KoiTip #09 - Systems are your Building Blocks

I’m sitting with a startup team helping them prepare for a critical sales presentation. Errol is not present, so we don’t have his correspondence with the client. And no one can find the phone number of the consultant coordinating the evaluation for the client. It’s a mess.

In#08  KoiTip about “the flower” strategy - surrounding your core product with world class services to make up a winning “whole product”. You cannot build superb services by “trying harder”. The building blocks for great services are great systems. So let’s imagine how things would be for our startup if they only had

  • a good CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system
  • Evernote for managing all their internal documents
  • a top-notch tech support system
  • and a great project management system

A good CRM system

Because every one of the people they deal with at clients, suppliers and other companies has been stored in a CRM in the cloud, everyone on the team has access to their contact details at all times, from their desktop or their phone or tablet. Every email going out or coming in has been copied to a special Highrise “dropbox” email account, so all the correspondence with clients, including attachments, is also on tap for everyone in the Highrise system - which lives in the cloud, so it is also automatically backed up as well.

Our startup has acquired a small amount of funding from a retired “angel” investor, who was worried that they’re not moving fast enough. They’ve now given him “read-only” access to their Highrise system, so on a daily basis he can log in and see all the quotes going out, records of phone calls, orders coming in, etc, putting his mind at rest that they’re working hard!

(An excellent, affordable CRM system with email marketing is EngageBay)


Our startup is also using Evernote. Each team member stores all his documents, drawings, audio recordings of meetings etc inside the Evernote system on his laptop, filed under various tags. His desktop Evernote database syncs to a Evernote database in the cloud shared by everyone, so that everyone can access any document or file at any time (including previous versions), across all their devices.

Within their shared Evernote database they have some special “notebooks” as well that are shared with outside suppliers, like their graphics design agency, who upload their work (and download critiques) from one of these notebooks. As with Highrise, documents can also just be emailed into Evernote. And since Evernote automatically OCR’s every graphic and document placed inside it, anyone can find anything through the search bar.

(UPDATE: I no longer recommend Evernote - rather look at Notion or Apple Notes, or Zoho Notebook which is free; avoid OneNote, which gets very little love from Microsoft)

An excellent support system

Our startup provides clients with the ability to log support calls and track their progress by using Zendesk, which gives them a sophisticated support tracking and knowledgebase system for providing top-notch technical support.

A great project management system

All the development work in our startup is managed through teamworkPM from Ireland, which allows them to professionally manage all their projects. This is again a cloud-based system so everyone who is authorised can see at all times what is going on, from all their devices. And again because it lives in the cloud, no one has to worry about backing it up.

A word about systems and training

Alison has booked an hour of my time to discuss scaling her business up from being a one-woman venture. She says “A year ago I hired someone, spent hours training them, then they left and now I’m back to square one.”

Alison’s mistake was simply putting all her knowledge directly into someone else’s head. When that person walked out the door, all that knowledge left with her. What Alison needs to do next time is document all her procedures at the same time as she is training someone. Then when she adds the next person, or replaces someone, it is just a matter of them learning those procedures.

This can be done simply and easily by drawing up basic checklists for every job inside her company. Add a supplier - there’s a checklist for that. Put out a press release - there’s a checklist for that. A great spot to store all these checklists is in Evernote (which comes with tickboxes for just this). At my first company, it was a given that you must document every task with a checklist, which was stored with all the other checklists in a database like Evernote.

Comes Christmas time, and we’re thinking, “what small gift can we do for these customers? Have we done coffee mugs for them before? No? Right let’s do that”. The staff member given the job recalls that we did coffee mugs as gifts for a different group of customers a few years ago, and searches in our database. A few seconds later she has the checklist drawn up before for that exercise, with several suppliers listed, recommended packaging, courier tariffs for delivery, etc.

Using checklists for everything has a dramatic impact on the quality of the services you provide as you work…