Crystal Smith:

Hey, everybody. Crystal here. We’re on the last episode of Queerantine, which is episode 10. Claire is not with me today. She’s in New Hampshire drinking hoppy beer, but I do have a very special guest that I’m super excited to introduce. This is Susan Fennema of Beyond the Chaos. She is one of my besties, and she’s going to talk a little bit today about how to perfect your project management. So this is perfect for solo-preneurs and really anybody with a team of about 10 people or less. Susan has some great presentations that she does on teaching people how structure can set you free. So with that, Susan, why don’t you go ahead and take it away my friend?

Susan F.: Hey Crystal!

Crystal Smith: Toast toast.

Susan:

Cheers, cheers. Good to see you. It’s been too long. Yeah, we help people with their project management. So essentially so many people feel like you get into this structure. Then it’s like being at a job instead of how much that structure can set you free. So building all of those little calendar blocks or building your task list, that isn’t bureaucracy. That’s an ability to let it go at the end of the day. So you can hang out in your cool game room and drink wine.

Crystal Smith:

So you’re basically saying that having a very structured or strident or even strict level of organization is really a way to best feel like things are less burdening?

Susan:

Well to a degree. So one of the things that you cannot do, if you don’t have for example, processes written down. If all the processes are in your head as a solo-preneur even, when it comes time to do that thing that you haven’t done in six months, now you have to remember how to do it again. If you had just written it down the last time you did it, then you can just go look at your process, follow that process. Now all of a sudden you’ve made more time. You’ve given yourself more time. The same thing with keeping clear task lists. If you’re always trying to figure out what to do next, you’re just burning time during that, instead of always just knowing what to do next.

Crystal Smith:

That makes a lot of sense. I’ve made this mistake as a solo-preneur. There’s been times that my wife has said, what can I help you with? I say, well, you don’t know how to do it.

Susan: Right.

Crystal Smith:

If I had a process in place with an operations manual that I produced, then I could say, “Oh hey, let me delegate this to you because there’s something written or some kind of data.” Is that kind of what you’re saying?

Susan:

Absolutely. There’s absolutely that part. One of the things that we run into a lot as business owners, just like what you said, and it’ll take me longer to explain it to you than it will to do it. Well, that’s correct once, but the 25th time, it probably would have been better to take that time and explain it. So there are some tricks that I use of how to make that part easy. Perfect example last night. We’re doing this new project management audit and we’ll share a link to that at the end in case anybody wants to fill it out and try it out.

Crystal Smith:

Perfect.

Susan:

When our clients come in until the out, our next step is to go through the information they’ve sent and we fit it into a presentation and we have a templated presentation of what we go through each time. That part to me as a business owner gets kind of redundant of doing that part. Okay. So how do you tell somebody else to help you on that part? Just basically it’s a plug and play. I made a video, I went on an app called Loom. If anybody has not heard of Loom, it’s not Zoom. It’s with an L, Loom. It’s a free app. You can download it to your desktop and you can just record on the fly. So I just talked. I said, “Hey, this is what I need you to do. Click here. This is the software that you go find the information that they’ve submitted in. This is where you go find the template to fill out. Can you please write the process?” That’s one. Then create the next one for me. Off and running, today I have a written process and tomorrow I’ll have that presentation ready to go.

Susan:

Now, of course, I still have to review it and make sure I know what I’m talking about and all that good stuff. By doing that, I didn’t have to do that today. Instead, I was able to focus on my upcoming presentation for Claris Engage. Those things don’t happen if you’re not putting a little structure in place to make them happen. Now, the next time we don’t even have to make the video. The next time I can just say, “Hey, you who’s free. Go see this and do this for me.”

Crystal Smith: Gotcha.

Susan:

So that’s where the freedom comes and that delegation is wonderful. We just hired a virtual assistant and this is a great inexpensive way to get help as a small business owner, even a solopreneur can do this. Virtual assistants can help with all of that admin stuff that you have that is just over the top too much.

Susan F.:

If you don’t have a method to share with them how to do it, that becomes the sticking point. Those systems as you create them really do set you free. Then if she has a question, as she works through and does something, I give her the answer. She goes in and adds it to that process. Next time, the answer’s in front of her when she’s there.

Crystal Smith:

That would explain your business growth. For all the people out there who don’t know Susan, we’ve been colleagues for many years. First in the FileMaker community. What year did you go out on your own in Beyond the Chaos?

Susan:

  1. So it’s been almost exactly four years.

Crystal Smith: Okay.

Susan: A little over four years.

Crystal Smith:

In four years, I have watched Susan grow. I mean, very impressive. This is kind of what I wanted to be able to share with folks watching the show is kind of how you do that. So it really sounds like folks should be taking advantage of this audit that you’re offering, if they need help putting those systems in place so they can better manage their time and business and work on growing their business, not being a slave within their business. Is that an accurate assessment?

Susan:

Yes, absolutely. Yes, that’s it. Now before COVID started, I know this is the end of your series, so I guess we have to actually mention that, right? Before COVID started, I was actually on the path for pretty exponential growth and that kind of put a damper on things. As I know it did for a lot of small business owners, but what I was able to do during that time was systemize even more. So that on the other side of this, we are really a machine ready to go. That’s kind of the exciting part of it.

Susan:

Crystal back when we met, I was a solo-preneur for sure saying, I didn’t want any employees. I want to do all this myself. I don’t want to mess with that. I can make enough money. I can be satisfied. I’ll just do project management myself for people. What I learned real quick is project management, and I knew this beforehand, but as a business owner, you start to be able to create your own way. So really quickly, I’m like, “Okay, all I’ve done is given myself a job. Now I’m going to have to sit in front of my computer all day, be ready and active to respond to my clients as soon as they need me, because that’s what project managers do.” I can’t step away without covering all my work, without doing all that stuff.

Susan:

I am not a business owner. I am a freelancer. When I started to make that mind shift, which is also really important to all of this is getting that mindset, right? I’m like, this is not how I want to live. I did not intend to just give myself another job. I wanted to create something, which is what most small business owners want. They want to create something. So how can I impact American society exponentially? Let’s hire some people. Now we’re touching more people. I’m helping their lives. I’m helping more client’s lives. I’m spreading that out to more people. That’s really what we want to do. Our goal at Beyond the Chaos is to help small business owners get their lives back. Essentially I lived that. So I get it from that standpoint of, “Oh man, this is all I do. After I do all the doing, now I have to go do all the marketing and the finance and the emergency that came up during the day of why my bank account won’t reconcile.” It’s exhausting.

Susan:

It’s so much, and it’s so hard and being able to let some of that stuff go also, we’re all control freaks. Aren’t all small business owners control freaks?

Crystal Smith:

I was actually going to ask you about that. When you just made that statement, it did make me think there is a dynamic that happens, right? A lot of us small business owners are slightly insane. I mean, you have to be.

Susan: We all are. We all are.

Crystal Smith:

To go do what we do. So as you’re finishing that statement, if you don’t mind segwaying into some advice for people who have a hard time relinquishing control in order to grow.

Susan:

I’m going to go right back to the systems. So if you want it done your way and you damn well better guarantee, I want it done my way. If you don’t tell people how to do it, they have no idea how to do it your way. So you will consistently fail. You will consistently have people that come in. You’re like, great. Let’s hire a VA. Let me just tell her what to do throughout the day. Okay. Well, by day five, you’re annoyed because you’ve spent all your time trying to figure out what to give her and everything that you gave her came back wrong because you have no direction. You have no clarity on what she’s supposed to do. It’s been a big waste of time. It’s more frustrating. Back to systems. If you create those systems, have them written down so that you can point them, point your VA to the right place. We had a VA previously, but we just rehired a VA here I guess about a month ago.

Susan:

Within three days, she pretty much stopped asking questions. It was pretty much, “Oh yeah, go look at that.” That’s all I would say, “Go look at that. Was it not in that process?” She’s like, “Oh yeah, I missed it.” Or she’d say, “Yeah, but it’s a little confusing.” I’m like, “Okay, tell me what you’re confused about. Let me explain that part.” She would go enter that information. Now I get things back exactly like I wanted them. So there’s no fear in giving it away because you’re getting back what you would have done.

Crystal Smith:

So really when a lot of solo-preneurs or small business owners that have small teams when we as the owner or we as maybe the manager say to ourselves, “Well, we don’t have time to train that person,” that’s not correct.

Susan: It’s not correct.

Crystal Smith:

If you make the time to train that person, even if it’s three days training with the right systems in place, that person is going to perform your way as you want it consistently and get the job done right.

Susan:

Let me be clear. I didn’t train her for three days. I gave her a list of things I wanted to do and pointed her towards the process to do them.

Crystal Smith:

So that’s even easier. So how much time would you say you had to invest as the brain of the operation to get her up to speed and able to do things the way you wanted them done within three days?

Susan: Half an hour.

Crystal Smith: That’s because of your systems.

Susan:

That’s because of the systems and that half an hour was really pointing her in the right direction or answering a question that maybe the system wasn’t a hundred percent clear on.

Crystal Smith: Okay.

Susan:

Yeah. It makes it so much easier. Now we wrote those systems with our last VA. So how did we get them to that point? I made a video because who’s doing it? I’m doing it. Right? So that every time I did something, I made a video of it. I gave it to the VA and said, next time I need you to do this, put a task in our project management system that repeats every Monday because you’ll do it every Monday. Here’s the video, go do it. Then also add yourself a task to write the process from the video and she wrote them. I didn’t even write them.

Crystal Smith: See, that’s awesome.

Susan: Yeah.

Crystal Smith:

It’s little things like that, that we don’t always think of. Like you said, we wear so many hats. We get overwhelmed and we don’t know what we don’t know.

Susan: Right.

Crystal Smith:

So sometimes it’s a process of taking a step back. So let me ask you this, because I’m sure there’s at least one person watching this who’s thinking this. Okay. I can relinquish control, but I have to trust that person. So how do you gauge who you can trust in this process of hiring people, training people?

Susan:

Right. So my new VA, Michelle, who is amazing, she lives in the Philippines. Okay. So this is not even somebody. I can’t even just drive to her house. Right? If she wants to screw me over, she probably has an opportunity to do that. There are safety precautions in place. For example, she is in my QuickBooks, but she does not have full access to my QuickBooks. She can see the parts that she needs. She doesn’t have access to the accounts. She doesn’t have access to the balances, anything like that. She can’t like pay herself. She couldn’t embezzle.

Crystal Smith:

Again, it’s systems. You help business owners put these systems in place so that you’re not only getting help growing your business, right? So you’re not slaving your business, but protecting your business and ensuring trust.

Susan:

Right. I don’t give her passwords to my Facebook account. I share through LastPass. It’s an app that secures passwords, the access to that. So if I ever have to go cut her off for any reason, I can easily just remove her from the whole system and she has no passwords for anything. So yes, you’re trusting somebody. What I have found throughout my career is most people are trustworthy. If you’re not willing to trust somebody at least a little bit, you’re on your own. Good luck.

Crystal Smith: That’s so true.

Susan: You just have to.

Crystal Smith:

So, let me ask you this. You may not be able to answer this question clearly because I get this is a little bit of a loaded question because you and I, both client confidentiality. Sometimes our clients make us do NDAs and stuff like that. I want to give an example to the viewers, to the people who are going to watch this. If there’s any way you can share examples of success, maybe it’s somebody got a certain amount more clients or made a certain amount of more money or saved so many hours. What kinds of changes to someone’s life can they expect when they get all these systems in place and they have people to help them in their business? What does that look like?

Susan:

That’s a great question. So there are two answers. One is that there is the intangible value that comes out of it. The ability for example, we’re coming up on the July 4th holiday weekend. I am going to turn off my work stuff tomorrow at two o’clock in the afternoon. I will check back in on Sunday night.

Crystal Smith: What about your employees? Your team?

Susan: They’ll be fine.

Crystal Smith: Okay. So they’ll pick up the slack.

Susan: They have Friday off.

Crystal Smith: Friday, Saturday, Sunday, okay.

Susan:

Yeah, but if anything comes up, they will address it. Yes. They can have the time off, but could an emergency come up on a weekend? Maybe. We work with software developers. So that’s a possibility, but I’m able to check out because I have people in place. I have systems in place. I have been able to set it up so that we really don’t have emergencies.

Crystal Smith: That is so invaluable.

Susan:

Yeah. I mean, that’s priceless. My team makes sure that our clients are set up to not have emergencies. So there shouldn’t be anybody bugging anybody over a holiday weekend. Yet you hear horror stories from so many business owners of, “Oh yeah. I was out with my kids. We were ready to go to the fireworks show and I had to go back home and fix somebody’s server that crashed.” Now servers might crash. That could happen. That is a true emergency. Outside of that, there aren’t that many emergencies that can’t wait until Monday. How to manage that is part of what we put in place for our clients. So there is a system, not only like all the ones I’ve just talked about, but we create a system for our clients so their clients know how to handle a question. That question or a small problem, or hey I found a bug in my software.

Susan:

The answer is always do not call us on the weekend. If your server is down, send an email. Somebody will get that and see that. You do not need to be interrupting us and all that. So that’s one is setting people up to not work in an emergency situation all the time. That prevents burnout as well. If you’re always working in a frantic situation, you’re going to burn yourself out really fast. Most of my project managers, I do too, we came from an advertising background. Advertising is horrible. The environment is horrible. There is a reason nobody over 40 works in an ad agency. You work until midnight often, regularly, and everything’s an emergency and everything’s frantic and it’s dumb. What that has given all of us is this ability to be like, let’s all take it down a notch. If we can do advertising, we can do anything. You’re able to create and work things into a better flow to prevent that kind of stuff. So that’s intangible, right? You get your life back.

Crystal Smith:

So intangible. I can’t tell you how many times Claire and I both have been in situations where it’s been, “Oh my God, we have to reschedule everything today. This particular thing happened. We don’t have anyone that’s familiar enough with this environment to do that.” I actually used to live next door to an editor who was 67 years old, still an editor. I thought, “My God, how is this guy alive?” For a lot of you watching this that aren’t in business or don’t have your own business, some people may think, well, when I go into business, I’m going to work less and set my own hours. That’s just not true. We work so hard. We work all the hours. We wear so many hats. It’s such a challenging environment.

Susan:

That’s totally true. Right? That’s what everybody thinks. “Hey, I am such a great copywriter. I’m going to go start a copywriting business. I will have floods of work because I’m so good at this. I’ll get to pick the people and the projects I want to work on. That’s all I’ll do. It’s going to be this amazing thing.” Except that then all you’re doing is, “Oh yeah. How do you build a website? Wait, how do you change this on WordPress?”

Crystal Smith: Are you making fun of me?

Susan: No, I also.

Crystal Smith:

That is my life. I mean, I’m 38 and a half and I’ve been writing since probably geez, three or four, maybe. I don’t know. My grandpa got me into it early. That is freaking my life right there.

Susan:

How many times have you gotten to write exactly what you wanted for who you wanted?

Crystal Smith:

Not that often. I’m not complaining about that because I still love the process of getting to know people and writing in their voice, but it’s always, I have to learn some code. I have to learn this. I have to go get better.

Susan:

I have to figure it out instead of how do I get to a point and so here’s part two. This is the more tangible part. I don’t have any specs of being able to say, “Oh, the companies I work with grow 250% or anything like that.” What I can tell you is that if you don’t do these things, you cannot grow.

Crystal Smith: True.

Susan:

Two people cannot do everything you need to do to start to really create a real business that grows and earns more money. When you start hiring people, you’re able to earn more money without doing any work. Somebody else is doing the work and you’re getting money from that. Now, granted, you’re going to have some more overhead. You’re going to have to figure out how to do taxes, but eventually if you grow big or grow more, you get past that. So yeah, salaries tend to be, especially in a virtual business, salaries tend to be your highest expense, but the rest of those expenses start to even out. If you’re making enough profit on salaries, so on people, certain percent on the people, you’re starting to be able to pay yourself just to make sure that they’re employed. Right? If that’s all you have to do.

Crystal Smith: That’s pretty awesome.

Susan:

Go sell some stuff. That’s pretty awesome. Not that going to sell some stuff is that easy either. So that’s also part of a small business owner.

Crystal Smith:

Yeah. That’s the challenge and growing.

Susan:

That’s what I’m working on right now is how do I systemize my sales process and what I’m offering to people so that it can be systemized enough that somebody else can come in and do sales for me because I hate sales, not going to lie. I’m doing it only as part of what I do as a business owner. I can’t focus on it a hundred percent of the time.

Crystal Smith: Sure. Well, that’s reasonable.

Susan:

Which holds us back from growing. So every time you’re thinking that you are doing something, you are holding your own company back from growing.

Crystal Smith:

Okay. So that leads me to think of, you have a third one?

Susan:

Yeah, but I don’t want to take you off your thought.

Crystal Smith:

Well, okay. I’ll just share this with you quick because I’d like to try to keep these round 30 minutes, but if we go a little over, this is really good stuff. So I don’t want to be super strident on that, but you’re saying things and you’re making me think of two sayings that we’ve all heard. That one of them I can’t stand. The other one is really making me think of you. So if you want it done right, do it yourself is going to prevent you from growing your business. It’s counter intuitive. A statement that I hear a lot when I talk to people about their marketing strategy. We’ve always done it this way. Well, guess what? There’s better ways to do things. So after your third thing, maybe address those statements kind of in closing, because I think that could really help folks that may be watching this.

Susan:

That’s a good one. So the third value that you get out of doing this is you’re creating a business that has a value that can actually be sold.

Crystal Smith: Amen.

Susan:

If you are a marketer who works with people, you have a client list. Okay, great. When you’re ready to sell, all you have is a list that you can sell. Nobody can step into your shoes and do your job. That’s part of creating those systems around what you do is that if you’re able to step away, then somebody else can step in. So now you’ve built a business that is a machine that runs and it has a value and you don’t have that without those systems in place. So something that is important, probably not as much to you Crystal because you’re young, but as you get older like me, it starts to become something important that, okay maybe I don’t want to do this until I die.

Crystal Smith:

Well, I mean, if I get hit by the proverbial bus, the value I mean, unless we live in Altered Carbon in Netflix, you’re not going to upload my conscious and suddenly transfer my sick, lyrical writing abilities to somebody else. My wife would have no idea what to do. So I’m totally feeling what you’re saying.

Susan:

We can do a whole other episode on what to do to manage emergencies because I can talk about that too.

Crystal Smith:

Then we’ll have to do that on a future episode.

Susan:

Yes, but to your previous things about if you want to do it right, do it yourself. That is a complaint. I’ll hear many of my clients say that. Nobody does it right. I have to stop and fix everything. Those are things where we try very hard to say, okay, everybody that works for you can’t be doing it wrong. There’s one person in common and that’s you. So it’s either how you’re explaining it or it’s that you’re not. So there isn’t anything clear.

Crystal Smith:

So basically you’re saying the proper systems aren’t in place.

Susan: Right.

Crystal Smith: Okay.

Susan:

If they are in place, it helps your world, your team. If when there’s a problem, you’re able to go back and say, how do we blame the system and fix the system so this doesn’t happen again? Instead of blaming the person for doing something wrong. It changes the approach of how you’re running your business. So that’s that one. Then oh, you hit my favorite one on the head. We’ve always done it this way.

Crystal Smith: Oh God, I hate that phrase.

Susan: It’s worst reason to do anything. Have you ever heard the monkey story?

Crystal Smith: I don’t think so.

Susan:

Okay. So there’s a cage of monkeys and they feed them a banana. Every time they come towards the banana, they hose them down with water and the monkeys run away and they get all upset. Well, then they take one monkey out and they put a new monkey in. Well, the new monkey starts to try to go for the banana and all the others are like, no, don’t do that because we’ll get sprayed and they hold him back. Over time they pull out all of the original monkeys that were sprayed and it’s whole new set of monkeys and not one of them will go touch the banana even though none of them have ever been sprayed. This is a perfect story to explain why we’ve always done it that way doesn’t work. Who knows if they’d get sprayed again? Maybe things have changed. Maybe the water’s off in the building.

Crystal Smith:

So it’s conditioning. It’s psychological conditioning of us. I call it stupid human tricks.

Susan: It is.

Crystal Smith:

We’re convincing ourselves it’s too much work, too much effort to change things and spend time to change. Change is not fun.

Susan: No.

Crystal Smith:

It’s not fun. It’s usually good, but it’s not fun. So we have conditioned ourselves to say, you know what? Screw it. Just leave it the way it is.

Susan:

I will take almost any reason to leave a process or a system in place the way it is, except that one. Give me a reason for why have you always done it that way.

Crystal Smith:

Okay. What about this one? Well, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Is that at least a more acceptable?

Susan:

If you’re not constantly fixing and upgrading and reviewing and figuring out and streamlining, you’re not growing. You’re standing still. So if you just keep doing the same thing over and over, expect the exact same results over and over.

Crystal Smith:

You’re insane. Congratulations. You’re a small business owner or cut out to be one.

Susan:

You win.

Crystal Smith:

Man, that was a lot of good stuff. That was really good. So what I want to do is make sure that in the comments below, we’ll put the website so you can visit Susan at Beyond the Chaos on our website. We’ll also make sure to put the link where you can get your complimentary audit, where she’ll go in and review your project management and the website.

Susan:

That audit will give you three tips to improve your own system. So it’s totally free.

Crystal Smith: That’s awesome.

Susan: Yep. We’ll give you at least three, oftentimes I like to give extra value. So sometimes that comes up.

Crystal Smith:

Good. Well, I’m so glad that you’re doing that for my audience. That’s fantastic. Do you have any closing statements before we finish with the episode?

Susan:

I will just tell you that creating that structure sets you free.

Crystal Smith:

Structure sets you free. You heard it here folks. Susan, thanks so much for being on the show. I really appreciate it. Thank you to everybody for watching. To continue getting videos like this and more, remember to click on the subscribe button. If you enjoyed it, give us a thumbs up and a like. You can ask me any questions that you have about the content here or if you need more information on Susan, pop it in the contents and I’ll be happy to make sure that you get that. Thanks for watching everybody.

Susan:

This was fun. Thanks Crystal. Bye.

Aired date July 2, 2020

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