You can’t serve clients without a clear direction or process. Too often we think putting processes in place is a burden. But being organized doesn’t weigh you down, but allows you to be nimble and agile. The reality is that having the right processes in place sets you free. Listen as Jay Kingley of Centricity talks with Susan on The Best Kept Secret podcast about how adding structure, when it’s done right, is not the enemy of getting things done. Susan points out that it’s a tool to get rid of things that are repeated. Importantly, it allows you to focus on serving your clients and not getting caught up in things that others can do better than you.
Please find the full video transcript below.
Producer: Here’s our host, the Co-Founder, and CEO of Centricity, Jay Kingley.
Jay: I am really thrilled today to welcome Susan Fennema onto the podcast. Susan is the Chaos Eradicating Officer, aka the CEO — and we are all CEOs at the end of the day — chaos eradicating officers, and her company is Beyond the Chaos. It’s a consultancy, helping overwhelmed small business owners, simplify their operations, and manage their projects so they can grow their businesses and get their lives back. And Susan is based in McKinney, Texas. Susan, welcome to the show.
Susan: Hi, Jay. Thanks so much for having me. I’m looking forward to this.
Jay: It’s my pleasure. Now, Susan, one of the things that I have always struggled with — and I happen to know that just about every person I know struggles with — is organization. We tend to be all over the place. We can’t find where we put the last thing that we had in our hand. I know it’s problematic. But give us a little bit of sense of when you look at small business owners, what aren’t they getting about the importance of being organized in their business?
Susan: There are multiple things, but the biggest thing is really, that they can’t serve their clients well when they are just meandering around without any direction or clear process.
Jay: That’s got to be huge. So I think, obviously, this is something that so many of us struggle with. So how do we approach this? How should we be thinking about organizing ourselves within our business?
Susan: So many clients really look at building processes around their businesses as a burden to them. They think, “I started my business so I can do what I want when I want.” But let’s face it. Is that really what you’re doing? You’re probably not. The beauty of creating a process is to actually set you free. It’s not going to weigh you down. It’s going to allow you to be nimble because all of the regular operations of your business are just gonna happen. And then you’re able to adapt and react when you have to. But hopefully, you’re being able to operate more proactively in your business.
Jay: So, if I’m hearing you correct, there’s this French word that has this horrible connotation. It’s called bureaucracy. And you’re telling me that bureaucracy, when done right, is not the enemy of getting things done? Is that fair?
Susan: That is absolutely fair. I think it’s important to look at it as a tool to use in your business, to help you get rid of the things that just repeat and are always running. And that can be delegated. It’s just important to be able to be present with your client, present with your team members. And if you’re in all those details, you can’t. And that bureaucracy, so to speak, (I’m doing air quotes if you can’t see me.) really helps you get out of all of those little details.
Jay: Now, the other thing Susan, I’m wondering about is, how do you balance the need for process and structure to drive inefficiency with the concern that if I overdo it — if I get too crazy — I’m just going to bring the entire organization to a screeching halt. How do you balance that?
Susan: Well, you definitely have to be judicious in what you are optimizing. And so the first way is to start with, as a small business owner, what are you working on? What are the day-to-day things that are getting in the way of you running your business? Start to keep a list of those things. What are you doing every day? And how long is it taking you to do those things?
But more importantly, what’s the pay grade for those things? Put an hourly rate to each of those tasks. So should you be doing the $15-an-hour tasks? Or should you be focusing on something else? Those tasks are the first ones that you want to peel off and start to figure out. How do you write the process about it? How do you dump your brain out into a document that can be shared with somebody else to execute it for you?
Jay: Fabulous thing. That’s a tremendous insight that I know, never really occurred to me in terms of understanding, how do I prioritize putting the necessary structure in place. So this sounds compelling. But I know there are some people that are sitting there saying, it sounds good, but how do I really benefit? So give me a sense of the benefits you’ve seen in companies that have gone from a state of chaos to a state of the enlightened process if I can use that?
Susan: Well, I actually have a case study I can talk about today. The big picture of being able to delegate gets you out of the day-to-day. It allows you to focus on growing your business, or — maybe and/or — getting your life back so that you’re not working 80 hours a week. I have a perfect example of a client who came to us four years ago. The company was in debt. All he did was work. His team was unhappy. He could barely pay his subcontractors. His clients were mad. None of the work was getting done on time.
And now fast forward four years later, after we worked with them, they’re gonna do a million dollars in revenue this year. They’re paying everybody. Their clients are happy. They’re driving new leads. Really, the whole scope of that was the turnaround of getting the owner out of it and letting everybody do their work better by developing some process and structure around how the work is done.
Jay: So what I’m hearing you say, which I find really interesting, is when you don’t have the right processes and structure – you aren’t organized, the natural response is to just work harder. But putting more input and effort into something that lacks the right process and structure could actually make things worse, not better. Is that the sense that you saw in this client and others?
Susan: Absolutely, it’s something that then also you’re not making the best decisions anymore. And all that’s happening is your business is just dragging you around. You’re not running it; it’s running you. So you’re just being led around like a bull with a ring in its nose to the next thing that somebody is yelling at you the loudest about. You’re putting all your energy there, and you’re not able to focus on the big thing that we should be working on. And also, why am I doing this? Am I creating a business to sell? Or am I just gonna do this until I die? Why do I do this? And then start to figure out how you can focus on that.
Jay: Right. I mean, I think when you’re trying to do everything, yeah. So often giving up the higher value things that maybe as the business owner you’re uniquely qualified to do — the things that you can’t delegate — you weren’t getting to those. Because you’re fighting fires and doing all the little things because of piss poor organization.
Susan: Absolutely. And most of that stuff, you can, in some cases make go away altogether. In other cases, delegate it to somebody who’s probably better at it than you are. And overall, it makes your team happier. They understand what the requirements are, what your expectations are. And most team members want to meet the boss’ expectations. So making that clear makes everybody function better.
Jay: I would imagine implicit in what you’re saying is a big productivity benefit. Maybe instead of needing to add that fifth or sixth person onto your team, simply to do the things that nobody else can get to because it’s so chaotic. Having the right structure means instead of having five or six, maybe four is all you need. They’re going to be happier. Your costs are going to be lower. You’re going to be happier, because you’re making much more money — more profits without having to kill yourself.
Susan: That’s a pretty good summary. You know, think about it from the standpoint of a software developer. You know, they’re in this code, working so hard every day. And then, all that’s happening is they’re being interrupted by you, because this client now has an emergency, and that client now has an emergency. They can’t ever make progress on their work. It’s making that take longer. And you’ve put nothing in place to prevent the emergencies. That’s what being organized does; it prevents those emergencies. So everybody can focus proactively and calmly and non chaotically, on what they should be doing.
Jay: So I think you made an incredibly compelling case, as to the value of organization, the importance of figuring out how to do it. But I know there are people out there that are saying, “Well, if it were that easy, I’d already be doing it.” So, Susan, what would you say to a small business owner, if they said to you, “Susan, what is it that I need to do to make this happen?”
Susan: So the first is to understand that it doesn’t take a full-time person to do this. You don’t have to put a huge salary on to a new team member to get organized. You might be able to make that change in five to 10 hours a week of work with a fractional COO or project manager, like what we provide. That’s the first thing.
The second is starting to get what’s in your brain out of it. And that’s where you are running around being the bottleneck to everything. And so get yourself out of it. The side effect of that is now you’re also creating a business that another business owner down the road might buy. Because now they can see themselves sitting in your spot. When you are managing everything, nobody else can see themselves sitting in your spot. You’re not creating a business to sell; you’re just building a client list.
Jay: This can impact your entire exit strategy, right? I think most business owners, they would say, the biggest asset that they have isn’t what they have in the stock market. It’s not what they have under their mattress; it’s their business. But at some point, you got to think about how do I create some liquidity? And a sale, typically when that time comes, is definitely a great solution. This is fabulous, Susan, obviously, you have tremendous expertise in this area. So I think now it’s time to understand exactly what it is that you do. So share with our listeners, some of the other issues, pain points that you deal with when you serve your small business clients.
Susan: So obviously we write processes to help your business be streamlined and organized. That’s what we’ve been talking about. But you know, additionally, we can help you manage your projects with your clients, we actually white-label in as a member of your team. Five hours a week can make a huge difference in that world. And then also the other that we help with is preventing those interruptions. So helping you put some structure around your day, your calendar, and your priorities so that you as the business owner — and sometimes even your team members — might need this to direct their day, instead of letting it direct them.
A lot of what we see with our clients is that we’re all control freaks, right? Small business owners are all control freaks, except we let our business and our calendar drive us we lose control. So if we’re turning it back around and taking control, those are all areas that we can also help target.
Jay: Fabulous. Now Susan, one of my favorite expressions is never confuse experience with expertise. There are people who do the same thing for 40 years, and there’s bad at it after 40 years. They were the first day they started. So I always like to find out what is it that makes you and your team great at what you do.
Susan: So I have been surrounded by business owners my whole life. You know, my dad owns a business and my sister is a small business owner. My best friend is a small business owner. So I’ve always been surrounded by that. And, additionally, I have always worked for small business owners. But I think what it really gets to with me is an innate skill set of creating control or organization around chaos.
You know, even as a four-year-old, my mom sewed and I would sit in the sewing room with her and she would dump out this big — oh hold on. I have it on my desk somewhere. This big — Oh, here we go — this big jar of buttons. I’ve kept this. And she would dump it out on the floor. And I would organize them by color, by size, and make little graphs by shaping all those different things and building that out as playtime. While she sewed. So essentially, it’s innate in me to create this structure. And I feel like being organized is a god-given talent that I’m required to use. So here we are.
Jay: Talk about being born into a profession, starting before 4. That’s impressive. So Susan, I encourage everyone to go to your LinkedIn profile, and get a better sense of your experience and the different things that you’ve done. But the one thing that LinkedIn never really answers is why. It tells us what you’ve done, not why you’ve done it. I know, the button story starts at all at the age of four. But tell us, you know, one or two other things that were important in your journey, and then explain how you got to where you are now?
Susan: Well, I have always from my very first job worked directly for the owner of a small business. There was one exception, and I made only a year at that place. I did not like the big company. But the small business owners? Ah, man, I just get them! I understand their challenges. And throughout many years working directly for them, I’ve just learned so much from all their different styles. I think of all of them as friends to this day. And people that I respect.
Additionally in Chicago, I worked for 10 years at an advertising agency. And I really helped in that agency take very siloed teams to build an overall flow that really operated much more smoothly. It was a huge undertaking. And it’s an example to have something that small business owners don’t need. They don’t need somebody on their team like that for 10 years. Because the first year was all the change. The next nine years were maintenance and small upgrades and that kind of thing. So all of that brought me around to how serving a small business — and more than one at a time — was so important to really affect American society positively to uplift this backbone of American society.
Jay: You know, I just want to say I have learned a lot about not just the importance of organization; I think sometimes we have a gut feeling about it. But we don’t realize how much is at stake when we’re not properly organized. But also you’ve given us some insights as to what we need to do to become organized. And I know for so many of us, this is just the start of the process. And you are a clear, recognized expert, and how to do this, and do this to the right level and not go too little or too much. So I’m going to encourage folks to reach out to you and continue that dialogue. So what is the best way for people to get a hold of you?
Susan: Well, they can go to my website, beyondthechaos.biz. We have all sorts of nice resources there. Especially if you’re going to try to do this on your own. Or feel free to email me at [email protected]
Jay: Fabulous. And we’ll put all that in our show notes to make it easy for people. Now, Susan, this is the most fun for me, because I am going to ambush you. Because I’m all about our listeners. I am their advocate. And they have given you their time and attention. I think they deserve a little reward. So do you have a gift or something that you could give the listeners of this podcast?
Susan: So yes. I have a free ebook that I will give them if they will email me and request it. It actually talks about these three things that we’ve been talking about — process development, project management, and interruption management. It’s called Three Ways to Reduce Chaos in Your Small Business. And if you’ll email me at [email protected] and tell me that in the email that you heard me on The Best Kept Secret podcast, I will send that ebook to you for free.
Jay: Let’s clog up the email servers guys. This is a benefit and a gift you don’t want to miss. Susan, I want to thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I’ve learned a lot. I know our listeners learned a lot. You’ve been fantastic. I hope they keep you really busy to put your organization skills on the display of how you’re going to manage all of this. So thanks again for coming on. Until the next time, guys, let’s make it happen.