Susan recently was a guest on a co-webinar with aACE Software, and presenting her top strategies for removing chaos from your small business.
Please find a full video transcription below.
Hi everyone. Thank you for joining us for a special guest webinar on, Three Ways to Remove Chaos From Your Business. My name is Caitlin Nascher, and I’m the Director of Sales and Marketing at aACE Software.
Today you’ll be hearing from Susan Fennema. Susan is the Chaos Eradicating Officer at Beyond The Chaos, a consultancy helping small business owners to simplify their operations and manage their products so that they can grow their business and get their lives back.
With over 30 years of operations and project management experience in professional service industries, Susan is on a mission to improve American society exponentially. We’re very excited to have her with us today.
Before we get started, I’d like to give you an overview of how we typically conduct these webinars. This webinar is being recorded and after the meeting, we’ll send you a link so you can download the recording. All participants are muted, but if you’d like to ask a question about what you’re seeing you can do so at any time using the Q&A button at the bottom of your screen.
With that, I’d like to turn the microphone over to our presenter. Susan, take it away.
Hi, Caitlyn. Thanks so much for having me today. I appreciate you and aACE for giving me this platform to share some value. Let’s jump in here to, Three Ways to Remove Some Chaos From Your Business. I am Susan Fennema. As Caitlin mentioned, I’m the Chaos Eradicating Officer, that’s CEO, for Beyond The Chaos. So these methods here hopefully will help you reduce that chaos.
Small businesses are jam here at Beyond The Chaos, so we understand the lives that small business owners live. A lot of times those lives look like this. You are either going crazy or you just feel like you’re drowning. Some of the symptoms of this might be that you’re struggling with finishing projects or your scope and budget are out of control. You also might be getting pulled in multiple directions and you don’t even know what to work on next.
If you work with subcontractors and have other team members or have people to delegate to, some of this information will help you as well. If your clients are mad at you, if you wish you had a way to keep things organized, we’ll give you some tips there. The bottom line here is, is your business running you or are you running it? A lot of this is going to let you take control of running your own business.
First, let’s talk about solving the root problem here. First, all businesses have the exact same challenges. You’re not alone. We suffer at Beyond The Chaos. We suffer from some of these things. We try to put a quick end to them and we have some tools to do that. But all businesses have the same challenges and all small business owners are facing those same challenges.
One of the things, when we start talking about building a little structure into small business, some small business owners get a little worried because the last thing we want is to add bureaucracy. We don’t want to slow things down. We want to make sure we’re quick and agile and able to respond and change quickly.
That’s not what we’re doing here. We’re going to talk about ways to add structure, and that structure is going to set you free. It’s not going to put more bureaucracy on top of things.
There are three ways we’re going to talk about doing that. One, as you might have inferred from some of my other comments is systemizing things. That’s really going to be putting some policy in place. If you’re multiple-person teams, putting some process and procedure in place. All three of those things are a little bit different, but they all fit into that main branch of systemizing.
The next area we’re going to talk about is project management, and then also lastly, interruption management. All three of those things really affect how we interact and how we’re able to control our ability to repeat our successes and manage our organization. So let’s jump into how to do some of those things.
First, we jump in to systemizing. When do you need a system? That’s one of the number one questions that I get. How do you even know when or where something needs to be systemized? There are some sure signs and one is to be able to repeat those successes. You want anything that went well documented so you can do it the same way the next time.
Another is to stop reinventing the wheel. If you are doing something rarely, I often say, for small businesses, it might be bringing on a subcontractor, freelancer, or hiring, interviewing and hiring a new person. Those are not things we do that often because our businesses are small. But we want to be able to do it consistently and not reinvent that wheel each time. So putting a system in place so that we’re able just to follow the steps, benefits us there as well.
Another huge one, to be able to start delegating. This is not possible if you don’t have a system in place. If you’re a small business owner and you’re running everything by what’s in your own brain, you have to be able to get those things out of your brain to be able to delegate to someone effectively.
If you’re having high turnover, for example, you want to hand off things to someone, but they’re just not getting it done, that’s when you need to start looking at, maybe it’s the way you’re handing it off. Maybe it’s not systemized enough.
If you start delegating, this is where you’re going to be able to start working on your business rather than in it. You’ll be able to focus on bigger picture things if you have people helping you with those little things that you don’t need to be doing.
The other is that this is going to help you build your business value long-term. You’ll be able to sell more than just a client list. You’ll have methods and systems that people can put into place and repeat your success if you have systems in place. So think about that too. If you were to remove you from your business, how would it still run without you? And if it cannot, those are the things that are going to affect your long-term business value.
What specific areas do we need to tackle as far as what to systemize? Identify bottlenecks is a big one. When you’re the only one that can perform a task and it holds up everyone else in the company, that’s a good sign that maybe that is something we need to figure out how to systemize and get you out of it.
Another one, when things seem messy, if everything’s out of order or chaotic, that’s a really good sign, that’s something we want to systemize. When steps seem excessive or redundant, or in some cases costly or inefficient, we want to make sure that we’re looking at that to systemize. And in some cases in that, maybe even automate some steps so that we’re not doing the same thing over and over again, that it is simplified and it is streamlined.
One that is always a good sign or a good question to ask yourself when you’re trying to figure out why steps might seem excessive or redundant is, why do we do it that way? Keep asking yourself, why? Is it because you did something previously that you’ve just kept as a habit or is it a very specific reason?
One, don’t accept the answer even from yourself of, why we’ve always done it that way. Certainly not from team members. But if it’s you saying, “Well, I’ve just always done it that way.” You really need to get to the root of, why? Why did you do it that way? There might have been a very good reason. But if you don’t know why, it’s going to be harder to systemize your brain function there.
Another way to know what to systemize is when specific activities are not efficient, they’re costing money, they’re costing time. It kind of ties into the access of steps, but it could just be, not even excessive steps. It could be that nobody can figure out what the next step is, and that could be what’s making it inefficient, or dragging things out. So that is certainly all of those are certainly key points.
Let’s talk a little bit about what the difference is between policy, procedure. and process. This is something, I mentioned earlier that these are the areas that we might want to tackle.
The first is understanding that this is the structure that you’re putting together to manage your company as you mean it. You want to run your company, not as though you’re the only one that can do it, but you want to run it as though it’s a company that can operate, very, very successfully, whether you’re on vacation or whether you decide to retire and sell it. You want to put that structure in place to manage like you mean it.
The policy is, those are the rules. You might not need a policy if you’re a one-man show. But I’ll tell you even back when I was a one-woman show, I did have a policy for my business and part of that was to hold me accountable to the rules. Some of that was I was putting a holiday plan in place, and I was not going to work on holidays.
And so if I put those out there if I updated my Google instance with those dates as holidays, and I put it on the calendar in advance, blocked off those days to meetings, I gave myself a holiday. And that was very important as a small business owner starting out, is to give yourself those breaks.
But if you’re working with a team, that could be anything from how you enter your timesheets to how you ask for vacation. The policy are the rules. These are not negotiable, so that’s why they’re rules. But of course, you’re the owner, so you can always use your best judgment if you want to break one.
But those rules are set there to set everybody’s expectation so that you’re not mad when somebody asks for vacation. You understand that you’ve already said, “No, you cannot take a vacation during this month because it’s the busiest month of the year, every year.” Okay. So if you’ve set that policy up upfront, they also know not to ask, and then you don’t have that challenge. Makes everybody happier.
The next thing, procedure, that’s really a checklist. Think about an airplane pilot checking the flaps and the tires and all those things before he takes off. He just goes down a list. He doesn’t have to think about what’s next. This might be a template that you follow or a general to-do list that you have on everything that you repeat. But it’s a checklist really.
And then a process is more of a written system. It might explain more about the details of why you do it, or how you do it. Maybe it’s a direction of going between one system and another system in your software, or maybe it is an example of how, what are the steps in your sales process? Which might not continue in a checklist fashion. You might have to explain some ifs, ands, or buts, between each step. So that’s a process and that’s usually written, could be bullets, could be numbered. It could just be pros, depending on what’s needed for this specific case.
We suggest several processes for all businesses and the best places to start sales, as I mentioned earlier, what is your sales process? How do you make sure you’re not dropping leads? Where are you putting a reminder to follow up with people after you’ve talked with them once or after they’ve asked for something from you that’s even more important?
Another, invoicing. Getting paid. How do you get paid? Are you invoicing on a regular basis? Is it every Monday? Is it once a month? And then what is your process for doing that? As you start to write that down, that’s something you might be able to delegate to someone else. So there’s a perfect example of something that you might be able to get off your plate.
I know so many small business owners hate that invoicing area. They wish they didn’t have to do it even though of course, that’s why we’re in business, right? To make money. So think about that as a place to create some process.
Running payroll is another one. If you pay people, if you’re paying subcontractors, how are you sure that you’re paying them on a regular basis? Your subcontractors that aren’t getting paid for months after they submit their invoices are probably not going to work as hard for you as those who are being paid regularly.
Sometimes that’s just an oversight on your part because you’re so busy and payroll is another one of those finance things we don’t love. So, definitely systemize how to do that. You might have all sorts of different types of people, employees to yourself, to subcontractors. But set up a process for how you do that.
Another is, opening projects. When do you go from sales to a project? When do you open it and what are the steps that need to be taken? And then another big one, closing projects. How do you follow up with your clients afterwards? How do you get a testimonial? How are you sure three months from now that they’re still happy with their work? So putting some process around that is also a big suggestion.
The other one there, note, I said, closing projects, we actually want to finish them if we started them. So how to wrap up is a good thing to think about before we start. My good friend, Brad Stanford, of Two Story Systems, when he was working with me, he said, “The way to accomplish a big thing is to do all the little things that make it up.”
And really that’s what process is. It’s writing down the little things that make up all of the steps for a big thing. When we worked with QB Winery Solutions awhile back, we helped them with their sales process. They wanted to automate it some, and they wanted Jeanette, the owner, not to have to do all the steps. They wanted some of their bookkeepers and their virtual assistant to be able to help her with the steps.
And so we even went to the extreme of writing email templates so that the person could just jump in and not have to get an email approved by the owner before they went out. That helped take the weight off her a lot, and it didn’t affect any sales because it was still in her voice. It was just something that was able to come off of her plate. So there are some things like that, that as you work on those processes, you figure out how you can give some of them away.
Part of creating your process is your software influence. It can really drive the process if it functions great for you, or it can influence it if you want, if you have some gaps so that you can write the process for the gap and then use the software to execute it.
Things that might be affected by that, your CRN, what are you using for that? How are you managing sales and your contacts and your marketing? That’s a good area to make sure you have software there. How do you manage your finances? Are you using QuickBooks online? Are you using Freshdesk? What are you using there to help you make sure that you’re managing your finances? Well, it might include those as well as the spreadsheet that you’re looking at regularly.
Where are you managing your projects? Is there a software that you’re using for that? We’ll get to more of that in a bit when we get into the project management area. But that can definitely affect how you write your process.
Then what do you use for timesheets? Is it your project management tool? Is it something else? What are the rules around when you expect those submissions? Do you want them at the end of every day or is it once a week fine? Where do you store that client data? Is there a place on your server that you’re keeping it, or is it in a project management tool or do you store it on their server and they’re responsible for its confidentiality? All of those things are important to note, as that influences your process surrounding something.
How do you manage client support when they ask a question three months after your work is done with them? How are you making sure that their question doesn’t fall through the cracks and that it is either billed for, or it is included in your project? All of those things are important when you’re writing the systems for your company.
SwoopTalent that we worked with, they had tools for all of these things and all of those things worked great independently. But how they talk to each other was a system that we had to write for them to make sure that they were communicating because they actually even had different departments in each of these things. So the departments needed to know how to go from one department to the other. That’s absolutely another thing to consider is, when do you jump from one tool to another tool?
Now, once you have all that process written, compliance is a big thing. If you are working with your team and your team is choosing to either not pay attention to, or not follow the process, that’s a major issue. So first note, you’re the owner, you set the example. If you don’t have to follow the rules, you are automatically giving permission that they don’t. So make sure you are setting the example and you are following your own processes.
I have had situations where I know the steps, but if I didn’t go back to my process and make sure I was doing them in the right order, I might jump ahead two or three things and confuse somebody who’s trying to support me, say in getting a proposal out. If I just send it without looking at my own list, and I skipped some of their steps that they normally do, now I’ve messed up the process, we’re going to have to clean it up and we might have missed something big. So I always try to go back to my process and follow it, especially when I’m doing something that I don’t normally do, when I ask somebody else to do it for me.
If your systems are not enforced, they’re worthless. So if you spend a lot of time and energy creating those systems, but you’re not willing to enforce them with your team, you might as well not have bothered. Your team needs to be able to follow them, and to that end, make sure you share them with them, make sure they’re aware they need to follow those new systems that you’ve put in place.
Your clients too, do some of these affect your clients? I mean, is there a behaviour that you require of your clients at certain times? Does that affect the outcome of their projects? These are all things that you want to think about while you’re writing these is, how are you going to make, ask, require someone to comply with the rules that you’ve put out there and the process you’ve put in place?
After you’ve shared it with everyone and made it clear that this is the expectation you have, when somebody messes those up, give a gentle reminder directly to those who are violating it. If you are just repeating with everyone, “Now, make sure you do your timesheets every day. Don’t forget that’s our process.” The team members who are doing their timesheets are going to be the ones that jump in and say, “Oh no, did I do it? Let me go double-check. I must’ve forgotten something.” The ones that aren’t doing them, it’s going to go in one ear and out the other. They don’t believe it’s them.
So address those people directly. If you continue to just say the same thing to the group at large, I don’t know if you’ve ever trained a puppy, but it’s the same thing as that. If you say the same word over and over and over to them and they don’t do it. My dog won’t drop a ball. We said drop it way too many times, and now the commander has put it down because he doesn’t even understand what drop it means. So you have to make sure that you’re not falling on deaf ears.
If you have a team member that just won’t do it, I mean, your HR, so I guess escalate it to you, but you might also have an HR team or an outside consultant. But if they will not follow the rule, you need to very seriously consider whether or not they need to be part of your team, because they will become that bad apple. And if you allow it to continue, you’re also giving permission to the rest of the team that they don’t have to follow it. So something to consider as to whether to remove that person.
Now, if you work only with contractors or subcontractors, that’s beautiful. Just let them end their current contract and don’t put them on something else. Don’t hire them again. But if it’s an employee, that’s something you’re going to need to address.
Another thing to remember about these systems, is that they’re living, breathing documents. You don’t write them once and they’re over. They should grow as you grow. They are really meant to evolve as you learn things. If something bad happened and you think to yourself, “If only we had XYZ back in three months ago.” Okay, there you go. You know what to do, you know what could have prevented it, make it part of your process so it doesn’t happen again.
These systems too, as you grow, things exponentially will change, so they should grow with you. I would suggest that you get input from the team on what’s working and what isn’t. If you continually find everyone doesn’t follow this one process, ask, why does it not work? If it doesn’t work, another sign that you need to go back and update it. This also helps with adoption by the team if you’re worried about them having buy-in, asking for their input, we’ll help them do that.
My team actually updates processes on their own. So if they run into something where they ask me a question and I give them the answer, then they go in and update the process to reflect that answer. So not only they don’t have to ask it again, nobody else does either. That’s a beautiful benefit of having them written down is that you can have your team help you keep them updated.
To that point though, someone needs to be designated as the keeper of the systems, a process champion so to speak. It could be you, in my company is me, but it could also be a specific person who maybe is more operationally minded than you are. So it does not have to be you as the owner of the company. It can be somebody, your right-hand person, your operational lead, or your project manager even. They usually are very good at thinking in the process.
And so whoever is in charge of that, you need to review those systems annually, at least. I always suggest during the least busy time of your year, that’s what I try to do between Christmas and New Year’s every year. But then I also have a reminder to just stay on top of it. When one of my team members does make a change to something, I make sure that those notifications go to me and I know what’s changed.
So we’re staying on top of it all along. But once a year, I read through all of them and make sure we didn’t change a software or something, mentions, a role that we no longer have in our company. So, quarterly might be better if you’re growing fast, but minimally do that once a year. So that’s really systemizing. That’s the first way to pull some chaos out of your business.
The next way is project management. This is something that is going to make a big difference in your world. Part of this starts with your proposal and in your proposal, making sure that you have clearly defined your scope, your budget, and your timeframe. If you start with a vague proposal, it makes project management much more challenging.
Another big tip here in the project management area is, set regular status meetings. This is going to help you prevent interruptions, and that’d be something we talk about a little bit more when we get to that area.
Let’s start talking about project management tools first. Everyone under your breath, just repeat after me, email is not a project management tool. If you are using email to manage your projects, please stop. It is, for lack of a better word, it is the wrong way to do it. Things fall through the cracks, there’s no way to assign things to people, there’s no process of, what are the next steps? You really need to be using software.
Now, many who might be software developers might think, “I’ll just make my own.” I’m going to majorly encourage you not to do that. As software developers, you are selling your ability to create for other people. One, don’t use that time you have internally that is a waste, use that time externally, and make money off of it. Just like you would advise your client not to create something from scratch when they can buy software as a service, I’m going to encourage you the same thing.
So here are some software we recommend. Teamwork is by far our favourite. We use it for ourselves as well as many of our clients. Monday.com is a good one. Asana, we’re also a referral partner for Asana and Teamwork. We like both of those tools. Basecamp is another one that’s very good.
To my way of thinking, Asana, and Basecamp or your more entry-level places to go. Teamwork is going to be much more advanced. It’s going to combine some workload features. It’s going to combine your ability to track time within it and even do some invoicing from within it. Some of the others do not have that full functionality. But any of these tools is much, much, much better than trying to manage things through email. We’ll send links out to these in the follow-up email, so you’ll have those links if you want to go investigate.
I also encourage regularly scheduled status meetings as a tool to use to help you manage your projects. If you are running something that is ongoing, you need to be having a meeting with that client every week. Put it on the schedule every Monday at two o’clock or whatever you need, as a repeating event and make sure that you only cancel it if there really is nothing to talk about. And you still have that option, you can cancel it.
But, those status meetings help with more than one thing. You’re going to be able to talk about what you have accomplished so that they are aware of progress. You’re going to be able to talk about what’s a blocker, what’s standing in your way of taking the next steps? Are you waiting on something for them? Is there a third party vendor you’re waiting on something from in order to proceed? That’s the second thing.
The third thing is, what are you doing next? If you continue to communicate with your client on a regular basis with that information, you’ll make them so much happier with you.
As mentioned before, it starts with a proposal. So if you’re not defining, that is your very first project management tool, is your proposal. And if you’re not defining clearly the scope, the budget and the timeframe, you’re really hog-tying your ability. Did I just say that? I guess that’s the text enemy coming out, the hogtie. You’re hog-tying your ability for your clients, or for your team to be able to hold your clients accountable and know when maybe you need a new project or more money or more time.
Let’s talk about a few project management tips in regard to using that software as well as some other tips that might help you. Once you start using any of those software I mentioned, each client’s going to need its own project minimally.
Now, you might have clients that need more than one project, but minimally separate by clients so that you’re not crossing the streams, so to speak. You want to make sure that everybody is confidential from everyone else and you’re not trying to do everything in one place.
Another is your to-do tasks, whatever they’re called in the program you’re using, they need dates and deadlines. You cannot just hope that you get to the end of a project if you are not scheduling something. We’ll talk about that a bit here coming up too.
Every to-do or task needs a person who’s responsible for it. I believe you switch them back and forth depending on whose court they’re in. And there’s a whole bunch of reasons for that, but minimally, there should be a person responsible for completing that task by the date or deadline that has been assigned.
Make sure you include milestones on something really big, rather than setting deadlines for each individual task. So if you have 15 little bitty tasks to meet one milestone, those should really be subsets under that bigger milestone. Otherwise, you literally are spending more time putting dates on it than you are actually doing it. That’s something to consider on how you structure your projects within this software.
Then get some help to build that structure or some templates around your software. This is not the most small business owner’s area of expertise. So if you don’t know how to set it up, get someone who can help you, whether that’s your project manager, whether that is maybe a spouse who has a different skill-set than you, somebody who can say, “This doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t flow. Call us, we can help you too.” But make sure that you’re getting help and not trying to do it on your own.
The other thing is all these things tend to be pushed to the bottom of your list, which creates more chaos if you’re not getting it done. So if this is a sticking point for you, make sure that you’re asking for help.
The next part of managing projects is setting client expectations and they need to be clear, it needs to be understandable. I mean, all of us are reasonable people, but if we’re not setting our boundaries with our clients and setting the expectations with them, then it’s easy to get taken advantage of really easily.
So first, remember the scope is the scope. You wrote the scope clearly, and that scope is what everything else is based on. The timeline is based on that scope. So if the scope changes, the time needs to change. It also might affect the price. So if scope and time change, your price probably will change. What’s important is you’re talking about all of the stuff with your client on a regular basis. Remember those status meetings? This is also something that you can bring up if things start to change.
One of my catchphrases here is clear communication with consequences to your client. One thing that you might say, “I’ve been waiting on the client for that for two weeks.” “Okay. Well, did you ask them again and did you give them the consequences that if you don’t have that by Friday, you can not deliver on time?” Those things are important for your client to be able to understand a sense of urgency. So make sure you’re conveying the whole story.
And then give your clients a way to dream. This is something that I always encourage, if they come up with a great idea, saying, “No, it’s going to cost more money and take more time.” You can say it in a positive way, “Hey, that is a brilliant idea. Let’s put that on our wishlist so that we can address it after we’re done with this project.” Note, the difference in tone, we’ve set the clarity of, it’s not in scope. We’ve set the fact that we heard you. We’ve also set the fact of when we’re going to address it next. This will give them encouragement to keep coming up with ideas as they’re working with you as well.
Let’s talk about how you set those timelines. How do you build them? I like to start when a project is due and build backwards, that’s usually the easiest way. Make sure you leave some squishy space for all those things that you don’t expect, but building the time backwards is a great method.
You can also schedule it forward if there’s not a date required. But if you don’t have a schedule, you’re not going to be able to complete it, it’ll just kind of hang out there. So everything needs a schedule, even if it doesn’t have a specific due date, once you start that, make sure that you’re meeting the deadlines or you’re communicating in advance, why not.
Again, status meeting conversation there, making sure that those deadlines are being met and that you’re moving the project forward. Obviously, if things need to flex a little bit and you can keep it in the overall scope, that’s fine. Just make sure you’re telling your client, what’s going on so that they’re aware.
Include all of the major steps in a process. Anything that you have to create and then make sure you’re sharing the schedule with all the players when you start. You want your whole team to know, you want the client’s whole team to know, because one of the things that you want to make sure you’re doing is confirming and against everyone’s schedules is, are you trying to launch a marketing campaign for a client on the day that they have major work to do internally?
Well, they’re not going to be able to respond to that, that might not be a good time. So making sure that you’re confirming it against the individual schedules, as well as the company’s schedules. What if you have a writer who is supposed to create this gorgeous content for you, and you’ve put all of the writing steps during her trip to Spain, those are the things that you got to look out for.
A simple way to look at this might be, how do you plan a dinner party? I’m a big fan of cooking and I love to do multi-course dinners, so fun. But they don’t just happen. You don’t just get the meat and the green beans and the mashed potatoes done at the same time miraculously, as the main course after you’ve served a soup and a salad, and you have dessert. They all have to come out at the right time.
And so making sure that you’re working backwards of, when are we serving that main course? What has to be done? When do we marinate the meat? Do I need to involve my husband to go grill something? Is he going to be available at that time? What time till the guests arrive? That’s always a big one. There’s your date or your time that’s due. What are you doing when those guests arrive?
If you develop software, when you have your client arrive in your tool, your first thing is testing. When you have guests arrive for a dinner party, usually you have appetizers, or greeting, or make them drinks, or hang up their coats. Make sure that you’ve allotted time for all of that into your timeline. But mashed potatoes will hold, green beans will not. That makes a big difference in how I’m going to plan that. So making sure each of those steps is accommodated and built out, makes it go so much more smoothly when you now have guests or when you’re now rolling out your project.
Now, what happens? The dreaded changes come up, right?. This is something I could actually do a whole session on. So we’re going to go through this pretty quickly. But an important thing to note is that as a service professional, no matter what you’re providing to your clients, it is your obligation to keep your client held to the original scope, to keep them on schedule so your value can be delivered to them.
Don’t let their changes get you off track because an undelivered project has no value. If you let them run you around in circles and it’s never finished, well, they’ve never gotten any value from you.
Fulfill that scope you’ve discussed first, and then talk about changes later. As we talked about, you can create that wishlist so that you can address those things later. And that becomes such a powerful way to say no, without saying no.
Now, should something dramatic come up, like my company just got bought or we don’t have money to pay you, or we lost five of our best employees, maybe that’s the time you want to stop and talk about those dramatic changes. Stop and reassess, figure out how you’re going to accommodate that time and that money that might be affected there as well as the scope.
Another is use some empathy, make sure that you’re considering issues that are beyond the control of the people that you’re working with. I’m not saying to give away free work, I’m just saying that there might be compassion if it is because there was a death in the workplace or someone is sick.
I actually worked with somebody who had a brain aneurysm and we didn’t even know what was going on. It took a while to even get a response back. And once we found out, of course, we put the project on hold. Then of course there were some changes when we came back, but we were compassionate as to the reason for them. We weren’t as hard-nosed as we might be. So remember, empathy is important.
If you’re building that wishlist, here are some beautiful results that you get from it. First, your next project is built off that wishlist. You already have your next project in the work. You can create change orders from it. So, if you have a laundry list of little bitty tasks, group them together, and now you have a change order that you could write.
You could also create some change buckets where you put some money on deposit, and say, you have $5,000 in your change bucket and we can use them against any of these tasks that come up. That’s also a good long-term support option if you want to just have that money on deposit. So that way you’re saying, “Oh, that costs $250. We don’t even have to go through getting paid. We’ll just do that really quickly. We’ll just pull it out of the money on hand.”
Here’s a big one. You need to be project managing yourself. Even if you have no clients outside of your business that you’re managing projects for, you need to create a project for your business. It is important that you’re managing your marketing and all of that on a recurring basis in a place that you can see everything together. So create a project in that software tool that you’ve chosen for your business.
Keep your operations tasks with due dates assigned to you in that project. So for example, every year we send out some sort of Christmas message, whether it is a card or an e-blast or something, but I have a recurring event to think about that in November and to build that plan so that it’s not forgotten, or that it’s so late that we’re scrambling.
So those are things to remember. It could be that, it could be writing your blog. What are the steps of posting a blog every two weeks? Who’s proofreading it? Who’s writing it? That can be something that can go into there. So marketing, sales, HR, reviewing your systems, all of those things can go into that operations project so that you have a project to run for your own company.
Another way to project manage yourself, block out time on your calendar. I’m a big fan of calendar blocking and making sure that you have a lot of time to perform those functions is very important.
Another way to project manage yourself is look at your to-do list at the end of each day versus tomorrow’s calendar. Make sure that you’ve planned what you’re going to do before you start. If you spend the first part of your day everyday trying to figure out what you’re going to do that day, you’ve lost a lot of the day, and will start to get sucked into things that might not be the highest priority.
Bottom line on this too, is be realistic. I think all of us small business owners think we can get more done in a day than we can. This is one of the reasons why I love calendar blocking, is you get a feel for, “I’m going to spend two hours working on this new marketing campaign I have out.” Not, “I’m going to finish it today.” In two hours you might find out all the other things you still need to do.
And so then you can block out more time later. But that time block on your calendar helps you be more realistic and helps you manage that versus your to-do list in the emergencies.
Speaking of emergencies, interruption management is a big, big part of making sure that your day doesn’t get thrown off track. Now, we talked some about calendaring, but let’s get a little bit more specific. Make sure that when you’re calendaring, you’re blocking time for your most important tasks first.
So think your God, your family, your health, are you going to the gym? Do you do readings every morning? Do you go to church on a certain day or time? Block that stuff out, spending time on your spirituality is important. Your family, make sure you go to your kid’s soccer game. Make sure that you don’t miss the important recital. Put those on your calendar first and make everything else fit around them.
Your health, of course, we are nothing if we’re not taking care of ourselves. So, from exercise to, are you taking a break to clear your mind and stand up and move? Man, the first few months I was working, I kept forgetting to eat lunch. It’d be three o’clock and be starving. I didn’t even notice until I started losing concentration. So now I have a lunch calendar blocked and remind me to get up and go.
From there, next block your business focus time, that time you’re going to work on your business and not on it. That’s really important that you are allowing. Now, you might not be able to allow time to do that every day, but make sure that you’re getting two or three days a week on focusing on growing your business.
Don’t forget breaks as we talked about, make sure that you schedule those in, and if you have appointments, make sure you’re including the travel to and from them. Ever decided to meet somebody half an hour away and somebody came in on your automated calendar system and took that time, right before it? Make sure that you’re including that travel time. And if you have to, if you’ve been working from home and need to do a little primping first, make sure that’s on there too.
Another part of managing the interruptions is being able to focus. I have Eisenhower’s quote that I love. Dwight Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” One of the things that come out of planning is that it’s a lot easier to decide what can wait if you have a plan.
So if you already have a plan for your day, your week, your month, you’re going to be able to figure out, “Oh, does that work into this? Or can that wait? Or can I put that on Tuesday at two o’clock instead of right in the middle of something that I’m focusing on now?” So that’s a big thing, that planning helps you with, is the ability to focus.
If you become overwhelmed, go back to your list. I managed a bunch of project managers at an ad agency years ago. They would come into my office overwhelmed, some crying even. They were so overwhelmed. I would say, “Okay, you have so much to do. I understand. Let’s see your list. What is your schedule? Let’s see. Maybe we can bring in some people to help you out.” And they’d say, “I don’t know. I’m confused.” And I’m like, “Okay. Go back, close yourself in your office, spend an hour, clean it up, and then come back and we’ll talk about it.” 99% of the time they came back and they said, “I’m good.” It was just that they did not have their list up-to-date. So consider that if you’re starting to fall into overwhelm.
If you are interrupted, knock out the simple things quickly when possible. You’ve already been interrupted, if it takes a minute to answer a question or to send that quick email, do it because it’s going to take longer for you to remember to do it later than it is now that you’ve already been interrupted.
But if it’s bigger, mitigate that. If you have a client that has called and interrupted you, or even more importantly, maybe a lead that has called and interrupted you, and you’ve answered the phone, tell them, “Hey, listen, I am about to go into a meeting or I am about to help a colleague with something.” Whatever you need to say, have your excuse prepared early, but make sure that you schedule that time.
So you say, “Hey, can we talk Tuesday at three o’clock? Let me call you back then. Let me get your information and schedule that.” You can do that if you’re using your calendar blocks. You can schedule that at a time that works. You’re still managing that interruption, but you’re mitigating it. It’s not taking you away from what you had planned today.
Now, what’s everyone’s most common interruption? You might say the phone, but the phone, you can turn off. You can also turn off your email, but this is something that we all get sucked into really easily. So this is something that you want to schedule a time of when to go through it. Being able to make decisions quickly is part of that.
Those decisions should be on any email, decide, do you respond? Do you file it? Is it junk? Should you flag it because you’re going to mitigate it to later because it’s going to take a while to consider, or do you delete it? Quick five-point decisions there, and then you’ll have an empty inbox after every review.
All project emails should be going through your project management tool. So you should not be managing projects in your email. You can set boundaries with your client by scheduling outgoing mails, emails, and setting up automatic responses. So if you don’t check your email till two, you can have an automatic response that says, “Hey, listen, I don’t check until two. If this is an emergency, contact somebody else, or I’ll get back to you then.”
I have help with my email from a virtual assistant. I only look at my email once a day, it’s usually in the afternoon. She does all the rest, and we have a system of what she looks at, and when she looks at it, how she responds, and we communicate offline. So she’ll do a screenshot of it and send it to me in our Slack app if there are any questions.
We keep updating our process as we go, so she knows how to respond to every email that comes up. Those are some ways that you can mitigate those interruptions and help make a little less crazy to your day.
Let’s summarize those three ways that we talked about reducing the chaos in your business. One, systemize it. That’s a big one. Manage your projects effectively, and prevent interruptions. Those are really the best three ways.
Now, I’m going to wrap it here with a quick offer. If you don’t have time to do any of this yourself, you’re struggling with how to do it, maybe you’re not a detail person, you can go take this free audit. Our website address, beyondthechaos.biz/project- management-audit, hyphens between it.
We’ll make sure that that link is in the email that you get. Take that audit and we’ll give you three free recommendations on how to improve your operations, or your project management by you filling that out. And that is an almost $500 value, $497 value. So we hope that you will take advantage of that.
With that, I will hand it back over to, Caitlin.
Thank you so much, Susan. That’s a fantastic offer. So I definitely hope that we see some people taking advantage of it. That’s all for today, but we hope to see you all next Tuesday at 12 noon Eastern for the next webinar on, Recurring Transaction.
Before we wrap up, I’d like to thank Susan, for sharing her expertise with us today. I know I really appreciated hearing all of those fantastic tips and I’m sure our audience did too.
Speaking of our audience, I’d also like to thank all of you for attending. I’d also like to remind you that you will get a link to this recording so you can watch it again or share it with colleagues who weren’t able to join us today.
If you think of any questions that we didn’t cover, you can always reach out to us at [inaudible 00:56:57]. For more information on how you can remove chaos from your business, please reach out to Susan at, [email protected] You can also sign up for future webinars at aacesoft.com/webinars.
Thanks again, everyone. Enjoy the rest of you.