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Managing the chaos is the topic of my latest podcast interview. Recently I talked with John DeBevoise, host of the BizSoup podcast. BizSoup helps every aspiring entrepreneur and small business owner develop, expand, and protect their business. John and I talk about one of my favorite topics, managing the chaos, including:

  • Controlling the chaos by building systems
  • Expectations: what do you want it to be versus what it is
  • Filling gaps by identifying problems and putting a process in place
  • Putting people in the right seats doing the right jobs…including you!

Please find the full video transcript below:

John:  Greetings everyone, and welcome to another serving of Bizness Soup Talk Radio. If it’s in business, it’s Bizness Soup. I’m your host, John DeBevoise. When you are a small business, you are juggling knives, swords, irons, and charcoal all at the same time. But how do you get past all of that chaos? Well, we had to reach out to the CEO, the chaos eradicating expert, none other than Susan Fennema. Susan is from Beyond the Chaos. We’re going to talk about how you can get some of your life back when you’re a small business owner.

She’s got three decades of experience in helping others get past the chaos. So whether it’s the basics, or you are juggling all the knives in your kitchen, pull up a chair. We’re going to throw out all the silverware, and we’re going to serve up Susan Fennema, the expert in eradicating chaos right here on Bizness Soup. Susan, welcome to this serving of Bizness Soup.

Susan:  Thanks so much for having me, John. I’m really excited to share some chaos eradicating tips with everyone about managing the chaos. 

John:  Well, my life is chaos. In fact, just about any business owner has to deal with managing the chaos. So, Susan, I want to tell you a story and the story goes like this. There once was a man named Jed. Poor mountaineer could barely keep his family fed. Then one day at the family barbecue, everybody said he should have a restaurant too. So he cleared the table off, he and the missus sat down, and they came up with something of a plan. They opened up a restaurant.

Then they found out they had a business, they had employees, they had workman’s compensation, insurance, taxes. They didn’t have a restaurant. They had a business. So Jed was no longer cooking. He was managing a business. He was in chaos. What should poor old Jed have done in his management 101 before he opened the doors? Then let’s talk about what does he do now that he’s in chaos? How you get out of it. He has sucked the boot right off his foot.

Susan:  So many small business owners feel this way. Like, “I am so good at this. I want to go do it all the time. I want to share it with all of the people that I know I can help.” Then you get there and you’re like, “I don’t even get to do that anymore.” All this other stuff is going on. You’re managing projects. You’re reinventing the wheel all the time because you don’t even remember how to hire somebody because you haven’t done it in so long.

John:  Or they don’t show up for work, and now you’re a waiter, or waitress, or a dishwasher even better.

Susan:  You do everything. So there’s this sense of overwhelm that many small business owners have. You don’t have to be a startup to do this. It can be somebody who’s doing it for 20 years, but just decided to grow a little bit, and is struggling with that kind of growth at that point. So it can be anybody at any stage of their entrepreneurship, but it tends to be when you’re trying to grow. So opening is a good one, right, that’s when you started?

JohnOh, yeah.

SusanIt’s all about making sure that you are managing the chaos. It’s not ever going to go away. It’s always going to be swirling around you, but you have to start putting some steps into place to get that control over it. The very first way you start that is by building some systems.

JohnOh, this sounds like work. All right, so I got to take out my pen and pad here and get a pen that works here. So I got to come up with a plan, a schedule because the bathroom floor is flooding, the fire alarm went off, and the health inspector’s at the door and the employees have a cold. So I just got a few things going on at the moment, and now you’re telling me I got to come up with a plan of action? What should this plan of action look like?

SusanThese systems need to be the things that you do all the time. Things like let’s say you have a specialty drink that you offer for sale at your restaurant. Well, you at least need to have the recipe written down and have trained all the bartenders on how to make it consistently. You need to have a checklist to make sure that those ingredients are there. You need to make sure that the waitstaff is clear on what it tastes like and when they might recommend it to someone.

That’s all part of your system of how you’re running your business. I’m taking it down to the smallest level of just one drink, but that can be in any sort of area of your business. How do you interview waitstaff? How do you seat a customer when they come in? What are the same things that they’re doing over and over again? Not only do you do this to make your life simpler, but you also do this because it’s part of your branding so that every customer has the same experience.

JohnPoor old Jed, who was just cooking up on the grill, he’s now managing people that he’s never done before. Where do you learn these things? Because nobody knows all of this. One thing that I’ve learned is that if you don’t know what you’re doing, there’s a government agency that will come along and remind you of what you did wrong.

SusanFor sure, right?

JohnEspecially in the restaurant industry.

SusanEspecially there.

JohnWhat is it that you can do for good old Jed in his restaurant and getting these plans in place?

SusanWe come in and assess the way that the business is being run, whether that is a professional services business, which is mostly what we help. But restaurants, since we’re using that as a metaphor, we can tie that into there. What do you serve? What are your kitchen processes look like? How do you, as the business owner, feel about what’s going on and what do you want it to be versus what it is?

Then also, what is in your brain, business owner, that you want, that you expect that you have not gotten to a point to share with other people? Because our goal here is to set up a way that you can go and do the thing you love. If that’s cooking, then we want to figure out how to get you back to cooking. If that’s, “I wanted to retire and sell the restaurant,” well then that’s figuring out how to get you out of it so that it will run without you so that you can.

JohnWell, that’s building a business. In the latter part, it’s you have to report all income there. You can’t hide the cash income. You’ve got to report it so that that value can be capitalized, and then turn around later sold, if that’s the exit strategy, or handed off to the children of the corn, the ones who have been raised in the restaurant.

SusanJethro Bodine, right? What’s important in that case is you’re right, all the financial stuff and everything could have happened, but you need to make sure that you have a business that an owner, a potential owner coming in behind you could see that it could run without you. So if you, as the business owner, are the chef, the maitre d’, the floor sweeper, how on earth could someone come in and say, “Oh, I want to buy that business. Thanks for the customers that sometimes come in here.” That’s really all they have to buy.

JohnWell, they’re buying a job.

SusanRight, and so that’s not what they’re interested in doing. They’re interested in buying something that runs. If you can show how you are not in that, then they can see themselves stepping into your shoes.

JohnRight, okay, so with this plan of action that you could come up with, you come in and you look at my chaos. When you have a small business, you cannot help but have it, whether it’s at your feet, your cash register doesn’t balance out, there’s missing inventory, or running out the door. You’ve got to be able to keep track of all of this. When I call you in, you come in and you assess what level of chaos. Are there grades of them? Is there, well, you’re at the low grade of one, or you are over the top of grade four?

SusanThere are definitely grades, but we don’t give grades. There are some people that, “Hey, the business is running pretty well, but we know that there are areas that we could make some tweaks to, and it would be hugely improved. We don’t feel like we’re efficient in say our handoff from the sales department to our software developers. We feel like there’s a gap there.”

So that might be an area that we could come in and to help you streamline how to make that more clear, how to make sure that the whole team is involved, and understands that gap that the clients might be seeing so that they don’t see it anymore. How to fill those gaps. Mostly, that is done with process.

Now, of course, the information shared is going to be different in every industry. But the process of how you share that information, once it’s in place, if you have a little chaos, like the fire department coming that day, the rest of it is still running, and you can deal with that issue. So that’s part of putting that process in place so that stuff runs so that you can deal with the chaos as it arrives, that’s unexpected.

JohnThere are things called war games, where they will play out scenarios. If this moves in this direction, it causes this action,` thereafter reaction. Do you have these types of scenarios that if the fire department comes through the door, you open up to chapter F for fire, and these are the things that you need to do, say, and not do and say with the fire department?

SusanWe can help with disaster recovery. If that’s something that you feel is going to happen often, then we can. But most of what we’re trying to put in place is the way to handle the things that happen often, that are repeatable, so that you are not constantly thinking, “Oh no, a barback quit. What do I do to replace a barback?”

JohnRight, so if I have a frequent employee turnover, where it’s much more difficult to train new people than it is to keep the old ones, why are they leaving? Which quite possibly would be they don’t like me or old Jed. So you come in and figure out why are they leaving? How do you do employee retention, if that’s one of the biggest problems that I have? What about managing expenses? Perhaps I’m not charging enough for my product.

SusanAs far as that goes, we want to be looking at your basic process and how that happens. Now we’re not financial experts. We would probably recommend a financial expert to come in and help you with that. We’re going to be more operational. So instead of saying that you’re not charging enough for that specialty drink, we might be looking at what all goes into making it and, “You know, that doesn’t seem right. Have you checked with your accountant about the cost of this? Because it might not be right based on all that it entails. And maybe you need to simplify how it’s made so that you can still make money off of it.”

JohnYou come in, you assess the business, and then you can help good old Jed there decide, “Jed, we want to get you behind the counter because the people just don’t like you as a person, but they like your food. Let’s get these people out in front. Let’s get the right people in amongst the customers and get you back in the kitchen, which is where everybody wants you.”

SusanRight, and it might be where he wants himself. That might be why he’s not succeeding. Greeting the guests, he doesn’t even want to be doing it. So putting him in the right seat is also important. You do want all the bodies in the right seats, doing the right jobs. That’s important when you are having turnover, which can cause a lot of chaos. Now you are going to have jobs that are just naturally going to turn over, waitstaff, and that type of thing, it is very common that just turns over.

JohnWhen you’re dealing around the minimum wage level, whatever that wage is or will be, you’re going to find that’s the highest turnover rate is that those startup rates there.

SusanIf you’re running a marketing boutique agency and you keep having art directors leave you, you might need to be figuring out why. Is it that you are firing them because they are not meeting your expectations and it’s happening over, and over, and over again? If that’s the case, it’s probably not them. It’s probably you. So what are you doing to be more clear in what your expectations are so that they can meet them? Most employees are desperate to meet expectations. They just have to know what they are.

JohnYou’ve been doing this with oh, 30 years of experience. At what point do you find most people give you a call? Is the building on fire, metaphorically speaking? Or is it just before they’re holding the match and it’s burning towards their fingers? At what point are these people typically calling you when they should have been calling before? But when do they too often get involved with you?

SusanOn average, they tend to get involved, I look at it like Alcoholics Anonymous, you’ve hit rock bottom somehow. It could be that your spouse is livid and threatening to divorce because they haven’t seen you in ages because all you’re doing is working. Or your kids aren’t speaking to you because you keep missing their games.

JohnOr it could be financial, where that savings account or college savings plan isn’t where it was supposed to be, and it’s run through the business, or in Jed’s case, through his restaurant.

SusanRight, it could be that. It could also be even something like, “I forgot to follow up on the $50,000 proposal that I sent out, and it turns out they didn’t get it, so I didn’t win the business.” But it’s something that clicks that all of a sudden, a small business owner says, “I can’t do this by myself, I need help.” That’s when they come to us.

JohnWell, you’re making it sound like you’re also something of a recruiter, getting people to come through the door that can help me save myself.

SusanWe don’t recruit that much, but we do have the ability to help that small business owner regain his control over keeping the people that are there happier. So they understand what he needs and then they start to meet that expectation.

JohnMy experience in business, as well as many people, is that a lot of times there’s this self-denial that, “Oh, all I got to do is put in more hours and I can pull it through.” In the meantime, the State Board Of Equalization continues with their love letters and they show up at the door, quite possibly putting their hand in your cash register, which is not good for the appearance of the business.

But too often, I see that’s when people reach out and say, “I need your help.” When I get involved at that level, I’m going, “Boy, you are beyond my help. You needed me six months ago.” At what point do you say, “You know what? You need other help.” It could be legal help or whatever. At what point would you say, “You know what? I can’t help you.”

SusanObviously, it would depend on every situation. In most cases, we can come in and help to reset the situation with the client. A few years ago I had a client who was working on this huge project.  They had a huge budget but had no definitive deliverables. The client was just running them around and getting them to do whatever they wanted, which is great, except that they weren’t meeting the final goal of delivering this whole project to them.

So they come, and they’re out of time. They haven’t finished anything. Everybody’s mad. So in those types of situations, if you can sit everybody down and say, “Look, we need to have a reset. We need to be very clear as to where we are and what money might be needed to get to where we’re going. Then let’s come up with a plan to hit some milestones so that we’re moving forward that way.”

A project manager, which is what I’m talking about here, project management starts to come into place. A project manager then can be put in charge of that to start to drive all of those little things, to help prevent that client from not necessarily from asking, but from getting you off course. So that project manager steers you back on course to help you finish. Many times, the client is just as eager to have the problem solved as the person who has come to me for help, so they’re willing to get on board to finish something.

JohnIn your presentations and speaking with people when they first call you and they say, “Help me. I’ve got all this going on,” Is there a particular field of expertise that you are best known at? You said in service providers. What kind of service?

SusanSo mostly professional services. We work with software developers a lot. We also work with accounting boutiques. So think not tax firms, but firms that might help people throughout the year with some bookkeeping involved, that kind of thing. Then also, creative boutiques, advertising, marketing, even copywriting and design, those types of areas, where they have clients themselves, they are running projects. The owner is usually the one who was really good at that task before they started their job, their company.

JohnThat’s very true. Personally, I was very good at real estate. Then when I owned a real estate office, I was no longer in real estate. I was managing personalities.

SusanManaging personalities, or clients, or projects. You’re doing all these details instead of the big picture. Most business owners start their business because they are creative. They want to create something. The whole finishing with all those little details, it was just not that fun. Unfortunately, that’s what people tend to pay you for.

JohnYou end up having your own soap opera.

SusanRight, and you prolong it because another tendency is to avoid confrontation. So if you don’t want to talk about it and you avoid it, then you just dig yourself the steeper hole. Then people are mad at you all the time, and nobody likes that.

JohnThat’s like reality. You can’t please everybody.

SusanYou can’t please everybody. That’s true. But you can do a better job of making sure you, at least, please most people. I think there are a lot of business owners who say “all my clients are mad at me.” “Okay, well then it’s not all your clients that are necessarily bad. It has something to do with the way you’re setting expectations with them. So let’s get a project manager to help take that off of you because that’s not your skill set.”

JohnIt’s not me, it’s them.

SusanRight, when it’s always a bunch of them, and it’s never you, maybe you got to look in the mirror a little bit.

JohnYes. Well, there are so many directions that I could go in chaos because chaos goes everywhere. I’d like to take this opportunity and hope that you will join us back here on the Soup. We’ve only touched the surface. There’s a whole lot more of this iceberg underwater.

Susan Fennema, who is the chaos eradicating expert. For more information, as always, go to BizSoup where you can get all of the information and the direct links if you’d like to speak with Susan about getting beyond the chaos with her business Beyond the Chaos. Susan, thanks for being on this serving of Bizness Soup.

SusanThanks so much, John.

JohnThis has been another serving of Bizness Soup, where business comes for business. I’m John DeBevoise, inviting you to visit the website for more servings of what is best in business.

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