I spoke with Allison Dunn, owner and executive coach of Deliberate Directions about all things chaos. Watch our video to learn more about common business chaos issues, differences between process and procedure (there’s a difference!), solopreneurs, and more!
Please find a full video transcript below:
Allison Dunn: My name is Allison Dunn, I am the owner and executive coach of Deliberate Directions. And this afternoon, I’m so pleased we have Susan Fennema here with us. Susan is the CEO of Beyond the Chaos. She helps business owners gain control of their business by developing processes and structures for their business operations. She’s a partner and COO at CenterPoint Advisory Force. And, she is a graduate with a bachelor’s of arts in journalism from Texas A&M. Susan, thank you so much for joining us here today.
Susan Fennema: Thanks Allison for having me.
Allison Dunn: Absolutely. So chaos is the topic of so many of the coaching sessions that I have with clients and prospective clients and so I love the fact that you’re focused on that and I’m hoping we can dive deep into that today.
Susan Fennema: Absolutely.
Allison Dunn: Where are you located, Susan?
Susan Fennema: I am in McKinney, Texas, which is northeast of Dallas.
Allison Dunn: Okay, fantastic.
Susan Fennema: And it’s still hot here even though we’re recording here in early October. Still hot, not fall.
Allison Dunn: We are in full-fledged fall here and the leaves are turning, but it’s super beautiful. All right. So I have a whole list of questions I’m hoping I can fire them at you and take the conversation wherever it goes. Does that sound good?
Susan Fennema: Let me have ’em, let me have ’em.
Allison Dunn: All right. Fantastic. So chaos, what are some of the most common business chaos issues you see in the clients you work with?
Susan Fennema: Sure. So mostly I work with professional services companies that are small. One of the first heads up I get or they get is that they can’t grow anymore. They’re struggling because their employees are quitting or they can’t finish any projects or every project is over budget and they don’t know how to control all of that so that they are making consistent progress throughout projects and throughout their business. Sales the same way. They’re dropping sales leads. It’s another good sign that I hear from them.
Allison Dunn: So you’ve kind of hit like the hotspots of most of every business that I know. Right? Do you think that there’s ever chaos that’s just completely unnecessary?
Susan Fennema: Yes. There is a lot of chaos. Now, of course, there is the kind of chaos that’s created from drama. And that can sometimes not be as easily controlled because that has to do with personality types and that kind of thing. But you can reduce the dramatic reactions, you can reduce the things that caused the drama. So being able to cut back on things that you keep doing over and over again, but you never do the same way, having a process and a system so that you don’t even have to think about it. It just happens. You go through the checklist and you’re off and running. Those types of things can help to
reduce the drama and the chaos.
Allison Dunn: Right. So I probably should have asked you this out of the gate, but could you kind of do your 60-second elevator pitch of how you help people?
Susan Fennema: Sure. Beyond the Chaos is here to serve small business owners and to help them in most cases to get their lives back. We want to empower them to repeat successes, systemize the things that they do regularly and stop reinventing the wheel so that they are able at the end of the day to go and enjoy their family and all the things that they’re working for.
Allison Dunn: Fantastic. Thank you. What for just our listeners, what would you describe or explain as the difference between a process, a procedure, and a policy? Just kind of that baseline.
Susan Fennema: Sure. So a policy is the rules. And if you’re a one-person business, you probably don’t need any policy for yourself, but it could be your holidays or how people ask for time off, how you’re required to enter time on a project, those are policies. A process is usually prose; it’s a definition of how to do something, not necessarily a checklist, which is a procedure. So you might have a process that leads into a procedure, how you get into that.
Allison Dunn: Okay. I’ve always been a huge proponent of the quicker I can get my processes down, even though I may still be the one doing them, the quicker I can offload that and delegate it later. I’ve seen by implementing those three things, so processes, procedures and policies, some pretty huge breakthroughs. What are the types of process breakthroughs that you see in your clients?
Susan Fennema: Relief is one of the main ones. I mean a total sigh of a wow, I know where everything is. You can almost feel that sigh that they feel like they have a little bit more control over the things that they’re doing. And they’re not losing things, things aren’t falling through the cracks and they get their life back. All of a sudden they’re going out to dinner with their spouses and spending time with their kids and that to me is the biggest reward.
Allison Dunn: I think one of my favorite breakthroughs, and I’ve even experienced it in my own business and I’m sure you have as well, is when you are in chaos mode and you can identify some small fixes that kind of smooth it out maybe provide you some leverage of your time. That you can exponentially, it’s not just like you just do a little bit more, you can do sometimes 10 times more, and I’ve found at least in my businesses, the more that I do or the larger we grow, the less chaos I have which I love.
Susan Fennema: Well, unless because you’re systemizing how you’re doing it, you’re not just hoping that somebody takes it and does it the way you’d hoped.
Allison Dunn: Right, right. So if we could talk a little bit about how to document the process of those three pillars. So what is … I don’t want to ask you per se for a poor example of it, but how are we missing the mark by doing it poorly?
Susan Fennema: Okay. So, well first, the first way that we’re missing the mark is that we’re not doing it. So that’s the first way. The second is that it’s in the owner’s head. The owner knows what his policy is and he might be frustrated that his employees are not entering their time every day before they go home. But he’s never once said it, and two never written it. And so those are important things to address, especially if you’re starting to have a bunch of employee turnover. They can’t meet your expectations if you can’t tell them what they are.
Allison Dunn: Absolutely.
Susan Fennema: Most people can meet expectations if they know what they are. So if you’re keeping it to yourself, that’s the first thing. The other is making sure that it’s in a public place. I mean not public to the world, but public to your team so that they know where to go look. If they’re for example installing a new server that they know where to go look for that checklist so they don’t have to figure it out on their own and they can do it the way you want it done.
Allison Dunn: Right, right. Do you develop processes for companies or do you work with teams to develop the right processes? Which is, or is it both?
Susan Fennema: Yes. I do both.
Allison Dunn: You do both. Okay.
Susan Fennema: And I’ll write the process. Some people just aren’t that good at sitting down and working through…it’s technical writing almost. My journalism degree helps me with.
Allison Dunn: I’m sure it does.
Susan Fennema: Right. Yeah. If you don’t have that skillset, that’s certainly something that I can help you think through. And that’s where the challenge comes is you have to start thinking through in really tiny minutia, not okay. And then send the proposal to the client is what tool are you using? What are your follow-up steps? When do you send it? Is it before or after it’s been reviewed internally by three people? There are more steps to it than just send it out. And that’s what the documenting of the process helps with is making sure that that is consistent.
Allison Dunn: So in documenting processes what are maybe the steps that we need to think through? I don’t know if you have like everything you touch or every platform you use as an example that you just gave or who reviews what part of the…before the proposal goes out. Is there kind of like an easy thought out a checklist that you’d kind of guide us on?
Susan Fennema: A lot of times it’s why or how for the questions
Allison Dunn: Ok, love that.
Susan Fennema: As you’re going through it, who is doing it? When are they doing it? Those parts you kind of naturally come to. But why and how are the important parts to also make sure that they get in there too. One of the methods that I have found that really helps, especially I’ve done this with my VAs when I’m not able to meet directly with them, I’ll hop on a Zoom call or by myself and start recording and I capture my screen.
Susan Fennema: This is where I go, this is what I do and start showing them how I’m doing it. Then all of a sudden it comes in your mind even I forgot that part. And you go back and show them that part. So if you have it where it’s documented like that, it’s a lot easier to go through and then write it up. I even sometimes have the VA write it up from my recording or a transcription of my recording, depending on how long it is. So you can always have those transcribed and then revise them and they’re ready to go.
Allison Dunn: Fantastic. One of the things that I talk a lot about with clients is when they’re thinking about a process, you have to know, you have to possibly develop it in several different ways so that people learn differently. So sometimes listening to a recording or watching a video and sometimes it’s a hands-on process, so to make sure you’re kind of documenting all three, especially in an in-depth process because people learn differently.
Susan Fennema: Absolutely. I’m a firm believer in that. I’m a reader if you put me in just an audio where there’s no video and no reading, I’m like doing three other things. I’ve already lost the train of thought. So definitely people learn differently and that’s important to know your team as well. Who are you? Who are you sharing this with?
Allison Dunn: All right. I’m very, very visual and so but I also like to do it and sometimes I don’t even want to be told how I just want to try it. What is your favorite resource or book for any recommendation that you would have for people who need to start developing a process or a procedure?
Susan Fennema: Well, you can go to my blog. I have a lot of tips on my blog and that’s beyondthechaos.biz/blog. Lots of things there
Allison Dunn: Excellent.
Susan Fennema: As far as books and that kind of thing I don’t know that I have a good recommendation there. It’s really thinking through it very specifically. I mean that’s the whole gist of it it’s really detailed and specific. One thing that you can do if you’re not good at those things, and a small business owner who might not have a lot of colleagues to help get a spouse or a child and talk through and explain to them how to do it. Somebody who does not work in your business all the time, but that you trust and that will be patient with you and listen to the questions that they ask.
Allison Dunn: I think having an outside perspective who doesn’t have any understanding is a great way to start. And especially as someone with a young mind, because they’ll ask really great questions that sometimes we just assume like of course, you know what that is. It’s sort of, I remember it was many years ago, but telling my son well, “Just hit the pound sign.” And he’s like, “What are you talking about?” And I’m like, “The pound sign on the phone.” And he’s like, “Mom, you mean hashtag?” So using the right language, right?
Susan Fennema: Yeah. And they’ll ask you why because the other part of this is that having that outside view when they’re asking you why all of a sudden you might say, “Well I don’t know may, do we have to do that? Maybe we don’t have to do that.” So always hear in your head if you’re saying, “Well that’s how I’ve always done it.” Oh, maybe ask yourself why a few more times to find out if it’s you need to do it because you also don’t want to be inefficient by doing things that are not necessary.
Allison Dunn: On that similar, so the asking the why, why do we do it that way and that not having it be the answer, but even the how like sometimes you just say, “Open a document.” It’s like, “Well how, like what do you mean open a document?” It’s like, launch the software and then go up to the file and walking through the steps. Sometimes we can’t assume. Right? So that’s how it goes several layers.
Susan Fennema: And, which software?
Allison Dunn: Right, exactly.
Susan Fennema: If you’re going down to that granular of a level.
Allison Dunn: Yeah. For you in working with businesses, what is the most common process that you help them with?
Susan Fennema: Sales is a big one. And we do a lot of project management just by the nature of our project management experience. But sales is the other one, and that touches a lot of businesses. A tremendous number of businesses that sales leads are just falling through the cracks, they’re not closing business because they’re not remembering to ask the person that called them for the proposal. That, “Hey, can we meet on Friday to review the proposal?” There are steps like that, that are being skipped and there’s no system. So they just might remember awhile later that they need to follow-up and at that point, your prospect might’ve already found somebody else.
Allison Dunn: And gone cold for sure.
Susan Fennema: Yep. Absolutely.
Allison Dunn: Okay. What’s the easiest process to set up or structure for a company? Is there an easy one?
Susan Fennema: Sales is actually pretty easy. It’s just that nobody thinks through it. Project management can be a lot more complicated because it depends on what kinds of projects you’re doing and how many steps and all those kinds of things. But sales is pretty straightforward.
Allison Dunn: Right. Sales is one of those things where we get busy, right? And it becomes sometimes less of a priority, but you’ve already paid for that acquisition to happen. And so to lose the conversion is one of the biggest ways to increase profitability. So a process that can just double your profitability.
Susan Fennema: Right. It also makes you money and that’s the other part of this too, is that it’s something that a lot of us as small business owners, we don’t really like the sales part.
Allison Dunn: True.
Susan Fennema: And so we postpone it or push it back, but you’re here to actually make money so that you can serve more people and support your team and your family and everything else. And if you’re not making that income the priority, you don’t have those opportunities to do those other things.
Allison Dunn: So sales being your number one and maybe the easiest process to structure, what would be your top three or four other ones that you work with clients on most commonly?
Susan Fennema: So many of them are surrounded by project management and there are a lot of different ones in that area. But we also do some operation level of things. For example, one thing that a lot of people have a hard time with is come the holidays, some small business owners like to send gifts or like to send Christmas cards or whatever the holiday is of your choice. But they all of a sudden on December 20th are like, “Oh no, what do I do?” So building some operational processes around how are you going to remember next year that you have to start before Thanksgiving, and setting those kinds of things up is good.
Susan Fennema: The other one that also was a big one is onboarding and offboarding of employees. What are your steps through that? You don’t do it that often when you’re a small business owner and so every time you do it you’re like, “Uh, what else do they need? Or where do I need to go? Where do I need to direct them? How do I make sure they know about what we do?” Make a list and offboarding is the same. Unfortunately, sometimes when you have to off-board, you have to do it quickly. And these days the access that you have to give people into software, you need to know what they’re in so you can shut that down quick if you need to. So that off-boarding is part of something important as well.
Allison Dunn: Right. I’d say those for me that very common I would completely agree. Less so on offboarding. So that’s, you’ve just given me something to be thinking about. I don’t even think I have an offboarding process, so I need to.
Susan Fennema: Well you can take your onboarding process and if you’re keeping…
Allison Dunn: And reverse it?
Susan Fennema: And reverse it. If you’re keeping a good list with each employee, you can then just reverse it.
Allison Dunn: Yeah. Fantastic. So let’s talk about it from maybe we don’t yet have employees. So we’re a solopreneur, which there are more of those than people who have big teams. What is the easiest way for someone who is bringing a team member on for the first time on how to delegate? What should they be considering first?
Susan Fennema: Right. So delegation is a challenge and I would say before you even bring somebody on, start to think about the things that one feels a little tedious to you. Things that you do consistently that you don’t, that sometimes you feel like they’re beneath me, right? I don’t have anybody else to give them to. So that’s one thing. The other things are things that are wasting your time. Going through email where you only need to respond to 3% of the ones that you receive. Those types of things. There are virtual assistants that can do that stuff for you, that are trained in how to help you let go of it as well.
Allison Dunn: Wow. I need one of those.
Susan Fennema: Yes, they’re good.
Allison Dunn: I still respond to my own email.
Susan Fennema: And I do too. I don’t mind email. I stay on top of it, so not a big deal, but I do have a VA who does all my social media posts because I don’t love doing social media. So that’s the next thing. What don’t you love doing? I don’t like doing that, so I have a VA to do that. Another example, I love talking with my clients, so one of the things I’ve struggled with how to hand off is I need to talk to them…I want to make sure that I’m able to respond to what they’re telling me, that perhaps some of my employees don’t have that experience to be able to do.
Susan Fennema: But, they can totally take a recording of that and create a template for me. So figuring out those ways of what part can go away is important. But also knowing what kind of employee you want. Just “I need help” doesn’t necessarily mean if you’re a software developer that you need another developer. Especially if you love software development, maybe you need a project manager instead.
Allison Dunn: Right. I pride myself in helping people figure out what they’re doing that is causing the chaos that you’re talking about. Right? And sometimes it’s not a process, but rather, to figure out what it is that they’re not working in their strengths then. Right? I think it is a certain talent in itself to understand what I want to let go and I’m going to be willing to let go and then develop a great process as far as I can take it to hand it off to someone to delegate.
Susan Fennema: Absolutely.
Allison Dunn: What advice would you have for business owners who are constantly distracted by their own plans?
Susan Fennema: Oh, that’s a big one, right? I love planning, that’s one of favorite thing to do. I’m a big fan of calendar blocking. That’s really to me, and to a degree, you also get to kind of mess around planning with your calendar blocking. I sometimes refer to it as calendar Tetris, right? So you build your calendar of what your plan is and then all of a sudden something goes awry. Well, at least now you know you got blocks of time that you got to move somewhere and make things happen.
Susan Fennema: I try to limit that to being at the end of the day, so at the end of the day plan your day for the next day. Spend some time on it that’s okay. But then when you get there in the morning, start working your plan, don’t re-plan it. And I think that that’s important is if you come in with that plan every day, you’re fresh, you’re awake, you’ve gotten some sleep, or maybe some coffee, whichever works best for you. And then you’re ready to move through the things that you already decided or priorities.
Allison Dunn: So slightly different angle on this. Are the people who you’re training or who you’re showing the processes to, that they get distracted learning the process so much so that they actually don’t do the work they need to, they get stuck in the learning process?
Susan Fennema: I don’t think so. I haven’t seen that happen that much. I do think sometimes they might get overwhelmed because all of a sudden we’ve brought to light all these details that were before falling through the cracks and now, Oh no, Oh no, so far behind or I can’t catch up or how am I going to get to inbox zero when I have 3,000 emails? Okay, well I’ll just delete them. Which sometimes, just declaring bankruptcy is the best way to go. With projects is a little harder because if you’ve dropped the ball, sometimes you have to reset that with a client.
Susan Fennema: And reset an expectation of, “Yeah, I know you said we could have it at the end of the year, but it’s probably going to be February.” Once you start to capture all those details, you start to see some of those things. So I see more overwhelmed as a result than I see in different overwhelmed because they’re overwhelmed before but that’s because they didn’t know. Now they’re overwhelmed because they do know but there is a path to gain control of that and that’s the important part. Once you get to that stage.
Allison Dunn: There you go. So I just want to confirm, you permitted me to delete all of my emails. Yes?
Susan Fennema: If you have 3,000 emails, you’re not going to answer them anyway. So just delete them. And then from then on, be better.
Allison Dunn: I’m thinking about that, that’s funny. I appreciate it. You are right. If you’re that far behind, then there has to be like a clean slate of some sort. So can we talk a little bit about project management and for those of our listeners that subcontract services of some sort? So in your experience, is there a common problem or challenge that employees or contractors need to share with … I don’t know, I guess their supervisor or their client in this case, but they don’t share?
Susan Fennema: Sure. One of the things that I see a lot with subcontractors is they just all of a sudden go absent. Oh, I was on vacation for two weeks. I couldn’t respond to you. Okay, well maybe you should’ve warned somebody that you’re working with regularly that you would be out. Those types of things I see a lot from the subcontractor’s side.
Susan Fennema: On the contractor side who’s looking to hire I’m not setting the clear expectations of what do I expect you to do? If I need 20 hours of your time per week and I’m not giving you enough to do those 20 hours, I expect you to say, “Hey, I need some more work.” As opposed to redirecting your energy somewhere else to a different client, those kinds of things so that I know that I’m serving my clients if I have a plan that requires 20 hours of work a week. So that communication is the biggest deal between a contractor and subcontractor.
Allison Dunn: You bring up a really good point and I think it’s almost like really awesome communication going back and forth for where all of those things. But do you have a tool or process that makes that easy that you’d suggest or recommend?
Susan Fennema: I love Slack.
Allison Dunn: Slack? Okay.
Susan Fennema: I love Slack. And that’s something that you can invite your contractors into. It makes it easy to hit each other up. It’s like stopping by each other’s offices. And when you’re working in a virtual world, like so many of us are these days, it is like, “Oh, hey, there’s somebody in my doorway. What can I do for you?” It’s changed my ability to communicate with my team as well as with a ton of other teams. I probably have 13, 14 Slack channels with different clients and different groups. And it also if you are a work from home virtual employee makes you feel a little bit more connected.
Allison Dunn: Okay, cool. So I am not familiar with Slack. So, and when you say connected is it a video? Is it visual? Is it just an instant message? Like, tell me a little bit more about it.
Susan Fennema: Instant message on steroids.
Allison Dunn: Okay on steroids?
Susan Fennema: I’d say it that way. Some people are like, “Oh, why would I use Slack instead of texting?” Well, Slack… first you can turn it off and on your phones these days, I’ve heard horror stories of people getting texts from their clients in the middle of the night and things like that.
Allison Dunn: Not okay.
Susan Fennema: So this lets you go away.
Allison Dunn: I like that feature.
Susan Fennema: And there are some cool things about it. Like you can set a reminder if somebody asks you a question, “Oh yeah, I’ve got to go look that up. I’ll come back to that in three hours or something.” So it kind of helps you maintain a more structured work world and processes even though it seems like it’s a distraction. Because it can be interruptive like email if you leave that open all the time.
Allison Dunn: Right, right. What would you say is the fastest way to be able to teach a process to someone remote, not there with you?
Susan Fennema: I’m a big fan of the do a Zoom video call and walk them through it.
Allison Dunn: Zoom. Okay. So that’s not something you would do through Slack? It would be back to the Zoom example.
Susan Fennema: Well, I might, I mean if it depends on how big it is if there’s a written document that I can shoot to them through Slack, maybe so. Normally what I would do… my team has…we use Teamwork Projects as our project management tool and we have a project in there that has all of our processes in it. So I direct people there too of “Hey, this is where the bulk of it is. If you have a question about something specific, we can point you in a better direction.” But at least there they have a resource. It’s almost like a wiki, almost.
Allison Dunn: Okay. Only, okay. That’s very cool. I have gone through all of my initial questions and so I guess my question back to you is, for those who are listening and want to learn more, where should they go to learn more from you?
Susan Fennema: My website is the best place beyondthechaos.biz. You can also shoot me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. And I am happy to point you in the right direction or make sure that you have what you need.
Allison Dunn: Wonderful. Susan, thank you so much for your time today. I admire the help that you are giving our small business owners. So thank you for that.
Susan Fennema: Thank you also.
Allison Dunn: And we’ll be in touch Susan.
Susan Fennema: Thanks so much for having me. I enjoyed it.
Allison Dunn: Thank you.