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Ann Carden, host of Expert in You, is a business growth consultant with over 40 years of experience. Here, she interviews Susan Fennema, Chaos Eradicating Officer (CEO), of Beyond the Chaos. This discussion is packed with practical tips and strategies for managing chaos in your business, boosting your visibility in the market, attracting more premium clients, and scaling your operations like a boss.

Key Takeaways:

  • Leverage Your Innate Abilities: Susan emphasized the importance of harnessing your inherent talents and converting them into a lucrative business.
  • Create a Self-Sustaining Business: Both Susan and Ann stressed the importance of implementing systems and procedures so the business can function independently from the owner.
  • Embrace Technological Advances: Susan underscored the role of technology in systemizing and expanding businesses, a crucial factor in our AI-centric era.

How to Create a Systemetized Business:

  • Identify Bottlenecks: Recognizing where you might be causing slowdowns and addressing these issues.
  • Establish and Document Processes: Set up repeatable processes for every business aspect, such as client invoicing, team member onboarding/offboarding, and client order fulfillment.
  • Set Up Project Management Systems: Complete projects efficiently with the right project management system and software.
  • Manage Interruptions: Structure your day to minimize interruptions and allow for focus on strategic tasks.

This discussion holds immense value for anyone looking to streamline their business processes and achieve greater growth.

Please find the full video transcript below:

Ann Carden: I love when coaches, consultants, and professional service providers want to do big things in their business. They want to rise to the top and influence their market and the world around them. They want to have a greater impact and make a more lucrative income. Well, if this is you, welcome to Expert in You Podcast, the show where I interview other experts, coaches, and consultants so that they can share their success strategies with you. We will talk about marketing and how to close more sales, get more premium clients, build your visibility in the market, and scale your business like a boss. If this is you, welcome to the show. I want to ask you to subscribe and hit the notification bell right now so you don’t miss one episode. Grab your coffee and buckle up because we are ready to give it all to you to help you become the expert and get paid as the expert that you are.

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Expert in You Podcast. I’m your host, Ann Carden, and this week on my show you are going to love my guest. She’s truly an expert in her business and what she does and has been in her business for years. And I have Susan Fennema with me, who calls herself a Chaos Eradicating Officer. She is the CEO and owner of Beyond the Chaos. So this is going to be a fun show. Susan, thank you for joining me.

Susan: Thanks for having me, Ann. I’m really excited to talk to your audience.

Ann: Yes, I am so excited to dig into everything that you’re doing. So I always like to start with how did you get here? How did you get into the business that you are doing today? Let us hear that story.

Susan: So it turns out I’ve always been doing it. Even from the age of three years old, my mom would dump out a whole jar of buttons while she sewed and I would organize them. This was me playing, right? I would organize them by size and color and how many go in each row, and then make sure the rows are diagonally even. So it’s in my nature to create order out of chaos.

Throughout my career, I’ve always worked for small business owners, often as the right-hand person who makes things happen. When I was ready to leave my last role, I jumped off into serving all business owners instead of just one at a time. I guess one of the highlights of my career was a 10-year stint as an operations director at an advertising agency in Chicago. And let me tell you, if you can do advertising, you can do anything. So that’s how I got here, a short and sweet path.

Ann: Well, I love it. And you definitely dropped some gold there. So I would love for people to pick up on this if they didn’t or to hear this. You took what was so natural for you. It was already such a gift and a talent for you, and you were able to turn that into a really lucrative business.

It’s the same philosophy that I teach. I see so many people that decide they will get into business and go down this path, which is nothing like anything they’ve ever done. It’s not even really a sweet spot for them. It’s pushing a boulder up a hill. But it’s a much easier path when you do what’s already very natural for you. It sounds like you found that out for yourself.

Susan: I did. Ann, to that point, I’ve had people come and say, “Listen, if you’ll target bigger businesses than the ones you already work with, you’ll be able to command such a higher price and have so many more options out there.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to serve the bigger businesses. I want to affect change in small business so that we can help that backbone of American society stand tall.” It takes longer to get things done, the big ones, all sorts of things there.

Ann: All the red tape.

Susan: It matters. It matters that you have the passion, right?

Ann: Yes. I love that. I’ve worked with small businesses for many, many years after I was a business owner for many, many years. You and I have the same heart. I really love the smaller businesses. I feel like they need more help. I feel like they are often more receptive to help. And you’re right. It truly is the backbone, especially in America. It’s the backbone of this country really. I love that you have a heart for that.

Identify Bottlenecks

Ann: So let’s dive into Beyond the Chaos, because every business gets to a place where now they are growing and sometimes they have outgrown the owner. Their business has really outgrown them. And so this is a lot of times where things start falling apart, and things start falling through the cracks, and they start going backward. It sounds like that’s really a lot where you come in to help them get organized, get systems, and get streamlined. Is that spot on?

Susan: That’s pretty spot on. Of course, we’d rather get there before they start backtracking.

Ann: But they don’t do it until they’re in pain, right?

Susan: Right. They have to wait sometimes until it hurts so bad. We enter into many engagements, and we’re just like, “If you had just called us six months earlier, we could have prevented so much pain.” But it’s the nature of the small business owner who started their business because they’re so good at their trade to believe they have to do everything, and you don’t and you can’t. It starts to hinder your business growth when you believe you have to.

Ann: Yes, you are 100% right. And one of the other things in this, because I’ve worked with a lot of small businesses as you have, one of the things that owners don’t realize a lot of times is I hear all the time, “Well, we can’t get help,” or, “People are going over here for a dollar more.” I want to say, “That’s not usually the case. They’re really going over there for a dollar more because of the chaos that might be going on in your business.” We are responsible for how our business runs, for being the leader of our business, and for everything that goes on. It’s important to know that when your business is chaotic, when people don’t feel secure, when there’s no organization and things like that, it really does hurt your ability to keep employees and it hurts your ability to attract them. So even more than just the growth, I mean definitely it stops growth, but it also hurts you inside your company and your business in ways that may feel like, “Oh, this is the norm,” but it doesn’t have to be that way. Is that right?

Susan: I’m not going to deny that a huge corporation can come in and pay somebody more, give them more benefits, and make them work for corporate America because of those options. I won’t deny that. But I will also fall on my sword for the fact that people don’t leave their jobs because of money. I mean, in rare exceptions, it just isn’t the case. They leave because they’re not happy, can’t succeed, or can’t be fulfilled. I guarantee that my whole team, if they wanted to work for corporate America and make the big bucks, could in a heartbeat. But we offer them so many other things that they would never get there, including support and a nice lifestyle job that keeps them here. You have to always think about those things. They know how to measure their success. They know when they’re winning.

Ann: Yes. I love that. I think that’s such an important point for people. This really does lend to exactly what you help people do. You help them get that structure that infrastructure into their business, get those systems in place so that things can run more smoothly and things don’t fall through the cracks. You are giving people the opportunity to succeed and be in a business that succeeds.

How many small businesses don’t make it? About 87%? Why is that? Let’s think about that and let’s talk about that. So what are the things, if we hit on three or four points, that you would like to bring up that you feel small business owners need to know and grab onto?

Susan: The first thing is you are the bottleneck. I’m still the bottleneck, and we are very process-oriented and structured. But as you continue to grow your business, you will always be the bottleneck. And so, constantly trying to figure out how do you get yourself out of that? Why am I the only one that knows this? Those things are very important to get the structure into your business. The other is that all of that structure and process, and I’ll talk a little bit more about those things here in a minute, but all of that actually creates a business. Without that structure, you’re just a bunch of people running around doing stuff.

Ann: Flying by the seat of your pants, I like to say.

Susan: Right. You’re not all moving towards the same goal. You’re not fulfilling the same brand. You’re not giving your clients the same experience. Everybody is paddling under the water so frantically while they’re trying to look all comfortable on the top. A business like that is also not set up for you as the owner to exit it. So we’re all going to transition out of our business one way or another, no matter what. Are you setting your business up to be sold or handed down to children? Or to be sold or given percentages to your team? How are you planning to exit your business? How can you exit if you’re the one doing everything?

Ann: Oh, 100%. As someone who has sold five businesses, I can attest to that. If you don’t have everything you’re talking about in place, no one wants your business. They don’t want to buy a job.

Susan: Absolutely.

Ann: People are not going to invest in a job.

Susan: It doesn’t matter how hard you’re working. In fact, if you were working less hard, it would be more valuable.

Ann: Yes, that’s exactly right. That’s 100% right. Yes. People walk into a turnkey situation.

Establish and Document Processes

Susan: Right. As you said, they want to buy a company, not a job. Putting the structure in place is the first step towards that. Without documented processes, you’re never going to get there. That really is the first step. So we look at it as essentially a three-step process. One is to get the processes documented. Two is handling your project management and the fulfillment of what you’re delivering to your clients. And then, three, start to manage your interruptions as the owner. How are you making sure that you’re not just looking at, “Oh, squirrel.” You know, that kind of thing?

Ann: Right.

Susan: How are you focused on what you should focus on? We start that with process development, that’s getting those steps out of your head so that you’re able to have others execute those steps for you. It’s a challenge, but it’s important.

Ann: A good rule of thumb, I used to tell small business owners this when I was coaching them, “If you have to put your hands on something, typically more than one time, it’s time to create a system,” right?

Susan: Yes

Ann: “Or it’s time to put a process in place for that.” Because when you’re touching things too much, that lowers productivity. All of those things keep things in chaos. Especially if you’re putting out a fire repeatedly, it’s a clear indication that you have to fix that. You can’t just keep doing that. But how many do?

Set Up Project Management Systems

Susan: Right. Usually putting out fires is a symptom of bad execution and project management. The process can help you get there, and developing the process is part of structuring your project management so that it works so that you’re delivering the same way every time, which also makes you scalable. That project management feature should be something you’re considering when selling. What am I promising the client? Is that actually what we’re going to deliver? Then, how are we going to execute that repeatedly? Not everything is custom, right? When it takes you as an owner an hour and a half to write a proposal for every client, you’re probably not delivering something that is repeatable and scalable. You’re good if you can replace a few bullets and be done in five or 10 minutes. That’s when you know you started to develop that process that’s repeatable. Those things in your project management function become templates for how you execute. Even though the deliverable might be something different every time. Say, you’re a software developer and make custom software for a client. Well, if you’re not delivering the same thing to the client every time, then it would be a product, right?

Ann: Right.

Susan: But the method you’re going about delivering is what I’m talking about. So what is the order? Do you draw a wireframe? Do you get an approval? Do you make a mockup? Do you get a color palette? Then do you start writing code? And then, who does the QA? All those types of things are the project management structure I’m talking about. The process looks more like how you onboard a new client. How are you setting them up so that they know what to expect and how to communicate with you? How do you off-board a team member? And sometimes that has happened really fast. If you have to fire somebody, and these days everybody’s got the keys to the kingdom, we invite them into all this software. How do you shut them out of that quickly?

Ann: That’s a great point.

Susan: If you don’t have a clear checklist and you have a problem child there, you could have a big problem. So that offboarding is important. It could be how you pay your team consistently. How do you invoice your clients? I have run into many business owners who hate invoicing because it’s become an ordeal. And so they don’t do it.

Ann: So what are you working for? I know that’s crazy, but that’s true. They don’t like that part of it.

Susan: Exactly. So if you develop a repeatable process for that, it just happens every two weeks. Or, in our case, we do it every Monday morning. Okay, it gets done. We move on to other things. But as long as there’s that repeatable process in place to get that done, that’s really important. So those are some things as far as process development goes, that should be top of your list.

Ann: Perfect. And oh, my goodness, so well said. One of the things you talked about is managing interruptions. I want to dive into that just a little bit. And talk a little bit more about that.

Susan: So interruptions, no matter what, even if you have a job, if you are an architect and you’re sitting down, and you’re focusing on something to create, if you’re interrupted, it usually takes you about twenty minutes to get back to where you were before. That can be worse if you’re a software developer. It could be even bigger if you’re a business owner trying to come up with a big strategy for how we will reach our next goal next year. So if you are not making time to be uninterrupted to do these things, you will never be able to execute against them. And it’s going to take much longer. It’s going to maybe never happen. So the method I love is calendar blocking.

Ann: Me too. Yes.

Susan: Man, it makes a huge difference in your world. You have to honor those appointments with yourself.

Ann: Yes.

Susan: So there are ways to set that up so that you are not interrupted during those times. One is to make sure your team knows when that’s blocked; it’s blocked. You don’t call me.

Ann: It’s like closing your office door. Don’t bother me. That’s right.

Susan: And you can still “close your office door” today, but that’s turn off Slack, close your email, turn off your phone. You can still do it. So those things are things that are distractions to our bigger picture. And so getting those out of your way is a big important thing. Now, if you’re somebody who’s saying, “Oh, yeah, but I don’t want to hold up my team if they have a question.” If the team constantly interrupts you with questions all day, guess what? Process, that’s a process.

Ann: Process of systems. That’s right. Yes.

Susan: Right. That’s something you have to put in place. Now, say you are a software developer and started it because you’re a great software developer. Your team might need that tech advice from you. You might be the only one who can give it, but don’t let them interrupt you all day. Set a time block in the afternoon for an hour, and have office hours just like our good old college professors used to do. You can sit on there, and that’s when you can do your admin work in the background, and they can pop on to a meeting if they need you. And if not, you have that time to catch up on your admin work. So there are some definite things that you can put in place to structure your day so that your interruptions are dramatically reduced. And you know the biggest interruption is email. That’s a big one. And I think people feel, “Oh my goodness if I get an email, I have to respond right away.” Well, you don’t. You also don’t have to answer your phone. You have voicemail. The email stays in your inbox. But the other thing I can recommend with that too is to get a good virtual assistant. Having a good virtual assistant with a process, we’re back to the process.

Ann: Well, that is what you’re all about, Susan. So you’re not shocking me here.

Manage Interruptions

Susan: It is. I know. Everyone should be surprised. Have that VA go through your email on a regular basis and then leave you what you need to handle. A few weeks ago, I spoke at an event. I was gone from my home office from 6:00 AM to 7:30 PM, and it was nonstop day. I was speaking. We were networking. There were other sessions to go to. It was nonstop. I got home, and I had two emails.

Ann: Because your VA handled it all for you.

Susan: Because she handled it all. And I know some people are nervous about that. It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to develop that process. You have to develop that rhythm. As you train them on how you would respond, they also know what they don’t know yet and leave those things for you. It was beautiful. So I was expecting a mess. You’re like, “No, easy. No problem. Way to go. You did your job.”

Ann: I love that. One of the things, too, that I try to do is I don’t sit there and answer emails all day long. I have a couple of times during the day that I will check them, and then if I have additional time, I will maybe open up my phone and check them. But setting aside that time, that designated time to do that, that designated time to return phone calls, all of those things can really leverage the time you are spending being distracted and being pulled in many different directions. It just really helps with your productivity and being able to accomplish so much more.

Susan: Absolutely. That’s one of the things my VA does a great job of. If she doesn’t know how to answer something, she’ll screenshot the email and put it in Slack for me. So I can respond to her and tell her what to do and what to say. You might say, “Well, that doesn’t sound productive either. How is that different?” How it’s different is that I didn’t go into my email box and look at the other 15 that were there too, and get distracted by those.

Ann: Right. That’s a really good point. This has been such a great conversation. I could talk to you for a long time. There’s so much I know you could share. But how can people get ahold of you? Actually, let me back up. Tell them a little bit about your services and how people can work with you. Let’s talk about that, and then who makes a good client?

Susan: Sure. Beyond the Chaos really digs in with clients. Initially, we do a discovery period, which usually takes about a month. It doesn’t take that much effort from the client’s end, which most of them like to hear. But we are digging into what processes you have written if you do. What software are you using? How does your team feel about how things go? Which sometimes is very different from what you think it is. We’re looking for job descriptions. We’re looking for a lack of training. We’re looking for gaps. So that is the consulting part of our job. At the end of that month, we will give you a plan of all the things to execute against and in what order to do them in. But what we do differently from most businesses is that now we will also help you do it. Because the last thing an overwhelmed business owner needs is a whole other list of things to do that you’re never going to do, right?

Ann: Right.

Susan: So at that point, we will jump in and help implement against it. We can help you set up your new project management tool, build the templates in it, and train your team. Meanwhile, pulling all those details out of your head to write the process so that you don’t have to be involved in it anymore. The first time one of your projects goes through automagically, you’re going to be so happy. “How did that happen? It just happened without me.” It’s beautiful. So that’s how we work with our clients. And then you asked me one more thing: who are our clients?

Ann: Yes, who makes a good client? At what point should they have a conversation with you where you could come in and help them?

Susan: So we work with services businesses. It could be trade or professional services, where it’s 25 people or fewer in the company. You have to embrace technology because technology is a way to move forward. It is a way to systemize, and hey, as we’re moving into this AI world, you better.

Ann: Oh, my goodness, yes.

Susan: If you’re still struggling with email, wait. We are looking for companies that want to grow, that are struggling to grow, where the owner is trapped in the day-to-day of their business ops. We are going to help you take those first steps, those initial steps to get out of that and to be able to start focusing on how you’re going to continue to grow your business instead of just how you’re going to face that next fire or problem that’s coming your way.

Ann: Right. Perfect. That’s great. So how can people get ahold of you, Susan?

Susan: The best way is to download the ebook: 3 Ways to Control Chaos in Your Business. Those will be those three things we just talked about but in a lot more depth. And if you’re like, “Susan, the last thing I need is another book to read.” You can contact us here.

Ann: That’s perfect. Well, thank you so much. We will put those links and everything in the show notes, so you’ll be able to grab those and go get her ebook or book a call with her. And then you’re also on all social media channels as well, LinkedIn, and Facebook, right?

Susan: We’re on LinkedIn.

Ann: Oh, okay.

Susan: Look for me on LinkedIn. It’s Susan Fennema.

Ann: Okay, awesome. Thank you so much for being my guest today and sharing your expertise with my audience. This is just so needed for businesses moving forward. The other thing that we didn’t talk about, but I want to bring this up really quickly is before people always had to hire employees, and now with the internet, you don’t have to do that anymore. You can have a team working for you, where you aren’t paying taxes on them, and you’re not doing a lot of the things that you would have to do with an employee. So there’s a lot of benefit to that. It can be a lot more cost-effective for a business as they’re trying to grow. And maybe you don’t need an employee for everything. So it’s a great way to add to your team and your business and be able to, like she said, get yourself out of being the bottleneck in your business. Until you make a decision, “Okay, I think I need to bring someone in full-time to do this,” when your company maybe gets to a place for that. So it’s a great way to help people grow. And-

Susan: The beauty of fractional work right now is that you can tap into the experience you can’t hire.

Ann: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Susan: The experience that’s out there that you can get part-time is phenomenal. Plus, you are getting people who are still working in other businesses, so they’re still being exposed to other things and continuing to grow, which helps your company too.

Ann: Right. Because people can bring a lot when they’re outside the box, and when people are, for example, an employee working in your business, they’re still only seeing things one way. But like she said, one of the benefits… I hadn’t really thought about that, Susan, but that’s actually really a really powerful thing you shared because I used to work with a lot of different industries and had a lot of background in different industries, I could bring ideas from another industry to one, and they would be like, “We would’ve never thought about this.” In different industries, you have different ways of doing things. And so that’s really what you’re talking about. They can bring some different ideas, tools, systems, and techniques to your business that you wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise.

Susan: We can say, “Oh, this client’s had great success with that. Let’s apply it here.” Or, “Ooh, that failed over there. Let’s not do that again.”

Ann: Right. The mistakes and the things to do. So great. So again, thank you very much. I kept talking as we were wrapping things up, but thank you so much. Reach out to Susan if you have a need in your business. And until next time, everyone, God bless you. Go rock your business. Bye-bye.

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