Talking chaos eradication, Susan was a guest on Growth Sessions at GGI. In this episode, we discuss burnout, emergencies, process, and delegation.
Please find the full video transcript below.
Tiago Santana: Hey everybody. Thank you so much for tuning in. Today we’re here with Susan Fennema from Beyond the Chaos. She is the Chaos Eradicating Officer. And we’re here to talk about how we can reduce some of the noise and get rid of some of that chaos in your business. Susan, welcome. How are you today?
Susan Fennema: I am great. Thanks so much for having me, Tiago. I’m excited to share some of this great value with our listeners.
Tiago Santana: Yeah, likewise. I think it’s so fitting I ran into the work that you were doing. And I love how you position this idea of chaos. Can you tell some of the people watching who aren’t as familiar with what that means what exactly it is that you guys do?
Susan Fennema: Sure. So we help our small business owners specifically simplify their operations and manage their projects. Many small business owners feel so overwhelmed with the day to day of everything that they’re sucked into, and they don’t actually know that there are better ways to be able to get your life back. So we work really hard with them closely to make sure that their work is getting done, but often in a more streamlined, simplified way. Essentially we make the time.
Tiago Santana: I love that. That’s incredibly valuable. I am a young CEO and a young entrepreneur, and when I first started my business, I really struggled with this idea of work-life balance. It wasn’t until recently where I started to realize that I’ve been building my business for a more free and exciting life. I think sometimes when we get in the weed of things, we forget that. So what would you tell companies that are experiencing some of this chaos right now? I think one of the big challenges with chaos is this idea of uncertainty. What can they do to help combat some of that?
Susan Fennema: Uncertainty is always going to be out there. The economic climate changes, the election, it makes people nervous. Everything going on in the world right now is insane. So that stuff you can’t control and you have to get that out of the way. We can’t control that. What can we control, though? That’s what’s important.
You can control what you’re focused on. You can control your calendar. And, you can control your schedule. You can control your projects. You can control your clients. And there are ways to do that so that you’re not always operating in the emergency. The “what did I forget? Who’s mad at me now? Why is the phone ringing and somebody’s yelling at me? Why am I getting a hundred emails about something?” There are just so many methods to put into place to prevent emergencies in the first place, so that you’re regularly operating in more of an even-keeled, planned, and important type quadrant of work.
Tiago Santana: You mentioned the word quadrant and I believe that comes from the quadrants of productivity. Is that right? Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Susan Fennema: Stephen Covey wrote about them many, many years ago. There are four quadrants. Your first quadrant is the emergencies and the important. So it’s important, urgent work.
Tiago Santana: Remember that gif of the little dog in the house and that everything’s burning and he’s like, “This is fine.”
Susan Fennema: Right? And that is where so many small business owners work all the time, and it’s exhausting and it causes burnout and you just cannot maintain working in that area for long periods of time. The second quadrant is important, but not urgent. And that’s where we really want to be working.
Tiago Santana: Totally. That’s where the planning happens.
Susan Fennema: Right. That’s where creativity happens. That’s where you’re growing your business. And then of course you have the unimportant, but urgent. So think emails, phone calls, doorbell, that kind of stuff that seems urgent, but it’s probably not that important. The Amazon box will wait. And then the last quadrant is unimportant and not urgent, which might be playing solitaire on the computer or that kind of thing.
I used to laugh when I worked at the ad agency I worked at in Chicago, I had a bunch of employees, and I’m like, “That’s the quadrant that if you work in all the time, you’re going to get fired.” So you want to avoid that one. So if you can push your work into that quadrant two, where you’re mostly in that area, your going to be happier, your company’s going to run better, and your family will also be happier that they kind of get you back.
Tiago Santana: Totally. And going back to why we built all of this in the first place. Through times of struggle, I think it’s important for us to keep in mind, it’s even more important when companies are being faced with adversity to live in that second quadrant. I think certain times in our lives as entrepreneurs and owners of businesses, we may get caught up at some of those quadrant ones and quadrant threes because they’re always coming in and distracting us from what’s really important.
But I think for companies that are really serious about growth, especially in this time of so much turbulence, it’s so much more important to buckle in, sit in that quadrant two, and really have some fun through that work. I’m really passionate about helping companies, and I really admire that that’s something that we share, and I’m curious what helped you get into this line of work? What kind of inspired you to think about the chaos in the way that you do and help people declutter some of that?
Susan Fennema: So I’ve always been a natural organizer. When my mom used to sew she’d have this big jar of buttons. And even at three years old, I was dumping the buttons out and organizing them by size and color and quantity and building little graphs of buttons at three. So there’s something innate in me that creates order from chaos. And then throughout my career, I have always worked in small businesses and usually directly with the owner. I’ve seen how that world of chaos affects the owner a lot. And I’ve always been the one pulling that chaos off of them and generally making it go away. Not just dealing with chaos myself, but just let’s just make it go away.
So a few years back when I was ready to go look for a new job, I’m like, “This is ridiculous. Let’s just do this for all small business owners instead of trying to pick one, and let’s spread that out.” One of the goals being, one of our goals, is to affect American society exponentially. So what we want to make sure that we’re doing is touching those small business owners who then touch their clients and their family and their children and then exponentially that change goes out into the world.
Tiago Santana: I love that. There’s something about that ripple effect that can really make a big difference. And you’re absolutely right. My family comes from a background of immigrants that we kind of came from… We didn’t kind of come, we came from Brazil and my parents always taught me this opportunity of building something. There are many times in my young life that I saw them face the effects of that entrepreneurial struggle if you will. And I think sometimes what I learned from that is what I’m learning you right now is the importance of asking for help and being able to share with someone and someone like your team about the challenges that you face and how having a different perspective and potentially just some someone to support you is so important.
And that brings me to this idea of why do you think it’s so difficult for CEOs and certain entrepreneurs because I definitely see it and I’m well aware of the challenges. I think it’s because so many of us care so much and we want it to be… It’s our baby, we want it to be the best that it can be, but what often we don’t realize about how we approach certain problems is we’re affecting everyone else and there’s maybe a different ripple effect. So I love that you were inspired to help these small business owners, but what do you think it about asking for help that’s so difficult?
Susan Fennema: I think there are two parts to it. One part is control. Part of why you own your own business is because you want to make something, you want to effect change, and you have a vision and you have in your mind how that’s going to look and how that’s going to work. So giving away that control to somebody else, that can be a little scary because they’re not going to do it the way I would do it or the way I would want it. Well, that’s part of what we help within that capacity is really making sure that it is systemized so that you can give it away and it’s clear what the expectation is. So that’s the first one.
And I think the second one is there is a degree of startup mentality in a small business owner that tends to stay with them forever. And the business can’t grow if you are doing all of those little things. So you might have to do them at first because you don’t have the money or you don’t even know who to go to get these things done. But getting a good assistant, getting a good project manager, working with some consultants in areas that you don’t know that well is the way to grow your business. Otherwise, you’re just essentially a freelancer working for the next client and you’re not really running and growing a business. I mean, shoot, this afternoon I have a call with a marketing strategist to help me with my strategy. So you have to know where you just need help.
Tiago Santana: There’s so much to unpack there. I love what you mentioned about the control aspect and how that all flows through. And when I think of it, no small business wants to say small. Small businesses want to grow and companies want to grow. And whether it be in revenue or in size or in impact, there’s a lot to unpack about the element of control, and when we think about large companies that have thousands of investors, they’ve been able to change their minds and belief system about how companies operate to release some of that control to the point of giving other people equity and ownership.
And a lot of small businesses, at least… I always love thinking about my parents, and some of my mentors, even to this day, they are very tight with equity. They say, “Don’t give it away.” And to some point, totally get that, and I think that’s very important. But in order to grow, you have to bring other people with you and get people to support you in all different elements. You mentioned getting things done. What are some of the things that you guys do for companies?
Susan Fennema: One of the things that we do is we help with all of those processes that small business owners have in their head. the way that the thing goes, the way that you do the thing. It could be invoicing or interviewing. Sometimes those things, you know when you have a system and you’re doing it regularly, but it’s just in your head. Others, especially small businesses, you don’t hire that often. So you end up with random series of events every time you go out and hire and you can’t ever then repeat it, which also builds a brand. Remember the way you talk to everyone builds your brand. So you are not able to repeat that, to build a brand with your interviewees.
You’re also not able to see where in this interview process did I go wrong if I got a lemon. Or, where did I go right if I got an all-star, so I know, “Oh, I need to ask that question next time.” Something like that. So we help you create those processes. The other thing that we do. We’re not virtual assistants, but we can help you write a process to hire a virtual assistant, but we do project management. We work with you, with your client, with your team and take all those details of the budget, the time, and the scope off your plate so you don’t have to deal with that. That the projects can run so you can focus on your own work.
And one of the things we found, it’s interesting that you have been referring to that trust and who do you talk to and who do you go to? Many times we find that as the project manager works so closely with the business owner, that there comes almost this confidant type relationship where it’s easy to talk. Like, “Okay, hey, I’ve got to write this proposal and I’m not sure how I feel about it.”
As a small business owner, you don’t usually have anyone to talk to about that. So that’s one of the things that our project managers are good at doing there too. They’re more than just project managers. They become a consultant. They become an operational expert in your business and to help guide you to make better decisions in ways that you can streamline what you’re doing so that things become much easier and more controlled.
Tiago Santana: I think that’s so valuable, and I can totally relate to that. We want to work with people we know, like, and trust. People buy from people they know, like, and trust. And at times it’s easy for people to think that just because you’re in a certain role, that you have all the answers, and you don’t. And I don’t know about you, but sometimes for me, I just need to vocalize some of my thoughts so that I can see the pieces and get a couple more perspectives to really help me get the full picture, so I can totally see how that’s valuable.
Now, when building a process, and I agree with you that that’s something that’s extremely important, what are some of the things to keep in mind? You mentioned we want to make sure we don’t forget anything. We want to make sure we have all of those key elements in place. But how do you go about building a process that other owners and people in this position can keep in mind when considering the processes in their own business?
Susan Fennema: There are two ways to answer that question. The first is I’ll tell you how to write a process, how to build one. So you know what you do, you might go… Let’s use invoicing as an example. You might look at a time track tool that you used in, say, your project management software. You review those time entries and then you put them into QuickBooks and you send the invoices out, you do it every Tuesday morning at 9:00 AM. Okay, great. Now, you know what you do for each of those things, but somebody else could do that for you if you showed them how, so make a quick video of you doing it and talk out loud about your thought process. Share that video with the person that’s going to do that, and now here’s the next step. Have them write the instructions from your video.
Tiago Santana: Love that.
Susan Fennema: Now you don’t even have to write it. So that’s-
Tiago Santana: That’s a great way for you to confirm understanding too.
Susan Fennema: Right. That’s the way to write it. Now, what becomes challenging is that after you’ve written it, this happens to me. I have a virtual assistant who’s an all-star, and every now and then something will go wrong. And I’m like, “Wait, what did she do?” And I’ll figure it out, and it’s never her. It’s always that the process wasn’t clear. So you can go back to that process and say, “Okay, what was her thought process when she did this?”
And you can just ask her. “Hey, that doesn’t look right. Let’s talk about how we fix the system so it doesn’t happen again.” Now you’re also not blaming the person. And that is a much better place for her to live in too. Because like I said, she’s an all-star. I don’t want her to feel like I’m mad at her over something that I just didn’t explain well enough. Or, that she had a thought that would have never crossed my mind when I was writing it down.
So we have a job description for her that’s very clear. These are all your responsibilities, and at each responsibility, there is a process document associated with it. The job description actually links to the place where those are. So as she works on them, she comes back in, and if she asks me a question about it, she documents that into the process as well. So that’s how you create one and make it work.
The way we help with that is sometimes it’s really hard to get those details out of your own brain. You might not think systematically. So having somebody come in and point you in the right direction and actually act as the technical writer for the brain information that you have is great. And then also being able to go back and say, “Okay, well you’re clicking between programs four times. What if we did all this and this one step, and then you just move over once.” So we’re also then able to streamline and simplify a little bit to make it take less time for even the person you’re delegating to.
Tiago Santana: Those are super helpful, and what I heard from you as a record a video of you doing the process, get that process documented, ultimately iterate and improve that continuously with clear documentation, both technical and nontechnical so that the expectations are set. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my early career and still every day I always like to believe that I’m failing forward.
And one of the things that I know I could have done better, and if only I knew what I knew now is something you’ve mentioned today, which is about setting the proper expectation. And it’s typically not the person. It’s more often the process. I love hearing about this element of business that a lot of people have talked about before about getting the right people. And it’s so hard to find the right people. Then, I learned about the right people in the right seats. And I was like wow, mind blown.
But what you’re talking about is not just the right people in the right seats, but really what is the seat? So if we’re thinking about the chair, if we’re giving someone a broken rickety old piece of wood to sit on, they’re not going to do a very great job. But if we get them a really beautiful, one of those throne recliners that the computer screen, and you can go all the way back and lean back, if we get them a high tech seat for them to really thrive in, then we’re totally setting them up for a different level of success.
So I love how you mentioned how do we release control? Well, if we set the proper expectations, then we have the ability to allow certain things to grow and concatenate within our own company. Not just outside, but how people operate internally. Mind is blown here. I really love how you unpacked that. So when doing that, what do you think it is about people having difficulty expressing those processes? What can they do to maybe train that muscle a little bit?
Susan Fennema: That’s a really good question. It comes naturally to me and to most of my team, but I would say if you’re somebody who is not good at that, is actually forcing yourself, you probably need to write it down in a numbered format. That would probably be a good way to do it. Do it on the computer so you can copy and paste and move it. “Oh okay, I missed this step. Let’s go back.” And that way you’re able to think systematically as you work through all of the steps. And then give it to somebody and have them try it out. So you can give it to even a spouse or a teenager and say, “Go do these steps and tell me how they come out.”
I don’t know if you’ve seen, I think there are some videos on YouTube lately of it, of how to tell your dad… It’s for kids, but how to tell your dad how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And he’s supposed to do exactly what you say. So all of a sudden the peanut butter jelly aren’t facing each other in the sandwich or something. So being clear on the instructions is important. And then the result is what you’re going to get back from that.
Tiago Santana: Yeah, I totally agree. And I haven’t seen those YouTube videos, but I can kind of imagine what you’re talking about there. Having to give someone verbal instructions, when you’re painting something, wanting to give them verbal instructions to paint without actually looking at it. And that goes back to our learning styles. You mentioned, you and your team, it comes naturally, and you have a certain style to how you guys take information and unpack that, and other people have different learning styles and different personality styles. There’s no good or bad in each one. It’s about understanding how to work together to share those different skill sets, and as you mentioned earlier, really know when to ask for help. I think that’s incredibly valuable.
Now as we know, right now it’s a really turbulent time and people are really unsure about how to get through some of the challenges that they’re facing, especially on the small business side, that it seems sometimes like the world is on our shoulders, and it’s all great and dandy to write all of this out, but for those who say, “I just don’t have time to document my process or make a video,” what do you say to that?
Susan Fennema: Well, then you can keep doing it yourself. So let’s see how much time you have when you’re doing everything. That’s the challenge here, right? If you can’t take the time to make it clear for how somebody else can do it for you a hundred more times, that’s a big difference. I hear this a lot, I hear, “I can do it faster than I can explain it.” Well, yes, always. That always is true. But that’s once. So now multiply that by the hundred times that it’s going to be done this year and then how many additional years. And now you’re starting to add up the time that you could be spending doing something way more important.
And I will tell you, I have even had situations where I’m like, “Okay, I am just going to show the person on the fly how to do it. We’ll get on a Zoom like we are here today, and I’m going to show and tell and walk them through it. We’ll record the Zoom, and then they have it.” And they, in that instance, we’re able to ask questions as we went too.
So if you’re showing somebody something, you can record it that way too, and then you’re one time handing it off. If you’re in a physical one to one situation, in person, you can even just turn on your cell phone and record it while you’re going so you still have that recording. But if you are saying you don’t have time to systemize a little bit, then you’re not going to grow. You cannot grow if you don’t do this.
Tiago Santana: I think it’s incredibly valuable.
Susan Fennema: It is. And the other thing that you’re missing in the long run of a business is that if you come to the time to sell your business and everything’s in your head, well all you have is a client list. You don’t have anything else. And if you have a system where you can be removed and somebody else can just come in and run it, now you have a business to sell. And that’s a really important thing to think of as you get older in your career and are getting closer to retirement, is what are you creating to sell?
Tiago Santana: 100%. I think with that, it’s also understanding the nature of compounding assets. So if you invest the time upfront to help create something that will compound over time, then as you keep growing, that asset will continue to give you a return on that. So invest that time upfront. Don’t just get caught up, and to our earlier point, in that quadrant one with all the fires, take that time to transition over there.
Now, this has been a really fun discussion, Susan. I really loved talking about on some of this chaos, because I’ve had to learn many times the tough way. It was not until recently where I started asking for help, and I’ve seen a tremendous difference in my business about how much can happen when people come together, which is why we like to call ourselves the Growth Collective. But it’s definitely easier said than done. What are some of the challenges that you’ve had to learn the hard way in your business?
Susan Fennema: Oh, wow, that’s a great question. I think my first challenge… I’ll tell you what, my very first client, it was rough. It was rough. It was an unpleasant situation. And one of the things I was so, so glad that I had written into that first retainer I ever did was an exit. How to get out of the contract. And I was so glad that I had that thought to do that. So that could have been a disaster if I didn’t have that. But I think, especially as you’re starting, being careful of not going from one job where you were an employee into making yourself another job.
You want to be in a position where you’re creatively pushing something forward and not just doing what somebody else… So your client becomes your boss. You don’t want that situation. And my first client, that’s how I felt. I’m like, “All I’ve done is just traded one job for actually a worse one.” That’s scary to also say, “I’m sorry, but the only client I have, you’re very fired.” But that made a big difference is having that strength to say, “I knew I was taking a risk when I did this. Well, here we go.”
Tiago Santana: And the courage to have those conversations about when to separate. I think with that too, also reflecting on that experience and learning what did I do wrong? What could I have done better? Great news for me thinking about that exit, but what else can I do in my process to optimize so that the next client is much better?
Susan Fennema: How could I have made sure? And I’ll tell you, definitely, as I’ve learned from some clients where, “Okay, great, we have a process,” and then you go into this one client, you’re like, “This isn’t working at all. I don’t understand what’s going on.” And then down the road, you figure it out. You’re like, “Okay, my process has just changed again.” Because the more and more clients you work with? The more and more you’re going to find different things that come up that you didn’t expect. Or ,you didn’t have enough foresight to see because you haven’t had the experience of working with a person or a business like that yet.
Tiago Santana: Yeah, I think that’s really, really valuable goes to the point of why iteration is so important. You mentioned about… I love this because I can definitely relate, and I giggled because it’s so true. But you went from having one bad boss to another bad boss. I always like to remind myself and no one wants a boss. Whether it be your spouse or your parents or your work or whatever, no one wants a boss. People want to feel like they have ownership over their life, and there’s so much value to that, but sometimes we get caught up in relationships that don’t necessarily understand those same barriers or abilities for us to succeed, and I find that often it’s because we don’t set our own expectations of what is acceptable in this relationship.
I learned a long time ago about how certain types of businesses in the service industry can be successful and big-time it’s about setting the proper expectation so that you don’t find yourself in a place where you’re like, “Man, is this what I signed up for?” That’s always really tough. So I appreciate you sharing that challenge. I always love looking at inhibitors to growth in business, and I often find that typically companies have these moments of friction, whether it be feeling like you have a bad boss or a process that isn’t working so well, or you have so much chaos you feel like, “What the heck am I doing here?”
It’s important for us to take a moment to look at the missing wow moment. Where is that thing that I’m missing that’s stopping me from getting to that next level and ultimately stopping me from getting to where I want to be? How do I fill that gap? So really valuable. Now I do want to go ahead and ask you if you could leave our viewers here with one thing as we go off into the world and go back to work, what is it that you would leave us with today?
Susan Fennema: I will leave you with my favourite tip that I love to share, which is calendaring. If you’re not blocking your time on your calendar, you are missing the biggest trick there is. And make sure that that time to focus on your business strategy is in the morning while you still have energy, and before everybody’s interrupted you all day with a whole bunch of questions. So that would be my big tip. Use them. And I love it because once you have those little blocks, if something does change something, now you’re just playing Tetris. Just move them around on your calendar and make them fit.
Tiago Santana: I love it. I think that’s a great suggestion. And, I think a lot of people don’t actually consider the importance of blocking off the time they need to do something.
Susan Fennema: Make appointments with yourself. That’s the important part.
Tiago Santana: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much everyone for taking the time to chat with us today and chat with Susan about how we can reduce the chaos in our businesses. And though it’s easier said than done, most things are easy, it’s just easier not to. So I encourage you to reach out to Susan, find a way to get some help in your business and work together to make things a little bit more smooth and have more fun doing what you set out to do in the first place. So Susan, thank you so much for chatting with us today. It’s been such a pleasure. I’m excited to see all the great things that you guys accomplished and continue to do to help companies reduce some of the friction in their processes. So thanks so much for your time.
Susan Fennema: Thanks so much for having me.
Tiago Santana: Awesome. Talk to you later. Bye.
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