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November 14, 2023

Episode 118: Four Systems Every Small Business Must Have to Increase Efficiency & Growth

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If you’ve listened to any of our past episodes of Priority Pursuit or perused our website or other resources, you know that Treefrog Marketing exists to help small businesses get to the next level.

And, while much of business growth is a result of effective marketing, if you want to be able to grow and scale your business, manage your resources wisely, and not spend every minute of every day working, you have to have systems, protocols, and processes in place.

That’s why, on this week’s episode of Priority Pursuit, we are once again talking with Mary Adkins—our Director of Operations and systems guru—to break down the four systems every small business must have in place to increase efficiency and growth.


The Importance of Systems for Small Businesses

Usually, small businesses that want to get to the next level are already offering a great product or service and serving their customers well. However, they’re frustrated because their businesses have plateaued. More often than not, this is because they don’t have an effective marketing strategy or systems.

When we talk about systems, we’re talking about set protocols and tools that are used in repeatable, consistent ways to achieve a goal. Systems can be built for each element of your business process—including the way you serve your clients, marketing, and all other tasks that must be completed to run your business.

It’s so important for businesses to develop systems. Without them:

  • You’ll waste time and resources.
  • You’ll be unable to grow and scale
  • Your customer or client experience will suffer.
  • You’ll likely end up stressed about where projects and tasks are in your business processes.


Signs a Small Business Needs to Develop Systems

There are a lot of different signs that a business could or should develop or even improve upon systems. Some indication questions you might ask are: 

  • If we asked where your logo files are kept, would you know and be able to send them to us? 
  • If we asked to see your social media content for the next month, would you be able to show us? 
  • What is your business’s mission? 
  • How much PTO does your front desk person have left this cycle? 
  • When was the last time you spoke to your oldest client/customer? 
  • What day(s) do you pay your invoices? 
  • What is the status of the latest shipment of supplies you ordered? 
  • If you added a new employee, would they have the resources they need—outside having to ask other members of your team hundreds of questions—to complete their tasks? 

If you answered “no” or “I don’t know” to any of those questions, you need to set up or revisit your systems. And, even if it’s not your job, you should definitely still know who or where you can go to find the answers. 

As a general rule of thumb, you want every aspect of your business to be so streamlined and accessible that you can hand any task or project over to another member of your team at any given time. 

And, if there are any tasks that you must complete on a regular basis—such as submitting payroll or fulfilling a client order—it’s important to have a system developed so that you aren’t starting from scratch and can complete the task as efficiently as possible every time.


Four Systems Every Small Business Must Have

There are four main areas where systems should be developed within your business to increase efficiency and growth: accounting, human resources, communication, and project management.



If you’re not keeping track of your money, you’re losing money. It’s as simple as that. This applies to our personal lives as well as our businesses. 

Just like how you should keep track of how many streaming subscriptions you have, you should also know your business expenses—like how many recurring order subscriptions you have on Amazon Business, and if they are recurring at the rate you actually need those supplies. Setting systems and checks for your business accounting can prevent wasting money on unused subscriptions or unneeded expenses.

While there will always be some internal accounting, we highly recommend working with an accountant. This helps relieve the duties of the business owner, and you can trust that these duties will be done correctly.

There are a lot of different softwares available for proposals and invoicing. We use a combination of HoneyBook and QuickBooks, but really you can pick any option that works for what you need, as long as you have the systems in place to use them effectively. It’s never a good look to be invoicing a customer for work that happened six months prior. 

The next part of accounting, even if you’re a solopreneur, is payroll. As the owner of a business, it’s absolutely best practice to outsource your payroll. It can be complicated and time-consuming, and if it’s not done correctly, it can have drastic and expensive ramifications. 

We use a local payroll company because we love supporting local businesses and we can get personal support—as opposed to a call center. And, they work with our accountant.  

Payroll also ties into human resources (HR), which is the next main area where systems should be developed. 


Human Resources

We think it’s safe to say that the idea of handling HR causes a lot of small business owners and leaders stress, but once you have processes in place that your team understands, HR becomes pretty simple. 

Some questions you might ask when assessing the systems for your HR are:

  • What is each step of your hiring process? 
  • Once someone is hired, what training do they go through, and what documents and agreements do they need to sign? 
  • What benefits does an employee get, and when do they get access to them? 
  • How does someone request PTO, and how is it approved? 
  • What happens in the event of an employee disagreement? 
  • What needs to happen step-by-step if an employee quits or needs to be let go?

For example, our team members have access to a form for requesting PTO within our project management software. Then, there’s an automation to review and approve that PTO and recorded steps for moving or reassigning the work that was scheduled to happen during the time they are out of the office. 

If you’re a solopreneur, this still applies to you when it comes to hiring freelancers or virtual assistants to assist with your workload.



Communication is a crucial area to look at when it comes to setting up systems in your business. 


Client Communication

The first side of communication is client or customer communication. Client communication systems should be trackable, transparent, and repeatable. At Treefrog, for example, we currently use Basecamp to communicate with all of our clients. 

There’s a project template that we created that automatically includes certain files and documents that apply to each new client we onboard. Then, new clients get an onboarding email with the information they need about what Basecamp is and how to use it. 

Once they’ve been onboarded to Basecamp, they receive a templated series of other emails detailing what to expect next and requesting information that we need in order to move forward with their projects. 

Discussions are broken down and labeled by topics that are easily searchable and can be viewed by every team member. Files can be labeled, discussed, and assigned to people. 


When thinking about your onboarding systems, some questions to ask yourself include: 

  • If you have clients, how often do they hear from you once a contract is signed? 
  • What information do they need from you and what information do you need from them in order to move forward successfully with the project? 
  • Where will that information be stored and who is able to access that information?


If you have customers as opposed to clients, then:  

  • Do they know who their sales rep is? 
  • How are they inputted and saved in your point-of-sale system?
  • How many shipping and delivery notifications are sent?
  • Do you follow up and ask for a review or remind them when it’s time to re-order? 


Basically, when it comes to client communication, so much of how you communicate with each client or customer is very similar. As a result, if you take the time to create templated emails, questionnaires, and workflows, you can save yourself and your team countless hours, especially if you also use a program like Basecamp, Honeybook, or another CRM that allows you to set automations and workflows. 

Investing in a reliable CRM is invaluable. With automation capabilities and simply having all client information and correspondence in the same place, you can save yourself hours upon hours. 

Yes, writing template emails in a Google Doc and copying and pasting them as needed is an okay start, but when you can onboard new clients with just a few clicks thanks to a CRM, you can save your small business even more time. And it truly won’t take long for a CRM to pay for itself. 


Team Communication

There are a lot of options for team communication. It’s important to pick one that works well for your business and set the rules. At Treefrog, we use the Google Suite, which includes Google Chat, Google Spaces, Google Meet, Google Calendar—and, of course, Gmail. 

Chat is used for quick, timely messages and ongoing discussions with multiple team members. Spaces is used among specific departments and allows us to divide conversations by topic. Emails are for less time-sensitive information sharing. Meet is for face-to-face discussions that are as structured as possible so as not to waste time or get off track. 

We also use ClickUp for project-specific internal communications as part of our operations and project management systems.


Project Management System

If you’re a service provider, you need to keep track of all of your current and future projects and all of the elements you need in order to complete those projects—like staff hours, deliverables, timelines, key stakeholders, and more. There are so many moving parts, but some questions to ask yourself to get the system building started are: 

  • How much staff availability do you have? 
  • What is each step of the project, how long do they take to complete, and who is accountable for each step? 
  • What tools will you need?  
  • What information do you need upfront?

There’s a lot more that goes into it, but asking these questions and knowing the answers before you start can prevent you from dropping the ball or from overpromising and under-delivering.  Again, at Treefrog, we use ClickUp to keep track of every step of our project progress. 

If you sell physical products, operations management is equally important. You need to keep track of:

  • How many orders you anticipate getting and what it will take to maintain the supply levels and workforce to fulfill those. 
  • If you are above, at, or below those anticipated levels. 
  • How long it takes you to manufacture and ship something. 

The systems that you have in place should make it possible for you to have this information and make adjustments accordingly—without having to make uninformed decisions or scrambling to do so.

Basically, regardless of what products or services your small business provides, you need to develop a step-by-step system for fulfilling purchases, and this includes everything from what happens when you receive a new inquiry to how you’re going to follow up with a client or customer after you’ve delivered your product or service. And, to be as efficient as possible, you want to use a project management software that helps ensure every step is completed. 


Ways to Get Started

First of all, documenting protocols and standard of protocol (SOP) development for all products and services is extremely important. Every step and every task of your business should have recorded protocols or SOPs. 

If you’re dealing with heavy machinery, this might include a technical writer and a written manual, along with safety briefing videos. If you’re on the computer, this means documentation in a shared cloud space, preferably with a lot of screenshots or screen recordings. At Treefrog, we use a combination of Tango and Loom

Tango follows your cursor as you walk step-by-step through a process and automatically generates screenshots and descriptions that you can edit and add details to at the end. Loom is a screen recorder that captures your screen and your voice as you talk through a process and then provides a sharable link at the end of your recording.

We’ve also found it really helpful to map out all business processes in a visual way—like a mind map. This way, you’ll be able to easily identify gaps or bottlenecks in your systems. There are a ton of free options online for mindmap development, but we use a functionality within our project management system, ClickUp. This is especially useful with interconnecting all of the processes. 

As you could probably deduce from everything we’ve talked about so far, a lot of the systems you’re setting in place will be highly interconnecting. And, knowing the whole system from inception through implementation, as well as who is accountable for each stage of the process, is vital to keep things running smoothly and preventing anything from falling through the cracks. 

In addition to developing SOPs and protocols, one of the best things you can do to create systems and increase efficiency is to have the right tools. Find software that fits your needs for each step of the process. 

If you’re just starting out, there are a lot of programs that offer free versions. For the paid ones, it’s easy to justify your ROI when you think of the time, resources, and consistent efficiencies that you’re gaining. Types of tools needed to create systems include but aren’t necessarily limited to:  

  • CRM 
  • Project Management System
  • Client Communication
  • Internal Communication
  • File storage and organization
  • Payroll
  • Accounting
  • Invoicing

If you need help determining which tools would work best for you, please contact us at Treefrog to find out more about our fractional CMO services. This service includes us evaluating your current tools and making recommendations on how to use them more effectively. We can also help you find new tools that better fit your needs. 

Essentially, to create systems you need to document SOPs and protocols so that every member of your team has the information they need to complete tasks as efficiently and as accurately as possible. Then, you want to use a project management system—like ClickUp—to help you keep track of every piece of a project. And, you want to identify and invest in the right tools that will make these processes even more streamlined. 


Tips for Building Systems

Donald Miller, the creator of StoryBrand, talks about the three people you need in order to run a business. There’s the creative or visionary, the entrepreneur, and the operator. The creative comes up with the ideas, the entrepreneur figures out how to monetize them, and the operator makes them come to fruition.

Because the mindsets of each of these roles are so different, it’s very rare that one person can successfully fulfill more than one role. With this in mind, I think it’s important to note that just because developing processes doesn’t bring you joy or isn’t your strong suit does not mean that you are failing. It just means you’re meant to fulfill one of the other roles. 

This also means that the most effective way to run your business smoothly would be to hire that operator, someone who thinks in systems and processes. And, for the record, you can absolutely hire an operator—often referred to as an “integrator”—on a part-time basis. 

If you’re not at the point where you can hire that operation person, and even if you are, we highly recommend utilizing AI and automation to supplement your systems. While AI can’t completely replace personal touches in customer service, it can still do so much, even if it’s just taking care of the low-complexity, repeatable tasks that are unnecessarily taking up your time. 

There are so many possibilities when it comes to both AI and automation. What works best for you will depend on your business and your needs. At Treefrog, we use Zapier, ManyChat, ClickUp, and even ChatGPT. 

AI and automation capabilities are constantly expanding, so again, it’s important to reevaluate your set systems to see how new functionality can make your processes simpler and more efficient.


Benefits of Creating Systems

A lack of repeatable, consistent systems will, at best, waste time and resources and prevent your business from scaling. At worst, it can lead to high turnover, burnout from stress and long hours, lost revenue, and dissatisfied customers or clients. Taking the time upfront to set up the systems that work for your business will lead to an exponential return on your investment.  

While the upfront set-up time for these systems might seem daunting, it’s completely worth it. And, there are ways to break it up into more manageable pieces. For example, it’s likely that you already have some systems in place now, but maybe they’re all in your head. 

Make a list of all of these, and then the next time you run through that system, record them as SOPs by using a free program like Tango or Loom. Then, make a list of all the systems you would like to have, map them out, and rank them by complexity and priority. 

We think it’s important to add a side note here that while systems should be set, they should also be flexible. If a step within the system isn’t working or new tools become available, update those systems. Just make sure to record and communicate any updates that you make. 


While we could go on and on about processes, this is a great introduction to what goes into systems that every business needs. If anyone has any questions about systems for their business, please contact us about our fractional CMO service. Systems analysis is just a small part of all of the benefits of hiring Treefrog to be your fractional CMO


Links & Resources Mentioned in This Episode


Try HoneyBook—the all-in-one CRM that streamlines your workflow—to save 45 minutes per day on admin tasks.



The Priority Pursuit Podcast is a podcast dedicated to helping small business owners define, maintain, and pursue both their personal and business priorities so they can build lives and businesses they love.

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In this week’s episode of “Priority Pursuit,” we chat with Mary Adkins and break down the four systems every small business must have in place to increase efficiency and growth.



Leverage Kelly’s marketing experience, insights, and leadership to grow your business.

As the founder and chief marketing strategist at Treefrog Marketing, a co-host of the Priority Pursuit Podcast, a StoryBrand Certified Guide, and fractional chief marketing officer, Kelly Rice has spent more than two decades helping small businesses take their companies to the next level by providing trustworthy leadership and building effective marketing strategies and systems.

She has dedicated her career to helping small businesses succeed because she knows, firsthand, how hard they work to make their communities a better place. 

Still, many people undervalue the strength and ingenuity of small businesses, but not Kelly. She believes they deserve to have a marketing partner and strategy that works as hard as they do.

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