Work Smarter, Not Harder: Setting up Systems for Your Business


Work Smarter, Not Harder: Setting up Systems for Your Business with With Grace & Gold

Today’s guests are two of my absolute best friends in the world, Kelly and Andra of With Grace and Gold. Since 2014, With Grace and Gold has provided award-winning web and brand design for more than 400 creative small business owners. With designs rooted in purpose and strategy, many clients of With Grace and Gold, including myself, multiply their revenue as a result of having an online presence aligned with their vision and goals. These two are such amazing businesswomen. They met in a coffee shop and have created this huge empire for themselves. They’re amazing and funny and so full of knowledge so please enjoy! 

On what to consider before going into business with someone

Having strong communication and having similar goals is really important. When we first met we talked about our shared interests, but we also work so well together because our skills are complementary to each other. Many people want to go into business with someone because they have the shared interests, but we’d challenge that and recommend finding a business partner who has complimentary skills rather than the same skills as yourself. For example, Kelly handles our client management, systems, organization and finding good tools for our business and Andra’s strengths are in the design world- branding, graphic design, web design. So when we first started working together, we found that our skills were complementary rather than the same. We can divide up the work and get more done because we’re not overlapping in our responsibilities.

On tackling that to-do list and creating a system that works 

It was really just a matter of figuring out where each of us fit in and that took a lot of experimenting. There were times where we were both tackling similar to-do’s, or we’d overlap in certain ways, and after a while we realized “this is what I’m best at, this is what I like to do most,” and we divided up the to-do’s based upon that. Kelly primarily does the project management and Andra primarily does the design work. We use a project management system called Basecamp, and that allows us to input each client’s process, then divide up each step of the process, and then assign it to either of us. When we log into our computers for the day, we can see a list of what needs to be done and there’s no confusion or questions about what the priorities are or what needs to get done because everything is right there in that system. Also, from a client’s perspective, having these defined roles helps make it also clear for them on who to communicate with when they have a question or note for us. It just makes for a good client experience all-around as well as a good business experience for us. 

On balancing the workload between the two 

First and foremost our big priority is checking in on each other. Whenever we’re communicating with one another, we’re chatting with one another, but can sense how the other person is feeling. So if it’s going to be a busy week or busy day, we like to create a supportive environment for each other where if someone does have a big workload we provide that comedic relief or emotional support if our to-do’s can’t be helped with. And of course there are times where the workload is different based on the season. So right now we’re working on launching a workshop, so that largely falls under Kelly’s umbrella. But then there are seasons where we have several clients leading up to their launch day all at once, which creates a huge workload for Andra that Kelly can’t necessarily help with. So it ebbs and flows, but what helps us to approach it is knowing our business can’t run without what each other is doing to move it forward. It eliminates any resentment and allows us to move forward and know that even if it’s busy for me right now, it’s a season and we can help each other, and every single thing that either person is doing is lifting up our business, so we just need to keep lifting each other up. We also work similar business hours. So we know we’re both going to be on between 8am-4pm and we know we’re both available during that time and whether you have work to do outside of those hours, at least we know we can rely on the other during those times of the day. So we can check in on one another, and share the encouragement, and have some checks and balances. From the beginning we just respected each other’s time and mental health and know that if we want to be in business with each other then that’s what we have to take care of now. We’re a team and we have the ability to create company culture within our own business. So we talked about agreeing that we wanted to make our business a place that we both wanted to be and that helps guide the decisions too. 

On creating strong systems within their business and what that looks like now

When it comes to anything in our business we have a process for it, only because we’ve realized in business, so many things are working together at the same time. Social media marketing, newsletters, educational offerings, and our every day services are all things that require us to create, plan, implement, and then finally see that project through. In the early days of our business we would send a running list back and forth to one another with the current status of where each client was in their project. Things can change so fast, and we realized having this running list wasn’t helping us have the pulse on where our clients were at. So Kelly experimented with a variety of project management systems and put in our process step-by-step to figure out which system would work best for us. Ultimately we landed on Basecamp because it’s really team-oriented. Through that process we were able to plug-in each and every step for each and every facet of our business and make sure nothing is left behind. The idea is if you step away from your business for the weekend or a couple weeks, you should be able to pop back in and know where everything is at. That’s the heart and intention behind creating our systems.

On where to start when creating a system or work flow 

Think about the big picture, or the goal of what you’d like to accomplish. Then break it down into tiny pieces. My recommendation when developing systems is just to go through things in a chronological order. Think about literally every tiny step that has to happen in order for that project to be accomplished. If you’re looking at systems that are client-facing, it’s the same thing. You want to develop the system by thinking about how the client will experience working with you. We get super specific- like “Send the contract, receive the contract, send the payment plan, receive the payment plan.” It’s so nitty-gritty and so specific because that allows you to free up your mind and use your mind for more creative projects rather than wondering where each project you’re working on is at. It’s just a matter of starting small and thinking about each step and giving yourself the freedom and flexibility to make small adjustments to that process as you continue running through it. Our processes today look different than what they looked like a couple of years ago, and a couple of years before that. But it’s a matter of running through it and having that foundation there so you can continue tweaking and adjusting in order to find what works. It really helps to think of your business like a big business that has systems. Just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you need to run your business in a small way. The reality is if you don’t have these in place, it’s going to cause burnout. Systems just allow us to free up time to either not work on your business if you want more time to just have “life”, or free up time for other projects in your business- more revenue-generating projects, taking on more projects or clients. Train your brain to think of the business as a bigger corporation, and if we run and think of our business that way, then all that’s doing is freeing up more time for life or more business adventures as well. 

On creating a 4-day work week

We basically decided that we wanted to see what we could accomplish within 4 days rather than 5. Andra presented this idea once that if we had 5 days in our work week, we’d fill those 5 days, and if we had 4 days in our work week, then we would work really hard on those 4 work days to accomplish what we needed to in that time. What it came down to was we had a couple of years where we didn’t have set business hours and we found ourselves working quite a bit and it felt like we were working just for the sake of working. Because when you love what you do, it’s really easy to keep going- you want to keep seeing each project though. So we decided on the 4-day workweek so we could set better boundaries for ourselves and for our clients and trust ourselves that we were going to be really diligent during the work hours that we had. It was just a matter of making a change- we started at the start of a new year and we set a tone for anyone we’d start working with in the year ahead and we just haven’t looked back. 

On Work-Life Balance

Balance really looks different for everybody. There are certain things that are just out of your control- that’s life. There’s going to be so many things that we can’t control in our life, but the things we can control are our time. Balance is something that doesn’t look like balance traditionally, rather it looks like being all-in on whatever you’re doing. Balance is setting boundaries- when you’re working, you’re working, and when you’re not, you’re not, and really making that decision for yourself and deciding what that looks like. Is it 30 hours/week? 40 hours a week? Is it 2 days a week? 3 days a week? It’s such a loaded question of how do you balance things in life, but it really is this ebb and flow. Some days are full-mom, some days are full-entrepreneur and having grace to allow yourself to do that is important, especially as a mom. It’s not feeling the guilt when you’re in your office, and not feeling the guilt that clients are concerned about you when you’re with your kids. It’s making the decision and knowing you’re doing your best. 

It’s important to listen to yourself and just know what you need in any given moment. It’s difficult to have balance if you’re constantly being hard on yourself about what you’re doing or not doing. Give yourself freedom and flexibility to listen to yourself and think about what things you value and what feels right in that moment and remember to give yourself grace when things change, when they ebb and flow, or when they look different than what you expected. As women, we hear this word balance and we think that means we need to have it all together. We think balance means that my day is perfectly flowing, that I wake up and I know exactly what my work day looks like and I have it “balanced”. But that’s where we put so much pressure on ourselves. Its almost believing balance doesn’t really exist in a sexy format, it just is deciding that I’m going to be 100% in and listen to when I’m not. If I’m not in it, if I’m not focused, then I shouldn’t be sitting here trying to get work done. As women we’re told we need to find that balance, we need to be everything to everybody. 

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