You Can’t Prepare for Everything


The opposite side of the spectrum from “I don’t need no systems” is the idea that you need systems for every single possible circumstance that could come up in your business. Which, I’m sorry, is impossible.

It’s impossible because the advertising, audiences, marketing, sales, even the world is changing too fast. Pinterest and Instagram didn’t exist 3 years ago, Twitter was brand new 7 years ago, and Facebook was still college students only back in 2003.

To quote my favorite TED talk of all time and the amazing Sir Ken Robinson, “how can we possibly educate children for the 21st century when we can’t anticipate what the economy will look like at the end of next week?”

The world is changing too rapidly to be prepared for the elusive “everything” and entrepreneurs know better than most that you have to be adaptable. 

Instead of trying to cover every scenario, focus on core values.

You can’t outline every question every client will ever think of for all your products and services. Instead ensure that you have fair and honest guidelines for purchases and returns, that your reps are polite, kind and helpful and that you do your best to serve the client.

You can’t anticipate every natural disaster, political upset, crime or power failure that could influence how you operate your business. No one would have anticipated a hurricane in New York City but that didn’t stop Sandy! Instead, consider how your team, if virtual, will communicate availability in an emergency, know how to turn off automated marketing in the event of a launch, and remember that health and safety should be first and foremost.

Embrace the 80/20 Principle

Instead of worrying about covering 100% of the scenarios that come up, focus your time on the questions or situations that will make up 80% of your volume. Once you have your “best practices” in place then dealing with the other 20% is easy.

And as a business owner this is even more important for empowering your team. Once you’ve created the systems and completed training then they’ll only need to address with you personally the 20% of cases that have no guidelines. Or, do as Tim Ferriss recommends in The 4 Hour Work Week and empower your team to make decisions up to a certain dollar point.

This way you don’t have to write down “refund a product if it’s after 30 days but within 45 days if the client has suffered a heart attack, had a baby, was in the middle of a hurricane or there was a giant sinkhole that swallowed their house and computer.” Instead just note that refunds outside the 30 day period can be processed if they’re under 60 days and $200 or you can extend the trial period by a further 30 days if this is the client’s first request for a refund.

Bam. No more listening to the long, drawn out, details of every customer service request. Can you see how this will free you, as the business owner, up to handle more important issues? Don’t worry that you didn’t write a policy for “clients with sinkholes” and empower your team to handle 80% of the volume without checking in with you.

The real concern is not that you’ll try to prepare for everything, but that you’ll stop yourself from preparing for anything

It’s easy to get caught up in perfection paralysis and overwhelm. Remember that systems are easy to get started and build on each other like little Legos. Just keep building the foundation and blocks and pretty soon it’ll feel like you’ve covered “everything” because you and your team will be able to handle it all.

We often forget that baby steps are the best way to accomplish big goals. Plenty of homeowners saved up for a down payment $20 at a time, $100 a paycheck. You lose weight 2 pounds a week, slowly but surely reaching your goals. Systems are just the same so don’t be discouraged and start today with something.

If you need help getting started with systems start here.

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  • Teresita

    Hi there, I read your new stuff on a regular basis. Your writing style is
    witty, keep doing what you’re doing!