Y’all know I’m a proud Aggie. So, imagine my excitement when my two favorite things in the world combined: talking chaos and talking Aggies. I was recently a guest on Aggie Growth Hacks, the podcast powered by the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M that is dedicated to highlighting fast-growing Aggie entrepreneurs. Listen as Greg Martin, Chris Hunter and I chat eradicating chaos, dealing with COVID grief, calendar Tetris, and our favorite Aggie football memories. Gig ’em!
Full transcription below.
Greg Martin: Howdy Ags! Welcome back to Aggie Growth Hacks. The podcast powered by the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M. Here, we’re dedicated to highlighting fast-growing Aggie entrepreneurs, learning how they overcame challenges with creative growth hacks, and connecting them with other entrepreneurs in the Aggie Network. I’m your host, Greg Martin, Fightin’ Texas Aggie class of 2001.
Chris Hunter: And I’m your co-host, Chris Hunter, Fightin’ Texas Aggie class of 1998. Boop!
Greg Martin: We’ve got a little story for you, Ags. Susan Fennema, Fightin’ Texas Aggie class of 1988 is on a mission. Her mission is to eradicate chaos in your company. Susan and her team of chaos killers help entrepreneurs bring clarity and sanity to their projects and their operations.
Chris Hunter: Pass it back and listen up to Susan as she shares some good bowl.
Greg Martin: So, Susan, before we get started, could you tell us what is Beyond the Chaos?
Susan Fennema: We’re a business consultancy helping small business owners simplify their operations and manage their projects so they can grow their businesses and get their lives back.
Greg Martin: That’s amazing. Thank you so much for joining us today, Susan. We really appreciate your openness and your willingness to share with us today.
Susan Fennema: I’m really excited to be here. Thanks so much for having me.
Greg Martin: Yeah. Well, let’s get right into it. We all love Texas A&M. Susan, what is your favorite Aggie memory?
Susan Fennema: I can remember this like yesterday. It was 1985, A&M’s playing TU at home. We won 42 to 10, go into the Cotton Bowl and it was nighttime. It was just this perfect crisp fall weather. It was Jackie Sherrill. He was the coach. It was his 42nd birthday. We actually sang Happy Birthday to him in the stand. So him turning 42 and it being the score was awesome.
Susan Fennema: And then I remember just looking into the air as the 12th Man team ran out on the field with the smoke going over from the cannon and they’re twirling their 12th Man towels. I just remember looking up and seeing all the cotton floating in the air from all the people that had brought cotton balls to just kind of flick it out into the air. It was still to this day I get chills when I remember it. Very fun.
Greg Martin: That is magical. I think that’s one of the best Aggie memories we’ve had on the show so far. What do you think, Chris?
Chris Hunter: I think so. And what’s funny is that we all have such great memories and it almost always revolves around football.
Susan Fennema: Right.
Chris Hunter: I don’t know why, but it just does. You told us a little bit about Beyond the Chaos, why don’t you tell us about why you started it and why are you passionate about it?
Susan Fennema: I started it because I wanted to help more than one small business owner at a time, for my career have always ended up working very close with a business owner or at least like a president of a company, kind of been their right-hand person, always small business. I love small business, and being able to see the changes you can affect and how much better you can make, not only the lives of the people that you’re working for, but the whole team just by making small modifications to how a system runs or giving somebody a checklist instead of making them remember things.
Susan Fennema: Being able to take that from I’m just working for one business to well, how many can we actually affect has been amazing, and that’s why I did it. We really want to touch and change American society exponentially. If we’re able to help a small business owner go home to his family and eat dinner and not work all night and spend time with his wife and go to his kid’s soccer games. That starts to affect all of them. It affects his team, it affects his clients, and now, we’re talking huge exponential change just from something as simple as, “Hey, do a checklist instead of remembering it all.”
Chris Hunter: Yeah. I love that. In this time, in this age right now during this COVID junk that we’ve been through in the past six months, small businesses need more help than ever before, in my opinion, than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, at least. So, I commend you for that for sure. Thank you.
Susan Fennema: Thank you. It has definitely been the hardest six months I’ve ever worked and that includes my advertising days.
Chris Hunter: Yeah.
Greg Martin: Well, do you think that the chaos that’s prevailing in your clients, do you think that that has to do or has increased because of the added stress of COVID? Is that just brought up by bad practices or is it something else?
Susan Fennema: Luckily, most of my clients were already… Most of my clients are virtual. So, they were already working in a virtual environment. They didn’t have that change, but one of the things, and I’ve noticed it too, the huge weight that’s on everybody. I mean, my day-to-day life didn’t change at all. My husband was declared essential. He never missed an hour of work. I work from home. I’m still home, still doing the same thing, but there’s this unbelievable stress weighing on everybody and it turns out that I’ve discovered it is grief.
Susan Fennema: You’re grieving that you didn’t get to go speak at the conference that you were invited to, that everything keeps getting canceled, and there’s so much disappointment and loss. There’s loss. Clients, I feel like, are dealing more with grief while trying to run their business. I think that affects it more than anything else. Yes, there’s absolutely an economic impact, but most business owners are used to ups and downs and changes and that’s what we do. We rebound, we create, and we come up with a different way to do it, and that doesn’t stop, but that grief is physical, it’s emotional. You struggle to get up. I work with a lot of people that are experiencing some depression from it, and that’s what I’m seeing more than anything else.
Greg Martin: Wow. Having an entrepreneur that realizes the impacts of grief and realizing that they have to deal with that, how that impacts the rest of the operations, that’s really powerful. I would not have expected that, but it makes complete sense.
Susan Fennema: It took me a while to figure out what that was because I’m like, “Why am I angry and sad, and depressed? Why am I all these things and tired?” And I’m like, “Wait a minute. These are the stages of grief.” You’re like, “We really are grieving a lot of loss, all of us.” Everybody has a different situation. So, it’s real.
Chris Hunter: Yeah. Totally, I’m with you on that. I mean, and I hadn’t thought about that until you said that and I think that, yeah, exactly. That’s what we are all going through right now. I mean, look at A&M football right now, 25% capacity. There are 75% of the people that had tickets or were thinking about getting season tickets or going to a football game this year are not going to be able to go.
Susan Fennema: Yeah. That’s just loss. Everything is disappointing, everything.
Chris Hunter: Yeah.
Susan Fennema: From that, you have to look at, what is self-care? Do you need to sleep more than you usually do? Do you need to exercise more? You need to put that focus back on you and taking care of you so you’re able to take care of your business and your team and your clients, and that’s hard for small business owners to do.
Chris Hunter: Yeah, I agree.
Greg Martin: It’s hard for them to realize their limitations because a lot of entrepreneurs are like, if that’s what it takes, suck it up, buttercup, just do it.
Chris Hunter: Yup. Roll up them sleeves, yup.
Susan Fennema: I had to start sleeping an extra hour and a half. That was my big thing is, I could not get myself out of bed, but if I slept an extra hour and a half, it seemed to make a huge difference in my day. Everybody had to figure out their own way around it, right?
Greg Martin: Without a doubt. Well, Susan, you said that you… Well, the majority of your clients are virtual. So, moving to the virtual world is not that big of a surprise or a challenge, what was or what is the most surprising challenge that has happened in your business, and how have you hacked it to overcome it?
Susan Fennema: Well, quite honestly, I think it was that grief. Obviously, the other part was when an economic depression comes along, you kind of see it coming. You’re like, “Oh.” Things don’t usually crash on one day and it’s just done. So, that’s very surprising, and I think there was a lot of, “Okay, two weeks, it’ll be fine. Everybody will be fine.” And then, when it just kept dragging out and going on and on and on, it becomes the, “Okay, what else can we do?”
Susan Fennema: Everybody thinking creatively and some of the most amazing things I have seen are my clients who did one thing for 20 years, all of a sudden saying, “Let’s try this instead.” And to be fair, it’s not a complete and total change of direction. It would be like, “I am a software developer and I work mostly in the entertainment business.” Okay. Well, there’s no entertainment business. So, for the first time ever, I need to learn how to market myself.
Susan Fennema: Those types of things where people are just, “Let’s do something different,” because small business owners are resilient.
Greg Martin: Absolutely.
Susan Fennema: We come with, what’s the next plan, and we do it.
Chris Hunter: Yeah. I agree. I mean, and pivot has been the keyword. Everyone talks about pivoting but it’s so true. We’ve all had to change our businesses in one way or another. So, with that in mind, what’s changed in your business during this time period? Has anything major or is it just little tweaks here and there like what you’re talking about on sleeping more? What’s changed in your business?
Susan Fennema: We have had a few changes. This year was supposed to be a year of change for us, anyway. Initial plan this year was that we were going to start growing exponentially. I’ve pulled in a whole stable of team members that we can delegate to and that we can push work off to. We wanted to systemize what we’re offering so that it can be repeatable. One of the things I learned early this year working with a coach was if you, as the business owner, can’t repeat it and do it the same way then, how on earth can you ever delegate it to someone else?
Susan Fennema: Even forcing myself into sales process, trying to ask the same questions through an initial call so that I could one day teach someone else how to do it. So, that’s how the year started off. We were going to do all this and we took COVID actually as an opportunity to truly eat our own dog food. We are always preaching that you need to systemize your business. You need to streamline. All your processes need to be written down. You need to be clear.
Susan Fennema: We went through them with a fine-toothed comb, we kept adding. We did streamline what we offered and we’ve created a two-phase approach instead of it was me talking to somebody and coming up with a creative proposal each time. Now, we sell the same thing every time. That has been a huge change for us and also, me pulling out of working in the business as much.
Susan Fennema: I used to take the consulting parts and then give implementation part to a team. Now, I’m teaching them how to do the consulting part too, so that we have more people who are able to help more people. That’s been a big change for me and COVID made it, I guess, easier to focus on that because we dropped a little bit in business. We just weren’t as busy and so we were able to focus on that more.
Chris Hunter: Yeah. That’s nice.
Greg Martin: That’s really powerful.
Chris Hunter: Yeah.
Greg Martin: Susan, I love that you said that clarity kills chaos and that really, to be able to take this opportunity to the tough opportunity, to build clarity, to reduce chaos in your own company, and like you said, to eat your own dog food, that is a mark of a leader that ultimately wants to make their team better and is building a systematized and strong company. Great job.
Susan Fennema: Thank you. That’s what I’m hoping.
Chris Hunter: Yeah. That’s what we all hope, right? So, is there anything that you’re not bringing back? I mean, you talked about systemizing and creating your systems and eating your own dog food, is there something that you’re not going to bring back?
Susan Fennema: We’re for sure not bringing back me going off book and just saying, “Yeah, we could do that for you. Let me figure out how to do that for you.” With some exceptions. Yes, we’ll figure out how to work with people if their setup’s a little different from ours, but I am not coming up and being creative every time I sell something. That has to stop. So, we’re stopping that. That’s what we’re not going to do anymore.
Chris Hunter: Nice. Reinventing the wheel and not reinventing the wheel with each client, right? Love it.
Susan Fennema: Everybody has the same problems. They really do and I hope that all the small business owners out there hear this. What you’re feeling that you’re overwhelmed, yes. It’s not just you, everybody has it. Being able to solve those problems, going through the same process is pretty straightforward.
Greg Martin: Susan, as you are looking out in your industry, in the chaos eradication industry, as COVID has impacted everything, is there something that you see that is really changing? You guys are primarily virtual now. So, that really hadn’t changed a whole lot, but as you’re looking out, is there anything that you’re seeing that’s impacting your industry?
Susan Fennema: There are two things I wanted to answer about that. One is from a virtual business standpoint, I believe all of a sudden, all of us that were virtual businesses before, now, everybody’s like, “Oh, this is real. You’re not making this up. You really do work.” I do think that there’s been a big impact on the fact that virtual business is not going to go away. It is a real thing and I think some companies might actually even transition into doing that.
Susan Fennema: I actually worry about some commercial property stuff moving forward. What is that going to look like on the other side of this? Because I think people have figured out, “Oh, this works. We can do it this way. Why do we need this huge overhead?” So, that’s one. And as far as the chaos eradicating, I guess, platform, I don’t have a lot of competitors. It’s a little bit of a niche but I would say that we’re finding they’re either clients that are suffering under the weight of success right now that because of the weight of what they did, they had more business than they really could handle. That’s one place where chaos just bubbles up. When you get too busy, all your flaws start to show. So, that’s one area that we’ve seen people need help in.
Susan Fennema: The other is, we had to lay off staff. We don’t have as much of a team, but we do still have work to do and now, maybe, we don’t have a project manager anymore, but we still have projects. Being able to be that fractional project manager is very impactful for those smaller businesses that are like, “I can’t afford 40 hours a week, but I can afford five.”
Greg Martin: Is there a specific industry or size of entrepreneur that gets maximum value out of you?
Susan Fennema: We will work with people that have 25 and under employee count. I really feel like over 25, you should have somebody like me or one of our team on your staff, but we actually effect people that are 10 and under. We have the biggest impact on those people that keep getting, “I’m at four people, I can’t get to five.” Okay, well, we can then work with you to figure out why you can’t get to five and usually, it’s because that’s all the people you personally can talk to everyday. So, how do we systemize that so that you are not only… Your vision and your intention is still conveyed even when you’re not talking to everybody every day.
Chris Hunter: Yeah. I love that. We talked about how you started out this year with one vision of what was going to happen, right? You were going to systemize your business and it sounds like you have, what’s your BHAG? What’s your big, hairy, audacious goal? What is sitting out there for your 10-year moonshot for you?
Susan Fennema: Part of the systemization is so that I don’t have to do everything, and I don’t. I really haven’t ever. Nah, the first year I did everything, but being able to step away for long periods, travel, those kinds of things while work is still going on, and because we all know that it’s possible now, even though I did before, you can still stay in touch. You can work from anywhere. You don’t have to just work from home. That is something that I want personally to go for.
Susan Fennema: From a professional standpoint, one of the things I really want to put together is a worthwhile small business conference where small business owners come together. They can learn from each other. They’re given the opportunity to hone skills in speaking and sharing real information. The few small business conferences that I have been to, I’ve not found value in. So, I want to be able to put something together like that. That’s probably the big long-term goal.
Greg Martin: All right. Chaos, come 2030, here we go.
Chris Hunter: There you go.
Susan Fennema: There you go.
Greg Martin: We’re going to roll into the lightning round now, Susan. We’ve got five quick questions for you to answer, 30 seconds or less on each one. You have given us so many amazing hacks. I really love the self-care and making sure that you’re taking care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally. So, I’m not going to allow you to use that hack, but what is your favorite hack? This could be a personal hack. It could be a business hack, but what is your go-to?
Susan Fennema: Oh, I totally got a business hack for you is my saying, calendar your day, block your calendar, schedule yourself.
Chris Hunter: Yes.
Susan Fennema: If you got to move it, play Tetris with your calendar blocks.
Greg Martin: I love the Tetris reference.
Susan Fennema: But it needs to be on your calendar if it’s going to happen.
Chris Hunter: I’m saying that because that’s my favorite thing in the entire world, block and tackle.
Susan Fennema: I cannot live without it.
Chris Hunter: Yes.
Susan Fennema: Playing calendar Tetris is one of my favorite things.
Chris Hunter: All right. Next question, give us one book and podcast, YouTube channel, whatever that you get the most value of and that our audience will get the most value out of.
Susan Fennema: It’s an oldie, but it’s a goodie, One Minute Manager. It is a very, very short book. You can read it like 15 minutes and it changed the way I manage people. I probably first read it 15 years ago and being able to do that real quick feedback instead of letting things build up or not complimenting enough, waiting for a year-end review, and don’t do that. The One Minute Manager is the way to go, read the book.
Greg Martin: One Minute Manager. Okay. Got it. Susan, we know, and we’re all plugged into the Aggie Network, it brings us all together. Every single entrepreneur that we’ve had on Aggie Growth Hacks has been shaped by the Aggie Network. Is there someone in your history that you just want to say thank you to?
Susan Fennema: I mean, it’s unfair that my father, who’s a small business owner is class of ’64. I have to go with him for sure. Growing up around small business just gives you that sense that it’s okay. There are so many small business owners that have to go have a battle with their family or friends as to why are you doing this? This is not the right way to do things. And my family was more when I decided to do it, they’re like, “Well, it is about time.” I give a huge shout out to my dad.
Greg Martin: Nice. I love that, family and Aggies, all go together.
Chris Hunter: So, speaking of which, how can the Aggie Network support you moving forward?
Susan Fennema: Obviously, if you want to come and use our services, that would be fantastic. If not, please share the news, share this podcast. Let people know that there is a cure to their overwhelm and they’re dropping leads and losing business because you forgot to follow up, having clients get upset at you because you’re not finishing their projects, we can help you fix it. So, come see me. Let me help you. That would be great.
Greg Martin: That’s great. How can the Aggie Network get in touch with you?
Susan Fennema: Go to my website, beyondthechaos.biz and there are contact forms, phone numbers, ways to follow us on social media, everything is there.
Chris Hunter: Awesome. Awesome. Love it. Thank you so much, Susan. Thank you so much for giving us your time today and sharing with the Aggie Network. We really appreciate your generosity for coming on the Aggie Growth Hacks podcast. And is there anything else, one last minute to tell anything that you want to tell the Aggie Network right now?
Susan Fennema: I don’t think so. I think we covered most of it. Otherwise, I could talk for hours. We don’t have that kind of time. Thanks so much for having me. I really enjoyed it.
Chris Hunter: Thank you.
Greg Martin: Thank you, Susan.
Chris Hunter: How about that, Ags? What a great story that Susan had. There were some super valuable hacks that she shared with us. What was your favorite, Greg?
Greg Martin: Chris, there were so many. I don’t know if I can choose just one. So, I’m going to give you two. The first one that I love, the first hack was, where she talked about clarity kills chaos. I love having that focus and being able to identify clarity in everything that you do and all your operations, all your vision, all your purpose, everything that you do has to be clear. And if it is clear, then the chaos is eliminated.
Greg Martin: The second thing, and when she talked about this, I just felt that it was so powerful when she talked about having self-care, making sure that you got enough sleep, making sure that you took care of yourself, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and then actually from an aspect of looking at it and saying, and having to deal with grief management. That was something that made complete sense to me. But up until this time, I don’t know if I would have verbalized it quite that way. So, those were really amazing hacks that I’ve got out of it and spoke to me. What about you, Chris?
Chris Hunter: My number one, and if you listen to this and if you talk to me at all, personally, I talk to my friends about this, I talk to my family about it, I talk to my employees about it, I do it myself, and that is blocking and tackling. It is one of the most valuable ways that you can hack your day. Just simply by ensuring that the important things are blocked out on your calendar. So super important.
Chris Hunter: That was taught to me years and years and years and years ago by one of my mentors, Mike Cooch, and he taught me how to block and tackle. That makes you way more effective at what you’re doing. My bonus, and I loved it because I am on a mission myself to systemize everything that I do as well. She talked about systemization, businesses, and I even posted about this on LinkedIn today, businesses are simply a collection of systems. If you are not systemized, if the entire business relies on the owner, it’s not a business, you’re basically a freelancer.
Chris Hunter: You have to have a way to systemize what you do as a business owner, as an entrepreneur and hand that off to somebody else. And that was awesome that she talked about that because I am on a mission to do that same exact thing in my own business. I’ve been on that mission for quite a while, and it’s hard. It’s one of the hardest things that entrepreneurs can do is actually sit down and instead of doing the work, sit down and think about what you’re doing and put it into a checklist. That’s all that it really, really entails.
Greg Martin: Well, that’s going to do it for another episode of Aggie Growth Hacks. We hope that you enjoyed this and that you’ll leave us a rating on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, Podbean, or wherever you found us. Be sure to check out our website at aggiegrowthhacks.com, where you can hear all of our past episodes, connect with us and maybe get featured on our future episode.
Chris Hunter: Aggie Growth Hacks was produced by fellow Aggies, Kyle Ackerman and Ben Wiggins with Podcast Architects. We also want to give a huge shout out to our sponsor, the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M. Since 1999, the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship has served as the hub of entrepreneurship for Texas A&M.
Chris Hunter: If you’re an Aggie entrepreneur or even a wantrepreneur, head on over to their website to find a program that’s right for you. Join us next time when we connect with another great Aggie entrepreneur and learn how they hack their growth. Until then, I’m Chris Hunter.
Greg Martin: And I’m Greg Martin. Thanks and Gig ’em.
Chris Hunter: Boop!