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Create systems to run your business and hire people to run your systems:

the model for a successful work/life balance

Raise your hand if your feel overworked and underpaid.

Welcome to the majority.

I spent 27 years in the day-to-day battlefield of the corporate drop-off catering and restaurant grind. For the first decade, the overwhelming frustration of working way too many hours for too little profit was a constant.

Like all of us, I had been bitten by, “The Food Service Bug.” I took pride in owning my own business. Nothing felt better than successfully pulling off a challenging event or having an especially profitable month. Nothing felt worse than the whisper in my ear, “It is worth it?” Am I better off getting a “J-O-B” where I would work less hours, make more money, have health and retirement benefits, paid vacations and holidays, and less, (perhaps considerably less) stress?”

Today, as a consultant, one of the first questions I ask a new client is, “In general, do you feel over-worked and underpaid?” Close your eyes and guess that percent answer: “Yes.”

The answer is 75%.

As I said, welcome to the majority.

Something had to change

If you pound your head against the wall long enough, eventually it starts to hurt. My head hurt and something had to change. I was willing to continue working the hours that were necessary. I was not willing to continue to work the same hours while squeaking by. After a decade of paying my bills and staff, but living week-to-week myself, sometimes robbing Peter to pay Paul, always one significant unexpectant expense away from disaster, I decided my business model was no longer acceptable.

On January 1, 1996 (I still have the declaration I committed to in writing), I decided I would give myself one more year to turn things around. Needing a measuring stick to define “turning things around,” I defined it as “a bottom-line profit of 7.5%, after paying myself $800 per week.” ($41,600 in 1996 = $68,087 in 2019).

By the skin of my teeth, I did it.

A new perspective

I take no credit for the business philosophies, “Work ON your business, not IN it,” and “Create systems to run your business and hire people to run your systems.” I did, however, begin reading a lot about these practices, talking to entrepreneurs who believed in them, and implemented the principles into my business model.

After a few months of intense work ON my business, creating documented systems for “how everything was done” (as opposed to winging-it day to day), and getting my staff onboard, we had established Systems to create the single most crucial element of a successful catering / restaurant business. Consistency.

E-Myth author Michael Gerber is the pioneer of the premise, “The goal for small business owners should liberation from their business, and the best way to make this a reality is to build a franchise prototype.” Why? Because franchises have a significantly higher success rate than independent operations.

Your franchise prototype should document ‘the way we do it here,’ and the resulting proprietary operating systems will ensure that tasks are always performed consistently, regardless of who carries them out. This will create predictable experiences that your customers can rely on—and which in turn will help you grow and develop a true turn-key business that will be attractive to investors.

A successful franchise prototype requires systems for marketing, finance, management, operations, and leadership so that anyone can step in and not only understand them but run them. This will ensure the business can function efficiently without your daily involvement, or ultimately, your actual presence.

This means business owners should have a written plan to get free of their business by becoming self-sufficient, lead-generating, client-converting, customer-satisfying machines. How? By designing systems to get work done, and training people to operate those systems to produce consistent results.

A new way of thinking

System: A repeated course of action—a way of doing things—that brings about a measurable result.

Tips that can help you and your staff make systems work.

1) Begin tomorrow with this phrase stuck in your head, “Everything that I see in my business is actually a system.”

2) Identify a good system in your business. Something that you or someone else does that gets the result you want.

3) DOCUMENT IT.

4) Observe your staff as they do their work. If you see someone following a system, but not getting the desired result, change and implement the system to get to desired result. Involve your staff in this process. Not only will they be invested in helping your business get better, they will feel valued because you are telling them their input matters.

Think outside the box

Never accept the concept, “This is how we have always done _________ (fill in the blank).” If you try to fit your business into the systems you have created, your business will shrink to stay within the box you have built for it. But when systems are used to support the vision and the passion of you and your staff, then your company can reach heights you never thought possible.

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From how the telephones are answered, to what constitutes an “assorted” sandwich platter, to suggestive up-selling, to formulas for numbers of serving utensils and quantities of paper goods included with every delivery, to how a meal is set up in a client’s office, to how employees are trained, to administrative and billing procedures, “the way you do things” should be defined, consistent, documented, and measurable.

Well-trained staff run the systems

• Getting your systems documented is not the ultimate goal, rather than the means to reach a goal.

• People are the power behind the systems. The systems are their levers, not their replacements.

• Although your systems are created to eliminate employee discretion, if your staff is encouraged to think, “can this system be improved?” not only will they take pride in their work, they will think differently about their job because they are now part of building your business to its most efficient and profitable potential.

Proof is in the pudding

The Department of Commerce surveyed independent business owners and asked, “What constitutes a successful business?”

 A summary of the most common responses:

• A consistent business runs smoothly and produces predictable results.

• A business that is profitable and continues to grow.

• A business that can regularly recruit and retain exceptional long-term employees.

• A business that will allow me the freedom to come and go as I please.

While studies vary, statistics show that 76% of all independent businesses never make a profit. The majority will either fail, lose money, or break-even. The owners, in essence, have “a job” not a “business” that can be scaled to grow. Eventually, most will throw in the towel, deciding it is too much effort for too little reward. This is not due to a marginal product or work ethic, but rather a failure to create the necessary operating procedures necessary to replicate what an owner does through their employees.

The result? All of the key activities of the business are dependent on a small handful of people. This inhibits the business’ capacity to grow beyond the ability of that small group, or few people. The concept of systemizing your business and hiring people to run the systems is not new or trendy. The issue is that while every new client I speak to loves the theory, only about one in 10 actually do it. The primary reasons holding us back include:

1) We feel overwhelmed by the concept and don’t know where to start.

2) We don’t know how to document processes.

3) We don’t know how to get everyone involved with the operation on board. 

Michael Rosman

Michael Rosman

Owner/Founder, The Corporate Caterer, Boston, MA

Michael Rosman is the founder of TheCorporateCaterer.com, a consulting, coaching and lead generation company for businesses that aspire to take their corporate catering business to the next level or start a new division. He is also a Senior Consultant with CertifiedCateringConsultants.com. He can be reached at [email protected]poratecaterer.com.