It has come to my attention that there is a big (like HUGE) misconception about systems and tools in the online business world. It’s cropped up so many times in recent weeks that I felt the need to drop EVERYTHING I was doing to set the record straight.
Are you ready for this?! Hold on to your laptops, ladies, because my sassy pants are on today!!
📣 SYSTEMS are NOT the same as tools. TOOLS are NOT the same as systems. 📣
Running your own business is hard enough without confusing the two or thinking they’re the same thing. (Although, it’s not your fault if you DO think that. I’ll get to that more in a minute…)
The fact of the matter is tools would be NOTHING without systems and systems NEED tools to make them function (and be more effective and efficient). And your business will be FAR BETTER OFF with a better understanding of the difference between the two.
In today’s post, we’re also going to cover WHY having both systems and tools is super important for your business, the biggest mistakes business owners make with them, and where the heck TEMPLATES fit into the equation!!
Are you ready? Let’s dive in!!
(This post may contain affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase using these links.)
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SYSTEMS AND TOOLS YOU NEED TO KNOW
The official definition of a system (in this instance) is…
A set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized framework or method. A means or way of achieving something.
Now, here’s where it can get a little complicated…
A system can also be referred to as a technique, process, procedure, method, manner, modus operandi, workflow, blueprint, framework, approach, plan, practice, recipe, formula, routine, regimen, set of rules, or guidelines.
But notice one very important thing 👉🏻 a system is NEVER referred to as a tool.
As a female entrepreneur, you probably have A LOT of systems in your business…
- content management system
- client management system
- lead tracking system
- digital organization system
- email management system
- business maintenance system
- product creation system
- automated sales system
- planning and scheduling system
And that’s just to name a few!!
You could also very well have smaller systems built into your bigger systems.
For example, your client management system most likely begins with a client onboarding process and ends with a client offboarding process with one or more workflows that helps your clients get through each stage of a project in between.
You may even have systems that connect with or funnel into other systems.
For example, your content management system (or where you keep track of all your content ideas) probably leads to a content creation workflow or publishing system (like for a blog or podcast), which then hopefully runs into a content repurposing system (where you take that one piece of content and make it available for multiple platforms).
⭐️ Systems are a truly integral part of what makes your business RUN smoothly and efficiently on a daily basis and what keeps you IN business for years to come. You’ll often hear me say systems are the BACKBONE or FOUNDATION of your business (because they are).
Now, let’s switch gears and talk about tools!!
The definition of a tool is…
A device or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function. A thing used in an occupation or pursuit. A piece of software that carries out a particular function.
To (hopefully) make things even clearer…
A tool can also be referred to as an implement, instrument, device, utensil, gadget, apparatus, machine, appliance, contraption, gizmo, hardware, equipment, or gear.
Take note once again though that a tool is NEVER referred to as a system. 💡
As a female entrepreneur, you probably work with A TON of tools in your business…
- computer (laptop or desktop)
- client management software (Honeybook or Dubsado)
- digital calendar (iCal or Google Calendar)
- social media scheduler (Plann or Planoly)
- website builder (WordPress, ShowIt, Elementor)
- online course platform (Teachable, Thinkific, Kajabi, Kartra)
- payment processor (PayPal or Stripe)
- integration and automation tool (Zapier)
- project management tool (Asana, ClickUp, or Trello)
And that’s just to name a few!!
⭐️ Tools are like magical gadgets that make doing a job or task better, easier, faster, and more enjoyable.
Case in point, there once was a time when laptop and desktop computers didn’t exist. We had typewriters!! And before that, it was pen and paper. And before that, it was parchment, ink, and quill. Thankfully, over the years, we have developed TOOLS that make doing various jobs so much better, easier, faster, and more enjoyable. (Can you imagine writing a blog post these days with parchment, ink, and quill?! Yikes!!)
In the online business world, we have a GREAT NUMBER of tools at our disposal. Many of which accomplish the same thing, but in a different way. (This is both good and bad. Good because we’re all different—we work and see things in different ways. But it’s also bad because it can make it very hard to pick one. But we’ll get to that more in a minute…)
The fact of the matter is tools would be NOTHING without systems and systems NEED tools to make them function (and be more effective and efficient).
For example, if someone handed you client management software (like Honeybook or Dubsado) on a silver platter and said, “THIS will make working with clients so much easier!!” You’d say, “GREAT!! Sign me up!!“
But without a system or series of steps that walks clients through getting ready to work with you (aka an onboarding process), neither you nor your client will be able to proceed with the project. You’ll both just sit there WAITING for something to happen!!
The TOOL needs a system (or set of steps) to take action, function, and accomplish something. Otherwise, it just sits there. You have to TELL the tool what to do!!
In that same vein, the SYSTEM also relies on the tool to function. Without a tool, you just have a bunch of steps with no real way of following through and DOING something.
To put it super simply, it would be like someone telling you to make a cake and then handing you a sheet of instructions and a bunch of ingredients, but no bowl, no measuring cups, no whisk, no cake pan, and no oven. You’d sit there wondering how in the world you were going to make that cake happen!!
SO, WHY ARE SYSTEMS AND TOOLS OFTEN MISTAKEN FOR ONE AND THE SAME?
It’s honestly not YOUR fault if you’ve thought systems and tools were the same thing before. There are HUUUUGE companies, business coaches, and experts that are referring to tools as systems and vice versa and confusing us further every single day.
The biggest and most painful example that I can think of is project management tools like Asana, ClickUp, Monday, Notion, and Trello. These are, in fact, project management TOOLS, but they’re often referred to as project management SYSTEMS.
But we know now that that’s not the case. Right?!
The biggest mistake people make with project management tools when they first get started with them is that they just start plugging in tasks with no real rhyme, reason, strategy, organization, or (drumroll please) SYSTEM.
That’s honestly the number 1 reason business owners say project management tools don’t work for them because they don’t know how to use them to their fullest extent!! They either don’t HAVE any systems to put into them or don’t KNOW that they have to put systems into them to see how much better off their business will be!!
Project management tools like Asana, ClickUp, Monday, Notion, and Trello should NEVER be referred to as systems because they are NOT.
How you USE them though? THAT’S your system!! 🤩
Moreover, the BEST PART of project management tools is that you can house a WHOLE BUNCH of systems!! I use Asana to manage people, projects, and everything in between for both my business AND personal life. In just ONE tool, I have almost TWO DOZEN systems that I use to run my ENTIRE business (and personal life) on a daily basis!!
Related Post: Do You Really Need a Project Management Tool as a Female Entrepreneur?!
Now, we must address the other elephant in the room…
THE BIGGEST MISTAKES BUSINESS OWNERS MAKE WITH SYSTEMS AND TOOLS
The first is called TOOL HOPPING. This is when you constantly hop from one tool to the next in your business in the name of finding the next best thing. (It’s closely related to shiny object syndrome, which is when you focus undue attention on something new and trendy, only to drop it as soon as something new takes its place.)
The problem with tool hopping is that it’s not as productive as you think it is. (It’s actually BUSY WORK dressed up in productive work’s clothes).
👉🏻 Constantly looking at, setting up, and learning how to use a new tool is NOT a productive use of your time because it takes up TOO MUCH of it.
You should be working IN your business on money-making tasks and working ON your business on needle-moving tasks, not constantly looking for a tool that MIGHT make your grass grow greener.
The fact of the matter is there will ALWAYS be another tool. There will ALWAYS be somebody on the internet sharing about a cool, new tool and the way that they use it. And it’s ALWAYS going to be shiny, and pretty, and we’re going to want it, or at least want to try it.
But ain’t nobody really got time for that!!
If the program, software, system, or tool that you currently have is WORKING for you, then STICK with it!! PICK AND STICK is what I tell my clients, students, and even myself. (Because yes, even I get distracted by pretty, new tools sometimes!! 😉)
On the flip side, if you are finding yourself FRUSTRATED with a program, software, system, or tool (i.e. you’re angry with it, you’re pulling your hair out over it, or you’re avoiding using it), then it is ABSOLUTELY time to look for and try something new.
The second big mistake business owners make is thinking that they ONLY have to set up systems (and even tools) ONCE and that’s it!! One and done, set them and forget them, they’re good to go for forever and ever!!
But that’s not the case.
I hate to break it to you, but systems and tools should NEVER be one and done!!
They should constantly be looked at from top to bottom and left to right, reviewed for inefficiencies, audited for gaps or holes, updated or refreshed, managed, and maintained.
That is if you want to grow and scale your business as well as have a successful and sustainable business for years and years to come.
Which I know you do, right?! 😘
NOW, WHERE THE HECK DO TEMPLATES FIT INTO THIS EQUATION?!
I’m glad you asked!!
Because TEMPLATES are God’s gift to business owners everywhere. It’s true!!
But let’s back up a second. ◀️
The official definition of a template (in this instance) is…
Something that serves as a model for others to copy. A preset format for a document or file, used so that the format does not have to be recreated each time it is used.
And just to keep with tradition…
A template can also be referred to as a guide, model, mold, stencil, preset, or pattern.
A template COULD also technically be considered a tool, but it is definitely NOT a system. 🙅🏼♀️ But you CAN template a system to make things EASIER on yourself, ESPECIALLY in your business!!
Creating templates for ALL of your business systems and processes is an absolute MUST because it will save you time, reduce your mental energy, improve your execution, and optimize what is already working!!
As soon as you know something WORKS in your business, you can turn it into a TEMPLATE so that the next time you do that something, you can just rinse and repeat!!
As a female entrepreneur, you could have templated systems for just about EVERYTHING in your business!!
- writing and publishing a blog post
- outlining a project
- creating a course or product
- launching a course or product
- running a webinar
- writing and scheduling an email
The list goes on and on!!
Then there are Asana templates, Canva graphic templates, website and sales page templates, email templates, Instagram caption templates, Lightroom mobile presets, and SO MUCH MORE that make doing various things in your business like setting up systems in your project management tool, designing social media graphics, creating a website or sales page, writing an email, writing an Instagram caption, and editing your iPhone photos so much better, easier, faster, and more enjoyable!!
If you couldn’t tell, I’m a big (like HUGE) fan of templates over here!!
They really are God’s gift to business owners everywhere.
And if you’re not using templates in your business yet, you need to hop on that!!
(Pssst! For a complete list of the tools, templates, and courses that help me work smarter, not harder in my business, check out my resources page!!)
So, there you have it, friends!!
The difference between systems, tools, and templates you need to know!! I really want this message to get out there, so please share it with your business-owning friends!!
And if you ever find yourself getting ready to TOOL HOP, send me an email or DM me on Instagram, so I can help you decide if it’s really necessary or not!! 😉
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Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post could be affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission if you make a purchase through my link at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I personally use, love, and feel make a difference in my business and could do the same for you.