How Recurring Checklists Allowed My Company to Grow

Over 2 years ago I decided to start a small digital product studio in order to fund my side projects as well have an active insight into the fast-paced tech market. 

Having just came off of working at a large mobile agency in NYC I had a solid foundation as to how to deliver great digital products for my client needs. 

What I didn’t take in consideration, however, was the supporting eco-system of employees that made the machine run on time.  At first, it wasn’t a big issue, I got my first couple of clients through my referral network as well as just pure networking.  

Those initial projects were small enough where I could handle 80% of the work myself & delegate out the parts I’m not good at.  While running projects back to back it was easy, however, once the clients started delaying deliverables, moving deadlines etc. the projects started stacking on top of each other.  

Now that’s still not a big deal if you’re familiar with any decent project management software or process. The hard part comes when you’re still trying to run a business in parallel to producing the work.

I honestly thought that I’ll be spending 80% of my time leveraging what I’ve learned as a developer, product manager throughout my career & implementing it in my client projects. Based on producing good work, future business will roll in & I can just sit in my office designing & building the next great thing.

Oh, how wrong was I… . 

Turns out running a legitimate business entails a thousand and one things to be done at the same time. Sure, you can hire more & more people to offset most of them, but then you fall into cash flow issues, quality control & mid-level management. 

What I’m inspired by when talking to other business owners, is not about how much revenue they make (because profit margin might be 2%) or how much people they hire (irrelevant), but how much profit per employee are they’re generating. 

The way to think about it is:

  • A company of 10 people, making $3,000,000
  • A company of 120 people making $12,000,000

Which one would you rather be? 

Two companies that serve as my north star are: Basecamp (formerly 37signals) & Buffer

You can take a look at Buffer’ financial snapshot here.

Now, when looking at ways to grow without hiring a-lot people, we have to take a look at tasks that take up most of the time & how can we apply the 80/20 principle to them (Pareto principle).

For example, something as simple as sending out a weekly newsletter to keep your network engaged would look like this, before optimizing:

  1. Gather interesting updates from the tech market throughout the week.
  2. Plan what we’ll write about next week.
  3. Stub out what we want to write about in Google Docs.
  4. Find time & write the newsletter content.
  5. Send it to 2 other people to proofread & add to it.
  6. Take if from Google Docs & enter it into MailChimp.
  7. Edit mail-chimp template.
  8. Schedule the newsletter to go out.
  9. Press Send.

 After optimizing the process, this is how it breaks-down now:

  1. Use Revue to gather articles throughout the week & stub out automatically.
  2. Record voice memo, send it to contract copywriter to transcribe & edit.
  3. Review & Send.

So from a perspective of cutting down the time & resources, it’s both using the right tools & people for the job. In order to know which tasks to go over first, you have to figure out where lies your core competency. 

If you’re a designer, maybe it’s actually just the creative process & not necessarily making pixel-perfect designs in Sketch, or maybe you’re a marketer and specialize in PPC, but suck at dealing with client communication. 

For everyone it’s different, but the common way of identifying ways to optimize your output is reviewing the tasks you’ve already completed over the past, day, week or even month.

I recommend keeping track of to-do’ in one central place & not deleting them once they’re completed. This allows you to then analyze which tasks were time-consuming but didn’t directly tie into your core competency. For me it was the newsletter, sending out invoices, keeping track of employee vacation time & many more.

Basically, predictable tasks that happen on a recurring basis and eat away at the time you have available. That’s the where the recurring checklists come in to play. 

If I can recommend one book that is the deep dive of how effective checklists are, it’s the book by Dr. Atul Gawande an endocrine surgeon & professor at Harvard Medical School called “The Checklist Manifesto“. 

Thanks to Vishal Patel, for recommending it years ago! 

More repeatable tasks, you can break down into step by step into a process, think about it as if you would be giving instructions to a five-year-old or just scroll back up to the newsletter example.

Now that you have a checklist, it’s much easier to both set proper expectations when you hire people to fulfill the work as well as serve as a constant reminder on how to go about certain things. 

There’s also perfect for identifying further improvements you can make to make them even more efficient. 

So, let me leave you with this:

What is the one thing you wish didn’t take so much of you’re time so you can focus on being productive?