Close this search box.

In this talk, you will learn how to:

  • Grow Strategically in a Small Business
  • Let Go of Fear Within Your Business
  • Set Up Processes For Success
  • Set Boundaries as a Business Owner and Leader
  • Step From Founder to CEO

Please find the full transcript below…

Kenny Lange: Welcome to the How Leaders Think podcast, the show that transforms you by renewing your mind and giving you new ways to think. I am your host, Kenny Lange, and with me today is Susan Fennema. She is the Chaos Eradicating Officer or CEO of Beyond the Chaos. It’s a consultancy helping small business owners extricate themselves from their day-to-day business operations so they can grow their businesses and get their lives back. Doesn’t that sound awesome? She and her team have served over 100 small businesses with over 30 years of operations, project management, and experience in professional service industries. And Susan is on a mission to improve American society exponentially. So she’s got big ambitions, so jump on board. But when she is not making multi-course dinners, which I’ve yet to be invited to, she enjoys Texas A&M football games and Blackhawks hockey. There you go. She lives and works from her home in McKinney, Texas with her husband and their dog Shelby. Welcome to the show, Susan.

Susan Fennema: Thanks, Kenny. I’m so glad to be here. This is going to be a fun conversation.

Kenny: It is. Well, tell me, Susan, what is on your mind?

Susan: You know, what I have been thinking about is a success that actually just happened. I’m thrilled about it, and it’s something that I think so many small business owners struggle with. How do you make this happen? I recently had a team member, actually, my whole team member, my whole team take a client from an intake. So from coming into my inbox all the way through now, working on the project, and I never touched it.

Kenny: That’s a unicorn.

Susan: Magical, total magic happened. And I am embracing that. And not that there weren’t a few little bumps that we kind of smoothed over along the way, but process went great. And I am so excited that now we have something that we can repeat and I am continuing to remove myself.

Kenny: From things that is fantastic. I mean, that’s the golden goal, right, for so many leaders and business owners. I’m curious if you can put that success into some context in terms of how long have you been in business? Because some people think, oh, I should do that next week. And they just started. And I’m going to tell you, stop doing drugs and thinking that. But put that like, what did it take to get there?

Susan: It took well over seven years to start with. And it took finding the right person on my team, who I knew, completely embraced and got what we do in order to say, she can do this and then just trust her and let her do it.

Kenny: It’s a bold move. Cotton, that’s nerve wracking. Right. Because what I’ve heard, and I’ve experienced this, too, especially in my first business, is you are your business to some extent. That’s a really hard thing to untether, but it’s your baby and not standing over someone’s shoulder or having your hands in it. It’s like when you have a kid and you’re like, here, hold this, or anything precious to you, you’re like, I don’t think you’re an idiot and you’re going to damage this and you’re going to try to destroy my life. But there’s a part of me that thinks you might.

Susan: Well, I think that that’s a good point. And we are very attached to our businesses. It’s something we created. And if you want to compare that to having children, part of having children is not keeping them children anymore. Right. They need to grow up and move out and be productive members of society. And so there’s a part of the nourish and feeding of the business where you have to separate yourself if you think it’s going to continue beyond you at all.

Kenny: Got you. Yeah. So really? Sort of like, where do you think it needs to end up? Staying with the children? Metaphor. Analogy. Whichever. I can’t think about it right now, but I heard somebody say recently is, as parents, we don’t need to think about raising children. We’re raising adults.

Susan: Yeah, right. My best friend totally embraced that. And she has four adult children who are all very different, and they’re wonderful. And that was her whole philosophy. I don’t care if they’re good kids or not. I want them to be good adults.

Growing Strategically in a Small Business

Kenny: Right. So applying that to businesses, you want this mature business, you want it to exist and operate. I mean, obviously you enjoy it. You’re not just doing it so you can kick it to the curb, unless, I mean, serial entrepreneur, you’re trying to make an exit. There’s all sorts of things, but that’s not the vast majority of small businesses, at least not in the US, but that reverse engineering of, well, what’s the adult version of this company? And what am I doing from the start to work my way up there? Right. Is some of that thinking? What’s helped you take those steps to put pieces in place? Because you mentioned this individual but I can’t imagine that that single individual is what made all of this happen. There are probably a few other pieces that over time, you had to align or do one first and then the next.

Susan: Right, right. And so, yes, absolutely, there have been steps along the way, and I can even look back to. I mean, I started my business on my own as a one-person consultant, and then I really quickly said, yeah, I don’t want to do this. I need more people to be able to figure out what you want to see replicated, understanding that there needs to be a value system and a code around what you’re delivering. An understanding of the mission is so important, and then you can start to find the right people who can fill the right gaps. My first step along this was really, I brought in somebody who could do project management. That part was easy. But how do I take my 30-plus years of experience in the world and working with other small business owners? How do I teach a consultant how to ask the right questions? Right. Yeah, that was hard. And that was one of the first steps. And once I was able to figure out how to make that happen, now you’re like, okay, well, if they can ask the right questions of a client that’s here, what are the next steps of? How do they ask the right questions to attract a client in.

Kenny: Got you. Yeah.

Susan: For sure. Yeah, it is harder.

Kenny: It is harder, right.

Susan: And this is not the first employee. She’s not. She’s more recent, but she also loves sales. And that was another challenge, is you do have to find somebody who loves that. And I kept thinking, oh, I’m going to go have to hire a salesman. And how do you hire a salesperson when you’re not at a state of being able to pay a base salary for somebody who doesn’t know the business? How do you bridge that gap? It’s a big step, right?

Kenny: Yeah.

Susan: And in this case, it was right situation, right time, and we were developed enough as a business from a process standpoint that we could take the next step.

Kenny: Got you. Yeah. Because what I hear you saying is if you hadn’t done all the hard work of developing those processes, those systems and those things, this individual, while great, may not have been able to execute the success of taking it from start to finish, her and the rest of your team, without your involvement, or at least not heavy involvement. So there’s a lot of factors if so many business owners want to get to this place. And I’ve heard someone say, if your business can’t function without you there, you don’t own the business yet like it owns you or you’re running a business instead of owning it. There’s a couple of different versions of that, but if that seems so clear. Oh, yeah. Have smart people do the things that I would do, like as if I were there, and hopefully eventually better than I could do the individual component parts.

Letting Go of Fear Within Your Business

Kenny: What’s that prevailing wisdom that is keeping so many business owners from reaching that? Because if it was commonplace, it wouldn’t feel like such a big success. Right.

Susan: Right. One is fear, and I admit I went through fear. This is what feeds the business. Right. I can sell the business better than anyone, and that’s probably still true. But if I start looking at my calendar and my schedule and now I’m having a hard time fitting people in because I’m doing things like talking to you, how can I put as much focus there? Breaking down that fear versus reward, I think, is one step. The other is creating the structure so that a team member that you might ask to do this is set up for success, and that’s really important. So giving the support, I mean, I’ve had support from my team on sales for a long time.

Susan: I don’t set up the appointment. I have someone who does that. I show up, I have a great conversation. I have an AI that takes notes. I do set up the next meeting, and I send out the proposal because I’m sitting in front of it and I do write the proposal. It’s mostly templated, but after that, magic would happen. We would have follow-ups done by the virtual assistant. The OPS manager would open the project, and then the consultant could take it and run with it.

Susan: So I kind of just showed up for that part. And so being able to then have a script, I was following the same steps most of the time that helped in giving the support to that person and making sure she understood that if she made a mistake. We’re expecting that this is new, right? You’re not going to sell 100%? I don’t sell 100%. How do you support her, too, to get there and then let her go? Be brilliant.

Kenny: That’s really good, right?

Susan: Yeah.

Setting Up Processes For Success

Kenny: I’m curious about something, because you made a comment saying that you could sell the business and sell the services of the business better than anyone else, which is pretty typical for most founder-led organizations, right?

Susan: Sure.

Kenny: And they’re typically to get to the point where they could even have employees. They needed to be good at sales, otherwise they had no business. Do you find that that’s sort of the order of operations you would recommend to small business owners or leaders who are thinking about what order do I need to build the scaffolding is, do I need to nail operations, delivery and get that on a good track and then start figuring out maybe I could put someone on marketing. But sales, I need all these other things and then set up sales for success. Is that part of the path you would recommend for somebody, or do you feel like that was just something that happened to work for you because of your skill set being so good at project management, it naturally lent itself for you to start there and work backwards.

Susan: Absolutely. Well, and project management is something we sell, so it’s also something I wanted to offload of my plate. Right. So the things that you want to offload as a business owner first are the repeatable deliverables. So whatever you are producing, essentially, you want that running pretty smoothly before you start dumping a whole bunch more sales in it. Because if you bring in a whole bunch more sales and all that’s broken, you’re going to not deliver what you promised, you’re going to get a bad reputation your brand is going to have. There’s all of that. So, getting that running in a very structured, repeatable, scalable way has to be the first step. And we push all of our small business owners that way, get those things off your plate and focus. Then you can focus on the sales because that’s not now running around in your brain and taking your time and interrupting you. Then, the sales can eventually come off. The only exception is if we have owners who love what they most. Business owners started their business because they were good at something, right? And so sometimes they still love doing that thing. And so we want to make sure if you’re a software developer or a creative director or any of those things, if that’s still your passion, how are you making sure that you do get to do some of that? So, but the lather rinse, repeat part needs to come off your plate, right?

Kenny: Absolutely. You bring up an interesting topic. I was just working with a group last week and the topic was that transition from being sort of an individual contributor and it’s a larger organization, but that individual contributor to now I’m the manager leader of people. And it’s sort of the same thing of you go from I’m good at and I enjoy what it is, the service I offer, but it’s almost as if the bigger the company grows, the more success it sees, the further away you get from that thing to the point of where you could eventually not be doing any of those things right. Like not doing the sales, not doing the delivery, not doing any of those things. How have you helped people or how have you even walked yourself through that over the last seven years to say, well, I’m going to make peace with letting this part go? Or what do you advise on that? Because that can be a really tough separation. Not just I’m trusting somebody with my work, it’s, well, I got into business because I like doing this. I don’t know that I want to be a business owner. I just like doing this work. How do you help people with that?

Susan: Well, that is always a struggle. And I kind of live by my father’s philosophy. He’s 81. His business will sell at the end of this month.

Kenny: Oh, wow.

Susan: So he has been a small business owner since he was 25 years old. I’ve had a lot of learning from him and probably for the past, I don’t know, 15 years or so, he hasn’t done anything. And that’s what he says. He’s like, you know, you make it when you don’t do anything. You just set the tone. And that’s such a great kind of thing to think in your mind if you’re not working that much. He’s been able to continue to feed his income by being an owner who maybe he goes into the. He does manufacturing, maybe he goes in once a week or once every two weeks for an hour and just kind of solves the big things. Or is that visionary that comes and plants the bomb and leaves, but he lets his people do it? And that even early on, he was like, it’s all about system. You have to have your systems and processes in place or else it won’t work. And so I learned a lot from that. But the other is just from the standpoint of, I am getting older at some point. I can’t do this. So how do I want that to look? How does this look at the end? Do I have a business that I just close? Do I have a business that I can sell? Do I have a business that I can hand off to team members? That’s my path, by the way. And that is actually what we’re working towards. So, starting with that, what’s the point? Where are we going? Why are we doing this? Starting with that in mind and then kind of working backward, what do I need to do next? It can be overwhelming when you’re like all these things. There’s all these things, but if you got time, you can work towards that. It doesn’t have to be all at once, right?

Kenny: I think that’s a great piece of wisdom for anybody listening. Do you think that there’s a time to start thinking that way? And can you start thinking about that too soon for it to be valuable? Or is it never too late to start thinking with? Ultimately, where do I want this business to end up?

Susan: I think you can start from day one because all of those scenarios that I put out there, other than essentially shuttering it or declaring bankruptcy, which are two exits, all of them require the same things. They require processes, they require good financial management, they require good people. Some people would say they require repeatable sales, like some sort of income that you don’t have to actively do. Think software like a service is a perfect example of that, right?

Kenny: Subscriptions, retainers, think like that, right.

Susan: Stuff like that. The same logic applies to a well-run business as an owner, so you’re not constantly running around like a chicken with your head cut off. I always think of it this way, too. Are you running a business or are you just a whole bunch of people doing stuff?

Kenny: I’ve seen a lot of those.

Setting Boundaries as a Business Owner and Leader

Susan: Right. What are you actually trying to accomplish? Is everybody on the same page? All those things matter today, and it matters as you’re working towards that long term plan. When I was a solo, one of the first things I did was I’m like, okay, we are going to take holidays off. I have heard too many business owners that just work through Christmas or something like that. That’s not going to happen. So I built a holiday schedule. It was probably my first policy I had for my business and it was just for me to make sure I could say, I’m sorry, it’s Christmas, we’re closed. And I think too many business owners don’t start with setting those boundaries. And then the boundaries get all mushy and now you’re doing everything. There are no limits, you’ll do anything. And so if you can’t say no, you start losing your ability to say yes to the right things.

Kenny: That’s really good. And what I feel like I hear you saying is when you’re starting out and you’re small and it’s just me, myself and I is, if you don’t start putting those boundaries in place for yourself and you develop bad habits, well, your people are going to pick up on that. And going back to the wisdom your dad shared with you about you got to set the tone. If you’re working through holidays, if you’re doing projects and emails and things on the weekend, what are your people going to think? That what’s expected of them, even though you may have this beautiful handbook of these are our holidays, unlimited PTO and all these things. But if they see you as the leader not adhering to any of those things, they’re probably going to think, I know it’s in there, but this is what I see. Right?

Susan: Yeah. And man, that’s hard because one of the first things I always tell our clients when they’re starting down the path of, okay, let’s document the process. You have to follow it, too, because you are setting the example. You are showing everybody how this works. And if you’re just going to say, oh, it doesn’t matter, I do what I want, well, so will they. They’re going to mirror that, right?

Kenny: It’s funny how that works.

Susan: Yeah, it is. And that’s a big thing. And I know, hey, you know what? We’ve all put in more hours than we would ever expect an employee to do. But one thing that you want to make sure of is that maybe they don’t need to see all of that as a leader. They don’t need to see midnight emails. We have scheduling tools you can schedule to go out at 08:00 a.m. It doesn’t have to go out at midnight. There are ways to put in the hard sweat equity that you have to put in without reflecting that onto your team.

Kenny: I think that that’s probably a relief to a lot of entrepreneurs because Mark Cuban says, like, entrepreneurs are people who want to work 80 hours for themselves so they don’t have to work 40 hours for someone else. And generally, we do have an engine that runs high and we’ll think of things at 10:00 at night when we should be going to bed to rest so we can be creative the next day. But that’s when the inspiration strikes. You got to sort of capture it because you might think, well, I can’t really depend on somebody else to come up with this and drive things forward. So I think that’s some really good advice, one I wish I probably would have adhered to, but I’ve learned I’m better now. I’m doing it better the second time around.

So it sounds like a lot of people don’t step into these processes and make it to the place that you just experienced because they’re afraid of the handoff, sounds like, because they may not have set the right boundaries and processes and disciplines in place for themselves that would then translate on to the teammates or team members that they would hire in the future as they continue to sell and grow and have more business than they can fulfill themselves.

Kenny: Is there anything else that you’ve seen in your years of experience of what is getting in the way of that, that entrepreneur stepping more, really going from founder to CEO? Right?

Stepping From Founder to CEO

Susan: Yes. Well, there are so many things, but I think one, and this is the first step, is I think we start by believing we have to do it all ourselves or we’re going to fail. That could tie into I can’t afford it, which could also be an excuse, but how many of us? I’m raising my hand because I did it. It started with a mediocre website because we figured out how to use WordPress ourselves. And then three or four years later you’re like, this is awful. And you get a professional to do it and suddenly like, okay, yeah, that was so easy and such great money spent and all the things I got to do because I wasn’t figuring out how to be a WordPress developer. I should have maybe thought of that before because I’m sure I didn’t spend time on the bigger, more important things because I was figuring out why this didn’t look right on the page for 5 hours when an expert knows how to do it in five minutes.

Kenny: Right, right. Yeah. I think that’s a key thing that is, I think, really hard to shake is that belief that if it’s going to be, it’s up to me mentality.

Susan: Let’s steal that phrase.

Kenny: I stole it from a sales trainer early on in my career and think maybe he tried to use it to tell you you should think that way. We were in sales, so it kind of was like you had to leave the cave and kill something and eat it. But something struck me about what you said is the things you got to do because you weren’t in the weeds, it sounds like those things were not only maybe the bigger, more important, productive side of things, we should always be productive or we would like to be, but it sounds like it was more fulfilling for you, more energizing for you. Is that what you experienced when you started making that shift?

Susan: Absolutely. The ability to focus on, let’s go back to our child analogy. Right. The ability to focus on what am I going to do to help my child’s struggle with math. That might be much more important use of your time. It also doesn’t mean you have to know math. Right. It means you can call a tutor or send them to any of these mathlete type places that you see on all these street corners. Or maybe it’s talking with the teacher, or maybe it’s finding a friend at school that’s good at. But there are other ways to creatively solve the problem than you solving it yourself, especially if you get into a higher math. Maybe that’s not your area of expertise, right? You could spend all this time doing homework to learn it and you still probably aren’t going to have the best answers, right? But if you go to the experts, they’re going to know right off the bat they’re going to have seen this before. They’re going to be able to help that child way more than you could. And so it’s the same kind of thing. What am I doing in my business to help grow it? As opposed to why this weird block is on the page of my website for 8 hours?

Kenny: I laugh because I have gone down and I used to build websites, but the point at which I stopped doing my own was fantastic. I realized, oh, I probably shouldn’t have spent all day working on that piece. There’s a phrase, I don’t know who originated it or soul be credited. My apologies to whoever this may be, but is the notion of highest and best use of time. And you can say, well, that might be a good use of time. It’s not bad. I think that there’s, in my experience, I see people trying to polarize things. It’s like good use of time, bad use of time. Well, fixing your website is not a bad use and time, but is it the highest and best use of the founder, the CEO, the chief leader? Does it meet that criteria? And then you go, well, no. Okay, so it’s not a bad thing to do. It’s just not the ideal thing. The highest and best use of that person’s time.

Susan: Well, and hey, maybe at the right time in your path it is. I mean, if you literally don’t have any money to go hire somebody, then you might have to figure it out yourself. But that’s at an early stage in your business. If you started to grow it at all, you shouldn’t be doing all the things. If you’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off and you’re overwhelmed and you have to have your fingers in everything, your business is not scalable. You are not healthy. You are probably not reacting to your family, your friends, your team, your clients as your best person. So you have to figure out, what am I letting go? What do I not need to do? What are things only I can do from that standpoint?

Kenny: Yeah, that’s an important distinction, and it becomes a very narrow spectrum, especially as the company grows. A friend of mine recommended it to me, but it says, like, the CEO only does three things. I can’t remember the title of the book, but I’ll look that up. But the notion of you got to do everything, I joke around and said for a while, I was the Chief Everything Officer. That’s what the CEO stood for. I was a salesperson, delivery developer, designer, janitor, admin assistant. I was all those things. But at some point, you’ve got to transition out of that. I say you got to, you probably would like to, and it’s up to you.

You can stay on the hamster wheel if, you know, we’ll pray for you, but it’s probably going to feel a lot better if you get off the hamster wheel. So, Susan, with what you’ve described and this success and everything, and that’s awesome, and I hope next time we see each other, you’re like, I’ve had three more, and it’s fantastic. And you’re just sprinting through the parking lot or something. But if there’s a young leader or a new entrepreneur, somebody who’s listening, and they’re like, well, that sounds great, but apparently I’m seven years away from that. Right, but you didn’t start this think year. You started this seven years ago. Obviously, trial and error. But if somebody wanted to take a baby step in the next 24 hours to get started on this path, where would you direct them? What advice would you give?

Where to Start

Susan: I would have you open up a spreadsheet on your computer and start tracking all the things you do. Just write them down just as you work, just track them. Then after a day, go back and add the things you hate, the things you do every year, the things you do every month, the things that you didn’t gather just from your day. And then start looking. Let’s look at some columns across there. How long did it take you? Is there somebody else that could have done it? Could you have handed it off? Should you have done it at all? Is it worthwhile at all? Maybe it goes away, right? Is it something that you could put on a list down the road to develop a process for? Maybe it’s not today, maybe it’s later. But the last column is, what’s the pay rate for that?

Kenny: Interesting.

Susan: How much would you need to pay somebody to have them do this? And all of the sudden your mind starts to change to, “well, I can’t afford for me to do that anymore” and you stand to figure out how to delegate it. Oh, I guess I do need a bookkeeper. I guess I do need a virtual assistant. I guess I do need a project manager because this is their rate. This is my rate. We need to be doing the things in our rate.

Kenny: Right?

Susan: So that’s the first step, I would say, is just do that exercise.

Kenny: It is. I remember when I first started doing that and I went, I am an idiot. What am I doing? Because I never thought about how much I cost versus someone else. And I was like, I am way overpaying for this right now. Because if you think about it as I’m stewarding these resources in the business and I’m a resource, if I were giving myself advice, then I would say, yeah, stop doing that immediately because you’re in it. It’s hard to pop up and go, “Oh yeah, I don’t need to do these things”. So I hope whoever’s listening obviously don’t do this in your car while you’re driving, or you probably can’t do it while you’re jogging. But when you get back to your computer, then crack open that spreadsheet and give that a shot. And I think that some people are going to have some big “Aha” moments. Hopefully it’s encouraging, not depriving, but I doubt it’ll be anything less than eye opening. So, Susan, if people want to learn more about Beyond the Chaos, the work you’re doing, maybe they want to talk to you about, or talk to your salesperson about how to get some help and never talk to you because that’s the win. Where do you send them? How can they connect with you?

Susan: Well, go to our website and download a free ebook on the three ways to remove chaos from your small business. You can also fill out a contact form, and we’ll reach out to you and can skip the ebook if you’re ready to talk. We’ll just take you down the path.

Kenny: Yeah, we’ll give it to you later. Once you create the space and time for them to think, then they can consume it. Right, right. You’re also fairly active on LinkedIn, and so we’re going to have your LinkedIn profile. And I know you do some LinkedIn events, or at least you’re connecting to some of the webinars and live streams and things like that. So I definitely recommend following Susan. You will learn something. Just leave her a little engagement. Let her know you liked it. That light bulb doesn’t get enough love. I see everybody like love and the support but I don’t see the laughing and the light bulbs enough. So I’m trying to spread the good word.

Susan: Well I’m hoping I make people laugh too because that’s the way that helps us survive a lot of the times, right?

Kenny: Sometimes you got to laugh to keep from crying but laughter is a great medicine. Well Susan, I appreciate you coming on and look forward to all the good work that you’re doing in the world to impact it and make the US a better place to be in business. For all of you listening, change the way you think you’ll change the way you lead and live. We’ll see you next time.

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.