business blueprint | Jun 12, 2024 |
Why it’s time to start documenting your firm’s systems

Smart designers systematize their businesses. Are you one of them?

While it can feel overwhelming to take your firm’s best practices and turn them into a manual, the temporary pain of documenting your processes is well worth the effort. You’ll not only prevent headaches, but also save your business time and money.

When you don’t have clear systems in place, you end up training new team members differently depending on your current schedule (which is always busy), and this leads to unhappy and confused employees. You also end up needing to explain things multiple times. (Estimate the total hours you train team members and repeat yourself, then multiply that by your hourly rate—that’s what not having defined systems is costing you!)

Without documented checklists and processes, each team member does it their way—which means inconsistent results and constant fire drills. The larger your team, the more your brand experience becomes chaotic and sloppy for clients, resulting in costly and avoidable mistakes that impact end results and customer satisfaction.

In short, your bottom line—the money in your pocket—is impacted every single time a process isn’t documented, explained and trained, and followed by all.

Just think what would happen if a pilot “winged it” and didn’t follow a preflight checklist. Doesn’t your business deserve to run safely (and profitably too)?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard our consulting firm’s clients complain about employees making costly mistakes. But when I ask if they have documented checklists, processes and systems in place, they often say no. That tells me that the mistake begins with the business owner, who did not provide the right support.

I’m not saying that creating systems is easy—but it will change your business for the better. If you’re ready to commit to documenting your firm’s best practices, here’s how to start.

  1. Provide structure with documented checklists and systems for each of the firm’s processes. (These can be in writing or videos.) Start by breaking down the essential components, tasks and timelines for employee hiring, onboarding and training; client onboarding; and the design process. Then move on to invoicing, accounts payable and project management.
  2. Offer consistent, documented training for employees. Telling someone once isn’t enough—research shows it takes hearing new information seven to 14 times for it to fully sink in, and visual learners (as designers often are) may need to see it in writing or on video as well.
  3. Establish a feedback loop to ensure your team members understand the process as you intended it. That means having them answer queries like, “What did you hear?” or “What questions do you have?”
  4. Create accountability by scheduling a follow-up meeting. Assess if the employee is working effectively within the established process; saying, “Let’s check in on this date” offers quality control without leading to micromanaging.

If you’ve documented all the major processes in your business and followed the support steps and you’re still experiencing problems, it may be time to evaluate an employee’s skills and attitude. Take corrective action early before the errors eat up your profit.

One of my most coachable clients started her firm on the third floor of her home. She had two small children and a part-time employee. When we first met, she was exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed from working 60 to 80 hours a week trying to keep up with her business.

Today, she has 11 employees and a beautiful two-story office, and her business has achieved 16 times the revenue she brought in when we first met. A few years ago, her husband decided to start his own business, and could do this comfortably because she was more than covering their household expenses. I credit her successes—and especially her ability to scale her firm—in large part to her diligence in establishing and communicating processes for her business. If you don’t have systems, then you’ll find yourself repeating the same things over and over again and facing continuous interruptions throughout your day. On top of that, you’ll have inconsistent results because your team will constantly be reinventing the wheel. It’s worth the time to document your processes to avoid these all-too-common frustrations.

Freedom from stress and worry is your reward for doing the hard work to make your business more professional and more financially lucrative.

For insights and analysis on how designers across the country run their firms, download the 2023 Interior Design Business Survey report, presented by Pearl Collective, Interior Talent and Business of Home.


Gail Doby is co-founder of Pearl Collective (formerly Gail Doby Coaching & Consulting), an interior design business consultancy that helps designers, architects and other creatives increase their profitability. Doby ran her own design firm in Denver for nearly 20 years and has a degree in finance and banking. Since 2008, she has been helping designers scale their businesses profitably and reach financial freedom. As a coach, mentor and business transformation specialist, she shares innovative ways to overcome the roadblocks, challenges and detours creative entrepreneurs face. She is also the bestselling author of Business Breakthrough: Your Creative Value Blueprint to Get Paid What You’re Worth. Her goal is to empower design industry clients to differentiate themselves, drive measurable results, achieve business projections, and create personal satisfaction through game-changing strategies and business practices.

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