This September I’m doing my annual systems audit – looking at systems, tools and processes across my whole business – because it’s amazing how many different things we end up using to make our businesses work, and how infrequently we review them.
(and it has a pleasing back-to-school kind of feel, which is why I do it in September!)
Whether this is your first time auditing your systems or you’ve been doing this for years, I guarantee you’ll find something surprising – I do this every year and am always amazed at what’s crept in!
Here’s how I work through my annual systems audit – if you’d like a free copy of the template I use, hop on my mailing list and a link will automagically land in your inbox (no spam, just useful business magic and you can unsubscribe any time):
Let’s get started!
What do you have?
First up, look at what systems you currently have – including paper based, digital and software-based systems and tools.
You should have an idea of what you use on a regular basis, but double check the following places for any you may have forgotten about:
- Your bank statement for any subscription based services
- Your business and personal email addresses for receipts
- AppSumo because it’s both wonderful and lethal
- Your “downloads” folder on your computer
- Your apps on your mobile devices
- Wherever you store your business information – Dropbox, Box, Drive, Apple Cloud, etc.
What’s it costing?
Ok, now you have your systems audit list, time to check what it’s costing you. Which ones are you paying for monthly, and how much is each one? Are there fees for international payments? Are there some which were on a lifetime deal and if so, are there upgrade options should you need them? Are there any which were a one-off payment but would require further payment for support or upgrades?
For example, my gallery system Shootproof is an annual payment every November, my CRM Plutio is a lifetime deal and there’s no further payment required, and both Camtasia and JPEGmini still work but would need me to pay again if I wanted to upgrade to a more recent release.
Do they work?
For each one, think about whether it’s fit for purpose, does it do what you actually need it to? Does it save you time or money once the setup is done, or are you constantly changing things?
If you are constantly changing things, look at whether this is part of how you work and the nature of your business, or if it’s worth paying an expert to set it up for you so you can just use it and not have to spend time learning the setup.
If you have any manual systems – spreadsheets, index cards, handwritten notes, clipboards, whiteboards, timesheets – is this still working for your business or is it time to look at a software solution?
Extra functions and crossover
Do any of your systems have extra functionality you’re not using? Are you paying for this same functionality elsewhere, or using two systems when one would do?
Is there any other crossover between systems you already own or pay for, where with a bit of streamlining you could use one app rather than three?
Are there any new processes in your business, or ones which have expanded, which you could do with having a (digital or software) system for? If so, would any of your existing systems be able to do this?
If not, then you can look at new ones with a much better understanding of what you actually need.
From a client’s point of view, from first discovery through enquiry right the way through to the last contact you have with them for a particular project, are the systems they use within your business easy, intuitive, secure and on-brand?
The branding is the least important of these – not something I normally say, but in terms of your client being able to view or access information, pay you and communicate with you about their project or service, the usability is far more important than how pretty it is or how well it matches your branding.
Does everyone in and connected to your business have access to the things they need to? Whether this is a project management system, internal messaging, client dashboards or payment portals, this is worth checking regularly.
Back to cost, but looking at it with all the info you’ve just gathered to check the value to your business.
For each system you’re paying for:
- Are you on the correct tier, so you have the functionality you need without overpaying?
- Is the cost appropriate to the value of what it does for you and your business?
- If it’s one you’re intending to keep using, is there a lifetime upgrade that would save you money in the long run?
- If the T&Cs allow, is it something you could share the cost of with another person or business?
For any new systems you’re looking at:
- Make a list of the exact things you need it to do
- Check the layout – some solutions are brilliant but won’t work for all brains, and the idea is to make life easier, not harder
- What kind of a learning curve might it be – is it vaguely familiar or completely new?
- Is there a trial period so you can test it properly in your own environment and timescale?
- What’s the help / setup / migration service like if you’re moving over or starting from scratch?
- Can it grow with you or will it eventually limit you?
- Conversely, is it the right level for what you need – don’t over-system yourself too early!
- Ask other people using it what they think, honestly.
Getting a balance between something that can grow with you without having to change to a whole new system, that also doesn’t feel too much like overkill at the beginning, is a challenge. But it’s worth grappling with so that when you do grow, you’re not having to spend precious time setting up a brand new system all over again.
For all systems:
- Don’t get caught in the sunk cost fallacy – if it feels like you spend more time checking/changing settings every time you log in, or it just isn’t flowing for your brain, consider changing it – yes, even if you’ve already paid for it.
- If it’s free, that’s cool, but don’t struggle with something that doesn’t do what you need it to just because it’s free.
- If you like it and would recommend it, does it have an affiliate programme you can register for, so you can earn money when you do recommend it? (Ones I love for this are AppSumo, Elegant Themes/Divi and Adobe)
And that’s it! Once you’ve worked through all the steps of the systems audit, you’ll have a streamlined set of systems, you’ll only be paying for what you need, and you’ll know what to look for if there’s anything new you need to introduce.
Some years you might not have any big surprises, while other years might spark major change – but it’s one of my most useful activities within my business year.
Don’t forget to hop on my mailing list if you’d like a free Google Sheets template to work through – just pop your name and email in below!