Preparing your small growth business comes with its own set of unique challenges. Having an evolving process for fundamental areas of your business and properly delegating tasks can save you time and money. Listen as Susan talks with Amber Grey and Emily Fisk of Trusty Oak on building a process as your business scales and the importance of clear, communicative delegation. Together they impart wisdom and discuss tools to help you prioritize your time, determine which aspects of your business you can start delegating, and different ways to build out processes for every part of your operations.
- How to determine what tasks to members of your team
- The importance of a shareable, evolving process document for fundamental areas of your business
- Software and tools to begin managing your tasks
- Planning your week with time blocking
- What to look for when hiring help
- And more!
Please find the full video transcript below:
Emily: We will start right on time in a couple of minutes as people trickle in. Feel free to say hi in the chat, or if you’re shy, you can just lurk.
Amber: We’re over here talking about the weather in Texas, and here we have somebody in Indiana.
Emily: Ooh yeah.
Amber: It’s got to be cold up there.
Emily: It’s cold here in Boise, it’s cold. We’re supposed to get more snow this week.
Amber: Oh, another McKinney, Texas. Cool. Hi, Kenya. Cool. We did have, I think, close to 50 RSVPs, so we don’t want to start too early.
Emily: Mm-hmm (affirmative). We’ve got some excellent questions that people have already asked in their registration, but we’ll also be taking questions on the live here. If you already have a question, you can pop it in the chat, but I assume a lot of people will have questions prompted by our discussion.
Amber: Hi, Casey. You must work in collaboration with Chelsea.
Emily: That happens to us too. Sometimes I show up as Amber.
Amber: I wonder if we can change her name.
Emily: She might have to log out.
Emily: We’ll get started in about a minute here.
Amber: Hi, Josh and Jennifer. Thanks for joining.
Emily: Two Jennifers. It’s a popular name. I’ve got a Jennifer sister. All right, should we get started? What do you think panelists?
Amber: Let’s do it.
Emily: Like I said, as everybody trickles in, feel free to introduce yourself in the chat. You can say where you are, what business or organization you’re with, and I’m just going to kick us off. I am hosting today. I’m Emily Fisk. I’m the vice president of operations at Trusty Oak, and I’ll be facilitating our panel discussion today. So, I and a couple of our team members here at Trusty Oak, we’ll be looking at the chat. So, feel free to drop questions in there at any time. You can drop them in if you already know what question you want to ask today. We’ve also got lots of questions from registrants already teed up. Thank you all for asking questions as you registered. I’ll be helping with monitoring that chat and making sure that our questions get to our two panelists today.
So, to introduce our panelists today, we’ve got Susan Fennema and Amber Grey. Amber Grey is the founder and CEO of Trusty Oak. An award-winning, Austin-based virtual assistant company providing administrative and marketing services to entrepreneurs and small businesses. Trusty Oak is on a mission to combat small business burnout and get companies growing by connecting driven entrepreneurs with the best freelance virtual assistants in the US. A people-first approach to hiring— along with a skilled growth model— has positioned Trusty Oak as a flexible, dependent, and affordable alternative to hiring administrative and marketing employees. In 2021, Trusty Oak was named Freelancer Hiring Platform of the Year, and Amber was recognized as Austin Businesswoman of the Year. Welcome, Amber, very excited to hear your wisdom today.
Amber: Thank you. Thanks for the intro.
Emily: And Susan Fennema. Susan is the chaos eradicating officer or CEO, I love that, of Beyond the Chaos. 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.
She and her team have served over 100 small businesses with 30 plus years of operations and project management experience in professional service industries. Susan is on a mission to improve American society exponentially. When not making multi-course dinners, she enjoys Texas A&M football games and Blackhawks hockey. She lives and works from her home in McKinney, Texas with her husband and their dog, Shelby. Welcome, Susan.
Susan Fennema: Hi, glad to be here.
Emily: Amber and Susan have a shared philosophy on delegation and small business scalability. That’s why we chose to host this event. We like panel discussions because that allows everybody to kind of have a more interactive environment. Susan and Amber have a lot of synchronicity with the services that they offer. So today we’ll be talking a lot about processes and delegation, as well as communication and team and personal development. We have a lot of questions to get through today. We may not get to all of them, but we will be sharing the recording after and you’ll have good access to both Susan and Amber after the event if you’ve got a burning question that just did not get answered in this live event.
Susan: Well, and Emily, I’ll jump. The questions that we didn’t get answered, I’m happy to answer some of those in an email after the fact too, if that is helpful. I’m sure Amber would do the same.
Amber: Likewise, absolutely.
Amber: We’re here for you.
Emily: Excellent. Well, I’m going to kick us off with a couple of the questions that we’ve gotten from the registrants already here today. And like I said, everybody who’s listening live, feel free to chime in, in the chat if you’ve got a follow-up question or just want to add to the discussion. So, let’s start on the topic of delegation. One of our registrants asked a good starting point question. Which is, “when/what to delegate, what do I delegate first?” Where do we even start with this idea of delegation? I’ll kick that to Amber first.
Amber: I’ll take the lead on that one. So, I always like to recommend, choose something that is repeatable first. One of the myths you hear people saying a lot of times is it’s faster if I do it myself. I struggle with delegating that. I think there may even be some questions in here that kind of allude to that idea. The truth is that yes, it may be. If it’s something you’re doing every single day, week, month, even quarter, anything that repeats at all, that’s a good trigger to say this may be something that I can delegate. If you can show someone how to do it once, then it takes it off your plate forever. It’s going to save you hours and hours over time.
It could be something as small as scheduling appointments. That doesn’t take that long for you to put something on your calendar. But if you’re doing that all day long or throughout the week, it starts adding up. That’s where it’s going to be something that’s an ideal thing to delegate.
So, repeatable tasks that you can…also, something that’s low stakes especially when you’re new to delegating to someone.
Particularly if it’s a virtual assistant, or another kind of contractor that you don’t know so well yet, a new employee. The trust might not be as strong as you want it to be. You need that person you’re delegating to, to demonstrate that they’re trustworthy and they can do the thing that you’re asking them to do. So, start with something small, giving you a chance to provide feedback. Let them correct it, do it again, and then that’s off your plate for good, so repeatable, low-stakes tasks are really where I recommend starting.
Susan: I’m going to chime in on this one too because I think small business owners do struggle with this. How do I even know what’s repeatable and to Amber’s point, what is low stakes?
I have a little exercise that I recommend you do. Take a spreadsheet, write down everything that you’re doing, just jot it down. It doesn’t have to be detailed.
Do it for about a week, maybe a week and a half if you are not paying as close attention as you should be. Then start going through a few columns next to that. The first column can be, how much would you pay someone to do this? So, if you’re looking at, oh, this is probably a $20 an hour task. Maybe the business owner who should be looking at themselves as making maybe $150, $200 an hour. Maybe that’s a good thing to start to delegate.
It does need to be repeatable, it does need to be low stakes. Don’t start with handing off-payroll or something like that, but that ability to prioritize. The other thing that you can get off of that list is, man, what do I hate to do? The things that just bog me down or interrupt my day, so that I can’t focus on something else. Or I get distracted and I go down that rabbit hole. Those are also great things to get off your plate, so you can look at the bigger picture.
Amber: That’s good.
Emily: I love that. That’s really good.
Amber: Especially if you’re really busy and looking to delegate things. It might feel a little daunting to start tracking what you’re doing. This is a critical step, in getting things off your plate and starting to build a job description for the person that you need to hire. Maybe it’s someone you already have. So, I totally agree. It’s worth taking that step to go through that exercise to track.
Emily: Absolutely, that’s excellent. As a follow-up, several of our registrants ask questions kind of on this theme of when you are delegating these repeatable tasks. How do you build in a process for feedback? So that you are making sure that people are held accountable, but you are moving up in this process of delegating bigger tasks? You mentioned trust might be low, Amber. Susan, you mentioned building out processes. So you understand what the lower-level projects are that you need to get off your plate. Then I assume you might want to move even to those higher-level things like payroll. So, maybe Susan, I’ll kick it to you first. What is your process for making sure those delegatees are held accountable?
Susan: So first, having a written process, that’s the absolute first thing. The second is you can’t just hope that somebody’s going to go do it your way the first time and get it right. You’re going to have to be a leader, you’re going have to be a manager. You’re going to have to invest some time in that. We have a lot of processes in our company, no surprise because that’s what we do. When we are training somebody, we have them read through them all, they also know where they are. These processes are not to be memorized. You go back and follow them. As the owner, you need to be making sure, and especially initially that there are no questions. Make sure that they have a method to ask you, whether that be via Slack. Probably you want to try to stay out of your email.
So, I would recommend a different communication that might be faster to keep them moving. The other is manage to the process. When something doesn’t go right or doesn’t have the outcome that you expect, instead of blaming the person, blame the process. Now the two of you are working together to improve a process, which is a great team-building opportunity. It’s a great way to get different perspectives on your process. It’s a fantastic way to build better processes for the next person who comes after them or if they want to hand it off as they progress in your business. So, that would be how I would say to handle that.
Amber: Definitely. One of the things I mentioned, trust earlier, trust is equal parts character and competence. This is from a book called Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey. This book, I read it regularly. It’s how Trusty Oak got its name. It’s a little bit of the inspiration behind it all, but if trust is what’s building in the relationship over time, feedback is the key to building that trust. So, I love what you’re saying about using it as an opportunity to say, hey, let’s review the process, let’s work on this together, and actually using feedback, not as a bad thing. It’s necessary for things to get better, for you to be able to improve your processes, to get more efficient. So, that’s a big part of it. Then I also wanted to share, and Emily, if you can share that five levels of delegation.
This is something that my coach actually told me about the five levels of delegation. I think it was originally on the Harvard Business Review. I’ve seen it on Michael Hyatt’s website. We’ll send this to you all that are listening in and not looking at the screen. We can share this with you. It’s kind of harder to explain without the visual. It’s essentially a method you can use when you’re first starting out with anyone you’re going to delegate to and define what these different levels are.
Level one is what some people might call micromanaging. In the sense of I’m telling you exactly how to do it, it could be micromanaging. It could also just be, follow this process. This is already tried and true. This is what we know works, so do it exactly the way I’ve asked you to do it. That’s level one. Then as you work your way up the levels up to level five, you start loosening up and giving that person you’re delegating to more autonomy. To make decisions on your behalf, or maybe bring information, so that you can make an educated decision.
At point level five, that’s really not necessarily the level you want to aspire to for every single thing you’re delegating. There are going to be some functions of your business that you want to say, hey, I know I’ve shown you how I expect something to be done, and this is a level five task. I want you to just make whatever decision you think is best and actually move that forward. That’s ultimate delegation right there where you’re not actually even involved in the process and that’s not always appropriate. So, it’s not one of these things where you’re constantly trying to get to level five. This is just a good way to communicate with the person you’re delegating to. This is a level three delegated task, or this is level four. Make a decision and then tell me what you did.
Really, this is just a format to be able to structure the conversation. It’s a great way to start out with a new person you’re delegating. So sharing this, explaining the different levels, and then as you’re delegating… I’ve done this where I might ask Emily to help me with something. I’ll just say, “Hey, level four, can you take care of this?” That way she knows I’m going to take care of this for you and I’m going to come back and tell you what I did just so you’re in the loop. So, this is a really useful tool. I use it personally from time to time, and I think it’s really helpful. Especially if you’re struggling to get that delegation ball rolling.
Susan: I love this, this is great.
Emily: I’ll tell you, as the delegatee, often it is very helpful to have that communication really clear on what’s expected. Because when those are misaligned, things get really confusing. So, to follow up on this topic, communication is often in this virtual space and we’re often using tools. So [Nebequier 00:16:11], I think, is how to say your name, asked, do you all recommend a tool to capture our tasks and maybe that can also lead into what you all are talking about? Where do your processes live, where are you communicating, what level of delegation this is? Amber, I’ll start with you as far as tools that you recommend for getting all of this pulled together in a system.
Amber: Thanks Neb for your question, good to meet you last week. Yes, Trello is my go-to, but really it can be any project management software. Like Susan was saying earlier, getting it out of your email is really an important thing to consider because you’re going to get distracted. If you’re going to your email to look for stuff and manage a task, you’re going to get distracted with new things coming in. You need it to be somewhere where you can really focus.
The great part about using something like Trello is that you can have mini discussions over individual tasks. You can set due dates. One of the best practices I like with my assistant is a weekly sync. Where I’m looking at Trello with her to say, okay, what do I need done this week? Sometimes just having that sync meeting is enough for me to slow down and think. What do I need to delegate this week?
We can look at it together and prioritize. Because even throughout the week or so, I may think of something and just drop it on the Trello board as a quick note. But it probably doesn’t have enough context. It doesn’t have a due date, but then in that weekly call, I can explain, okay yes, that’s important, that’s more important than this other thing, et cetera.
So, you can really manage the task, and it’s a good way to capture those crazy ideas that we come up with as business owners that we might realize later, hey, it’s not as important as it was, but at least it’s on a back burner where your assistant or whoever you’re delegating to can actually pick that stuff up when they have some free time. So, Trello is my go-to. There are a lot of them out there that can really be beneficial though. So, I’m sure Susan has some good ones to share.
Susan: Software is actually one of our values that we believe technology sets you free as a company. So, we are very into the right software for the right purpose. Teamwork.com is what we recommend. It is a step up from Trello. However, if you’re using nothing, Trello is a fantastic starting place. When you’re ready to upgrade, Teamwork.com will just import it right in. I’ll give you a link here to Teamwork.com if you want to check that out.
Susan: That is a full project management tool. One of the things we recommend in that tool is creating an operations project that is for your business. Not to manage other clients, not to manage other projects, but for your business. And in that tool, in that project, you can create notebooks for all of your processes. One of the things I don’t like to see is a Google Drive or a OneDrive with just Microsoft Word documents in it. Because they’re not searchable. Once you put the content into an actual notebook in a program like Teamwork.com, people can search. Oh yeah. Wait, how did we build this client last time?
You can search for the client name in that project and it’ll pull you to the correct process to read. It also allows us to categorize by what process they are about. When we are onboarding team members, we’re able to say, hey, here’s a link to this category, go read these six processes. This is that step, and then the next step might be another group. So, that is a great way to manage processes. There are also tons of process management software tools, that’s really what they’re for. Your first step can be writing it in Word and getting it on Google Drive. Then at least it’s written, but that makes it harder for those processes to be living and evolving with you.
I think that’s something to be aware of as we talk about managing to the processes and all of that. Part of this delegation and part of the operational efficiency is starting to manage to the process. So everything you’re thinking about in your business is, wait, do we have a process for that? Is that written down? Did I just change something? I need to go make that note and alert everybody. So, that is the other beauty of these notebooks. When you make a change, you can alert all the pertinent people and notify them just what changed, so they don’t have to go read the whole thing and figure it out again.
Amber: That is cool. I didn’t know that, I’ve never used Teamwork.com, but that’s really cool. That’s making me think about what you’re sharing about searching. We use Google Sites, which is I want to say it’s a little bit antiquated in some sense. Most people don’t even realize that it’s part of your Google account if you’re a Gmail user. A Google Workspace user, but we created what’s essentially an intranet. What you just shared about Teamwork.com actually notifying of changes is really cool. We don’t have that functionality within what we call the Treehouse. It’s our intranet where we have our processes documented and a big reason why we love it is because it’s searchable. It’s a Google product, of course, so being able to search a keyword if you’re looking for something.
Amber: I worked for a little software company when I first started Trusty Oak. I was hustling and working some extra jobs, and that’s where I learned about it. They used it to share the Wi-Fi password for the office, the code to the bathroom door, or whatever it may be. It was just something that was very easy for people to access and get what they needed. Finding something that’s searchable is really key because people aren’t going to refer back to your process docs if it’s difficult to access. So, that’s really important.
Susan: If you have a large growing team too. I think it’s important to make sure that when a new process comes out, how are you rolling it out to that team? So, when you’re using it in conjunction with a tool like Teamwork.com, you can add a task for every single person and it’ll let you do multiple so that you can assign, hey, go read this, here’s your link and they have to check it off, so you can [crosstalk 00:22:58]-
Amber: Okay, I’m really excited about this now.
Emily: Me too.
Susan: Then, you can have some documentation that they actually read it and they’ll know where it is. That’s the other thing. You want to always be thinking about this is a process-oriented company, how do we manage to that?
Emily: That’s really, really excellent. I’m definitely taking notes, Susan, I just love the process side of how you work. To kind of piggyback off of that, but also go into a different topic. Several of our people here have asked about interviewing, both when they registered and here live, interviewing and hiring. So, that’s kind of going back to when you’re getting started with delegation or you’re trying to scale. How do you do this the right way rather than the wrong way and pay for it later on? Chelsea just asked, when interviewing people to potentially hire, do you recommend any sort of project as part of the interview process that gauges their level of independence with tasks? So Susan, maybe I’ll start with you on that. Do you do anything like that in your interviewing process?
Susan: No. These days hiring, if you start making people jump through hoops, they’re going to move on. The good ones at least because everybody’s in demand right now. And I shouldn’t say that, we do have a little thing that you fill out, but it’s quick. It’s not, manage this whole thing for me and come back. You’re not getting work for free, let’s put it that way.
Susan: So a questionnaire, probably okay in my mind. A big ordeal of go do some research and come back and it feels like you’re doing something free for the company. That I would steer clear of.
Amber: Yep, I agree with that. So, our interview process is fairly intense actually. It takes about three weeks or so to get through our interview process because we have multiple interviews in the process. We do have an assessment, but it’s set up as a questionnaire of what would you do in this type of situation. So, we’re able to see, especially for hiring virtual assistants, we’re looking at written communication, problem-solving. There are certain aspects in those answers that we’re looking for. We have a scoring rubric that we’re able to look at through that. So, I would say that you kind of need to strike that balance. You definitely don’t want somebody feeling like they’re creating a deliverable from nothing. We did an experiment at some point where we had had people write a blog post about… What was it about, like watermelons or something like that?
Emily: How to choose a watermelon.
Amber: The idea behind it, in this case, we wanted to make sure they knew how to manipulate a WordPress page and those kinds of things. Honestly, I think that if you’re hiring, hire for fit for your company first. You can teach someone. I know a lot of people, who don’t want to take the time to teach and it doesn’t mean that you have to go into one-to-one training for this person.
Maybe pay for a little course for them to take if you need them to learn something new, once you’ve hired them. But hire for fit first. Obviously, you do need a certain set of skill sets and you can find some ways to find out what their experience is with that. But that’s going to be, to me, less of a priority than it is to find somebody that really jives with you. A strong communicator can really be an extension of the company on your behalf. So, I hope we answered that. If there are any follow-up questions, Chelsea, feel free.
Susan: I think one thing that we might not have made as clear and I just answered the questionnaire question, but we have a very distinct process and we do multiple interviews. The important part is always to do the same steps. You need a process for your interview. So, especially because as small business owners, we don’t hire every day. It might be six months before you do this again, and then you’re like, oh, how did I do that? Who did I ask? What were the steps we went through? If you don’t have all of that in some sort of a format that you can look back on, you’re reinventing the wheel each time, and it’s harder to judge too. You’re like, well, did this person do as well as that person that I loved?
Amber: It’s true.
Susan: Without all that process.
Amber: I guess just one more little random tip to throw out there about hiring the way we do it because we do have a high volume of applications and we are doing it on a weekly basis, daily basis I’m sure.
So, we ask for a video introduction in addition to the resume. It’s a simple follow the instructions, and present yourself professionally.
It can be a one-minute video. We’re not asking for a big movie or anything, any kind of production. Just record a quick video, introduce yourself, tell us why you’re excited to work with us. It gets to that fit part a little bit quicker because we can see if they’re actually excited and interested. Or if we’re just one of the many websites they dropped their resume into and following by actually taking that first step. Honestly, this will save you a lot of time parsing through resumes if you’re picking something important at the beginning of the step. To weed out some people that may not be as interested as they say they are in their cover letter.
Susan: And Amber, to your point, I think having things that judge multiple things at the same time. So, when I first get an applicant and someone interested, they have to answer three questions. I want to know what the answers are to the three questions, but that’s actually the least important part. I want to see how quickly do they respond, how well written are they? Did they write me three paragraphs of stuff that I’m like, whoa, we need to be more succinct, or is it bullet pointed? There are multiple things that you can look for in something that’s seemingly simple. And so, if you set something up like that, you can start to target all those things in fewer steps.
Emily: Excellent. I’m hearing over and over, if you’ve got a process, you can follow that process and tweak it when you need to.
Emily: So, build some processes. I love that. Let’s go back to the topic of delegation with one of our questions that came in with someone who registered. Kayla says I feel stuck on a wheel where my virtual assistant can do so many amazing things, but I just can’t find the time to delegate more tasks. What should Kayla do in this situation? I’ll pass it to Amber first.
Amber: So, I touched on this a little bit earlier with the sync meeting. That’s one way you can force yourself to slow down, as I mentioned, slow down, figure out what it is you might need to delegate. Just how having your virtual assistant there to hold you accountable in that way. It can be helpful, but a couple of other things. In the case of a virtual assistant, I realize that there may be people attending this that are not looking at this from a virtual assistant perspective. But if it’s a VA or an assistant of some kind, give them access to your email and calendar just so they can see what’s going on in your work life. If they can see into that, even if they’re not doing anything, just to sort of see, okay, what kind of emails are coming in?
What kind of requests? How busy is the schedule? What’s happening? Are they driving around a lot? I can actually see, oh, well, here’s something they’re doing all of the time that I know I can pick up as a virtual assistant. If I see that, if I have access to be able to see what your life is like, I can start making suggestions. So, the burden of figuring out what to delegate isn’t all on you as the owner. Your VA can help you figure that out if you give them access. So again, back to the whole trust concept, it may be difficult at first if you’re feeling vulnerable. But technology makes it possible to grant access and revoke access.
Use those tools in a secure way of giving people access, like adding someone as a delegated inbox to your email, so they don’t have your password for example. There are ways you can protect yourself, but I think them seeing what you’re doing, and then having a sync call. Letting your VA help you. Tell them what they can do because they do have a wide range of skills in a lot of cases and they’re going to be able to say, hey, I see you doing this and I can do that. So, that’s the biggest for me is just let them, let them carry that load with you.
Susan: I think another thing when you can’t get out of your own head or feel like, oh, I got to take the time and I got to teach them, pull up Loom, and Emily, I’ll get you to put the link to Loom in the chat.
Emily: On it now.
Susan: Loom is a fantastic little video tool. You can capture your screen and you can speak through it, so you can give directions. Show them the tool and what you need them to do, then just shoot them the link to the Loom video. Ask them to write up the process from it as well. Now, initially, you might need to be going through the processes after they write them to make sure that they captured what you said. I know that is a philosophy of capturing the process only via video.
I don’t like that method because you can’t evolve it. Because if you change your tool, you can’t just go change the tool in the process. You have to go make a whole new video of the whole thing. It’s harder just to tweak, but this is a great way to start if you are like… You can even realize in the middle of it, I’ve done that. Where I’m like, I do this all the time. I have got to get somebody to do it for me, and then just back up and start over. Record it and you can talk all the way through it too, giving insight as to why. Why is it a good thing to include? Because it helps not with that first step of doing exactly what I said, but it helps with all the rest of the steps.
Amber: Yes. Well, Loom is at the top… Trello and Loom are my two main recommended delegation tools. I use Loom all the time. Literally, I can’t imagine doing work without it. One other thing that I wanted to add just in terms of establishing a rhythm with delegating. This takes a little bit of discipline on our part as the owner to actually plan our week.
Don’t just be reactive to everything that’s happening to you, actually sit down. I do this. Usually, it’s Sunday like mid-morning. Sometimes I’ll do it on Saturday where I’m just 30 to 60 minutes sitting down. Figuring out, what do I want my week to look like next week. Then time blocking on my calendar. It gets pretty crazy with the colors. I know Susan’s a fan time blocking too. But just taking the time to actually say, this is what I want to happen this week.
And of course, it doesn’t always stay perfectly within the boxes that you put on your calendar but taking that time to plan, you’ll dig up things that you can delegate if you’re taking just that pause to say, here’s what I want to accomplish, and maybe there’s a big task in there, but there’s a piece of that task may be that involves research or something like that, and I think there’s a question about, how do you break it down into different pieces, but that’s really how you start doing it, you start to look at, okay, what does it take to actually achieve this big chunk of a project? What pieces can I delegate in it? There usually are some things hidden in the bigger to-do.
Emily: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Susan: Well, I also think by being intentional and, Amber, we could probably do a whole session on calendar blocking because it makes our lives so much easier, but being intentional about what you’re going to do with your time also means that when something interrupts you, that’s a good sign that maybe that’s something that can be delegated. Do I have to do it? Do I have to come off of my intended plan to do this or can someone else handle it for me? So, that could be a little switch in your brain to go that direction.
Emily: I love that.
Amber: Sounds good.
Emily: I want to keep you both on this topic a little bit because I know that you’re both master time blockers. When I look at Amber’s calendar, I know exactly where she is at any moment, which is very nice for me [crosstalk 00:36:15]. Oh, you’re on a walk with Fritz right now, you want to call me when you’re done, but let me tie it into this question that Sarah Buckley asked.
Amber, you alluded to it, kind of the best way to communicate the big picture without bogging your team down as well as a similar question that got asked, how do break big things down into discrete, manageable tasks? And, how do you both do that in terms of how you plan your weeks, how you plan the work that you’re doing, does that get into your time blocking? Maybe, Susan, if you could start with that question, how you break these big things down and into small tasks with your processes.
Susan: Sure, I was going to say, that’s a lot of questions at once.
Emily: It is, yeah.
Susan: But, I’ll try [crosstalk 00:37:05]-
Amber: Maybe there’s two there.
Susan: So, the first step is, when you have a big thing to accomplish, all it is, is a bunch of little things.
And so, that can be overwhelming to say, oh, I have to write a business plan for example, but if you break it down into, well, a business plan has these sections, what do I have to do to execute each section?
You can start to break it down into tasks that then build up to create your big thing, build it in Teamwork.com or Trello, but build your project out, so you’re managing yourself and assign them to yourself, and then you can start figuring out the timing on those things.
How long do I think it would take each of these things to do, which of these things could go to someone else, and then block the time on your calendar to execute against that plan, and maybe you’re only blocking something that says work on a marketing plan or work on a business plan or something like that, but you know where to go to get your list.
That to me is hugely important in order to, like Garcia said, the bite-sized chunks are important, but also managing yourself to allow them time to execute what you need to do, not spending the time to think through those steps is not going to end up with you accomplishing it. You’re just essentially throwing things out there as a wish instead of making it into an executable project that you can do on a timeline and you can allow yourself and schedule yourself the right amount of time to do.
Emily: I love that.
Amber: I’ll just briefly add to that, just regarding like breaking out the bite-sized, just as another example that’s coming to mind. Once a month we take a look at our forecast and our budget. So we’re looking at, okay, how did it go last month compared to what we were expecting? The steps involved in that… Obviously, we need an expert. We need our head of finance to actually do that forecast, but there’s some administrative task that would help him do that faster, so something he could delegate is exporting reports from the CRM, maybe it’s preparing a budget from our time tracking software.
We have these different pieces where it’s gathering information so that then you can just sit down and get that thing done. So, your business plan example kind of made me think of that. We’re constantly thinking of things as this big, like oh, I need to do X, Y, Z, and it’s always this top-level thing, but there’s really 10 sub-tasks underneath that. So, that’s how you do it. You just start breaking it down, and like you said, documenting those pieces of it to create the bigger job to get done.
Susan: I learned that if I had a big task like that, that I didn’t break down, I would procrastinate it because it was too big to wrap my head around, but if I knew I had an hour and I could sit down and do this part, now I can start making progress.
Emily: Absolutely, I love how this keeps kind of coming back to a work plan like that really is a process, and then you’re making the process the bad guy for yourself and your team. In the processes this week we’re going to get this done in order to get the bigger thing done by the end of the quarter. So, what you’re really saying is build this out, spend time building these things out. I really love that. So, one of our registrants asked about something in the same vein when you’re talking about time blocking, when you’re talking about big projects, Laura asked, how much time should I be spending working in the business versus working on the business as an owner? Is there a magic ratio? Does it change over time? Amber, I’m going to kick that to you first.
Amber: So, I do think that this is a more personal question in the sense that it’s going to be different depending on the business you’re in, depending on the size, depending on your goals. I’ll just kind of share an example. Neb is saying the 80/20 rule, I was thinking about that. My example of that is that I was spending close to probably 80% of my time in the business up until really last December when we delegated a lot of what I was doing.
We were building processes around what it was I was doing, so that we could delegate that to someone else, particularly around client success, and so [Becks 00:41:54] and Christine are taking over a lot of what was taking up most of my time in the business so that I can focus more externally on how I want to grow and team building and all that stuff.
I’m in year seven of my business. It can take people different amounts of time, it might depend on how much profit margin you have to work with on whether or not you can afford to hire someone to take over something you’re doing.
Your business may be something where your service is your expertise.
So if that’s the case, you’re probably going to need to be in the business a lot more than somebody else that is providing a product, for example. So, it really is different for everyone, and if your goals are to run a business where it doesn’t require a lot of your time, the process is your best friend. That is the only way to do it, process and delegation, really everything we’re talking about here, that is the key to creating a scalable business that doesn’t take up more of your time, but it does take time to implement those things.
And like I said, having the financial ability to do that is also part… You’ve got to start looking at, am I even charging enough for my services to be able to do what I’m saying I want to happen? So, there are a lot of aspects to that. I feel like it’s a loaded question, but definitely, one that’s on all of our minds.
Emily: Now Susan.
Susan: I completely agree that it really depends on your situation. Up until about a year and a half ago, maybe two years, I actually did most of the initial consulting with clients, and I knew that if I kept doing that, I would not have time to find more clients to grow the business because I’m spending my time working with the clients instead of serving more of them. So, I had to really sit down and think hard about what is my process when I go through this and how to train my team to do it.
And so at that point, I was able to shift to the point that right now I really am responsible for sales and marketing in my business, and both of those are things for my long-term goal, I don’t want to do those either. I want to be the owner that comes in and sets the tone and answers some questions and leads a little bit and has this great retirement business that can continue to run without me, which also makes it sellable, by the way. They can’t see you doing all the work-
Amber: That was my next thought.
Susan: And, think that they’re going to buy it because they need you to do it.
Amber: Right, absolutely.
Emily: I’m sure so many people here on this forum are resonating with that, that that’s also their goal and they realize that they’ve got to bite some bullets to get there. It’s not easy, but it’s what you guys are teaching this process and delegation is, the only way to scale, the only way to get yourself out.
Susan: I think to that point too, if you’re trying… Exit planning is a much bigger topic, but if you’re trying to move away from those kinds of things, the place you want to get out of first is the fulfillment with your clients. So, whatever you’re delivering, you need to not be in that, somebody else needs to be doing that, so how can you hand that off? And then you can look at sales, then you can look at marketing, those kinds of things down the road.
Amber: Right, I’m thinking of a colleague that is a chiropractor. So obviously, she’s the one treating the patients, but she’s created a methodology for it. This is our way of providing this service so that she can train other doctors to do it their way, so you’re hiring this brand, this company that has a method that does this consistently. Again, the process is the way she’s doing that so that she can move into something that’s more, like you said, sales and marketing and actually helping drive business to those people that she has trusted in or is implementing her methods.
So, actually, I’m trying to remember the name of the book that… There’s a book that talks about this. I can’t come up with it right off the top of my head, but it’s like a fable sort of thing where they’re telling a story of a designer that comes up with a method to be able to sell his product and he only does logos. So, it’s the way he scaled his business and then sold his business. So, it ties into that exit stuff too, but anyway.
Susan: Your point too about it being the brand, your process is what makes your brand.
Amber: It’s true.
Susan: Because everybody has to be delivering it the same way, or it’s just a bunch of people doing stuff.
Amber: Right, absolutely. You can think of that with regard to virtual assistance. We are employing freelancers that have their own ways of doing things, so what a client gets when they come to Trusty Oak, the brand and the brand promise, and the consistency and what they can expect is dictated by the way we support that relationship. It’s not necessarily how they write your social media. It’s not that method, but it is the big picture of we’re going to make sure you get onboarded with a lot of support, you have all your questions, answers, we’re getting you matched, that we have this process for how we match you with a VA, et cetera. So, there are different ways. It doesn’t always have to be the actual client service or deliverable that you’re processing out. Thank you, Neb. What is it, The Lean?
Emily: The Lean Startup.
Amber: That’s the one, yeah. I think that is the one.
Emily: Excellent, thank you.
Amber: There are different pieces of your business that you could come up with, a method, something you brand or even trademark if you want to go another step for that. You can really make that what people are purchasing from you.
Susan: We have the same because we have high-end, experienced consultants that are working with us to help people figure out how to improve their business. So, can they do that exactly the same way every time? No, but because they’re using their brain, you have to use your brain to do it, but we do have a process that we go through to ask some of the same questions, that every engagement is delivered the same way. We have a phase one, we have a phase two. Phase one is done over four weeks. Phase two can be done indefinitely, but it follows a plan that we build. All of it is built out as a process, and so people when they come in as consultants also understand what framework they’re working in so that it’s easier for them to deliver.
Emily: I just love that concept of the process as your brand. It really ties it into what are your values as a company, what are your goals, build processes to support those. This is how to do it. This is it, this is the meat and potatoes. All right, we’ve got a little less than 15 minutes left. I’m going to shoot a couple of leadership-type questions at you all. What advice would you give someone struggling to give critical feedback to someone they’re delegating to. Susan, what advice would you give that person?
Susan: You know what I’m going to say, you go to the process.
Amber: Make the process the bad guy.
Susan: So, there is a book called The One Minute Manager. If you haven’t read that, look at it. It literally takes one minute to read as well, very small, but the whole philosophy is you’re always giving feedback. It’s not a big ordeal to let’s sit down and do your review where you’re nervous, and I have to come up with all this stuff that happened over six months. If something’s happening right now that’s great, tell them it’s great. If something’s happening right now that’s not, tell them it’s not. And so, you bank both of those if you are sharing both things. You can’t only share the negative, it beats people up and they don’t want to work for that. And when you are sharing negative, you have to understand why, what happened, is the process not clear, did you not look at the process?
I had a VA, we had a very clear process, she bills a client the wrong rate and I’m like, “You have to go look, it’s right there.” And so, she never made the mistake again, and that was one where I’m like, “That’s money and clients.” So, that’s a little touchy for me and I had to take a deep breath before I talked to her because I had to understand she didn’t do this on purpose to cost us money and to piss off the client.
Susan: She was going fast, trying to execute what I wanted, and she skipped a step, and as long as she is open to the fact that I did skip a step, yep, that shouldn’t happen, this is how I’m going to correct it so next time it doesn’t happen, that’s great. If you have somebody who will consistently not follow your process, they need to not be there, bottom line. That can’t happen, that tears your whole business down, it tears all of your other team members down and you have to work them out.
Amber: And to add on that, I think about if you start the relationship with someone you’re delegating, talk about how feedback is important to building the relationship, building the trust, aligning with our goals together. So, if you’re saying it from the beginning, look, I want to give you feedback, and you do need to be willing to do it.
We’ve worked with clients, some that just completely shut down when something isn’t going well and the VA never knows that things are not going well and then can’t understand why they finally threw in the towel because something was wrong, and we all felt blindsided and it doesn’t make any sense. So, you have to at least try and communicate what the feedback is, and one of the things that my coach taught me that I really like is a very simple way.
If you’re scared about giving feedback to someone because I know, it’s uncomfortable whenever something isn’t going right, just ask them, can I give you some feedback? And, usually, that just drops the guard a little bit because they’re going to say yes. Who’s going to say no to that? They’re going to say yes, and it just sort of sets the tone. It just brings things down to a level where it’s like, hey, can I give you some feedback or we need to talk about this, and the other little tip I would say is do it over Zoom or in person when you can.
If at all possible, if you’ve got to give critical feedback, don’t fire off an email, and I think Neb mentioned something about emotions and decision making, it’s the same way with feedback. You just said you had to take a deep breath before you could talk to her about it, it is something that taking that pause before giving critical feedback and making sure that you understand your why before you get into that conversation just makes it a little bit easier I’ll say, not a lot easier because it is still hard.
Susan: Another way to approach that if you’re nervous is to start by saying, “Hey, I didn’t get the expected outcome I wanted here. Can we talk about how you got to this point or why you did it this way?” And, now you’re also delving into their thought process, which you might learn something from, you never know.
You might need to change something once you hear their thought process and I think that that’s important, but above all, be kind. That’s really one of the big things, be kind. Even if you’re firing someone, you should be looking at it from the standpoint of I’m setting them free to pursue something that is a better fit for them. So, if you’re always coming from a state of kindness and fairness, it’s going to be better received as well.
Emily: I love that. Kindness is clarity, clarity is kindness, and all of that process can allow you to be a human as well as get your business where it needs to be.
Susan: Emily, you mentioned something great there, the kindness is clarity. It’s not very kind to your team member if you’re just mad at them because they’re not doing what you want, but they don’t know that they’re not doing what you want. That’s not very kind.
Amber: And here’s another story just in regards to the five levels of delegation, I’ve also uncovered at times when a client had an expectation on, let’s say level four, where they wanted their assistant to make a decision and tell them what they did, where there was a new relationship, and the VA didn’t know that off the top, it was never expressed. And so they thought, well, let me present some options for them to decide and tell me what they want to do.
Well, then the client’s feeling like, well, they’re just asking me to do the work. I can do that myself, and it really is a communication issue, not something that… If you had just said, I want you to take the ball and run, this is my expectation, they could have probably executed on that. So, a lot of times it is really important to just say, how did you come to this outcome that was different than what I expected, because it could be a simple miscommunication, especially if it’s a new relationship.
Emily: That’s excellent. I know we haven’t gotten to every question, but we have about six minutes left. I’m going to rapid-fire one question for both of you. Susan, favorite process you’ve ever built, go.
Susan: Oh, that’s a hard one. I’ve built so many. I’m going to go with the process of how we sell, from how a client comes to the point that they pay the invoice and we turn it over to a consultant.
Emily: Excellent. Amber, favorite process you’ve ever built, go.
Amber: Onboarding our new virtual assistant because we’ve had a lot of good feedback on that experience and happy workers are productive workers, and so giving people the foundation they need getting started is key.
Emily: Excellent. Well, I’m going to make sure that we respect everybody’s time and just ask some follow-ups to make sure that everybody has access to you all for the questions we didn’t get to and anything else that this piqued interest in. Amber, if people want to learn more about Trusty Oak or delegating through virtual assistance or anything in your thought leadership expertise, where should they go?
Amber: Well, you can email me amber@trustyoak. I also want to just kind of surface that we have an amazing client success team, and if you’re a client that’s struggling with the delegation and you want some help with this, that’s part of the package. We’ll help you figure it out, we’ll help you align your goals with the task.
That’s part of what we want to do, so our client success team can access from the how it works page of Trusty Oak and you can book with them, or of course, again, just email me. I’ll get you connected with the right person, but if you’re not a client and you just want to learn more about delegation, our blog is a good place for that and our homepage has an ebook about delegation as well, so trustyoak.com.
Emily: Absolutely. And Susan, same question for you. If people want to learn more about controlling their operational processes, getting started with operations control, where should they go?
Susan: Best place to go is beyondthechaos.biz/ebook. That’s going to allow you to download our ebook. There are three ways to control chaos in your small business.
Emily: I love it.
Susan: If you’re like, don’t make me read a book, I’m totally overwhelmed, help me, there are plenty of ways. There’s a contact form on there. You can schedule a consultation. If you get the ebook, go to the back page, there is an operational audit that you can also fill out. Those are essentially the questions I’d ask you on the first call, but if you don’t have time, again, we can do the call, and I’m happy to email with anyone too, [email protected].
Emily: Excellent. Well, thank you all so much for attending and your great questions. Susan and Amber, I learned a lot in this and-
Susan: Me too.
Amber: Me too.
Emily: I’m sure that everyone here did, so thank you so much for hosting this and making this all happen. Everyone will be receiving the recording via email, and as we’ve said, you have access to Susan and Amber if you have follow-up questions, so thank you all.
Amber: Yes, I appreciate you being here, and again, we’re happy to answer more questions, so shoot us a note.
Emily: All right. Thanks, guys, bye-bye.
Amber: All right, bye.