Three Systems to Maximize Your Productivity With Ashley Gartland

In this episode of Work Less, Earn More, Ashley Gartland shares different ways you can create simple systems to help you run your business more effectively and more efficiently. Ashley is a business coach who specializes in helping small business owners systematize and streamline their businesses so that they can work less and grow more. 

This is a transcript of Work Less, Earn More, Episode 11. Listen to the episode here.

“I think the thing that most of us don’t do who are kind of in that hustle mentality is we just assume we need to do all the things and we don’t really pay attention to what’s working.  So if you can take the time to pause and look at what’s working or work with someone to help you figure out what’s working, then you can let the other stuff go and then you can focus on the most important stuff.”   -Ashley Gartland

Gillian Perkins:

Hey there. Welcome back to the podcast. Today is a good one. I’ve got a guest with me, her name is Ashley Gartland. Ashley is a business coach who specializes in helping small business owners systematize and streamline their businesses so that they can work less and grow more, and if you are listening to the show right now which obviously you are, then clearly that’s something that you are interested in doing.

So I can’t wait for Ashley to share with you her wisdom about how she has created systems in her own business to allow her to run her successful business in just 20 to 30 or so hours per week.

One thing that I am especially excited for you to hear about is Ashley’s simplified marketing system. She’s figured out a way to put all of her digital businesses marketing efforts onto one Trello board.

Now, this just blows my mind because the way I plan and organize my marketing efforts, I take several detailed Asana Projects to do so and there’s a lot going on. Now, Ashley has figured out a way to both simplify her marketing, but also simplify the way she has it organized so that she can really do it all herself which I think is just incredible and I also think will be so practical and applicable to you.

If right now you’re running your business on your own or you have a very small team, you don’t have the resources to be spreading yourself across a whole lot of different platforms, or to be scheduling a whole lot of different posts every single week.

So if you’re interested in learning about Ashley’s simplified marketing system, then make sure you keep your ears open for that because we get into that in the second half of today’s episode.

Okay, with that being said, let’s get on into this and allow me to introduce to you Ashley Gartland. Hey there Ashley, welcome to Work Less, Earn More. Thanks so much for joining me on the podcast today.

Ashley Gartland:

Thanks so much for having me. I’m so excited for this conversation.

Gillian Perkins:

Yeah, absolutely and I especially appreciate you taking the time because I’ve heard that you like me run your business in just 20 to 25 hours a week.

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah, generally about that. Sometimes it goes a little bit more towards 30. Now, we’ll talk about why that decision, why I made that decision. But yes, I definitely focus on living a lot of life outside of work too.

Gillian Perkins:

Yeah, I love that. Can you tell me a little bit about the history of that? Have you always run your business in a kind of minimal amount of time? Or did you used to work a lot more?

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah, I used to work a lot more. So I think the shortest way to say is: I value freedom and flexibility in a really big way, but I also value doing impactful work.  So, when I graduated college, the idea of doing the 9:00 to 5:00 thing and letting someone else dictate my schedule just didn’t appeal to me.

So I went on to launch my own freelance writing business and that was when I worked a lot; I overworked myself, I would never have seen it back then, but now that I see what the alternative looks like, I can really see the contrast there and part of it is I had a lot of constraints on my time.

I was a newlywed who had lots of time, I didn’t have any kids and I really liked the work that I did. So I worked … I don’t even know how many hours I would have worked back then- all the time! And when I launched my coaching practice, when I pivoted my business, I knew it needed to look different and so I designed it to look different.

I had little kids at home at that point and I just, I knew really clearly what my values were and where I wanted to be spending my time.  At first, it was 15 hours a week with my coaching practice because my kids were really little, and as they’ve grown and joined full-time school, that’s where the 25 to 30 hours a week is coming this Fall.

Gillian Perkins:

I love how you’re really working your business around your life instead of trying to squeeze in your life after work. It just sounds to me like you have your priorities really straight.

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah. It’s just how we’ve decided, my husband and I, have decided to do it. It would be very, very, very easy for me to say I want to run a 40 hour a week coaching practice, and that’s what I want to look like when I put the kids in daycare and that’s totally fine. It just wasn’t what we wanted and so we designed it for what I wanted.

Gillian Perkins:

Can you tell me about the time when you transitioned from your writing business to your coaching practice? What made you decide to make that decision, and did the amount of time that you needed to work to run those two businesses, was that part of the decision making process?

Ashley Gartland:

It wasn’t. I didn’t go into the coaching business assuming that this would be easier, less time intensive or anything like that.  had done the freelance writing business for about eight years and even though I was relatively young at the time since I started out of college, I had done all the things I wanted to do.

I had written some books, I had done some event planning, I was a food writer and so I’ve done some event planning in the food space. I just did everything I’d written for the publications I wanted to write for and I just didn’t feel like there was a lot left for me to do there.

And I also really wanted to be working with people and I really wanted to make a difference. I saw that what I was living, even though I was working a lot, I saw that I still had a lot of freedom and flexibility and I wanted to help more people experience that.

So when I learned that there’s this thing called business coaching, I definitely went out and got certified as soon as possible.

Gillian Perkins:

That’s great. Can you tell me about when you were first getting started with your coaching business and you were planning your business? Was the idea of working 15 hours a week initially, was that something that was a decision you made ahead of time and then you tried to fit your business into that? Or were you planning your business and then you thought, “Hey, I think I could do this in just 15 hours a week.”

Ashley Gartland:

It was more like that. When I first launched it I was spending time on a lot of things that didn’t matter, and when I started to realize that and I was like, “Hey, I think I could do this and a lot less time.” And then looked at what that would look like and what I would be actually using those hours for. That’s when I started to get much more strategic and to work a lot smarter, not longer hours.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And walk me back to when you were working 15 or 20 hours a week, what did your typical work week look like? How many clients were you working with? What percentage of that time was spent actually on calls with those clients or interacting with those clients in other ways? What percentage was maybe spent on marketing or admin?

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah. So when I was working about 15 hours a week, I was serving six one-on-one clients at a time which probably sounds like a pretty small number. I’m pretty immersive and work a lot with my clients outside those calls too.

So I was working with six to eight at a time then and I wasn’t doing a lot of other things. Now I do coaching intensives, I have a Voxer coaching partnership, I have more space for those things now, but I was really focused on just the one-on-one, and it’s really a signature service and outside of the client work, I was doing the traditional marketing stuff, the content marketing, running my facebook group, doing a little bit of visibility stuff, a couple of collaborations, but as my hours have expanded, that’s really where I’ve poured my time and energy into is serving more clients and doing more fun stuff like this like podcast interviews.

Gillian Perkins:

Yeah, that’s great. So something that I see a lot of people struggling with when they’re trying to work less is that especially when their business is small and new, they feel like they have to spend so much time kind of on the hustle, hustling their business, getting the word out there on marketing just to get the few clients that they work with and so they don’t see how they could possibly work less when they simply would have fewer clients if they did work less.

Do you have any tips for people who are in that situation? How did you get your coaching business off to a start that allowed you to work minimal hours practically from the very beginning?

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah. I think that it’s really about paying attention to what’s working instead of like looking at what everyone is telling you to do. There’s probably two dozen strategies that you could use to grow your business and generate clients.

For me, I needed to get really clear on what worked for me, and then rinse and repeat that. So it takes a little bit of time to figure those things out. At first, you’re going to feel like you’re throwing spaghetti at the wall, but if you pay attention to where your clients are coming from, you pay attention to what’s resonating with people, you can lean more into the strategies and let some of the other stuff go.

So I used to pay a lot of attention to social media and then I realized most of my clients were coming from one-to-one outreach and podcast interviews, and so it made way more sense for me to focus my time and energy on that and that’s the same thing I do with my clients.

We look at all the things they’re doing, and we ask: if you only did two of these things to bring in clients, what would that look like? And that’s where they’re able to work less and still generate the leads that they need.

Gillian Perkins:

Yes, that is so smart. So essentially, it’s the 80/20 principle, right? 80% of your results are coming from 20% of your efforts. So you need to figure out what those key efforts are that are producing most of the results and then prioritize those and cut out most of everything else.

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah, and I think the thing we most of us don’t do who are kind of in that hustle mentality is we just assume we need to do all the things and we don’t really pay attention to what’s working.

So if you can take the time to pause and look at what’s working or work with someone to help you figure out what’s working, then you can let the other stuff go and then you can focus on the most important stuff.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I think that’s an especially common pitfall for anyone who’s just getting started with their business and they don’t yet know what works. So they just see everything that everyone else is doing.

They don’t know which things are working for other people in their industry, their competitors, they don’t know what is just a waste of time. So they just try to do all the things and because they’re spending so little time on each thing, nothing’s working that well, nothing’s producing really measurable results.

And so that’s when it becomes difficult to know what’s working and to be able to do more of it and so I think that that’s when you really have to master your own mind and just decide to do fewer things so that you can really give those things a fair shot.

Ashley Gartland:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And time, I think that’s really important to highlight what you said: you might be doing a few things, but if you are doing a few things and you do them for two weeks, you’re not actually going to know if they worked or not.

You need to actually give yourself a good three-month chunk of doing them and then assess where you’re at. So at the start, it is a little harder and you do need to figure out what’s working and it can feel a little like you’re in that hustle mentality, but you don’t have to stay there forever, and I think that’s the real silver lining.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So when you were figuring out what was working for you and you were doing social media, and you were also doing one-to-one outreach and podcast interviews, was there anything that you did or any thoughts that you had maybe that helps you figure out which things were working and which things to go all in with?

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah, I think this is gonna sound so simple, but I started asking my clients where they found me and I think that that’s something and I automated that process. I made sure it was part of my client pre-qualification inquiry with clients.  And that’s when I started seeing trends. Before that, sometimes I’d ask, sometimes I forgot to ask and I just didn’t know, that’s when I started to see like, “Okay, well, they might have seen me on Instagram. The thing that made them book the call was they heard me on a podcast.” Or, “The thing that made them book the call is they saw a live stream on my Facebook group.” I started to really sense what the trends were and all I had to do was ask.

Gillian Perkins:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, that makes sense and I love how practical that tip is. Even if it’s obvious, it’s so nice to come back to basics sometimes and to just think about the easiest way that you could accomplish something.

It doesn’t always take a big complicated strategy to reach a goal or to figure something out. Sometimes the most obvious solution really is the best.

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah.

Gillian Perkins:

So I understand that in order to run your business in just 20 to 30 or so hours a week, you must have some strong systems that are really supporting the work that you’re doing. Maybe supporting your team.

I’m not sure if you have a team right now, but could you tell me about … Well, actually, first of all, could you tell me if you have a team and what that looks like?

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah, so I do have a team and one of the reasons that I like to use systems in partnership with my team is it allows my team to also excel and do the things that are in their zone of genius instead of just mucking around in the backend to my business.

At the start, when I didn’t have a team, I looked at where systems could fill in, where systems could help me do things more efficiently or more effectively.  And then as my team came on, we sharpened up those systems and figured out what systems they also need to do their job to the best capacity. My team right now, I have an online business manager who works in my business with me and then she has a small team under her so she has like a graphic designer under her and then a couple of VAs under her that do some of the stuff.

She does a lot of the more high-level strategy and they’re doing a lot more of the execution of some of the things and they do a lot of things for me like they schedule my social media, they schedule my newsletter, they handle a lot of the client onboarding.

It’s simple stuff, it’s usually in the umbrella of something related to tech which is not my wheelhouse and they can do it so much faster than me.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s what I’ve noticed about having a team as well. Of course, when your business is small, you initially … You can take care of everything yourself and you don’t have the budget to hire help, but then as your business continues to grow, and you start to hire people to help, that’s when you’re able to start doing some of that 80% of the things that you previously would have cut out.

So like you mentioned that your team is now scheduling social media for you and that’s probably one of the things that you had cut out earlier on when you were only working 15 hours a week, right?

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah, absolutely. Or they’re just doing … Before, I didn’t have the capacity to write a newsletter, post it to a blog, put it on all the social media platforms, they can do that for me and I certainly don’t need to be the person to do that during the time that they’re doing that, I can serve another client or I can do a discovery call or I can do a podcast interview. That’s such a better use of my time.

Gillian Perkins:

Yeah, that makes sense and this is getting a tiny bit off topic. But that just made me think, comparison, comparing ourselves to other people in any area of life can be something that can hold us back in several different ways.

I was just thinking of new entrepreneurs, people who have small businesses or young businesses, if they look at other people in their industry who are more successful or more advanced with their businesses than they are, and they see those people doing all the things, and they see them posting on many different social media platforms, they might think, “Oh, well, so and so does this. So clearly, it’s a good idea.”

But what you don’t see is what’s going on behind the scenes which is that that person because they’ve built their business, because their business is successful, they have the extra resources to be able to do stuff that maybe isn’t producing very big results for their business, but they can just afford to do that.  They can afford the time, the energy and all the other resources that go into that, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the smartest strategy for someone who’s just starting out.

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah, I think there are very few solopreneurs who are doing all of the things and I think there’s very few people who are like farther along who are doing all of the things themselves. So that’s a very important to remember.

Gillian Perkins:

Yeah. So important and I know that that really was my experience when I was first starting out and trying to do all the things because that’s what I saw other people doing or at least that’s what I thought I saw other people doing.

My business wasn’t growing, I was so stuck and stagnant and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it and it was only when I kind of gave up and decided to just focus on a couple things and try to do them as well as I could. That was when things really started to grow and that’s gotten me to a point where now I also have a team who’s scheduling my social media posts and doing other things that don’t produce the biggest results, but we can afford to do them now.

Ashley Gartland:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And they’re still important. All those things are still working, they’re just not the most important. So if you can focus on doing the most important things and let your team or your systems handle the other stuff, that’s fantastic.

Gillian Perkins:

Yeah, I completely agree. Still good things to do, but not top priority.

Ashley Gartland:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gillian Perkins:

So let’s get into some of those systems that are really supporting your business and supporting your team and supporting yourself so that you guys can accomplish the most that you can with the least amount of effort and yeah, so the first one that you mentioned to me earlier was your simplified schedule. So tell me a little bit about what that looks like and what type of system it really is.

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah. So we kind of talked to this before when you mentioned that. I’m someone who really values my life priorities and schedules my business to fit those. So what I do is I and I do this with all my clients too, it’s one of the first things we do together is we identify what your top five priorities are.

For me, it’s family, community, business, health, and my partner because I keep those separate, family and then my partner. So those are my five and so I actually will go into my calendar, and I will plan out what time blocks I want to spend on each of those priorities and then I look at what’s left.

So I look at … If I know I’m volunteering with my kid’s school one day, and I want to do yoga one day, I let those blocks sit there and then I look at what’s left for my business and that’s where I end up with the 25 to 30 hours a week right now during the school year and that’s where I figure out, “Okay, if I’ve got that amount of time for my business, then how do I break down those hours?”

And I will go through those hours and look at what time is going to be client work, what time is going to be the big picture projects for my business, what time is going to be the reactive work, what time is going to be the marketing work, and I block that out.

And then week to week, all I need to do is go in and make it specific and it’s so simple.  Every Monday, I can go into this ideal schedule that I’ve mapped out and I can just go in and write the specific tasks into each section and then I’m done and I’ve decided ahead of time when I’m doing so I can just show up and do the work.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I found that scheduling things, whether you’re scheduling down to the minute or you’re just scheduling big chunks of time, either way, scheduling things ahead of time and putting things really on your calendar makes it so much less overwhelming to do the work because you don’t have to waste time and energy convincing yourself to do the task when it’s time to do it because you decided ahead of time that you were going to do it at that time.

So for me, I remember when I first realized this, it was just with household chores. I was terrible at keeping up with chores around my house until I finally just decided, “Okay, every Monday I’m going to vacuum the floor. Every Tuesday, I’m going to do the laundry.”

And because I had created that schedule for myself, it just eliminated the decision making that I had to do or the motivation that I had to have and then later, when I started my YouTube channel, I started one YouTube channel, it didn’t really go anywhere, then a couple years later, I decided to start another one.

The main thing I did differently as far as me being consistent was just I decided every Monday I’m going to film videos whether I feel like it or not, and that made it so much simpler.

So I love what you’re saying here about how simplifying your schedule can really help you to accomplish a lot more. So when you’re simplifying your schedule and you are scheduling out these tasks and activities, can you describe to me how, on what scale you are scheduling? Are you scheduling down to the minute? Are you scheduling big chunks of time? What does that look like?

Ashley Gartland:

I mean, it is pretty down to the minute, but for a lot of my clients who feel like that’s too restrictive, it can be more. We have big chunks of time or we have some buckets that you’re doing during the day and it’s a little more flexible.

One thing I want to point out is that I always encourage my clients and myself to include some buffer space in there. So we don’t schedule so tightly that you don’t feel like you can take a break to go to the bathroom or eat your lunch or anything like that or if something spills over a little bit, they have little space to go, but what I like to do is just get really specific and say, “These are the clients I’m serving. Here’s the calls I’ve got on my plate this day. This is the time that I’m going to be responding to client emails and doing their content reviews.”

And then even down to like, “This is the Facebook Live that I’m doing and it’s going to happen at this time. This is what the topic is.” Again, that decision fatigue, like we make so many decisions as business owners, and if I’ve already pre-decided and plan that out for the week and just sit down and do it, it just makes it actually more likely to happen.

Gillian Perkins:

Yeah, that makes sense. So could you give me a little bit of contrast and comparison, simplified schedule versus maybe what you were doing in the past?

Ashley Gartland:

Oh, absolutely. So I think in the past it was so reactionary, right? It was like sit down, open up the email, see what’s coming, what does my team need? What do my clients need, then jump on this call here.

This has allowed me to see how to move things around so that I’m kind of batching and I’m in the flow of things and how to make it work best. It’s why I no longer do client calls all days of the week.

I just do them two days because I can batch them when I’m in that energy, and it’s also really changed the game in terms of how much big picture work I’m able to do. I feel like when you’re in reaction mode, and the thing I hear from my clients all the time is like, “I am so busy all day long, but I’m never very productive.

And I can definitely say that beginning of my coaching practice, that’s how I felt. I was just reacting to things coming in and I was working all the time, but I was never doing productive stuff.

So knowing in my calendar that there’s huge blocks of space dedicated to whatever next big picture project I’m working on, a new piece of content or a new revenue stream or whatever it is, that’s making things happen to my business, that’s actually moving the needle forward.

Gillian Perkins:

That makes sense. So one question that was in my mind as you were describing this simplified schedule was it sounded to me somewhat almost intricate, and detailed and structured and so I was wondering what about this are you describing as simple?

And so now I understand, I think that what it’s simplifying is it’s allowing you to focus on one thing at a time. It’s putting your priorities on your calendar so that you don’t have to try to find time for them.  And it also seems like it’s really simplifying your brain space because you’re not trying to decide what you should focus on at any given time.

You’re not multitasking. Would you say that that’s accurate? That’s what you mean by simplified? Or is there some other aspect of this that you’re describing as simple?

Ashley Gartland:

I think absolutely yes to all of those things, but the thing that’s really simple for me, the people that kind of this light bulb moment is like suddenly when they see it all mapped out on paper in front of them, they’re like, “Oh, I have space for all the things that I want to do.” And that’s what’s really simple.

Suddenly, it becomes very simple to make sure that they get to yoga, to make sure that they’re doing the big picture work in their business, to make sure that they have time for their family.

Those things just become very obvious and simple when they see it mapped out, when they’re just reacting to things all day and putting out fires in their business, it’s just not happening.

Gillian Perkins:

Okay, that makes sense. It’s kind of like the difference between trying to fit a bunch of blocks into a container and you’re trying a bunch of complicated ways versus if you just lay them all out right next to each other as all the sides are meeting then it all fits.

Okay. Yeah. Well, that makes a lot of sense and could you … A question I have for you about each of your systems is how much time or money did it cost you to create this system?

Ashley Gartland:

I mean, totally free to set up, right? It was just intellectual property. It was just I started tinkering it with my own life, just kind of experimenting. If I do things this way, how is it working?  And seeing how well it worked and then I tried it with some clients and so it worked really well for them and then I turned it into kind of a whole system really.

But I would say when push came to shove to turning it into like … It’s not a product that I sell, but it’s a product that I use with my clients. It probably took me five to 10 hours to build it out, to explain the philosophy, to create the workbook, to create the training that goes with it and have my graphic designer make it look pretty, but so not really that bad considering how much time it saved me over the years.

Gillian Perkins:

Sure. How much time does it typically take one of your clients to create a simplified schedule for themselves?

Ashley Gartland:

We usually do it together in a 45-minute call.

Gillian Perkins:

Oh, very short?

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah. Very, very short. It’s a very quick four step process.

Gillian Perkins:

Yeah, okay, great. And then my final question for you about this system is: who would this system be helpful for?

Ashley Gartland:

So I definitely think anybody who’s using that language of, “I’m busy all the time, but I’m never very productive.” That is the best solution for that type of person.

Gillian Perkins:

Okay, fantastic. So let’s move on and talk about your second system. What is the second most important system that allows you to run your business the way you do?

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah, so for me because I focus exclusively on one-on-one client engagements and partnerships, it’s my client management system.  And before I really nailed this, what I was doing with clients was, we do our calls, I’d email them some notes. There wasn’t a lot of consistency or systemization in terms of how I did it, and then we would just communicate back and forth via email and we’re sharing resources.

And it just felt really a little chaotic, really clunky. It just didn’t feel like what I wanted the process of the partnership to feel like. So at some point, I figured that I … What I really wanted them to have was like a very specific place to go when they were working on our coaching partnership.

A place to go when they’re working on our business and in communication with me and so I decided to design a personalized client portal or a dashboard and I decided to use Trello for that.

You could do this in so many other platforms, but for me, Trello was really visual, and I liked the functionality of it. So what I did was I set up a client dashboard like a template for each of my partnerships and now what I get to do or actually, what my team does for me is when someone new comes on board, we personalize it, we copy the template, we turn it into their personalized dashboard and it includes things like what their goals are, what our proposed projects are.

It includes their important information, like sounds simple, but like their website, their social media handles, their address so that if I ever need to access those things, I know right where to go or if my team ever needs to access them, they’re right there for them.

And then the other thing that this client portal has that I really, really like, is something I’ve added more recently which is a resources section. They started to notice that 99% of my clients were asking me for the same things like, “Could you send me a podcast on this topic?” Or, “Do you have a workbook on this thing?”

And I realized that I could put those in a resources section preloaded for them, instead of doing it one off every single time. So now that’s in there and that saved me a ton of time and allowed me to serve my clients too.

Gillian Perkins:

Yeah, okay. Well, it sounds like you’ve created a really good system there and I can completely visualize the difference here between the before and the current and I can just see what a big difference that would make. What would you say is the single biggest difference that this system made for your or for your clients?

Ashley Gartland:

I think for both of us, myself and our clients, it’s created, I don’t want to say it’s created momentum, but it allows us to really see progress and to make sure that we’re staying on track.

So it’s a great place to check in. After every call, I type up notes and there’s a to do list for each of us. So it allows us to have focus, and it allows us to check in and see how we’re going as we’re meeting.

Are we meeting their goals? Are we moving along in the way we intended? And if not, do we need to reassess and see where we’re at? So that’s been a really, really nice thing and then the other piece of it is definitely when you’re in your inbox, or when you’re communicating on Facebook or somewhere else, you’ve got a lot of distractions.

When they’re in their Trello board, it’s just dedicated time for their business, and I really wanted that for them.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). What I love about this system is that not only is it definitely saving you time and saving you hassle, but it also is making your coaching services, your products that you’re offering seem that much more valuable because it seems more professional and more polished, you have your own system that you’re giving to the clients and it seems like that is such a smart branding move as well.

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah, I think it’s really nice. I have some clients who are very “go with the flow”. They don’t need to see a framework, they don’t need to see like, what’s the blueprint we’re moving through, but I have other clients who really want to see the system, they really want to see the structure.

So especially for those clients, I think it helps them feel extra supported and they’re able to see what’s coming in for like planners, that’s really helpful.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think that whenever we have those outward-facing systems that our clients or customers or even just our audience can see, it really gives those people a lot more trust in us because they can see that we have a system that we’re working them through, that we’re not just winging it, right?

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah, it makes them feel like you’ve got them.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, like you have a structure. Okay, so my next question for you about this system is how much time or money does this take you to create? Tell me about both when you initially set this up, when you build out that first Trello board, but also, now that you have been using it for a while, when you get a new client and you set them up with a Trello board, how long does that take as well?

Ashley Gartland:

So the time that it takes to set it … The time that takes to set up initially, it took a lot, right? Maybe not a lot, but like a couple of hours to really figure out what I wanted this to look like and that version was like, “This is good enough.”

It wasn’t like, “We’re going to perfect this, it’s not going to be exactly what I want to do. It’s like let’s experiment with this, see how it works with the clients and see what I want to add in and one thing I like to do with my systems is kind of check in with them every year and say, “How can we make this more efficient? What do I need to take out of it? It’s like extra, and what do I need to add in that will make it work better?

So that’s something that I do with this template from time to time. I added a welcome video to help people who’ve never used Trello figure out how to tag me and use the board.

So that was an addition that came in later or the resources section. So I would say like initially, it took two or three hours to set the thing up and then there’s a period of refining that’s happened a few more hours there and then with my team, what I used to set these up myself before I passed off off-boarding or onboarding, I would say it probably took me 10 minutes to set it up. I bet my team does it even faster, but it’s like five minutes for them.

Gillian Perkins:

That’s great. And then finally, who would this system be helpful for?

Ashley Gartland:

So I can answer that so clearly because I would say like 50% of my clients who are also service-based business owners end up adopting the system for their own client management.

So it’s great for website designers, it’s great for people, a lot of clients who do bookkeeping and so they use this to manage their client projects. So it’s really good for people who are serving clients, who are juggling multiple client projects, and feeling like the communication is a little clunky and things are getting, slipping through the cracks.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that makes sense. So when you were talking about how long it took you to initially set up and then the process that you went through afterwards of refining it, I thought there was such a good little lesson there, like a bonus there.

That system of refinement which could be a very structured system. Some people have systems where every week, they have a weekly review, every month, they have a monthly review and that sort of thing and then it can also be very casual and unstructured, but still a system where you’re always looking for what is working and looking for things that aren’t working as well and working on improving them.

It’s one of those systems that is just one of those things that is so obvious, it’s almost like you don’t need to say it, but it is such a valuable system for being able to get the biggest results with the least effort, with the least amount of time, you’re always working on improving in that way, then you’re always going to be improving your results and reducing the effort that it takes to get them.

Ashley Gartland:

Absolutely. And I think that’s just an awareness thing. I know that this system that I have, honestly like all my systems, I know all of them have the chance to evolve and become more refined.

And so instead of making it this big, heavy lift, I’m just paying attention all the time and if there’s something that I see that needs improvement, I can ask my team to do it or I can do it really quickly and fix that in the moment.

Gillian Perkins:

So good. So let’s talk about one more system that is really key to your business.

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah. So I think we talked about marketing, right? Marketing is such a heavy lift for so many of us and I feel like the most common word people tell me to describe where they’re at with marketing is overwhelmed because there’s just so many moving pieces and I definitely felt that way in the early years of my business, but especially as it started to grow, and I had more opportunities coming my way.

That’s when I really started to feel like, “Okay, I need to be able to figure out my bandwidth here and I need to be able to figure out what I can say yes to and what I need to say no to.”

And that’s where I decided I really wanted to see all of my marketing in one place. You can tell probably from all my systems, I’m very visual, and I like to see things laid out and so I asked myself like, “How could I use Trello to design a simplified marketing plan for myself?”

And what I decided was to design it by time. So I designed a plan that tells me what I’m working on in a given time frame. So what I do daily for marketing, what I do weekly for marketing, and then what I do on a month-to-month basis, and what happens is you know the daily stuff ends up being the social media post, the weekly stuff ends up being the weekly newsletter.

It’s where I can write out my ideas and my plans and then the monthly stuff is where I get to put a lot of the collaborations. So that lets me see what’s coming down the pipeline.

So I can see, in March, I’ve already scheduled two podcast interviews, and here’s what needs to happen for those and it’s there and I’m not going to forget about it, I’m not going to be really intentional planning for it.

So this has really helped me make sure that marketing feels doable and also, again, like going back to the bandwidth thing it allowed me to see like I’m already committed to three things that month, this fourth thing is probably going to be too much.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s so true that it makes it so much more possible to do more when you can simplify it, put it all in one place. I think that going back to what we’re talking about earlier with when you’re in that first stage of building your business and you’re trying to be in all the places, sometimes I think it can feel like you are putting a lot of effort into that because it is messy, but if you clean that you might see that you’re not really putting that much effort into any one of those platforms and that could really give you some clarity about maybe why you’re not seeing a lot of growth on any one of those platforms.

So tell me a little bit more about your simplified marketing plan, and specifically the Trello board. I’m curious, is this Trello board just for you? Or do you have team members in there also that maybe you’re assigning tasks to or something like that?

Ashley Gartland:

It’s honestly really just for me.  There are the documents where we have certain things like social media content, like those are linked in there.  My team has access to that, they have access to the Trello board, but they don’t use it very much.

It’s really something that’s just mostly for me, especially for the month to month stuff. So what I’m … I’m trying to see how I can explain it. It’s really, if you haven’t used Trello, it’s just on your screen, and you’ve got these little cards that show you the different categories, and each of the columns are designed by the timeframes I was talking about.

So that’s what I have is the framework and then the way that I’ve made it even more useful for myself is to put frequently used resources on there too. So I’ve got my bio on there, I’ve got head shots linked on there.

I have a checklist for every type of media event I could do. So that when I say yes, then all I have to do is copy the checklist and move through that. Instead of over complicating things and trying to reinvent the wheel, I can just say, “No, this is the process I go through.” And it allows me to move through the to-do’s for marketing events really quickly.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I love that. I love how much of everything you put in this one place because I know for me, I have my bio and my head shots and a folder in Google Drive and it’s very organized, but it’s very separate from where I have any sort of to-do’s and so I only have to go and hunt it down whenever I need those things, but it would make sense to put it right there where you’re going to use it.

So yeah, that sounds great. So tell me a little bit more about this Trello board. So as you mentioned, and I hadn’t even thought about the fact that not everyone has used Trello.

As you mentioned in Trello, there are these columns and so there’s essentially each a list that has different items on it. So it sounds like you have one column that is daily tasks, one column that is weekly tasks, is that correct?

Ashley Gartland:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And then for the monthly tasks, it doesn’t say monthly then for the monthly, I built it out. So I’ve got January, February, March and so and then under that, there’ll be little cards for each one.

So there was a card for like this podcast interview that told me exactly where we were at in the progress as we were planning it and the other thing that I really liked that this does that I don’t think people think about is you can start to see where you have some lapses in your marketing where you can notice, “Okay, I don’t have anything scheduled for April at all internally, or externally.”

I don’t have anything I’m doing for my own business, any challenges or anything. I don’t have any collaborations that I’ve set up. That might be something I want to look at.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay, so in that weekly column, you mentioned that one thing on there is your newsletter. So is newsletter, just one card on that weekly?

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah.

Gillian Perkins:

And so what is inside that card?

Ashley Gartland:

For me, it’s just ideas. I don’t need to … I don’t write out the whole newsletter. I know people who do something really similar like this in notion, and they actually write their whole newsletter in there.

For me, it’s just where I drop ideas. So I’ve got the next … Ideas for the next newsletters in there. So when it’s time to write, I just jump in, grab the idea and get started which helps a lot with writer’s block.

Gillian Perkins:

Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s always good to have more ideas than you need so that you feel like ideas are abundant, and you never feel like, “I don’t have enough ideas.” So that’s really good. Do you also have a checklist in that card for producing your newsletter, or it’s just those ideas?

Ashley Gartland:

I’ve done it. I mean, I’ve been doing it for five years. So the checklist is so … It’s in my brain, but to your point, if you wanted to take this and you wanted to have a checklist for how to produce the newsletter, and you wanted to write all the content in there, that would be such an easy place for your team to jump in and just grab it and then execute on the rest of the tasks.

So what I like about this is, and what’s so fun, is seeing how my clients use this and evolve it because everyone does it a little bit differently and that’s how it should be.

Systems should be specific to you and they should make sense to your brain. So I want people to take these tools and then make sense for their business.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that sounds great. Okay, so how much time did this initially take you to set up?

Ashley Gartland:

I would say around the same. I mean, I feel like it’s like the same answer I’ve been giving, but like two to three hours, maybe five max to set this up and then against that process of refining, adding in the bio, and those sorts of extra things was something I did relatively recently after realizing like I kept going to grab them from other places, and it would just make more sense that they were right there.

Gillian Perkins:

Yeah, that makes sense. And then who would the system be helpful for?

Ashley Gartland:

I mean, anybody who’s overwhelmed with their marketing I think, especially solopreneurs who are doing a lot of it themselves right now and feeling like there are a lot of things that they want to do and they need to see it all in one place so they know what their commitments are.  And also, so they can start tracking these things, what’s working and what’s not, but it’s also great for people with teams because you can pass this off to your team, and you can use it as a hub for communication.

Gillian Perkins:

It’s a good thing that we are talking about simple systems here because if you were trying to explain a massively complex Trello board, that wouldn’t really have worked via audio, but it worked very well for this simple Trello board.  And I hope that all of our listeners really can visualize what you were describing Ashley because I certainly can. And it sounds like a great system especially for as you mentioned, for any solopreneur, any person who has a small business, but they are trying to do several different types of marketing as most small businesses are because you want your different types of marketing to really work together.

It’s not so much about being on multiple different platforms so much as like nurturing customers through the process … Essentially like the marketing process where they initially hear about your business somehow, and then you’re warming them up over time.

And so often, you’ll have one place where you’re getting that exposure. Maybe it’s Instagram or YouTube or something like that and then you have another place where you’re nurturing them, maybe your newsletter.

So you’re trying to manage these multiple things, and it can end up feeling like quite a juggle, but having a simple system like this could really help them out.

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah, I think it really helps to see your ecosystem too all mapped out and to your point about, it is hard to talk about systems without showing people so if you want, I can send over links to videos I’ve made of any of these so that people can actually see them too.

Gillian Perkins:

Yeah, that would be fantastic. If you have those videos, we can put those links in the show notes and I’m sure that our listeners would find that really helpful especially if maybe they haven’t used Trello before and they’re just wondering what in the world we’re talking about.

Ashley Gartland:

Yeah, I’ll send those over.

Gillian Perkins:

Okay, great. So we’ve talked about three different systems: your simplified schedule, your client management system, and your simplified marketing plan and I can definitely see how each of those systems is really supporting you in the work that you’re doing, and supporting your clients as well, helping you to do a lot more with a lot less effort.

So thank you so much for sharing those with us. To wrap this up, I’ve got just a couple final questions for you. The first is, what is the number one thing that you’ve done in the recent past that either allowed you to earn more or allowed you to work less?

Ashley Gartland:

I feel like there’s like so many ways that I could answer this question, but I really think that for me, a lot of this has been about the internal work, right? About learning self-trust and learning to trust other people and learning to pass things off to my team and reminding myself that I don’t need to be the person doing everything, those new beliefs have really allowed me to scale and they’ve also allowed me to work less.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s great. Okay, next question is, what is your favorite productivity tip or tool that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Ashley Gartland:

I think … I mean, it’s going back to the schedule, like having that schedule and having that routine. Having the schedule in place and then having that routine where every Monday morning I come home from dropping my kids off at school, I sit down and make tea, and I make my schedule specific for the week has been an absolute game changer.  And the other piece of it, the other tip part of this, is that you have to honor it.

And I know that seems so obvious and simple, but if you make your schedule and then you tuck it under a bunch of papers, and you end up doing reactionary stuff all day, it’s never going to have a chance to show you what’s possible.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So true. Okay, and my final question for you is what’s the best place for our listeners to go to connect with you?

Ashley Gartland:

So I am on Instagram @ashleygartland or they can head to my website, it’s ashleygartland.com.

Gillian Perkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And we will definitely include those links in the show notes as well. Okay, well, thank you so much Ashley for everything that you have shared with our listeners today about systems for running their businesses with minimal effort and also, just again for taking your time to be with us here in this episode because I know your time is so precious.

Ashley Gartland:

Oh thank you. It’s so fun to be here.

Gillian Perkins:

I so appreciated Ashley sharing her wisdom with us in today’s episode, and explaining some different ways in which we can create simple systems to help us run our businesses more effectively and more efficiently.

Now, one aspect that we didn’t touch on so much in this episode was how to increase your profits. We were mostly focused here on how to work less, how to save time, that sort of thing, but if you are looking for a simplified process for increasing your profits, then you’ll definitely want to check out the Profit Planning Challenge.

We host this challenge each month and during the challenge, you will create a profit plan for your business. Now, this profit plan isn’t anything too complex, too big, too overwhelming.

We keep it pretty simple and streamlined. It just is four sections long and each section outlines a different aspect of the plans that you need in order to be making money with your business.

So for example, on one day, we outline your offer, and you get super clear on exactly what the value of your offer is so that you can sell it more effectively and then on another day, you outline your marketing strategy, you create a simple plan for how you’re going to sell more of your primary offer.

Now, I’m not going to go through the whole profit plan right now, but I just want to give you an idea of what we work on during the Profit Planning Challenge.

If you don’t already have a profit plan for your business, then I would love to have you join us for the next round of the Profit Planning Challenge. As I mentioned before, it is completely free and it will take you a total of about two hours to complete, about 30 minutes per day for just four days.

If you’re interested in signing up for the Profit Planning Challenge and getting your profit plan written so that you can start putting it into practice in your business and earning more money every month, then just check out the show notes for this episode, or head to gillianperkins.com/profitplan.

You can go there, you can sign up and we will love to have you join us for the next round of the Profit Planning Challenge. I’ll see you then.

    Sean McMullin

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