The Business Systems Trifecta You Have Been Missing with Sandra Henderson

July 9, 2024



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I'm Kara - the voice behind some of the brands you know and love (I know because I love them too!). I'm results-driven and ambitious, just like YOU.

Meet Kara

There are so many buzzwords in the online space and it can constantly make you feel like you’re missing out. For example, today’s guest is coming on to talk all about systems, specifically, her systems trifecta, which is three things that your systems absolutely need to actually be helpful. So many people will tell you that you “need systems”, but nobody tells you how to go about creating them in your business and what they look like when they’re working.

I’m so excited to have Sandra on today because first of all, her story is so inspiring to me. She started struggling with a chronic illness maybe a few years ago, and she kind of fell into systems, I think by accident. I feel like so many of us have those nudges or things that put us exactly where we are supposed to be, and that’s business systems for her!

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Who is Sandra Henderson?

Sandra Henderson is a systems strategist, HoneyBook Educator, photographer, and host of the Keeping It Candid podcast. As a neurodivergent entrepreneur who navigates chronic illness life, she takes a unique approach to utilizing systems, workflows, and automations to help her run two different businesses while still being able to give her mind and body what they need. Her goal is to use that same approach to help photographers and wedding pros create strategic systems for their businesses so they can continue to thrive no matter what life throws their way.

On a personal note, she loves tacos, afternoon naps, all things Bravo, 90’s music, travelling, and spending time at home with her husband, step-son, and two cats!

sandra henderson talks with kara about business systems

To kick things off, can you share a little bit about what your systems trifecta is and why you chose those three things?

Of course, I am super excited to talk about this because I’ve never even discussed it on my own podcast. The Simple Systems Trifecta is something I came up with when thinking about the easiest way to create a system that works for you, whether you’re building it inside a CRM or just looking for a simpler way to manage your business. Here are the three key elements of the trifecta:

The Simple Systems Trifecta

  1. Keep Systems Simple
    • Make sure you are keeping your systems simple and not overloading them with a ton of extras. I’m totally guilty of this, and I know we’re going to dive into it more. But keeping it simple is super important.
  2. Be Realistic
    • Be realistic about the amount of work you can take on and the kind of deadlines you can work within. This is crucial to avoid burnout and constant firefighting.
  3. Tailor Systems to Your Needs
    • Tailor your systems to your specific needs. As a photographer, and I’m sure many others can relate, it’s easy to get lost in the needs of what everybody else wants. You have to make sure your deadlines are realistic and tailored to the situations you will face.

Regardless of your industry, these three elements—keeping it simple, being realistic, and tailoring it to your needs—will help you create effective systems. Whether you’re building a workflow in your CRM, uploading photos for editing, or organizing client information, these principles will improve your efficiency and help you stay ahead of the competition.

What would you say some signs are that a business’ systems have become too complex?

If you’re looking at a workflow in your CRM or a to-do list with 60-70 different steps, that’s a clear red flag that your system is too complicated. My very first photography workflow, when I started working with CRMs, had 72 steps. It was so long because I included every single task from the moment a client emailed me until they were no longer a client. I had steps like uploading memory cards, backing up memory cards, and culling photos. Photographers don’t need reminders for those tasks since they are second nature.

These steps don’t need to go into a workflow, especially not a CRM workflow. For those who don’t know, a CRM system (Client Relationship Management system) helps keep all client-facing tasks organized, like contracts, invoices, payments, and contact information. However, tasks like editing photos, culling photos, and organizing them don’t need to be in a CRM workflow.

My biggest recommendation for keeping workflows and systems simple is to look at how many steps are involved. Identify the tasks that are second nature and don’t need to be written down, and see if you can tweak the workflow to reduce the number of steps.

We now have automations and AI to help with this. When I built my 72-step workflow, these tools didn’t exist. Now, my photography workflow for weddings is only 12 steps. It’s much more manageable, feels better to look at, and is less overwhelming. Previously, I spent a lot of time checking off unnecessary tasks, leading to a backlog of past-due tasks in my CRM system. Simplifying the workflow has made a big difference.

There is science behind it too—we get hits of dopamine every time we check something off a to-do list. I still like to use to-do lists, and if I’m having an unproductive day, I might add a couple of unnecessary tasks just to check them off and feel accomplished. But having too many tasks can give a skewed perception of how busy you are. You end up spending so much time working on your business instead of in your business. Simplifying systems ensures you’re spending time on tasks that move your business forward, bring in more money, attract more clients, and help grow your business.

If we have overdue tasks piling up in our CRM, should we start from scratch?

If you are sitting there looking at a pile of tasks that are past due or just taking up space or whatever the case may be, take a look, go through, make sure there’s nothing super important. I think it’s important to at least take a look over it and make sure that there’s nothing really important that you’ve missed. Sometimes an email that needed to be sent might slip in between 10 upload photo tasks that you had in your list, so you want to make sure that you’re not going to be missing anything. But then from there, I think it’s totally okay to just kind of burn it all to the ground and start from scratch.

When we are looking at things like that and we start to think about how much time it’s going to take to fix what we’ve already done, I think that’s where there’s kind of a disconnect because it gets really overwhelming. And so if we just start from where we are and we fix the problem going forward, then we at least know we’re not adding to the pile that was already existing. And when we have a little bit more room on our plate, then we can go back and try and fix some of those problems. But if you are just looking at a whole pile of things that actually didn’t need to be done to begin with, find that select all button and just hit delete and you’re good to go.

What do you recommend for those wanting to get their systems in order for Q4?

I always recommend getting started with an inquiry workflow in your CRM system if you don’t have one already. Kara, since you’re from the wedding industry, I’m assuming a lot of your listeners are as well. This advice applies to anyone with a seasonal business, like weddings or photography. Here in Canada, we don’t have one beautiful season like our friends in California. Our busy season in the wedding industry runs from May to October.

Going into Q4, it’s a great time to update your systems. Depending on your needs, it might take a few minutes or a couple of days. You might be in a better position than me if you only need a few minutes, but it usually takes more than that to get systems in order. Q4 is ideal because there’s a lull in inquiries. You’ll be coming out of the wedding season and have time at your computer for editing. When your eyes start to burn from editing, working on your systems is a great way to utilize that time and prepare for incoming inquiries.

Engagement season runs from the end of November to Valentine’s Day. Taking time in the fall to get your inquiry system up and running, using automations to serve potential clients and answer questions before they’re asked, sets you up for success. It helps you stand out, especially compared to those still sending emails manually. Autoresponders have come a long way, allowing you to give a personalized experience while using automations.

Q4 is a great time to do this. Speaking for myself, I have a serious problem with taking time off, even though I promote rest. I love rest, naps, and time off. On my day off on Friday, I worked on my photography website and resized photos. It was just mindless work I could do while watching TV.

If you’re like me and take your “time off” by doing mindless things in your business, get your systems up and running. Write a few email templates, set up a workflow, and as the inquiries start rolling in, you’ll see the difference it can make. You’ll start getting the automation and systems bug and figure out what else you can simplify in your business.

I would love just your thoughts on how we can evaluate whether or not our systems are realistic.

Sure! We often plan our systems based on our best days when we’re feeling great. But on days when we’re not feeling well—whether we’re sick, run down, burnt out, or dealing with sick kids—we don’t have the energy to keep up with everything we planned. That’s when things fall apart.

So, if we flip that script and plan our systems for our worst days instead of our best days, we can ensure we have the energy to accomplish a minimum amount of tasks no matter what. Of course, there are always extenuating circumstances, but as a general rule, it’s helpful. For myself, having endometriosis can be unpredictable. There are about five or six days a month when I know I can’t work. So, I plan around that. On days when my energy is only at about 50%, I make sure my systems handle the other 50%. If I only had my systems take care of 20% and I could only give 50%, then 30% of tasks would pile up, undone.

When we set up our systems for our worst days, and then we have a really good day, we can tackle our endless to-do list. We have our list of things that must get done now, and then we have the 8,000-mile-long list of things that don’t have to be done now but eventually need doing. When your systems are set for your worst days, on good days, you get the important tasks done and can start picking off things from that long list. This way, you start getting ahead in your business instead of constantly putting out fires and chasing a to-do list that grows faster than it shrinks.

The last part of the trifecta is tailoring the systems to fit our needs. What steps do you recommend for starting from scratch or using a template effectively?

Yeah, of course. Well, I think if you’re buying a template, make sure you’re actually looking at what it is and what it’s all about. Check if it’s going to fit your business or if it’s just the new cool thing that an entrepreneur you love released. I’ve definitely fallen into both categories.

As far as tailoring it, it takes a bit of self-reflection and being realistic. You need to have an honest conversation with yourself about what kind of time and energy you can put into things. For me, I have to be very careful with my schedule. I am very particular about not doing more than one wedding in a weekend and not doing two weekends in a row. I will only do three sessions in a day unless it’s a group of mini sessions, which is like a wedding day, and then I can take time off afterward.

You have to be realistic about the bigger picture beyond just the money. It’s still hard sometimes to avoid squeezing in one more thing because who can’t use a little more money? But being realistic and tailoring your schedule to your needs is essential. If you’re showing up for everyone else and not for yourself, you’ll burn out and not provide the quality of work your clients expect.

When looking at templates, ask the important questions and collect the information you’ll need. Use it as an opportunity to deliver information to your clients and educate them, answering questions before they’re asked. This shows a next-level customer experience. When someone asks if you have any other questions, and you don’t because everything was answered beforehand, it makes you feel seen in a different way.

Implementing this into your templates serves your clients with only having to do the work once. From then on, you keep sending it out to everyone. When creating my templates for my shop, I thought about what questions would be helpful to me as a photographer and what information would be helpful to clients. These templates are ones I use in my own business. I created them for the shop and then moved them over to my photography business to test them out. I wished they existed six years ago.

So, my tips for tailoring things to your needs involve taking time to have an honest conversation with yourself about what you need as a business owner to serve your clients best. Even though we’ve been raised to think we come last, we need to stop doing that. We can’t pour from an empty cup, so we have to put ourselves first to be able to show up for our clients. They will be happier, and you’ll be a better business owner for it.

What do you think are the biggest mistakes people make with their systems?

Definitely overcomplicating systems and not keeping your needs in mind. For me I definitely had unrealistic deadlines that I couldn’t meet. This was at the beginning of my chronic illness journey when I was experiencing regular symptoms but hadn’t seen a doctor yet, so I had no idea what was going on.

Setting up such a complex workflow led to constant stress and missed deadlines. Once you miss one or two deadlines, you start missing all of them, creating a spiraling effect. The biggest mistake I see is overcomplicating workflows and not being realistic about the timelines and deadlines you’re setting.

For example, I set a three-week deadline for delivering wedding photos, which sounds reasonable. But I had 27 weddings booked that year, plus engagement sessions, mini sessions, family sessions, newborns, birth photography, and maternity shoots. I couldn’t keep up with the deadlines, and it became overwhelming. So, overcomplicating workflows and setting unrealistic deadlines are the biggest mistakes people make with their systems.

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I'm Kara - the voice behind some of the brands you know and love (I know because I love them too!). I'm results-driven and ambitious, just like YOU.

Meet Kara