#13 - Single Points of Failure

When you're small and growing quickly, it's natural to become a bit brittle. Let's fix that before your business falls off a cliff. Here are 3 things to help you de-risk.

Hey there! 👋 Welcome to Better Outcomes, a community for service business owners fed up with the status quo. This newsletter is written by Casey Winans.

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What's In This Issue 📰 📦

A brief look into what you'll be reading

  • Things always go wrong, when you least expect it

  • What you can do to save your company’s bacon today and in the future


What's On My Mind 🧠 🤔

I’ve been thinking…

Murphy’s Law. Ever heard of it? Essentially, it states that “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”. It can be especially troubling in small, growing businesses where you’re flying by the seat of your pants just to keep up. You haven’t yet worked on your business to secure its future or continuity for your customers.

This is what we’ll discuss today.

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The Crux of the Issue 🥓 🤤

The insight of the week…

To de-risk your business you only need to document 20% of what you do. Did I just hear you say “which 20?” If so, good for you. That’s the real challenge here yet the steps to get there are straightforward.

Since I already opened a can of worms with Murphy’s Law, I’ll throw out another law… or rather, principle. The Pareto Principle. It states that 80% of consequences (outputs) can be attributed to 20% of the causes (inputs).

That means you need to find the right 20% of what your business does to understand how you achieve 80% of your results. Said another way, if you build processes for the critical 20% of what you do, you’ll be 80% of the way towards de-risking your business.

What’s wrong with your business now? I can’t possibly know that yet I can make a few assumptions to get the ball rolling.

  • Your team keeps most of what they know in their heads

  • Your team operates inconsistently as a team - often as individual contributors stepping in and out of multiple projects

  • If some aspects of your business are written down, most people don’t know where to find it

  • If your team can find documentation, there are several versions scattered across laptops, servers, and email — making it difficult to know which one is “right”

  • You may have at least one team member that drives much of your productivity or has become the knowledge keeper — making them too valuable to lose

I realize that few of you will resonate with all of my callouts above but I trust you get the gist of where the risk resides. You have one or more single points of failure. And your business is one major event from imploding or losing an arm.

What can you do to avoid this fate?

Kill those single points of failure. It’s that simple. Yet I definitely didn’t say it would be easy. That 20% I spoke of earlier — this is where you begin figuring out what it is. I’ll share 3 steps to get you started and will circle back in future issues of this newsletter to go deep in other areas as well.

1) Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
Even I groaned typing those words. Few of you will like doing this yet you’ll love the results. This is your opportunity to talk with your teams to understand what each is doing. Like I said before, you’re not trying to boil the ocean here. Instead, you’re looking for that subset (20%) that accounts for most of your customer value.

In most situations, you can’t just stop at one person/team and consider that your standard. And you can’t just create an SOP based on what is in your head. This needs to be organic, not contrived. Your teams need to embrace it or you’re largely wasting your time on this exercise. You do that by pulling in feedback from everywhere and distilling it down to the common parts and discovering the best practices that will help other teams improve.

Your teams are more alike than you think when you take a step back and look at them from 10k feet. That’s your 20% — or close to it.

2) Project and Deliverable Templates

As an offshoot of defining your SOPs, customer-facing documents will need to be built. You likely have these already but like with your processes, they look wildly different, with some more detailed and refined than others. I imagine in some cases, they don’t exist at all. This is a common side-effect of growing by hiring experienced talent from different companies — they all bring their own tools and methodologies. Or they do the “cowboy” thing by getting sh*t done quickly at the expense of others knowing what they did or how to troubleshoot it in the future. A black box of sorts.

For these documents, you’re looking for the best versions of each type. It’s an opportunity to blend variations and to toss low-value items. You want to be comprehensive yet pragmatic. The goal is to offer typical starting points that reduce your team’s workload dramatically. Let’s call it 80%. This will free them up to focus on the human-intensive aspects of their roles that build rapport with customers.

3) Centralized and Structured Storage

If your team can’t find all this hard work after the fact, you’re no better off than when you started. It was an exercise in futility. However, storing your documents and other artifacts where everyone can get to them has never been easier.

Microsoft, Dropbox, Google, etc. all have products that make this a simple process to undertake. They all even support versioning so ensuring you find the latest and greatest should be an easy task.

Stop saving copies offline on your own devices. Make it a habit to share links to files instead of directly attaching files. This will go a long way towards building consistency.

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I could go on, but you’re a smart and driven person. After all, you’re taking steps to improve your business by reading this newsletter so take what I’m throwing at you and give it a spin. If you think I’m an idiot, share why you disagree in the comments. I have one rule: keep it civil and strive for a discussion that helps everyone grow versus tearing anyone down.

Have a story that would help others? Share it in the comments. 👇

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🎁 Oh, One More Thing…

You may not have caught it above but you just took your first steps towards scaling your service firm. Identifying how you work, documenting it, and making it simple to follow in the future, is a big part of the puzzle.


Better Outcomes is written and curated by Casey Winans. Follow me on Twitter, Medium, and LinkedIn. Want to work with me? Send me an e-mail. Or maybe just buy me a beer?