How do you bring control to your small business? Well, a few weeks ago, I was a guest on Krista Fabrick’s new podcast “Simplified Marketing for Small Businesses” to talk about just that. Krista is an entrepreneur, like myself, who specializes in helping small businesses – also like myself. Listen (or read the transcript) as we swap stories about how small business owners can better bring control to their business.
Please see the full transcript of the video below:
Krista: Hello, everybody. And welcome. Thank you for tuning in and thank you to Susan for joining me today. Susan is the CEO of Beyond The Chaos and I will let you go ahead and introduce yourself.
Susan: Well, hi Krista. Thanks so much for having me today. I’m really excited to talk a little bit about eradicating some chaos for some small business owners.
Susan: We really help small business owners manage their projects and simplify their operations so that they can grow their businesses and get their lives back. That’s why I started Beyond The Chaos and that’s why I think so many small businesses don’t even know that they need that help.
Krista: Right, it’s the help that they don’t necessarily understand what they need until they see what it can do for them and their business when something like this happens, right?
Krista: Now I love that your title in your email signature says CEO, and then explain what that says that after your CEO.
Susan: Sure. So my title is chaos eradicating officer.
Krista: Yes, yes. I like that.
Susan: But yeah, it’s fun.
Krista: It’s fun. And it’s a conversation starter, right? And people right away kind of get what you’re about.
Susan: Right, right.
Krista: So, and I’m sorry, I’m going to share this quickly into just a couple of places real quick before we get too far along.
Krista: And then since we want to make sure as many people hear this as possible. Okay. So you, obviously you deal with small businesses a lot and help them with this. So can you talk a little bit about why is it so important to having organization in your business, having systems in place, things like that?
Susan: Sure. So, let’s go to your main world, right? You’re really about marketing?
Susan: And so you might create for a small business owner a nice strategy for them, and then you give them some tactics to execute against that strategy. And then you say, “Okay, go, go execute.” And how many of them can? And that’s really what project management and process lets you do. It helps you execute those things. Many small business owners are not good at the execution part. You’re much better at the big picture, that kind of thing. But the finishing, that stuff’s boring. So that’s what I think is so important because it doesn’t matter how good your strategy is or how good your tactics are if you don’t make them happen.
Krista: Exactly, exactly. I love it. It’s a great point, and yeah, great example on that. Honestly, that’s one of the things that I’ve come to be very good at is helping teach them how to put in the systems in place so that they can execute on the marketing plan and strategy.
Krista: Yeah. Because it is. Most of them go, “Okay, great. You’ve told me what to do. Now how do I actually make it happen? I don’t have the time to think about this or organize this, or.” So talk a little bit about kind of some of the … What are some of the areas that you’ve seen small businesses struggle with the most when it comes to anything like this? Project management, systems, organization.
Susan: Sure. You know, I think that many small business owners started their business because they’re very, very good at their technical trade, you know? Whether that’s being a creative or a software developer or a marketer, they were very, very good at that, and wanted to go start their own boutique. They thought they would have more freedom. They thought they would be able to do what they wanted to do every day. And then the shock of, “Oh my goodness, I never get to do that,” kind of hits you. And you realize you’re really doing everything.
What we can do, and what we help people do is come in and streamline that stuff that you don’t need to do so that you can focus on whatever that may be. If you want to run the business, then let’s get you even out of the technical stuff. If you’re a software developer and your passion is in creating new products, then let’s make sure that you have time set aside to create those new products and everything else is handled for you. So it really depends on what your, I guess, passion is as to how we help you sort that out.
Krista: Right. And that makes it like I remember that I told you before we went live that I’m a project manager at heart. My very first job in marketing, I was hired on by a woman who had been working from home and just hiring freelancers about for everything, because she loved the selling, getting in and looking at a business, and figuring out how she could help them with their marketing. And then coming up with a strategy.
After that, she didn’t want to do anything else. And so that’s why she brought me in because I’ve been doing sales, but I’ve been doing a very specific kind of B2B sales. So she knew I could talk to B2B clients. She knew I wanted to go into marketing. And so she made me kind of set up all the systems and structures of the business. She made me hire the salespeople that like to grow the business eventually and manage them. She made me hire and manage the creatives, you know? And, she made me deal with the accounts. Soshe got to do her zone of genius, which was find new leads, talk to them, give them a strategy. That was what she was genius at because that’s what she wanted to do. And she built a business around doing only that, you know?
Susan: Absolutely. And you know, that starts to set you free again, when you can get those things off your plate. Now it does take some systemization to make that happen. Because every independent, small business owner has all this stuff in their head. They know how they want it to happen. But none of it’s written down. None of it’s written down in the kind of detail that somebody else could execute against. And it can also cause without those things being handled clearly, it can also cause a lot of disconnects as you start to try to hire people in. So people cannot meet your expectations, because they don’t know what they are. So being able to systematically write those things down, clearly, bullet point, step-by-step can take some time, and again might not be your area of what you love to do. And we do.
Krista: Yeah. And it might not be your area of anything that even having an ability to do. Some people just aren’t, they’re not down in the details like that. They don’t know how to go about setting up those systems.
Susan: Right, you need somebody to ask the right questions and sometimes even say, “Well, this is how I would do it. Will that work? Here’s a plan. Will that work?”
Krista: Yeah. Now, what are some of the like … Could you have any stories you can share, obviously without sharing names. But stories you can share of some of the things you’ve seen happening in the business because there was no system, because there was this chaos.
Susan: Sure, absolutely. We’ve had one client a few years back that came to us, had won this huge project, was so excited about it. It was going to be a big money-making deal. And it was almost a year and a half long project.
Susan: And we were cut. He was coming up on the last two or three months of it and it was a mess. They didn’t know. They didn’t have a clear understanding of when was the project in, what all does it entail? What’s the scope we’re trying to meet? What are the set deadlines? What’s the plan? None of that was there. It had been a general fixed price of this is what we’re going to accomplish for you, which is great, I love that method. But if you don’t break it down into, this is what we’re delivering on this date, especially for something that big, it’s just almost impossible to meet.
We jumped in, we did our very best to handle that and get it cleaned up. But it was too late. And that’s something that if we could have been brought in in the beginning, if we could have had a project manager on that from the beginning, we could have made that hugely profitable. Everybody would have been happy. Client would have been happy. The team would have been happy, instead of constantly feeling like everyone’s mad at them and they could have made money. That’s the other thing is the profit got cut into from all the scrambling around.
Krista: Right? Yeah, and that’s a sad, large example. This is even like can happen in businesses on a daily basis, right? If they don’t have these systems, they’re wasting time every day. They’re potentially spending more money or time on certain areas or certain things every day that right is that you seen things like that where you come in and just are able to streamline?
Susan: Oh yeah. And you know, some of those we can make a difference really fast. But you know, if you … Say you only hire somebody once every six months. Well, what are all the things that you have to turn on for them? Do you have a checklist? I mean, it’s simple things like that, that every six months you hire somebody and now you have to start from scratch and figure it all back out, instead of going back to your checklist.
More importantly, if that person has to go, how do you get them out fast? You’ve just given them access to all of the stuff. How do you get them out fast? And so having those checklists is imperative. The other big one is dropped sales. The number of people that don’t have a process to capture and follow up with their sales, because they get busy that falls through the cracks. And then they don’t have enough work and now, “Oh my goodness. I have to go back to the sales. And I dropped all these people six months ago. I wonder if they still need me.”
Krista: Yeah. That’s one that I see because even though I work with small businesses specifically on their marketing, I end up learning everything about their business. And I teach a lot of workshops to small business owners. I see that all the time, it’s the followup is just not there. Even sometimes to follow up on trying to hire new people. It could be clients, it could be potential employees. It could be all kinds of things like that. Even maybe new lenders, maybe new partnerships where they’re just, they don’t have a system in place for how to do certain things. And so it just falls through the cracks because they’re busy just surviving day-to-day.
Susan: Well, and they don’t have the bandwidth, because as we were talking about, I mean, we’re both small business owners. You know we do all of it, you do everything. And so what is the priority right now? It might be that something’s going on with your bank, so you’re on the phone with the bank, instead of a bookkeeper, instead of a virtual assistant, instead of even a project manager who can do some of all of that. Most project managers are pretty much dead on with, let me facilitate a project. My team is more about being a right hand to the business owner, developing a partnership with them. And even sometimes being that confidant that you need, because you can’t talk to anybody else about this stuff.
Krista: Right, right. Yeah, and that’s where a lot of business owners do really struggle is that they don’t have anybody else that they can talk to about. Yeah, that makes sense. So if a small business owner is understanding that, “Yes, I have chaos. Yes, I need some systems and processes,” where can they start? Or like, even if they were to come and hire your firm, where do you start?
Susan: So, well where we would start is a little different from where they might start. So if you’re starting on your own, the first thing I would challenge you to do is keep a pad, a note pad next to your desk. And I am anti-paper. So that’s a big thing for me to say. And write down all those things that you do every day. At the end of a week, come back and start deciding what level of work is this? Is it an admin type level? Is it a technician level, or is it a CEO? Or, is it something that a CEO who owned a business that wasn’t you, right? If they came in and bought your business, what would that fall under?
So, classify those tasks and then start working to get rid of all those things that everything except the CEO would do unless you have a lot of passion for it. If there’s something like, “But I have to keep software developing,” then we make sure that you do that. So, that’s really how you start is to figure out what to give away. And as you start to do that, you’ll start to figure out that those are not moneymaking activities. And you could be spending all this time on these moneymaking activities, but instead, you’re making sure your bank books balance, that’s not a valuable use of your time.
Krista: I was just having this discussion yesterday with somebody that I’m advising and she’s a physical therapist, she had her own practice and she had an assistant and then I had to let her go. And then obviously she’s been very slow throughout the coronavirus issues, but she had the opportunity to hire somebody that, just 10 hours a week. And she was like, “Kris, I’m terrified. I’m terrified because my income is so low right now.” I was like, “Yes, but,” because she just wants to do physical therapy, she’s been working on all the programs and things.
I was like, “Think about those 10 hours. If she’s as good as you say she is, those 10 hours where you’re paying her, what can you do that’s going to make so much more money with those 10 extra hours a week.” And she was like, “You’re right. You’re right. You’re right. I could do this. I could do this.” I was like, “Literally, if you sell this one program, you paid for her for two weeks.” I’m like, “Can you do that in 20 hours?” She was just like, “Yes, I could do it in five hours.” And I was like, “There you go, there you go.”
Susan: Paid for, and so much calmer. That’s the other is I hear a lot of small business owners about, “Well, I have to answer the phone,” especially if they’re software developers, right? “I have to answer the phone. What if there’s a problem? What if there’s an emergency? And, what if all these things happen?” Good project management can make those go away. So you just don’t have them. I worked as a project manager for a software developer for about six years. And when I first got there, there was, man, everything was an emergency and constant email and constant phone calls. And by the time I left, it just didn’t happen. You just didn’t have emergencies. And that is so freeing to a small business owner to not have that.
Krista: Yeah. Those fires, those daily fires are so counteractive to productivity. They’re not making money.
Susan: And it yanks you out of your plan. So whatever you just planned to accomplish today, you’ve just been yanked out of it.
Krista: Yeah, yeah. So that’s great, and I love that the breaking down those three categories, the CEO, the technician part, and the admin. And you know, a lot of business owners, they do want to at least hold onto a little bit of that, whatever the technician part is or whatever the activity is. But the admin stuff is something most business owners hate and don’t want anything to do with, right?
Susan: Yeah. Well, and most of them, even if they are a great technician, they still don’t want to manage that project. And I also feel like if you’re going to be an owner technician, those technician things that you’re involved in should not be deadline oriented. You need to get those out into a team so that you can focus at your own pace when you want. And then it’s fun again.
Krista: Yeah. Because that’s what’s game, why did you start the business? Because you wanted to do what you wanted to do and have some more freedom, right?
Susan: Right, right. And so you know, getting out of the day-to-day managing your clients. Getting out of the day-to-day managing your team, where are they, why aren’t they doing this, all that stuff. That’s where project management comes into play and it can just make your life so much better.
Krista: Yes, I agree. So if a small business owner is listening to this or they come back and watch this later and are thinking about it and they go, “You know what? I’ve done my list, kind of do things, but I don’t know where to go next. I think I need to hire professional help. When is the point that they need to hire somebody? And what does that look like?
Susan: So first do it early. Don’t do it at the point where I gave you the previous example. Where all we can say is “all we can do is point a fire hose at it.” Come in early. The thing is, is that I think most people feel like, “Oh, well, I can’t afford a full-time person. And then I have to do all the HR. And then I have to do all that.”
You don’t have to do that. Call us, we’ll give you five hours a week. And that might be all you need. And when you look at hiring that project manager, they’re going to be freeing up more time than it takes you to do it, because they do it better. They know not to do it and they don’t hate it, they love it. So it’s taking a whole bunch of that weight off of you.
So I would say do it early. I have one colleague that before he ever even hired somebody else to help him with his software development projects, he jumped right in and said, “I want a project manager first,” because if it’s organized and creative for them, then that will all flow better. And other people feel like they can do it themselves. And you might be able to, but just keep in mind what you’re taking away from doing. Those sales, your passion, time with your family in some cases. And that’s one of the things we like to do is give the life back to these small business owners that have gotten so sucked into it that they can’t even have dinner with their family anymore.
Krista: Right. And that’s a lot of times it is those not only the fact that they’re doing these administrative tasks or these technician tasks. But it’s because that’s not their zone of genius, they’re spending more time than somebody else who you could hire to do it is, right. And that …
Susan: Right. And if you do seek to hire somebody, they should have a good business sense, almost like, they’re a small business owner themselves, that type of sense, so that they understand you and they understand your business and that they have a passion to make it run well. They should have an amazing sense of detail. They should have project management experience. You don’t want to bring in somebody that you have to train, because that’s now just more work on you. That’s great for bigger companies where they have senior project managers that can train new people. But in a small company, hiring more of an expert is a better choice.
Krista: Right. And so in case, somebody is listening and they don’t really understand the whole concept of product management or what exactly your firm does. Can you explain a little bit, like give a few specific examples of the types of things you can do in a small business to help?
Susan: Sure, absolutely. So, we usually will jump in and help with first identifying a tool, you know? What are you using to manage your projects? It needs to be a centralized tool. It needs to be something that all the people are in and using and required to be using. If you’re using email as a project management tool, that’s the first thing we’re going to tell you, “Stop that’s wrong. Don’t do that.”
Krista: Yeah, the easiest way to mess things up, right?
Susan: Right. And then we dig into each of the projects and find out, what was the scope that you promised to deliver? When did you promise to deliver it? And how much did you promise to deliver it for and where are we against all those things today? Then we work a plan to make it happen, to end it. How do you get to the end? That might involve status meetings with your client. It might involve running down subcontractors because any of you that have worked with subcontractors know that sometimes they just ghost. You have no idea where they are.
And so keeping up those communications, keeping up the communications of what pieces of information are needed from either a creative or a client to make the project go. And the big one for us is setting consequences for those things. I always call it clear communication with consequences, right? So, “Hey,” it’s not, “Hey client, we need this.” It’s, “Hey client, we need this by Friday at three, or else we won’t be able to work on your project next week.”
Krista: Yes, I love that.
Susan: “This might put us over budget.” So if you’re setting those expectations as you go, it also gives your client the option to say, “I am too busy. I can’t get this to you, but I understand the consequence, so I’m okay living with that.” But otherwise, they’re surprised, and removing surprise is a big one.
Krista: I love that. Because so many times it is the client is really busy. And so then they don’t meet the deadline or get you what you need. And then, because you didn’t set that proper expectation of a deadline and consequence, then you can’t meet what they want when they come back to you and they don’t know why you can’t.
Susan: Right. And it’s frustrating. And then there are arguments over who spent what money when, instead of always talking money all the way through, so there are no surprises. Eliminating surprise is a huge part of it.
Krista: That’s great. You mentioned if you’re using the email tool as a tool for project management stuff, do you have any favorites that can kind of work in almost any business? I mean, I know a lot of them, but I’m curious about what you like to use or recommend.
Susan: I do. Now, if you haven’t used one ever at all, Basecamp is a great starter one.
Krista: Yes, yep.
Susan: So is Asana. But most people after they really get into it will find it’s not enough. My favorite, the one I love, the one my team loves is called Teamwork.com. And it is really powerful. It has time tracking in it. It’s got, you can bill through it. There are all sorts of tools, you can manage the workload too. That’s a new feature. That’s fantastic, and we love it. So Teamwork.com is my number one.
Krista: Yeah. But if you’re just starting out, yeah I agree. Basecamp’s been around forever too. I used them when they first launched. I had a contract with a marketing company, many … Like I mean, how long ago, it was almost 10 years ago. And it’s been fun to see them grow. So I still have some clients that use them and I’ve recommended them to people who are very new too. Because it is very user friendly, but it’s not as robust as some other options.
Susan: Yeah. Both Asana and Basecamp are really easy to understand and really easy to get into. They are simple though project management tools. You can’t usually build detailed dependencies and things like that. So if you need to get into more, when you’re ready for more, you can always upgrade to Teamwork.com.
Krista: That’s great. Okay, and so if somebody was looking to learn a little bit more about just project management or getting organization out of business, do you have a book or a podcast or any kind of thing that you like to recommend?
Susan: You know, one I really like, and it’s a book and a podcast-
Krista: There you go.
Susan: … is Getting Things Done by David Allen. He has a real solid process of how you work through your day, how you make sure that you’ve planned for tomorrow. You’re not just showing up surprised that you have to start working today, and how to get all those things down and how to make priorities. So I’d really recommend that.
Krista: That’s great, good. I think that I must check that out. And so, and it’s funny, you mentioned that setting the date and that, or setting the expectation for the next day. That’s two things that I’ve learned from my own personal, not just my business. I’m working on my dissertation. I’m also an adjunct faculty. And, I’m also a mom. And so I’m everywhere, right? So I do, I set the night before I’ve set at least one main goal for the next day. Usually three things that I need to accomplish, just depending on how big they are. And then I use time blocking, right? So that’s where I, this day I have, is my focus is this. This day, my focus is this. I have two hours for creating content here like you know.
Susan: I love calendar blocking and it’s not possible if you’re not doing … I mean, you can look at my calendar in December of this year and it’s got recurring stuff on it.
Krista: Yes, yep.
Susan: The things I always want to make sure happen. Now you can move it around. At the end of every day you just play a little calendar Tetris and move things around to how they work. And yeah, it’s a big tool to be able to manage your time better.
Krista: Yeah. That’s one thing that I learned years ago and I’m so thankful that I’ve gotten in that habit, because it does make a … You could be so much more efficient, and it’s almost like your brain is trained to, “Okay, I’m going to be in this zone or this mode for this time,” if you do it all the time.
Susan: And it takes that step of, “What do I do next?” You already know what you’re doing next. And I think that that’s what is also important about planning that day the night before so that you don’t start your day by figuring it out. Otherwise you’ll muddle around in, “Oh, let’s see what’s in email. Let’s see what’s in Slack. Let’s figure out what I should do.” And now all of a sudden it’s been two and a half hours and you’ve done nothing.
Krista: Yes, that’s so easy to do if you don’t have a plan, yeah. And I mean, I certainly fail. I have my days where I’m like, “I forgot to plan out what I’m going to focus on first or whatever.” And yeah, next thing it’s an hour and I’ve just checked some emails and Slack messages.
Susan: Don’t you feel like a disaster on those days?
Krista: Yes, I really do.
Susan: Like, “I cannot catch up.”
Krista: Yeah. I feel much better when I’ve time blocked and planned what are the main things I’m going to accomplish that day. Well, our time is about up here. So before we go, I’d love for you to share where can people learn more about you, your business, where’s the best place to connect with you?
Susan: Sure. Absolutely the best place to go is beyondthechaos.biz. That is our website. We have a blog on there that if you subscribe to, I think you can do it through an RSS feed. Or if you just subscribe to the email list, you’ll get those on a regular basis.
Susan: Great tips in those. And there’s also, if you go to the contact page, that comes straight to me, feel free just to fill that out and we can chat whenever you need to.
Krista: Wonderful, wonderful. Yeah, I’ll make sure to add the link to the website here in the video description and in the show notes for the podcast and all that good stuff, so.
Susan: Thanks so much, Krista. This has been awesome.
Krista: Yeah, thank you so much for talking. This is great. I think anybody that listens to this is going to learn at least one thing, right?
Susan: I hope so. I hope so.
Krista: I hope that’s true. If you need any help, please reach out to Susan, because she definitely knows what she’s doing. And I promise you won’t regret getting organization and product management into your business, right?
Susan: Absolutely. It will be the best thing you’ve ever done.
Krista: Yeah. Well, thank you so much again, I hope you have a great day.
Susan: Thanks Krista. Bye-bye.