More leads, More ads, more engagement, more AI, More Tiktok, whatever the latest shiny object is…
But you won’t change your life by doing more of what your doing now.
In fact if you want more free time, you need to start doing less

You need to start over and get the foundations right first.
Sometimes the foundations can be boring.
Sometimes it’s tempting just to quickly do that thing that takes 5 minutes, or to explore a fancy new tool.
But setting up foundational systems will allow you to run your business to maximise profit freedom and stability without just working harder, and allow you to work more ON the business instead of IN the business.

systems diagram

The tools of solopreneuring

If you want to scale a business then you could go the traditional route of hiring people and scaling that way.
But then you’ll have to train them. and manage them. and that will cost time. and money.
If you want to run your business as a lifestyle business, the goal is to maximise profit and freedom, without just scaling up.

Any trade has it’s tools. So these are the tools of solopreneuring as I see them

⚖️ Policies & Boundaries

The prevention is always better than the cure. Sometimes I try to solve problems, only to realise I should be seeking to prevent that problem occurring. Boundaries and policies are rules to live and work by that help you avoid problems later.

📦 Templates

If you’re going to do something more than once, don’t start from scratch. Create a checkpoint you can use to skip the repeated parts.

📃 SOPS

Standard Operating Procedures. This is a step by step list of how to do things in your business. Even if you work by yourself, write them for yourself.
You can’t optimize the process if you don’t know what the process is.
You can’t delegate unless you have instructions.
Write it down. Now you can visualise what’s working and what’s not.

❌ Reduction

Writing your SOPs will reveal all sorts of steps, or parts you can cut from your process without affecting the result.
Before you try to do anything else, see what you can remove without breaking things.

🤖 Automation

Most repetitive tasks can be automated in some way. There are many tools and apps out now which integrate beautifully, to remove manual actions needed between steps. You can use something like Zapier to fill the gaps.
When you have a system running by itself without your input, you will feel like a superhuman 💪🏻

📅 Scheduling

It’s always quicker to do things in batches than one at a time.
Most tasks can be batched and scheduled for later. this includes social posts, most comms, emails, texts etc.

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 Delegation

My last resort. If you’ve done all the above, and the system still needs human input and intuition, then it’s time to delegate to someone who can do it just as well as you, so that you can spend your more valuable time somewhere more critical, on a task that requires your specific knowledge.

⚙️ Systems

Now you have an optimized process which you can systemize. What’s the difference between an SOP and a system?
SOPs teach people how to do it, Systems are the actual doing. Setting up a system means combining your the SOPs, templates, automations, delegation etc into a repeatable process which can run on autopilot, or with minimal human input at critical points.

The Fundamental systems I use to run Design Hero

So these are the tools we use. Now what are the systems?
These are the foundational pillars of my lifestyle business.

Without them I would be an employee in my own business;
trapped under the weight of labour,
buried by an avalanche of admin,
suffering from undue stress
instead of doing high value work and honouring my unique talents.

Under each foundation, there are systems which I’ll list here.
My plan is to write about each of these systems, in detail, and produce video walkthroughs for all of them.
If that sounds interesting, you can subscribe here to receive these to your inbox as I create them.

I’ll continue to retrospectively update this post as I add more content.

⚙️ Lifestyle Systems

Weekly Scheduling

Your time and how you spend it should operate on a system, so that your acting with intention instead of acting on other people’s whims.
I use a weekly schedule to keep myself working on the right things at the right time.

List of non-negotiables

A growing list of stuff I will and stuff I will not do. Has saved me from all sorts of trouble, and helps keep you on the right path.

Boundary setting

I’m putting this as as system because there is a method to this.

Monthly Checkin

Once a month, I do a macro review to make sure my actions are aligned with my overall goals in the longterm.

Weekly review

Once a week, I do a micro review to make sure I’m not losing sight of the goals, it’s easy to lose a week by getting sidetracked.

⚙️ Sales Systems

Sales Calls

Lead nurture

Project Proposals

Review Gathering

Sales funnels

I’ve written about my automated sales funnel and lead magnets here

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⚙️ Lead Generation Systems

Enquiries CRM system

What gets measured gets managed.

Enquiry Nurture System

I have a system to automatically reach out to, and nurture, any enquiries who contact me.
There’s a brief sneak peek at it at the end of my 6 figure automated referral system
I’ll do another video about it sometime.

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Referrals system

You are sitting on a goldmine of leads that you’ve probably forgotten about. I’ve written about my system for referrals on autopilot here.

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SEO Linkbuilding

I build about 3-6 high quality, DoFollow links to my website every month using a guest blogging system.

Social Content generation

I write, my team repurposes. We create 1 month of content and schedule it in one sitting.

Social Engagement

Most people flip open social when they feel like it, and scroll mindlessly.
I treat Social as a business tool not entertainment. I spend 15mins a day on social media. To do this I condense my engagement into a system that I run through once a day on repeat.

⚙️ Comms Systems

This is where most people spend the best hours of their day:
Welcome to the admin zone. necessary work which adds no value to your business, or to your clients.
This is where simple systems and proper boundaries will have the biggest impact.

Notetaking & Ideation

Brains are for having ideas not storing them. get the ideas out, so your brain can have more ideas, and think about more important problems!

Asynchronous Comms.

Never have a meeting if a call will do. Never have a call if a Loom will do. Looms are video recordings with audio.
Looms allow asynchronous communication in high fidelity.
You can start to record a library of your SOPS. Sometimes you can also use this as content for social.

Call Scheduling & appointment booking

Most calls aren’t needed.
“can we jump on a quick 5 call?”
Nope, we can’t. Because 5 min calls don’t exist. It will take 25 mins. Plus another 10 going back and forth to arrange a date and time.
Set up a system where people can book calls with you, when it suits you best, without the to and fro

Here’s a complete run-through of the automated appointment booking system I use in detail to get back 12 hours a week

Calls

Sometimes a live conversation is required for complex topics. Zoom will save you a lot of travel time.

Emailing

Most people don’t know how to email properly. They treat it like a live chat service. Each emails they send generates more emails, whilst communicating little. So they waste all day in emails instead of doing. Start thinking like this:
Every email you send should move you closer to the goal in as few emails as possible.
There’s a system for this which will drastically cut your email requirements.

Email templates

Part of the above is never writing the same email twice. have a library of email templates for common responses.

⚙️ Fulfilment Systems

Client Onboarding

This is the first interaction after payment, a client is looking for a sign that you’re the right choice. Many people don’t have a system in place for this and fuck up the very first opportunity for a positive experience for the client.

Project management

each project is created from a template saving me hours of admin for new projects.

Briefs

Briefs should be everything someone needs to start and finish a project.
I also write briefs for myself, because they act as a checklist to make sure I have everything I need, and helps with ideation.
I have a system for the types of info I need for a project, whether it’s client work, internal marketing tasks, or a personal project

Feedback

We need a way to tease out, gather, interpret feedback. There’s a system for that.

Deadline systems

Always do what you say, in the time that you say it. I have a set of policies and systems for deadlines to ensure projects run on target, or that targets are adjusted accordingly.

Hiring talent

Always have a system in place for hiring when you need to, otherwise you’ll make poor decisions and hire the wrong person based on likeability.

I’ll be updating these systems as time goes on.

So that’s it!

This episode is as much me getting my ideation and organising my thoughts as it is a value post, but as times goes on I’ll be swinging back round and updating this with content and links so over time this will become a hub of systems for solopreneurs, with the goal of building a complete roadmap for running a lifestyle business on autopilot.

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🔑 Key Takeaways

Systemising your business is an ongoing process that never ends. Get the foundations right and you’ll set yourself up for a lean business that runs on autopilot and enables your lifestyle with wealth, stability and freedom.

🛎️ Daily Reminder for Solopreneurs

If you’re going to do it more than once…

  • template it,
  • automate it,
  • delegate it,
  • or automate it

💥 How to take action

Knowledge without action is only potential. Here's something you can do right now to improve the way you live & work...

Start writing down your process for each part of your business.
Compile these into a document with nested pages,
this will become your SOPs.

Nicholas Robb

Nicholas Robb

Founder, Design Hero
Author of Life by Design

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