In this episode of the Become a Writer Today podcast, my guest is an entrepreneur and author, David Jenyns, who specializes in helping business owners, entrepreneurs, and creatives like you scale their businesses through the power of systems.
David introduces his book SYSTEMology, which outlines seven stages of implementing systems and processes in a business, from defining to optimizing.
He emphasizes the importance of mapping out client flows and using automation to improve efficiency.
David also shares his experience in writing and promoting his own book, as well as the benefits of delegating tasks and hiring part-time help or offshoring for solopreneurs with a tight budget.
In this episode, we discuss the following:
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David: When you get started, the best thing that you can do — let's say, you're a solopreneur and you don't really have a team yet around you — some sort of admin assistant is usually the best place to start. What you end up doing is you record yourself doing some of the tasks. So you map the critical client flow that I just talked about. Then what you do is, you record little videos of when you're completing certain components of that.
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: My guest today is David Jenyns, who is an experienced entrepreneur. He's also the author of SYSTEMology. He helps business owners, entrepreneurs, and creatives scale their business through creating systems, which is one of the key ideas in his book. Welcome to the show, David.
David: Hey, Bryan. Really looking forward to this episode.
Bryan: I came across your work about a year or two ago. So I think your book was published in 2020. At the time, I was struggling with scaling my particular business because I was employing some freelance writers, and I was also trying to find time to write too. So I went down a rabbit hole of reading books about systems. I like some of the ideas that you described in your book. But before we get to that, would you give the listeners a bit of a flavor for who you are and what your background is?
David: Yes, I've been an entrepreneur and business owner from when I left school. I tried many different things. I tried importing products from overseas. I tried being in the stock market education space. We even opened a rock-and-roll clothing music store called Planet 13. Probably the business that I'm most well-known for, though, was the last business which I was in for about 10 years, which was my digital agency, Melbourne SEO Services. I've really got interested in how to market things online and just that whole process of digital advertising.
Bryan: You say in your bio that you scaled out of the SEO agency. So did you sell it, or are you still actively involved in it?
David: So I was actively involved for 10 years, and then I systemized myself out and put an operations lady in for three years. Then she actually ended up moving from Australia back to the US. That's when we had decision time. Do we keep the business, or do we sell it? So we did end up selling that business because I had lost the passion for the digital agency stuff. And a lot of the work that I do with SYSTEMology and helping small businesses put process into place, that was starting to take off. So that was almost like a bookend to that chapter. It was kind of like, yep, that's the end of the digital agency. And now it's time for me to focus on the new area.
Bryan: For your website which is SYSTEMology.com, do you still use SEO to get to, I suppose, grow your website and also the brand? Or are you more focused on content marketing?
David: I kind of see it all in one big bucket. We do a lot of content marketing, but then we think about how do we repurpose and optimize that content. Some of it is on our website. Some of it is on social media. Some of it is on places like YouTube. So every piece of content that we create, we try and think: where is it going to live, what might people be searching to find that, and how do we then make sure that it's as best as we can optimized for wherever we'd like it to turn up?
Bryan: So you wrote the book SYSTEMology. At least, it was published in 2020. Did you write it during the pandemic, or were you preparing this prior to the pandemic?
David: It was a little bit before. My process for writing books is, generally, I'll have a business that I'll want to promote. So I actually wrote a book in the digital agency as well. Then this book SYSTEMology was to kind of promote the system side of our business. I think about what's going to go into the book for a good amount of time. Then oftentimes, I'll present to a small group. Either it's a one-day workshop, or it's an online program. We then record that. Then that ends up getting transcribed, and that writing ends up going off to our ghostwriter. So while the book came up, as you mentioned — was that about 2020 — I'd actually been working on it probably a good year and a half, two years prior to that. Because I do a lot of thinking and then the presenting, and then I actually find writing books quite slow and tedious and painful. They're really worth it, but there are a lot of hard work. So I had been working on it for some time.
Bryan: When you were working on the idea for the book, by coaching your clients and I suppose the seminars that you described, did it take you long to come up with the seven components of the system, which I'll ask you about in a moment?
David: Yeah, some of the components were more obvious than others. It's almost like I came up with this framework, and then I tested it with a few clients and made some adjustments. Oh, that step needs to go earlier, or that step needs to go later. Or, hey, this particular thing is really interesting, and a lot of people seem to really like this step. So that's actually what happened with one of the steps we'll talk about in define, which is the critical client flow. That's one piece that everybody seems to connect with. So I ended up dragging that forward and then putting it into step number one. It's definitely like I came up with the initial concept. But then, I always find testing through webinars and speaking to people is the best way to determine if it hits the mark. I definitely spent a lot of time up front getting the book just right prior to release.
Bryan: And while you were writing the book, did you have an ideal reader or client in mind?
David: Yeah, definitely. So I initially started the systemization business to kind of scratch my own itch. So I kind of was the target audience. I wrote the book that I wish that I had before I got started down the journey. So the target audience is business owners that have a little bit of traction. They have a few team members around them, but they are still very much the bottleneck. They touch all aspects of the business from marketing, to sales, to operations, to finance, and overseeing just the strategy of the business. It's those business owners that are the ones that I've written the book for.
Bryan: Could you walk the listeners through the key ideas inside of the book?
David: Yeah, so there are seven stages to SYSTEMology. The whole idea is to go from 'I don't really have any systems and processes in place' to 'I've at least figured out my best practice.' Like, what am I currently doing? And bring everybody up to that standard.
The stages are: define, assign, extract, organize, integrate, scale, and optimize. The first one, define, is just how do you pick out the first 10 to 15 systems to focus on? Because there are so many systems and processes you could be documenting. We try to apply the 80-20 rule. We think, what are the 20% of the systems that deliver the bulk of the results? So that's step number one. There's an exercise in there we call the 'critical client flow.'
Step number two is assign, which is, where does this knowledge currently reside? Who already knows how to do this task? Because in step one, you identify some tasks. In step two, you go, well, who does it well? You might go, "Oh, Jenny knows how to answer the phone and qualify that lead." Well, let's find out what Jenny's doing. So step number two is all about thinking where does the knowledge currently exist.
Step number three is extract, which is then how do we get it out of the brain of those team members. Because oftentimes, your best team members are busy. And oftentimes, they don't really like documentation or creating systems and processes. There's a few little tricks we do to help with that third stage around making sure it's a two-person job. You've got the person with the knowledge, but you have a separate person who does the documentation and the creation of the systems.
Step number four is about organize, which is, where does this knowledge exist? Once you've extracted it, how do you make sure that it's easily accessible by the whole team, and they can find it when they need it? Or even better, it's put under their nose when they're assigned a task. So hey, I want you to do this. Here's the process to follow.
Then step number five is integrate, which is, then we want to try and get the team on board. How do we have the team go, "Oh, yes, I'm going to follow these processes, and I can see how this benefits me individually." Not just the business. Because a lot of business owners, they pitch the idea that we're systemizing and it's all about the business, as opposed to helping the team to understand that adopting a systems mindset helps them do their job better and makes their job easier.
Then step number six is scale. That's where we start to identify the systems required to grow and scale. In that first step, define, we just identify the first 10 to 15 systems to get started. Whereas in scale, we think, well, what are the other systems that you might need to grow your business? Things like recruiting, and onboarding, and maybe some finance systems and management systems.
Then the final stage in SYSTEMology is optimize. That's all about: rather than a lot of the other process methodologies like Lean and Six Sigma, they're all process improvement methodologies which mean it pre assumes you've got a process to improve. But a lot of small business, they haven't yet captured their process. So SYSTEMology captures what you're currently doing, not what you would like to be doing. It brings everybody up to that standard. That's actually the final stage, stage number seven, which is the optimize phase. That's where we try and put a dashboard into place. We get some mechanisms where we can listen to the business so we know what's going wrong. Then you can try and solve it from a system solution. So there are the seven stages of SYSTEMology.
Bryan: If it's okay with you, I'll describe what I do in my business. Perhaps you could try and apply some of the systems, and we can speak and see what I should work on. So I run a content publishing business. Become a Writer Today is the main website. I employ some editors and freelance writers who produce articles for the website. It gets traffic to SEO and also to content marketing. I suppose it's monetized to display advertising actual course and books. What are some of the systems that I should perhaps consider, or how can I apply some of the concepts that you've described?
David: The first thing that you do is map what we call the critical client flow. Now, this will vary a little bit depending on the business. Because some people have e-commerce businesses. Some people have bricks and mortar. Some people have service. Some people have product-based businesses. And for you, it sounds like you've got a couple of different ways that you monetize. The best thing to think about is, we need to start somewhere. So you would think about something like, let's say, one of your products. We'd say the first thing you need to think about is, who is your ideal customer? Who purchases one of your primary products? What are your primary products called?
Bryan: I have a club for writers. It's called The Successful Writer's Club. It was a membership program.
David: Perfect. The target audience for that, is that — who is the person who would purchase that product?
Bryan: It tends to be new writers. Primarily, nonfiction writers.
Bryan: Who perhaps are looking to earn a living from writing or blogging, for example.
David: Yep. So step number one is you get out an A4, a bit of paper. On the top left-hand corner, you write down your dream client that we just talked about, the fiction writer. Then we write down the primary product that we're going to focus in on, which is probably going to be the club to start with. Then what you do is you map the linear journey that that prospect goes through — from you grabbing their attention all the way through to getting them to sign up and you delivering. So you'd go, how do you currently get the attention of that target audience? You said you create some content, and you've got some different ways that you do it. So on an a4, on a bit of paper, you'd list that out. What are the top two or three ways that you grab the attention of those fiction writers?
Bryan: So I would publish SEO optimized articles on specific topics related to some of the ideas inside of the course. I would also have an email list where you can join for free and receive a free book. Then you'll get weekly writing advice. Also, a YouTube channel and a podcast like this one.
David: Perfect. Yes, so you'd list out those in this exercise called the critical client flow first. Then you move down and you think, how do you handle an incoming inquiry? Now, before someone makes a purchase, sometimes they might send you an email, or maybe they'll call you. Or they might not really be much of a sales process because you've just got a sales letter. Once you get them onto your website, you get them into your database, and you email them regularly, then you pitch them to join the club.
What does the process look like for you to then pitch into the club? Then you might have some sort of onboarding process. Once someone signs up, what do you do then to get them on board and integrated? Now, some of these fit in your business might be automated. Different businesses are different. Sometimes this might be — they have to manually set them up in some sort of project management platform, and they start ticking off some of the tasks.
But for your business, some of this will be handled by your marketing automation. Then what do you do to ensure they stick around? You basically map this out first. Then you ask the question, where is the bottleneck? As far as, if you got 10 times as many customers tomorrow, what breaks first? You look at your critical client flow and you might say, "Dave, I've got most of the automation handled on the back end. People ordered themselves. There is no real sales process. Really, all I need to do is traffic." Then we say great. Well, let's then double down into the traffic. Like you mentioned, SEO articles, email, YouTube, and podcast. Then we would go, let's now create the processes to make sure that they consistently happen without being dependent on you.
Bryan: That's good advice. I've immediately identified some steps that I can take after the call or after the interview.
David: In that critical client flow, without fully drawing it out and in your head, if you needed to 10x the amount of customers that you have, is there an area that comes to mind first? You're just like, hey, the back end is sorted. Or would you say, onboarding? Or is it the sales process? Or is it the lead generation? Which part of that would inhibit you 10x-ing?
Bryan: I suppose it would always be good to get more relevant traffic from the right types of customers or students firstly. Then secondly, to ensure that when a student joins my email list, that they're getting the right types of content that helps them or whatever their particular writing challenge is. One of the challenges of having a larger email list is making sure you're sending the right information or the right helpful articles or videos to the right subscribers.
David: Yes, there's probably two areas there that you could focus in on. One is looking at your systems related to the lead generation — whether that's around your article writing, whether that's how the podcast is produced, whether or not it's the YouTube — and to try and think about how you can hopefully remove key person dependency.
But there's a chance at the moment you're involved in — you're obviously involved in the podcast. You might be involved in some of the YouTube stuff. But how can we make it that you only are involved in the pieces where you bring the magic? There might be a range of other things where you don't bring magic. As in, for the podcast, you and I doing the interview now, that's the magic. The editing it afterwards, the uploading it, getting the audio right, prepping it to get emailed to the database, there's a whole bunch of things that happen around the magic that you'd want to systemize that.
Then similarly, another area of focus for you based on what you said might have to do with effectively the onboarding. Or once someone comes into your world, reviewing how do you then organize and sought someone so that you can better target the right message or the right content to the right person at the right time. Again, your business is probably a little bit different because it's an info business. But everybody's business is a little bit different. So it's just a matter of figuring out where the bottlenecks are in your existing business.
Bryan: I feel like one of the challenges that I could have, or perhaps the listener can have if they have, let's say, a new content publishing business, or they're running a niche website or a blog is, it's quite difficult to outsource all of those roles. For example, a podcast editor and somebody to manage the email list and onboarding. How does somebody get started? How would I get started if I didn't have much of a budget?
David: Definitely, when you get started, the best thing that you can do — let's say, you're a solopreneur and you don't really have a team yet around you — some sort of admin assistant is usually the best place to start. What you end up doing is you record yourself doing some of the tasks. So you map the critical client flow that I just talked about. Then what you do is, you record little videos of when you're completing certain components of that. You just start to organize it into a Google Drive, or something like that, or a SharePoint folder initially. You might do that for three or six months. Then you'll go, right, now is the time to hire an admin assistant. The admin assistant comes on board. You start off by getting them to watch some of the videos and help to transfer and move those recorded videos into just little checklists and little systems.
In that process, as they do that, then they will be able to identify which ones they feel they could comfortably complete. Then you start to slowly chisel off just small repetitive essential tasks that you're doing. Maybe it's scheduling a podcast. Maybe it's arranging for the editor afterwards once the podcast is done. You just start chiseling these little administrative tasks off. What that does is that then gives you a little bit more time to then focus on the higher value tasks. Because you want to keep moving towards working on only those magic tasks that only you can do. And the other tasks, you slowly start delegating down to admin assistant.
Now, if you're a solo person and you're up and running, and you've got a tight budget, then you might even look to offshoring that. Maybe you go to an emerging economy where you get slightly better bang for your buck. Or maybe you find a return-to-work mom or dad who works in the area who you can just give 5 or 10 hours a week just to kind of reduce that initial risk and commitment for yourself.
Bryan: Do you find a lot of your clients have trouble handing over responsibilities for different parts of their business? I'll give you an example. When I started hiring freelance writers, I edited a lot of the articles myself. That was fine for a while. But then, because I wasn't writing all the articles, I was able to publish more articles which meant there was more work that I could edit myself. So I found it quite difficult to hand over the editing as well.
David: Yeah, there's definitely something that happens when the business owner is the mechanic. Because most businesses get started where the business owner is the mechanic, and they understand inside and out how to work the car and how to do the edits and things like that. What ends up happening is, it's really easy for the business owner to default into 'I'll just do it myself.' So that was the problem why I got stuck in my digital agency for so long. It's because I was on top of SEO and the cutting trends and things that were happening. It was much easier for me to just solve the problems that I needed to review, because I wanted to maintain a certain quality with the work that we were doing with the clients.
What ended up happening, and it got me to look at business differently, was we ended up setting up a sub-company underneath our digital agency. It was a video production business. Because I was getting asked all these times. Hey, can you guys help us to produce content? But I'm not a video guy, so I don't know how to edit. I don't know how to do the shooting. I don't know. When I went through that exercise of doing that and having to hire someone to do that piece, it really got me to think about how can you build a business where you don't know how to do the thing. It's a bit of a blessing and a curse sometimes when you know how to do the thing. So I get the challenge. You have to navigate through this. Because if you can't find someone else to do it, you will forever do it. So it's almost like you'll need to find that writer who can write to a good enough standard. Maybe you start off with a writer. But at some point, you're probably going to need to find an editor as well.
I've started saying now, if you're looking to grow a business beyond you, and the business core function has to be dependent on you, then it's kind of like it's broken. So we need to think about: A. Can we find someone who can do that editing; B. Do we need to look at another product line for you that can be delivered without you having to be across it?
Bryan: Speaking of product lines, your business has some software which uses the systems inside of the book. So I'm presuming you're not a software developer, but that you outsource the development of the system?
David: Yes, we found a development crane, a company in Ukraine, in Eastern Europe. It was before everything that went down in Ukraine. But we've still managed to navigate through that with them quite well. But yes, I'm not a software guy. I just really explained to them the problem that I was looking to solve. Then we've worked with them over a number of years to develop the software. And now we've got some team members and staff who kind of understand it quite intimately. Then we still work with the original coders as well.
Bryan: So what do you decide to focus on then, David, as your most important activity in the business?
David: I think, at the moment, we try and be the best example of what we teach. Every business has to go through this series of phases. When I started having SYSTEMology, I was on the tools. I'm answering support tickets, and I'm in it. I think where most people get stuck is, they stay in that mode. But I've tried to work myself further out and out. So we have got a CEO and an operations lady. We have some different department heads. At the moment, I'm back in as like the quasi-marketing department head just while we try and recruit and find the right person for that role. It's an area of strength for me, so it's easy to move me into that. I don't really dabble in the sales or the operations of the business. Then the next view for us is to really systemize what we're doing in the marketing department, and then recruit someone to replace me. We've got a marketing team, but we need a strong marketing department head.
Bryan: Great. So just regarding the book, Michael E. Gerber wrote the foreword. He is, of course, the author of the excellent book, which everybody should read. It's called the The EMyth Revisited. Did you know Michael prior to writing your book, David, or did you reach out?
David: No, I had a series of very fortunate events. I talked about it in the book. Because Michael wrote the foreword, and his wife was involved. I didn't know Michael at all prior to writing the book. What happened was, by chance, his wife reached out to me and said, "Can you help Michael launch the last book in his EMyth Series. Because all of the previous books were done through HarperCollins, and we would like to maintain the rights."
Before my SYSTEMology book, my first book was a book called Authority Content. She happened to see my book launch and followed along with it. Then she said, "Oh, I love this. Can you do this for Michael?" She didn't know I was doing anything with systems and processes. She reached out to me through the digital agency. I did that work with Michael and helped him launch the book. All the while in the background, I'm kind of working towards writing SYSTEMology. It was just like the universe served a magnificent opportunity up on my plate.
Then after we did the book launch for Michael, I said, "Hey, Michael, I'm working on this book. Would you be interested in reading it and letting me know what you think?" Once he got through the book, he said, "Wow. This is like the how-to guide for the EMyth. The EMyth was all the why-to, and this is very much the how-to." So he was kind enough to write the foreword for it. That was a big part of what made me pivot as well. I kind of felt like this was the universe saying, "Dave, you need to be doing this. Time for you to leave the digital agency, and time for you to focus on this." That was around the time when I made the pivot as well.
Bryan: Fantastic. So, David, where can people go if they want to read your book, or learn more about your services?
David: Look. The best place is always Amazon. And if you're listening to this, you might be an audio person. So through the Amazon, you can get to Audible. There is the audio book. Michael Gerber actually reads the foreword himself, and his wife makes a cameo. So just SYSTEMology, if you search that on Amazon. Or, go to SYSTEMology.com. There's links to my YouTube channel, links to all extra resources if you need a little bit of an extra hand.
Bryan: I'll be sure to include the links in the show notes. Thanks for your time, David.
David: Yeah, a pleasure. Thank you, Bryan.
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