Are Your Business Systems Flawed?

Systems can save your butt, but only if you work them as they were intended.

What needs to get done that isn’t? For example:

  •  You’re not updating your contacts database often enough. Every time you go to send a mailing, you have to spend a couple of days adding names.

You need an efficient system for collecting names in a timely manner.

  • You’re missing important deadlines.

→You need a system for recording, reviewing, and meeting deadlines.

  • You’ve neglected your blog.

→You need a system for capturing ideas, writing drafts, and editing posts.

2 white rhinoceros drink together from a waterhole, painted in watercolor and ink by Alison Nicholls.
©Alison Nicholls, White Rhinos Drinking. Plein air pen and watercolor on paper, 11 x 14 inches.

System Components

Most systems need:

  1. Defined results: What do you want to happen?
  2. Software or paper & pen to record data.
  3. Identification of other people involved and their tasks.
  4. Clear articulation of the steps and how they build on one another.
  5. Commitment to a regular check-in (e.g. Thursdays at 10 a.m.).

It’s that last item on the list that is often the kink in the process.

Systems Check

Systems don’t work by themselves. You have to work the systems.

You must be committed to the system you put in place, which is why my system might not work for you. It has to be a good fit. You must turn any system into your system.

If you discover that your system is flawed, change it! Find out which component isn’t working for you and give it a tweak.

If you catch yourself saying, “I’m not good at X or Y” or “I’ll never be able to Z,” do a little digging. Is it because you don’t have a trusted system?

–> Check out our programs that help you systematize your entire art career.

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36 thoughts on “Are Your Business Systems Flawed?”

  1. Great reminder! I like the reverse approach – starting with the result and working backwards to see how it can be put into action. The hardest part for me is changing things up… sometimes we can’t see the flaw or perhaps, don’t want to admit it!

  2. The biggest problem I had was becoming too focused on one aspect, like prospecting, and neglecting another aspect while doing so. I made two tweeks to my system that have helped greatly:
    1) I created a PDF that is a current projects list – it has a list for my fine art business, a list for my graphic design work, and a list for my art association work. I then set this PDF up in my start-up routine on my computer. Whenever I boot up the computer, this PDF loads and shows on-screen, before I start any other software program, a good reminder for me of my overall goals and plans.
    2) I created a set of three sheets – a monthly overview, a weekly production schedule, and a daily action planner – that I fill out by hand. At the beginning of the month I put together everything I want to accomplish for the month (projects due, prospect list, research goals, newsletter checklist), and then break that down into weekly segments. Then each day I work from my weekly production schedule to create a daily action planner (meetings, email/call log, and project tasks).
    Those two items have really helped me to keep a sense of the big picture and keep my system for running my business in order.

    1. Robert: That sounds like a great system! I’m so glad you found something that works for you and that you work. It sounds like you’re on the ball.

  3. I use systems to run my art business and it makes it a breeze.
    I use excel spreadsheets to store the steps for each system, which will some day be handed to an assistant (this is one of the huge values of systems – once you have them documented and they are working smoothly, you can step out of the picture and hand the task off to someone else, freeing you up to create more art!)
    I also use an excel spreadsheet to track my progress to make sure my systems are in working order. Each month I review how things went and my spreadsheet turns the tasks that are falling behind yellow to remind me to focus on that area more in the next month.
    My systems are here (in the form of my goals for the year):
    A post talking about the advantage of systems vs goals is here:

    A peak at my system tracking spreadsheet is here:

    I explain my shipping system here:

    I did a talk a few years back about using systems to manage your time online (called Time Management – the Artist and the Internet), which describes a few systems that can be used for things like blogging and social media:

    I love systems Alyson! (of course, being the software geek that I am). Sending you hugs for your loss.

  4. Thanks for all your ideas, Alyson! I have put many of them into “action”. My blog (listed above) had gone kind of stale, so you inspired me to find a way to force myself to revive it. What I did is to start using it as the main communication method with my students in a Still Life in Watercolor class that I am teaching, instead of email. Every week I have put up photos that are ideas for still lifes and asked my students to comment, or I have put up photos of still life paintings by other artists, and will add many painting tips as the course progresses. Also I will show works in progress and step-by-step photos of my demonstrations.
    All 35 students had to learn how to sign up for a blog, follow it, and write comments, which was quite a challenge for some of them, but they are glad for it! The blog is open to the whole world, and I have been getting many more hits!

  5. Alyson,
    I am sorry that you and your husband have lost His Mom, your loved one, I will continue to pray for your family to be comforted and be well. Please know that we will wait for you until everything settles down.

  6. I’ve been traveling and teaching a lot and one too many times I forgot to make hotel reservations, or forgot what airline I was taking. For 2012 I’ve created a spreadsheet for all my teaching gigs with a column for travel, handouts etc. hope it works!

  7. I have a tendency to let little mundane tasks go by the wayside, so this past year I tried putting reminders in my computer calendar. When I start up my computer, I have little reminders that pop up telling me to update the photos on my Facebook page or to reconcile my business bank accounts. I tried to make each task something that can be completed in 10 to 30 minutes so there’s no reason for me to put it off. So far, it’s worked pretty well.
    Thanks so much, Alyson, for turning this difficult time into an effective teaching opportunity.

    1. Cate: Thank you for your kind words.
      I’m glad the reminders work for you. I’ve not found them to be effective for me – preferring a daily review and running task list. But, as I said, you need to find your own system.

  8. Forgetting to write things down was my biggest problem. I solved numerous problems by signing up for Now I can just call one number on my cell phone while on the go, and it will hook to my google calendar, and a myriad of other programs to keep me running smoothly. I love this program.

  9. One system that I developed was a spreadsheet for deductible travel mileage. There are some deductible mileage expenses that I do regularly-go to ceramic material store, attend business related meetings, Art Fairs, etc. I have calculated the mileage and so I have a column that is destination, date, miles, number of trips, and total (across top). Down the left is the different locations. I enter the date and increase the number of trips with date entry and it automatically calculates total miles. There are some that I have to add as new trip arises but generally I can just use my reg. trips. It then totals on bottom and then I have a calculation for mileage deduction per IRS and get total to fill in on taxes.
    Each year I make a new tab/sheet in excel so all years are kept in one file and I copy the previous year and remove dates to start all over.
    This has really helped me keep track of deductible miles.
    My $0.02 🙂

    1. Good idea, Jennifer! I’m terrible at keeping track of mileage. I tend to go back to my calendar and look at appointments, which, of course, excludes other business errands.

  10. MedHelp offers various types of “trackers” to monitor your health…They send you emails to remind you to update…My biggest obstacle has always been me, my moods, energy levels…(the cycle tracker for women is great)…By knowing when you are up or down, during the month, you can really plan your use of time effectively…

  11. I maintain separate spreadsheets for mileage/tolls, gallery commissions and exhibitions. Contained in the latter: title, dimensions and wholesale/retail price, each submission made (whether accepted or declined), exhibition and exhibition dates for my work. I know when work is out, when it is due back, what work has been submitted to each venue, what my costs are, etc. I also color code cells so I can readily gather information I seek.

  12. Sending sympathy to you and your husband.
    Here is a system that I have relied on countlessly this week: a written, printed notebook of every website, account, log-in name, password that I use.
    It comes in handy during brain freeze! It is also something I have asked my husband and kids to do for our “Just In Case There Is An Emergency” kit.

  13. Simon Brushfield

    Hi Everyone, when it comes to systems I find they can provide me wonderful freedom, but they can also sometimes constrain me horribly. I need to be aware that I’m in control of the systems, not the other way around. Systems are designed to grant freedom, rather than create a prison for people. Awareness is the key. Human beings are creatures of habit and daily routines, which are also systems, can be uplifting but can sometimes create terrible boredom for creative people. I’m all for systems, but I am also keen to monitor and check their effectiveness constantly, as you mentioned in your post Alyson.

  14. Alyson, I’m sorry for your families loss.
    I remember you talking about making a mind map. It soon became unweildly for me as I kept adding to it. I recently came across a free app on source forge, the freemind, It has helped me to organize my business & easy to access any part of it.
    I keep three word docs on my computer desktop, daily, weekly & monthly tasks. The daily also has a to do list. I write upcoming apps, shows, etc on an eraser board on the office wall. Then I can constantly keep in mind at a glance what I need to work on as far as painting.
    But, like you say, all this organization is only as effective as how I use it.

    1. Thank you, Becky.
      That dry erase board is a lifesaver for many artists. It’s so visual! I have one and I can never figure out why or how I’m supposed to use it. 😉

  15. My block has always been keeping finances up to date. After a year I’m looking at receipts trying to remember what they were for! I have been inspired by a book I read recently called “How To Be Smart With Your Time” by Duncan Bannatyne, and my finances would have been sorted by tonight if I hadn’t had a last minute need to design 3 posters and some raffle tickets for the community group I support with my creative skills. So the three portraits I am currently working on are postponed again!

    1. Jen: I understand! With separate personal and biz finances, it’s hard to keep up.
      I have a bookkeeper, so I’m forced to get the books to her each week (electronically). But I found myself delaying and delaying on my personal bookkeeping.
      My new trick: I can’t return the books to her until I’ve done my personal books. It’s only been 3 weeks, but the trick is working pretty good so far.

  16. Pingback: 15 Steps to Take After Completing Your Artwork — Art Biz Blog

  17. I just used Evernote (which I first heard about on the ArtBiz/blog awhile back) for the first time to keep track of all of the details I needed to write a grant. Wow…it really made the process more organized and it was easier to work between all of my “notes” to streamline the writing process. Using this for all kinds of projects is definitely something I will integrate into my organizing system!

    1. I’m glad you like Evernote. I truly can’t imagine life without it! I was more than happy to pay the $47 (or whatever it was) for a higher level, even if I didn’t need the features. I couldn’t wait to give them money. Now THAT’s a good product!

  18. Pingback: 5 Ways to Simplify Your Art Business in 2013 — Art Biz Blog

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