Illustration of the cash system, by Currier and Ives.
Even though I’m a systems nerd I can’t figure out what this is trying to say. If you can translate this let me know! “The Cash System” by Currier & Ives, public domain.

We’ve recently finished some fairly hefty in-house projects at P-Brain which is giving me a tiny moment to breathe. I’m continuing to surf the waves of independent work and seriously love where things have evolved, despite feeling chronically over-busy and stretched a bit too thin. It’s mostly a good kind of stretch where I feel creatively stimulated all the time. No doubt, all the stimulation can be mentally tiring, but I’m keeping just enough of a lid on it that I don’t find myself having to work crazy long hours (not usually anyway).

A huge component of this delicate balance is that I have an amazing team to collaborate with, and it is just the best ever to work with them. Ana’s the programmer, Sam does admin and marketing, and Lisa writes — and all of them do so with the utmost thought and care, plus creativity and fun, and we all figure stuff out together in the most wonderful way. I do thank them regularly but feel I can never thank them enough for enabling us to do such interesting projects and meaningful work. If you have ever worked with them, you know what I’m talking about.

We don’t corral off “system building” to do later when we “have time.” Seriously, when does anyone ever “have time”?

Our priorities at P-Brain are to keep serving our clients well, and in the margins keep developing our systems and processes. I’m in charge of identifying the priorities of what in-house projects we work on, and it’s usually a mix of product / service development, project management refinements, website + automations + digital infrastructure building, and marketing activities.

Just as I advise my clients, I aim to focus my team on systems that drive income streams. When bandwidth is limited (we are truly a tiny company so we know this well), it’s critical to automate, streamline and troubleshoot the systems that directly result in money in the bank. These are the systems to prioritize. Make sure they work smoothly; learn how to spot the janky bits and fix them. Even the simplest systems involve a lot of details, many that you’ve likely never considered before.

Good systems take time to develop and maintain

I’m a huge believer in taking the time to slow down and refine workflows. Sure, you might not be able to do this all the time like when you’re on a deadline jam and just need to get something done ASAP. But investing your time and attention into systems streamlining will pretty much always pay dividends down the road.

The reality is that every system (digital or not) needs regular review and refinement. Things break and degrade so they don’t work as well as they used to; it’s just a normal part of business entropy. Don’t let it fool you into thinking you wasted your time when you originally put in the hard work of implementing that system with care. Ongoing maintenance is a must, and is best done regularly and proactively.

I tend to be systems-oriented by default, and make a point to be explicitly so with P-Brain. System-building is an everyday activity. Sometimes there are things like cleaning up areas of our project management systems (we use Notion) that need a more focused attack, so we’ll make a point to carve out time for that when we can.

But we don’t corral off “system building” to do later when we “have time.” Seriously, when does anyone ever “have time”? A healthy portion of our everyday project discussions touch on how we could improve our processes, so that the next time we do a similar task it will go even more easily, smoothly, quickly, etc. It’s part of the flow of doing business — and yes, it does slow things down. Accepting that pace and developing a sense for what’s too fast or too slow is, for me, a big part of the art of management.

Worship of the written word can be oppressive and toxic.

We have been working on our key systems in earnest now since mid-2021 and I feel they finally really started to gel last Fall, more than two years after we started. Some businesses are able to do this a bit faster but in my observation it generally takes at least a year to get a really solid foundation built and operational.

Process documentation is essential

Documentation is an important part of our systems and processes (I would argue this is universally true) so we work a lot on that: creating various guidelines, organizing them, making sure they’re shared with the right people, etc. Most if not all of these docs are living documents and get updated all the time. We have documents for:

  • Hiring & onboarding processes
  • Pay equity and compensation framework
  • Client onboarding tasks
  • Billing and receivables tracking
  • Customer journey maps
  • Website development checklists
  • Automations maps
  • Creative guidelines (lots of these as they are typically customized per project)
  • Email templates for recurring emails
  • Mission & values statements

There are more but you get the picture.

A big caveat about all this documentation: As we note in our Values statement, worship of the written word can be oppressive and toxic. We make a point to treat our documentation processes with a different spirit and to make sure the human relationships are served by the documentation, not the other way around.

Values are part of the work 

We created a “Mission, Vision & Values” statement in 2021, just a few months into the existence of P-Brain Media as a web and digital services firm. It’s mostly an internal document, but I’ve been meaning to spiff it up and share with the world and now is as good a time as any; check it out below. (We’ll find a place for it at our website in the coming days.) To me, being clear about our values and worldview is part of how we approach our role as a community business.

Putting these guiding principles into writing is key. Mission and values statements aren’t just for big enterprises; microbusinesses can gain valuable clarity of purpose and strengthen their foundation by giving attention to these “soft systems.”

Our statement is (I think) a decent model for other small ventures engaged in organizational development. Feel free to use our format to create your own version; I’d love if you shared it with me!

P-Brain Media’s Mission, Vision & Values

Mission

P-Brain Media’s mission is to serve small businesses, nonprofits and our greater community with reliable technology, digital support, communications and business services.

Vision

P-Brain aims to be a company that is viewed as a community resource, both in terms of the services we provide to other entities, and in its role of creating jobs and opportunities for creative workers.

Values & Priorities

Bring relief to clients

Dealing with technology stresses people out, especially busy business owners who dread the time-sink that tech troubles so often cause. P-Brain wants to help small ventures do their good work and expand their capacity by supporting them with digital services and other tasks related to technology, communications and business strategy.

Have fun solving problems

Solving systems problems and untangling tech knots is at the heart of our work. We can defuse a lot of the stress felt by clients and ourselves when we approach problem-solving with an attitude of enjoying the challenge.

Be patient in communications

Even when we think we are 100% clear, others may get a different message than what we think we are communicating. Describing complicated tech issues is not easy. Be patient whether you’re the communicator or the receiver. Take an extra beat when listening. Ask questions when you’re not clear and be open to seeing the problem in a different way.

Prioritize equity and justice in our work

As a business that values its role in community, P-Brain Media is committed to recognizing and fighting the paradigm of white supremacy that is so present in everyday life. In doing our work, we have the power to change this dynamic and put energy towards inclusion and equity. We aim to bring more women and racially diverse professionals to the fields of technology, entrepreneurship and business services. And we aim to reach underserved communities with our work, to reduce disparities in access to technology and business resources.

Documents are less important than relationships

Clear, detailed documents can play a big part in making collaborations successful. But “worship of the written word” can turn documents into tools of oppression. In this spirit, P-Brain strives to use documentation to develop common understanding, foster transparency and facilitate working relationships. Documents — like all processes and systems — should be inclusive and human-centered.

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