When I was a nuclear plant operator in the US Navy, there was one rule that carried more weight than any other:
Verbatim compliance with written procedures.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, is done in the reactor plant of a submarine or aircraft carrier without following a written checklist. Emergency procedures must be memorized verbatim for rapid execution. All other checklists, collectively referred to as Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), are followed straight out of the book. Not a switch is flipped, not a valve turned without following the checklist for doing so.
This single factor, more than anything else, is responsible for the spotless safety record of Naval nuclear power in the United States. Countless hours have gone into creating the procedures that maximize safe operation of the plants, and engineers and operators are constantly looking for ways to improve those procedures. A very similar mindset exists in the civilian nuclear power industry, and many civilian nuclear operators are former Navy nukes. This compliance with written procedures is why the U.S. nuclear power industry also has an impeccable safety record compared to just about any other type of industrial facility.
In fact, it was the intentional disregard for written procedures that caused one of the worst industrial incidents in human history, the Chernobyl disaster. During an unauthorized systems test, operators and engineers at Chernobyl intentionally violated safety precautions contained in three separate checklists, and we all know what happened.
Following my time in the Navy, I entered civilian life very excited to enter life as an entrepreneur. I started a number of unsuccessful businesses, while still having to keep a day job and experiencing some unpleasant situations, such as the time I literally spent living in a van down by the river.
It never made sense to me why I wasn’t successful in business. After all, I knew how to sell. In fact, most of my day jobs during my early entrepreneurial days were sales jobs, and that was putting food on the table. I had a pretty good understanding of how to apply direct response marketing, and I at least had a clue about how to generate leads. In other words, I had the basic skill set to make any kind of business get customers.
But the fact remained: I was seriously missing something.
It was in November 2005 that I randomly meandered into the Fort Collins, CO public library and saw a sign pointing to the conference room that said “Northern Colorado Real Estate Investor Group meeting”. Out of curiosity, I walked in on the meeting in progress, and I will be forever greatful that I did.
Leading that meeting was local real estate investor James Orr. The topic that he was presenting resonated with me so profoundly that, after the meeting, I hung around to speak with him personally. And that, as the saying goes, is where it all began.
Today, I count James as one of my best friends and closest confidants. We have joint ventured on a number of business projects, and he has been my mentor since shortly after we met.
What resonated with me so strongly at that first investor group meeting? It was the fact that James was talking about his highly organized, checklist-based system for running his real estate business.
You see, it turned out that James had also been an enlisted nuclear plant operator in the Navy.
Following our respective stints in the Navy, however, James and I took markedly different paths in life. I’ll save the details for a different day, but one of the most profound differences in the paths that James and I took had to do with the continued application of the systems-based methodology that the Navy had instilled in both of us.
In short, James continued using systems in his post-Navy business life, and I didn’t.
After a couple years of mentoring under James, I made a drastic career change into the tax resolution industry. By this time, I had re-discovered the powerful benefits of using systems to run a business, and had fully embraced the concept for myself.
However, when I stepped into the tax resolution industry, what I found was utter chaos.
At the firm I started at, there was almost zero organization, a complete lack of structure. Nearly every day, a crisis would erupt regarding the physical whereabouts of a particular client file, because nobody knew where it was. The filing system was, no joke, piles of client folders on the floor.
The marketing and sales side was even worse. Nothing was being tracked, nothing was being measured. Sales people came and went as they pleased, and many mornings didn’t bother showing up at all. Prospect follow up was almost non-existent, leads were wasted because they weren’t tracked. Every prospect proposal package that went out was manually crafted in Word as a one-off document.
The fact that this business was making any money was a minor miracle.
Fortunately, the owners saw the potential of bringing me on board, and made the wise decision to do so. This happened to be a time in my life where my employment decision was dictated by my financial circumstances in the wake of the real estate bubble bursting, so I took the job. Since I had no prior exposure to the industry, my first six months were spent as a $10/hr administrative assistant learning the business.
Then, I began the transformation of the entire firm. The introduction of systems was the first priority. From the automation of labor intensive tasks, such as generation of proposal packages and the lookup of phone numbers for telemarketing use, to the systemization of the sales process to ensure follow up and increase closing rates, I began the process of creating efficiency, work flow improvement, marketing automation, and more.
Within a year, monthly revenue was more than doubled, staff was almost doubled, and we had moved into a newer, nicer office with double the square footage.
In the span of just 17 months, average monthly revenues were increased from $65,000 to $280,000.
The only way to experience this kind of growth is through the implementation of systems. When you use systems, everything operates more efficiently and it becomes easy to expand operations.
Over the past couple years, I’ve been asked repeatedly by tax practitioners to make these checklists and systems available in a ready to use format. Some of the checklists have existed in readily available written format since the beginning. However, many of the systems and checklists were essentially “locked up” in the software or documents in which they had been created, such as spreadsheets, Word documents, or as PHP code in the TaxCRM practice management software that I created. Many other checklists existed only in their real estate form as they had been created by James, as I had used those checklists directly, and just mentally changed, omitted, or added steps in each checklist as I went to make it applicable to a tax practice, without ever actually documenting those changes.
|After many months of work I’m proud to announce that this compendium of Standard Operating Procedures for running a more efficient taxpayer representation practice is finally available.
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