What are business systems, workflows and processes, and why do you need them?

02/20/2022 12:05 PM By Celene

Most businesses have few documented processes, and no mapped systems.

Has someone ever said “you need to map out your processes” and you were like “Okay sure, but why? That sounds like a huge effort and we’re way too busy to do that.” 

Or maybe you were like “I’m sure that’s probably a good thing to do, but it sounds kind of overwhelming and I don’t know if it would really be worth the effort.”

Those are great points and I hear variations on them ALL the time, so here’s a great guide that will help you decide if process mapping will benefit your business!


Systems vs workflows vs processes

How mapping your business systems boosts your operations

Systems vs workflows vs processes

These are fancy buzz words that ops people will casually throw around. (And tell you that you need.) They sound good, but what the heck are they, and what’s the difference?

First, I will say that people tend to have their own interpretations of each and use them in slightly different ways. There is also some gray area (how do you decide if something is a big process or a small workflow?)–I’ll get to that later.

A system is a broad collection of procedures designed for a specific outcome. 

WHAT?! Okay, it’s like the big categories of things you do in your business:
  • Your hiring system
  • Sales System
  • Client intake and onboarding system
  • Business planning system
  • Project management system
  • HR/Management system

Systems are the big buckets of “things you do” in your business to achieve certain results. These typically include both the actual steps of things you do (workflows and processes), as well as the software or technology you use to organize or complete them.

Systems will typically have a single person responsible for the outcome/overseeing a system, but may have multiple people working within them.

A workflow is any cycle or series of processes that repeat themselves over and over. 

They can be…

  • Routine: Monthly bookkeeping, quarterly planning, bi-weekly payroll.

  • Trigger based: “If then” workflows. IF a new lead comes in, THEN we start a sales workflow. IF a new project is signed, THEN we invoice it and set it up.

  • Project based: Your internal workflows for completing regular work: Drafting a will, transferring a business, creating monthly social media posts, designing a house.

Usually they will belong within a system. Your financial management system for example, might consist of the following workflows: budgeting/cashflow projections, bookkeeping, payroll, accounts receivable, etc.

A process is that granular “step by step” for completing any task.

Typically these arecompleted by one person, in one sitting. If they are broken up into multiple parts, they are considered a collection of processes, which would usually be considered a workflow.

Let’s take the same finances scenario. Your bookkeeping workflow might consist of processes such as gathering statements, paying bills, reconciling transactions, etc.

A good process will have some critical elements such as:

  • Title/Outcome (what does the process do?)

  • Goal or purpose (why do we do it?)

  • Hyperlinks or account access

  • Links to templates

  • Step by step instructions

  • Screenshots or (better yet) a video walkthrough

  • Next steps, if another process follows or somebody needs to be notified upon completion.

Let’s take a hiring system for example. (This is obviously a very basic hiring system, but the main point is to show you where each piece fits in.)





Attracting Candidates

  • Writing job description

  • Posting job (including setting ad spend)

  • Managing candidate flow

Screening Candidates

  • Reviewing applications

  • Reviewing resumes

  • Scoring & managing candidates

  • Sending interview requests

Interviewing candidates

  • Creating candidate folder

  • Adding resume and interview template

  • Conducting interview

  • Scoring interview & deciding whether to follow up

Hiring candidates

  • Following up & logistics

  • Sending job offer

  • Notifying team

Onboarding candidates

  • Welcome email

  • Set up tech & accounts

  • Onboarding meeting

​How mapping your business systems boosts your operations

Now that you know the difference between systems, workflows, and processes, what is the point of actually writing them out if everybody knows their job and seems to do it decently? Here are four key benefits of mapping processes:

1. Upgrades your training & scaling

The cost of training (in terms of both money and your/your team’s time) can be enormous, and a big barrier to hiring and scaling (even when you’re at capacity and are turning away clients).

Training is a huge time suck. A new employee has sooooo much to take in and learn, often they may nod along to a demonstration of how to do something, but when they go to actually do it, they’ve forgotten half the steps. There is a lot of back and forth, hand holding, going over things, etc. before a new hire can confidently handle work on their own. 

I’ve heard people quote “4 months” as the time is takes to ramp up somebody into their role.

What if you could cut that training time by 75% or more?

If you have all the workflows and processes for a role mapped out, suddenly you don’t need to pay somebody to sit and watch somebody work. (Which is especially difficult in a remote business.)

Instead, they are empowered the the instructions and tools they need to start handling tasks from day 1, and can spend that valuable one-on-one training time going over questions and clarifications instead.

With the best hires, they also notice (and point out) areas for improvement in your processes, because they aren’t so focused on just trying to remember all the steps.

2. Identifies room for streamlining

Imagine this scenario: I ask you, “What does your client intake process look like?”

Well, first they phone in. Someone collects their information and lets them know somebody will get back to them.

  • Alright, where does this information get recorded?

On a piece of paper. Then I review it and call them back to book a consultation.

  • What happens if they don’t answer?

I’ll leave a message, but it’s up to them to call back.

  • Say you get them on the line, what happens next?

We talk for a bit about their needs, and schedule a time to meet. Sometimes this is done by going back and forth a few times via email.

  • So then you meet. What happens next?

We discuss what they’re looking for in detail and whether we can help them. Our prices, timeline, etc. 

After the call I will have my assistant send a proposal.

Once they agree to the proposal, I’ll let my assistant know to create and send an engagement letter.

After the engagement letter is signed, I’ll send the invoice.

After the invoice is signed, I will let my assistant know to contact them to set up their onboarding meeting, send them an intake form, and set up a file for them.

  • And all this is done manually?

Yes, but it doesn’t take that much time.

In that example above, there are at least 17 different processes (done manually!!), including making the prospective client jump through 10 flaming hoops to get to work with you.

Well, it certainly doesn’t feel like that much when I’m doing it.” No kidding, especially when your admin is politely keeping their mouth shut when bearing the weight of most of that grunt work. BUT YOU’RE PAYING THEM TO DO ALL THAT!

(Remember, in this example the owner is only doing 4 of the steps.)

After sitting down and working through this system, we were able to reduce it to 12 steps, but more importantly, automate/template 67% of the remaining steps to reduce overall time spent on intake an onboarding by about 75%.

Until we mapped out this system, it wasn’t obvious how inefficient the old process was, or how to easily improve it.

Especially since the admin was bearing the brunt of the grunt work, so the owner didn’t realize just how much time was being wasted on things that could be improved or automated!

3. Creates opportunities for automation

Continuing from the example above, mapping out these processes it was quickly so obvious which things did need a human touch, which could be sped up, and which could be completely automated.

Would you rather…

  • Email back and forth to find a time that works, or… 

    • Schedule with a booking link?

  • Write down notes (or email them) and try and keep all your leads straight in your head, or…

    • Have them neatly organized in a CRM?

  • Create and send a bunch of proposals and engagement letters each time by scratch, or…

    • Edit the pertinent info and send automatically through the CRM? (Where you’ll also be notified when it’s signed, with an automatically generated retainer invoice.)

  • Type up an email with all the next steps, create, find and link an intake form, scheduling the onboarding back and forth, or…

    • Send a pre-written welcome email that is polished and ready to go?

Seeing everything visually just makes it so SO easy to identify these areas and make them better.

4. Protects you from turnover

“Don’t ever quit, nobody else knows how to do your job!” is something I’ve heard dozens and dozens of times. 

Even if you retain loyal employees (because you treat them like the gems they are)–what if somebody is off sick, or has an emergency? Is there someone else who can step in and keep things running, or does everything go off the rails?

 Having written processes for everything means it’s much easier for somebody else to step in and handle these critical pieces if the main person is out.

When documented processes are not necessary.

I mean, they’re always handy to have, but if you are a small team of 1-2 people and you’re doing a lot of the work yourself, you can probably get by without them.

Otherwise, they’re pretty much always going to help.

How to get started?

When you stop and think about every little process that occurs on a daily basis in your business, it might seem like a huge undertaking to document all of it.

If you want to start hiring/delegating and getting certain responsibilities, one of the best places to start is by mapping and documenting the processes for this new person to take on.

Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn (wherever you hang out online!) to get notified when Part 2: Most Common Business Processes, and How to Document them goes live!

Or... If you want to get your systems in order right away and DON'T want to do it yourself, just book a call and we'll do it for you.

Let's Chat!