In this episode of Win Win Podcast, Fractional COO Susan Fennema teaches how to more easily run a process-driven business. Susan shares with Ben Wolfe, founder of Fractional Leadership, what it looks like when business owners don’t have a process-driven company. Then, Ben and Susan discuss the three elements of making a business more process-driven, so you don’t have to keep feeling overwhelmed and underwater.
Please find the full video transcript below:
Speaker 1: You’re listening to Win Win, An Entrepreneurial Community, with your host, Ben Wolfe.
Ben Wolfe: And welcome to Win Win, An Entrepreneurial Community. Happy to have you join us in this episode, and welcome our guest who is going to share with us today how to more easily run a process-driven business. Of course, it should be profit-driven as well, but process-driven business. Ask you to please pause this for a second, subscribe, leave a review, follow, like, whatever it is that your platform allows you to do as you listen to or watch this episode of the Win Win Podcast. And I want to introduce our guest today, who is a fractional COO and is also the founder of Beyond The Chaos, a firm that provides clients with operations consulting and done-for-you project management. You could learn more about them at beyondthechaos.biz. And with that, I give you Susan Fennema. Welcome, Susan.
Susan Fennema: Hi, Ben. Thanks so much for having me. Looking forward to jumping in on some of this stuff with you today.
Ben: Well, my pleasure. Obviously, we know each other and that process is near and dear to my heart, and obviously honored to have you on, especially as a member of the Fractional Leadership community that we have, so just honored to have you on as part of that too. And I guess the first thing I’d like to start with is if you could answer the question I ask everybody at the beginning, which is just to give us a quick two-minute background, a little context to where you came from, and how you got to be talking about what we’re talking about today.
Susan: So it turns out that I’ve been process-driven since birth. If you’re on our website you can read the whole story. But essentially I was sorting buttons for my mother while she sewed when I was about three years old. That was my fun. So throughout the years I always found myself…
Ben: Different people have different definitions of fun, I guess.
Susan: Throughout the years I always found myself working for a very small business. I was always the right hand to the owner and would drive the process part of the business. So from my first job on, I was just developing processes. I didn’t know this was a thing. I didn’t know operations was even a thing. These were really small businesses. So throughout my career, I helped a lot of the small business owners do what we do now today.
My big, long stint was for 10 years as an operations director at an ad agency in Chicago and got to bring in young project managers and train them up on how to work in the system, and then also build a process-driven system for that agency that was growing like crazy. We went from 40 to 80 people and then, because of 2008, back down to about 30 again, so a lot of volatility during that. It was fun to learn to flex. And then eventually I just got to the point where I’m like, “Let’s stop helping one at a time. Let’s go out and help a whole bunch of business owners.” So, that’s how we got here today.
Ben: All right, cool, awesome. Thank you. I guess what I’d like to open with is… Because I always like to start with the problem so people can see themselves and what we’re talking about before we start talking about knowledge or information. What do you see as the biggest symptoms or the most common symptoms of business owners that are running a business, but are not so process-driven?
Susan: The number one symptom is overwhelm. Lately, we’re seeing burnout as part of that too. Generally, it’s the business owners who’re doing everything in their businesses. They think that they can’t get help or they don’t know that there is help out there for them. Their business is small enough that they can pretty much talk to most of the team every day, but they can’t figure out how to get past that. How do you take that next step? How do you grow the business, especially when you’re doing everything? So those are the symptoms that normally drive someone to come to us.
Ben: I don’t want to put you on the spot, we could skip to something else first, but if you have a couple of stories or real examples of people and what they were going through.
Susan: I have a perfect example. One of my oldest clients, love him dearly. I’m still, many years later, his confidant and I’m on his Slack and he’ll hit me up from time to time. But, he came to us in sheer panic. He put all of his eggs in one basket for a huge software development project. He had about three or four team members at the time and had tried a value-priced, fixed-price solution for this client.
Well, the problem was that they had never defined the deliverable, so they could just do this forever. They didn’t know when it ended. They were quickly running out of money because it was a fixed price. And, they were not clear on what they had to deliver, and supposedly it was due in a month. And I’m like, “Well, I’m not sure that we can fix this, but we can reset it.” So we jumped in with him, and we reset it with the client. Ain’t nobody happy in that situation.
The client wasn’t happy. They weren’t happy, but we reached a common agreement of this is what we’re going to deliver and this is by when. So we came into that situation as it was an emergency. It was a house on fire and so we’ve worked up. We started with the emergency and then started with, okay, well, how are you tracking these things?
Do you have the right software to track things? Are you following the same process? We backed it up to what did you sell in the first place? What does your proposal look like?
We ironed out all those systems and now he still has a small team, and I think he wants to keep it as a small team, but he has a developer who is also an excellent project manager on his staff. They are using the tool that we put in place and things generally run very smoothly. They don’t have any more of these hair-on-fire, we’re-about-to-go-out-of-business emergencies.
Ben: That is very cool. We want people to understand things and learn things from this conversation that they can apply in their own business. So thinking about what you do with your clients, thinking about what you do with that client and other ones, and I know you have an e-book on this we could share, people can get more details on this. But I know you’ve identified three main elements that get you beyond the chaos. They get you.
Ben: So three things that are key elements for getting to a more process-driven business so that things are a little easier or a lot easier, not as hard and hamster-wheelie and overwhelming as they feel right now. What are these three pieces people need to do to get to that more process-driven business?
Susan: So one is to establish process. Not in your head, written down.
Ben: Not in your head, but Susan, we all know how it’s supposed to go. We all know. I have everybody shadow, for the first four months, the other person so they all know what to do. Everybody knows it’s a waste of time.
Susan: And that’s totally scalable. You could expand your business to have 100 team members just that way because it’s all in your head.
Ben: I hope people can see. I don’t know if they can see. Those who are not watching the video could see that we’re laughing here because this is how everybody starts.
Susan: It is true. And so, as that owner, you have to get out of your head what the repeatable things are. Start with the things that you hate the most. I hear a lot of people, “I hate invoicing.” Okay. Well, stop doing it. Get somebody else to do it for you. That’s why you’re in business, is to make money, and you can’t actually make it if you’re not asking for it. So, that could be a great process to start with, how you invoice your clients. The second stage of this after you get those processes developed is to manage projects well, and that’s any deliverable that you have.
Ben: You mean for your own clients or for within your business? What do you mean by projects?
Susan: The answer is yes to both of those, but we generally work with professional services, or — I call them home — services, so think contractor, AC, electrician, that kind of thing.
Ben: So a project could be one HVAC installation or repair?
Ben: Or one consulting job for your client or something?
Susan: Or as a lawyer, a case.
Ben: So it’s like a workflow?
Susan: Right. So what is your deliverable? What is your fulfillment? Essentially, what are you providing to the client? That’s the project and the fulfillment that we want to be very clear on:
how is it repeatable
how do we set up templates for it
what tool are you using to manage it
and how do we get all of your team on the same wavelength of using the tool that you’ve chosen the same way every time?
So that’s the second aspect of that.
And then the third thing is managing yourself and your interruptions. Anybody who’s heard me say anything anywhere is going to have heard me preach about calendaring or calendar blocking, time blocking. It’s all the same thing. But making sure that you are in charge of where your time is being spent, instead of being a victim to what dictates your day. And that’s when you can get to the growth stage of focusing on your business.
If you’re handling emergencies, there needs to be somebody else that’s taking that role off your plate if you want to grow your business. Something shouldn’t get to you unless it has been through a layer or two of people. And at that point, now, maybe you need to get involved. But the goal is to have people working for you that can handle that day-to-day so that you can look at the big picture.
Ben: That limiting interruption is key. One thing I started doing recently with my own to-do list in the last few months is prioritizing it before I start to work on things. Before I start to work on clearing my email box or just going through whatever to-do or project or whatever needs to be worked on, first is just, wait. Let’s prioritize. What’s the most important or most urgent, but just make sure it’s more strategic. And I definitely love the time blocking, obviously agree with you on the gospel of time blocking, which is the concept of what they call rocks, that image that Stephen Covey has of rocks, pebbles, sand, and water trying to fit in a glass cylinder.
And unless you put the rocks first, the biggest things in first, the most important things in and make space for them and just everything in between, those big, important things are just not going to get done, because there’s not going to be room from all the sand and pebbles. So I definitely hear what you’re saying there.
You talked a minute ago about managing projects or getting better at managing projects, so you talked about technology and whether it’s your deliverables, how to execute your process, repeatability, how to track it, templates, and how people get better? What are a couple of things you would tell people who want to get better at managing their projects or managing their workflows?
Susan: One thing that I would say is that if you are not a detailed person, you need to find a person who is. Because, project management is detailed, and it is tedious in some cases. If you are relying on, say, a software developer to be a great software developer and then to also manage their own projects — unless it’s a very special person, (now we do have a special person, that client I mentioned earlier?), but unless it’s a very special person, they’re not going to succeed at both.
The philosophy of a software developer is, oh, how can I get this done? How can I fix this? Not, oh, when do you need it by? How long is it going to take me? Do I have to address any budget issues? Is it in scope? It’s just totally opposite brainwaves. So that’s the first thing to know, is this an area that you are going to succeed in? If not, there are tons of fractional project managers out there. And you might not need a full-time one. And I know it’s hard to hire right now, so look at those fractionals.
Ben: And your firm does that too, right?
Susan: We do. The second part of that is if you are a detailed person, start to think through all the steps it takes to get something executed. You’re going to find that it’s more than you thought and what can be repeated. So that’s another thing that goes back to the operations of your business is that if you don’t have easy things to hand off, a flow of things, all the steps to follow, then you might be offering something that’s too complicated.
It’s not scalable because you can’t just lather, rinse, repeat. So that’s a good heads up if you’re like, “Oh, everything’s different. Every client’s different.” Even if you’re doing custom software development where you are providing a different deliverable and a different function to each of your clients, the steps to get there are the same.
You still have to sit down and write code. You have to quality test it. And, you have to beta test it. You have to go through all those steps. And so making sure that you are being consistent is that next step.
And guess what else? That applies to your brand so that you’re delivering the same thing in the same manner to the clients, that’s part of your brand. All the clients get the same experience. So it’s twofold, and it’s threefold, I don’t know, it’s probably tenfold to get those processes down.
Use a great project management tool, that’s another step. We have a lot of clients that come to us and they’re like, “Oh, I tried Asana and Basecamp, and I tried Trello, but none of them worked.” Okay, well they all work. We have perfect examples of companies running on those really well. It is still a tool though and you have to create the process around that tool so that all of your team is using it consistently. They know which features they use for what, And, it needs to be implemented very deliberately. And your team needs to be-
Ben: Well, that’s hard. If I think about doing that, it’s like, “Ah, who has the time or ability or attention to figure out all the features and figure out how it should work and how do you build this process?” Let’s say we documented it, but how do you build the execution of that into this workflow and who does what? And at what point? And how does the person know when there’s a handoff and when the previous person’s piece is done? Who could do that? But I guess that’s where your project manager comes in.
Susan: That’s why we exist.
Ben: Those who can see the video, I got this book here, Who Not How by Dan Sullivan, Dr. Benjamin Hardy, is that on those things… instead of figuring out how do I get a project management software to serve me and my team and get people using it appropriately is ask who can help me get this? Because it’s too overwhelming to think about doing it yourself, for me or any of us.
Susan: It is very overwhelming. And the other part of that too is your average run-of-the-mill project manager doesn’t create that, they execute that. So there’s still a step, even if you find a great project manager.
Ben: In the setup, you mean?
Ben: So is that the fractional COOs? Who do the people talk with? What kind of person do people talk with for the setup, a consultant, a fractional COO?
Susan: It could be a very senior project manager, so somebody that has a lot of experience might be able to do it. A new person is not going to be able to, but a fractional COO should either be able to or should be able to direct your team on what to do and how to do it.
In teaching the software, you might have to find an expert in the software. And one thing that you want to avoid in that area too is just saying, “Here are all the features. I’ve trained you.”
The features in most of these software tools are overwhelming and you don’t need all of them. And so if you’re just dumping, “oh, this is what it can do” out there, you’re not figuring out how your company can succeed with it. You have to apply that process to the tool, and that’s what you want to train your team on how to do.
Ben: Awesome. I would love to hear, I’ll tell somebody one more piece of information, or tell the listeners and viewers, about any other stories you can think of where, let’s say, clients that you’ve helped, where you’ve helped them set up their documentation and their project management and how the founder or owner was able to limit interruptions, et cetera. Any other stories or examples you could share from that?
Susan: Yeah, we have a perfect example of that. We have a new — it’s a fairly new –company startup. It’s software development again. They’ve been offering custom software and they want to take it, build it and make it a SaaS software, so the structure of how their business has to change. There are only three people in this company. It’s the owner and two others, and the owner was doing all of it. Completely overwhelmed. Didn’t know where to go. Didn’t know how things flowed. And, didn’t know how to manage sales necessarily or leads.
Somebody, not us, to be clear, had told him that Salesforce was the answer to his problems, which is way overkill for a business that size. It was too complicated. They couldn’t figure it out. We had him, we’re like, “You’re just going to have to eat it and chalk it up as a mistake. Don’t renew it.”
And we pushed them towards HubSpot, and we had them set up, with the sales set up in HubSpot in about, I don’t know, a week? And he is like, “We’ve been trying to do this for a year in Salesforce and you just did it in a week.”
Then we set him up with Teamwork.com, which is my very favorite project management tool. We built some templates on how they start projects because they’re going to sell these and then customize what they sell. So we built a solution or a template into that for them to be able to do that, and we started managing their projects. And this man feels like he has been freed from so much stuff. He’s like, “I had no idea.” He didn’t even know that it could be so much easier with just a little help.
Ben: Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that a great feeling?
Susan: I know. And he’s off and running. He’s so happy. We love working with him because, of course, everything we do seems like magic to him, which is great. And he’s been able to focus then on what are the people out there going to need? What are the features that are going to be needed for the software so that they can create something that can sell better? He couldn’t even do that before. He’s off and running. It’s very exciting.
Ben: It’s awesome. It makes it much more concrete and for sure people can learn about you and the three main elements of getting a more process-driven business at beyondthechaos.biz/ebook, and obviously, that’s the website to find out more about you, Susan I just really appreciate you coming out today and sharing this and teaching this and showing what it looks like.
Susan: Thanks so much for having me, Ben. This was fun.
Ben: Thank you. And we’ll see everybody else on the other side. Thanks. Bye-bye.