The Difference Between Management & Maintenance Systems and How to Implement Them

image by Diana Gordon Photography

Spend five minutes with creative entrepreneurs and you’ll likely hear someone talk about the importance of systems in your business and how they’ll change your life.

While I’m inclined to agree with those claims, there’s an important part of the conversation that often gets missed — the kinds of systems your business needs.

Some business systems are obvious, loud, and make themselves known fast when you don’t have them in place. Other systems are more subtle and quiet, and the value of them can sneak up on you so unexpectedly you barely even realize that’s what they are.

Both types of systems are necessary for a thriving, sustainable business. But the quiet ones often get neglected because the loud ones make more noise.

What are these quiet and loud systems? None other than management systems and maintenance systems.

The Difference Between Management Systems & Maintenance Systems

Even if you’ve heard people talk about systems for hours and hours, chances are you haven’t heard them talk about management vs. maintenance systems.

Management systems are systems that usually get more focus and attention in the conversation because they make things happen in your business and usually produce client-facing work. They’re systems for client projects, creating content and new offerings, and generally getting things done.

Maintenance systems are the quiet ones. They’re discussed sometimes, but often after-the-fact or ignored altogether. They’re the systems that are easy to forget when management systems are screaming for attention… until the maintenance systems start speaking up because everything’s going haywire.

Confused? Think of your business like a car. Management systems are the things you see from the outside — headlights, a full gas tank, and air in your tires.

Maintenance systems are the internal things you forget about… until the check engine light comes on or you’re pulling over because smoke is showing up in places smoke should never be.

Management systems make people who only see your business from the outside look like a well-oiled machine. Maintenance systems actually keep your business running like a well-oiled machine.

You need both of them to create a functioning, sustainable business.

Examples of Management Systems

To reiterate, management systems make things happen for your business that other people see.

Client/customer management systems get your clients or customers from inquiry to project end, hopefully while delivering them an amazing experience.

Content management systems help you create incredible content — whether it’s for social media, your blog, email list, or something else — on a consistent basis. 

Project management systems make internal and client projects a reality, taking things from Point A to Point B. 

Task management systems help you get ish done. These are tied in with all your other management systems, but also exist to ensure random tasks that aren’t part of a larger system actually get done.

Examples of Maintenance Systems

Maintenance systems are something you’re probably familiar with in your business, but have never heard called that. They’re also the things that tend to get pushed aside when things get overwhelming, but they’re more important than ever in those seasons!

Maintenance systems are the internal processes that keep your business running like a well-oiled machine. They look different for every business, but their purpose is always to keep the backend of your business updated on a regular basis so you don’t run into a crisis somewhere down the road.

Monthly Duty Day is a system a lot of entrepreneurs, myself included, adopt to keep up-to-date with those random tasks that often fall off the radar — like updating your finances or recording your mileage — and become a pain in the neck to deal with if you forget about them for six months.

Money Dates are a system similar to Monthly Duty Day, but specifically designated for the financial aspects of your business. They can include updating your accounting software, handling invoices, paying bills, updating your spending plan, or making purchasing decisions for your business.

Quarterly CEO Day encompasses tasks similar to Monthly Duty Day to ensure the administrative side of things is running smoothly, while also allowing you to step out of the day-to-day management of your business on a regular basis to look at it from a CEO perspective, cast the vision, and make sure you’re following that moving forward.

Annual Refresh is basically the equivalent of a deep clean for your business. In mine, I go through every area of it at the end of each year and examine it all, from top to bottom, updating and making changes as necessary, planning for the future, and ensuring everything is in tip-top shape before I step into the new year.

How to Implement Maintenance Systems

So you know the difference between management and maintenance systems, but how do you implement them in your business? Especially those maintenance systems that so easily get pushed to the wayside?

1. Start Small

There are lots of things you could do every week, month, or quarter to maintain your business. My personal Monthly Duty Day checklist has 70 items and my Annual Refresh has a whopping 105! 

That’s why the best way to implement maintenance systems in your business is to start small. Pick five tasks that would make your life easier if you completed them every week. These could be hitting inbox zero, planning the following week, or meal prepping so you have healthy food at lunchtime!

2. Think a Little Bigger

After you’re in a rhythm of completing five weekly tasks, think a little bigger. What 10 or 15 tasks would make your life easier if you completed them every month or quarter?

These could be big things like paying estimated taxes on time, tracking mileage, or simpler things like reviewing your content calendar or cleaning out the downloads folder on your computer.

It might not seem like 10 or 15 things will make much of a difference, but it really does! Plus, the more you do those things, the more you’ll notice other tasks you can add to your checklist to ensure things are running smoothly!

3. Dream Those Lofty Dreams

Now it’s time to really dream big.

What would your business feel like if the backend was regularly maintained? What kind of freedom would that give you in your workday and in your life as a whole?

Brainstorm all the ways you could implement maintenance systems into your business and the long-term impact they would have! Then make an action plan for how to get there.

Like setting up any kind of system, it takes work at the forefront. If you haven’t tracked your mileage in six months… you’ll have to spend time getting caught up. But after that? Piece of cake… so long as you maintain it.

While they might seem like a lot, maintenance systems give far more back to your business than they take away from it. They allow you to continue working in your business with confidence, knowing you have designated time to work on your business with regularity that keeps things running well.

Systems don’t have to be scary. Grab the guide How to Get Started With Systems: 5 Steps to Streamline Your Business & Life to get started today


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Sarah Fite

Sarah is a systems strategist and educator for right-brained business owners who would color code the world if she could. The founder of Love & Spreadsheets, she believes time is the greatest gift you can give someone and aims to give it back to her clients by providing resources and education to cut the clutter, simplify the chaos, and prepare their business to serve the life of their dreams.
An unabashed bookworm and constant traveler, Sarah believes life is a gift meant to be celebrated, Tuesday morning should be as memorable as Saturday night, and nothing boosts your confidence like the perfect red lipstick.

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