By: Maddie Russo from our partner, 31 Marketplace podcast team
As business owners, many of us dread the (perceived) tedium of putting systems into place. However, strategic systems are invaluable in that they help our businesses run smoothly, prevent things from falling through the cracks, and free up more of our time for personal enjoyment.
What if I told you systems didn’t have to be a grind and that they might actually be…fun?
Meet Jenny Blake, an author, podcaster, and keynote speaker who loves helping people move from friction to flow through smarter systems powered by delightfully tiny teams. Jenny is the author of three books, including Pivot: The Only Move that Matters and Free Time: Lose the Busy Work, Love Your Business, which came out earlier this year. She’s also the host of two podcasts: Free Time for Heart Based Business Owners and Pivot with Jenny Blake.
I met Jenny Blake about 15 years ago, when she was a Google employee and I came in to give a talk in conjunction with my book Escape from Cubicle Nation. That talk planted the seed in Jenny’s mind to pivot into running her own business.
For the first decade or so on her own, Jenny wasn’t confident enough in her authority as a business owner to write or speak publicly about how to run a business. Instead, she much preferred staying behind the scenes “tinkering with systems.” It wasn’t until her right-hand employee left to start her own business that Jenny realized she needed to scale what she was doing.
As she prepared to transition on a new right hand, Jenny began compiling a Google Doc of all the important things her new employee should know to be successful in working with her. Starting with just a few bullets, the document eventually grew into nine pages.
“I wanted to share with another person how they could come into my business and hit the ground running – and do it with joy and ease. There were certain principles of how I operate that I wasn’t seeing in most other business curriculum,” explained Jenny.
Realizing she had something valuable and unique on her hands, Jenny ended up transforming that document into a 1-hour private workshop and, eventually, a 16-lesson mini course. When the COVID pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, she finally decided to take the leap and compile all the content into a book. Thus, Free Time was born.
“Do I have the guts, do I have the courage to go all in for small business owners and write the book I want to write on the thing that I love, which is systems and efficiency? And why do I love them? Because they help us free our time to do more of our best work.”
The Free Time Method
Free Time: Lose the Busy Work, Love Your Business offers business owners a playbook for strengthening their free time muscle – learning how offload tasks to create more and more time for themselves.
“How can I give everybody a playbook to [not only] create more free time, but also strengthen the muscle? I think of free time not just as what we do when we’re not working, but as how we get better and better at continually freeing our time – more and more and more of it,” said Jenny.
The key is to implement services, systems, and automation to optimize the impact of your work without requiring your direct involvement. What holds many small business owners back is the misconception that systems are dull or that they may not be well-versed in operational efficiency.
“Most people are allergic to the word ‘systems,’ […] but I wanted to make them fun,” said Jenny.
With its confetti-flecked cover and unique point of view, Free Time seeks to do just that by positioning systems as a means to more time freedom. The book lays out a helpful framework for diagnosing the source of friction so business owners can zero in on where they need to apply or update their systems. Then, it offers tips on how to “align” so business owners can take these points of friction and harmonize them with the rest of their operations.
“In fact, when you’re running a business, hard work doesn’t actually matter. We could double the amount of time we work, but it doesn’t mean we’re working on the right things in the right way. Hard work alone doesn’t achieve anything. It’s actually harder to work less, because you have to be more strategic, delegate more, automate more.”
The Two Extremes of Friction
Friction can often be the result of two extremes – times of overwhelm and times of scarcity. In both cases, it’s important to tune in and listen to what your business is telling you so you can adjust and move forward.
Burn It All Down Mode (BIADM)
When invoked, the “Burn It All Down Mode” signals we’ve reached the point of weariness, burnout, frustration, or dread that causes us to fantasize about throwing in the towel in our current field and pivoting into something else.
BIADM doesn’t necessarily indicate we need to shift our focus entirely, but that our current systems (or lack thereof) need to be revised.
The Financial Tides Receding
The opposite of BIADM, “the financial tides receding” is Jenny’s term for seasons of scarcity – those times where there’s not a client, speaking engagement, or source of revenue in sight.
Keep in mind that “the financial tides receding” doesn’t necessarily indicate you’re doing something wrong, but instead an opportunity to see where to take things next.
“So it’s either this vacuum that gets created or it’s the burnout of too much. I always take that as a sign.”
Jenny offered some pearls from her book to help small business owners begin optimizing their efficiency and creating more free time.
Do you and your team currently have several separate systems to run different aspects of your business? Do team members have their own individual ways of tracking tasks?
When it comes to running a business, nothing should live in any individual’s head or a personal system unavailable to the entire team. The moment someone leaves the organization or is out of pocket, that information is no longer accessible.
Jenny urges business owners to centralize everything in one project management tool (she personally swears by Notion). Not only will everyone quickly be able to access the information they need to keep things running, but it also cuts down on the back and forth between team members as everyone has total transparency into where things are.
“There are ways large and small that having it all centralized helps the team step up and ask fewer questions. It helps the owner stay organized. And it also reduces stress around turnover and onboarding.”
Automation is another huge time saver in that it allows you to take a hands-off approach to tasks that once needed your touch. Nearly anything that requires “pointing, clicking, copying, and pasting” can be automated.
Jenny suggests using Zapier, a program that allows you to create automated workflows for many different tasks.
Find Your Beacon
As small business owners, it’s easy to find our hands in too many pots as we attempt to do everything we can to build our client base – especially when it comes to marketing. While it’s important to cast a wide net, it’s equally as important to find your “watering hole,” a super targeted audience that will serve as your most loyal customers and supporters.
One way to narrow in is to identify 1-2 “beacons,” or means of communicating with your audience. Chances are, your ideal audience will also gravitate toward the mediums that resonate with you. For Jenny, that’s her two podcasts and accompanying newsletters.
Focusing on just one or two communications methods allows you to dig deep and provide valuable content that will engage your audience in their preferred channels while also minimizing the amount of marcom tasks you have to manage.
“[If there’s something that’s a burden on your shoulders] I say you can either delegate it in a systematic, streamlined way, or you can just stop doing it. And don’t assume that just because you drop something, you’re going to earn less or be less successful.”
Licensing your intellectual property (IP) can be a great source of hands-off income that requires minimal effort.
For example, Jenny licenses a pivot program (based on the pivot method outlined in her book and podcast) to large companies looking to train their own trainers and/or seeking open-source material that can be repurposed into different career development or internal resources. Since the companies are doing the legwork of customizing the content, Jenny essentially just has to hand off the materials and watch the revenue flow in.
Because licensing necessitates larger, more sophisticated businesses, clients can be harder to come by. Jenny emphasizes being prepared to minimize the amount of prep work required when signing on a licensing client and to help feel more confident in the value you’re providing. She also encourages planting the seed early; if you have a client that could be a good fit for licensing engaging with your other services, be sure to mention early on in the engagement that this content can be expanded and customized even further.
Visit itsfreetime.com/toolkit to download a free toolkit that touches on the topics discussed in this episode, and connect with Jenny Blake by subscribing to Free Time for Heart Based Business Owners and Pivot with Jenny Blake on your favorite podcast streaming service.