Is it possible to completely eliminate chaos from your business? Susan recently appeared on The SuccessGrid Podcast with Hussein Taleb to talk about just that. The SuccessGrid is a podcast that focuses on inspiring entrepreneurs to achieve success. And of course, reducing chaos in their business is crucial to that. Listen as Susan discusses:
- How small business owners can reduce chaos in their business
- The best way to manage your day
- 3 ways to reduce chaos
Please find the full video transcript below.
If you have no process, so that you as the business owner are constantly having to answer every question, give every direction, you can’t step out of your business. And so, that’s my team’s goal, is to help small business owners with that and we’re able to take that COO role and scale it down to fit one to 25 people. So, even though you might think, “Oh, I don’t need a COO, I’m so small, that’s ridiculous.” You do, and we can scale it down so that it makes sense for your business.
Hussein: So, can we put the word chaos itself in a definition, because like you said, a business owner might be one man show or two or three and small business, so they don’t need that much, but what is the chaos in their business? What’s the chaos that could be in their business that they can’t manage, that they need someone else to manage for them?
Susan: That’s a great question. So, if you’re a business owner that’s wanting to scale, so you’re not wanting to stay one person or two or three people, if you don’t have a process, you as the business owner have to be involved in every single thing, you’re giving everybody an instruction every day of what work to go do. You’re answering phones, you’re replying to emails all day.
You are responding to emergencies nonstop because you don’t have a plan. You’re not taking a project and building out a schedule. You’re just going from one thing to the other. Right, exactly, sometimes even just responding to the squeakiest wheel. You might even feel like you’re just jerked around from one priority to another. It’s more like your business is controlling you and you’re not controlling it. That’s really that feeling of chaos or overwhelm is also a good way to think of that.
I went on vacation last week for a whole week. I didn’t look at my email, or answer a text. My team just ran with what we were doing now. Now, did I have sales calls? No, we didn’t have sales calls last week. No big deal, we make up for that. But I came back, people had been invoiced, work had been accomplished, there were no emergencies. Everything ran because we had a process and I was able to step away. Two things are great with that. Obviously, we want a vacation that is real vacation where we’re not working on it, right? As you create businesses that can run without you, you are now creating a business that you can sell one day.
Hussein: Yeah, exactly. It’s usually because business owners specifically, let’s say we keep running the business and the business does not run itself. Usually, you need to keep up with things, even the small ones. Like, replying to an email or answering a phone call. These things take time. And time accumulates. At the end of the day, you’ve probably done nothing really that important to progress your business forward.
Susan: Right. And I came back from my one week off and I think there were 10 emails in my box. My team had handled everything that came in. If I didn’t have that in place, I would’ve come back to 600 emails and that would have been overwhelming just to do that. So, having all of those processes and team in place to help you work those processes really is of huge benefit. And if you’re constantly working on those process, it constantly gets better.
When I first started with a VA checking my email together, we didn’t know what she could and couldn’t respond to and handle, but over time, you’re like, “Oh, this type of email, here’s what you do with it.” Great, she documents it in the process. Now, not only does she know, down the road, hopefully I’m hoping one day to promote her, because she’s awesome, once we get down the road and we do that, somebody else can come in and fill her role. And they know what to do. They don’t have to relearn it with you, so you can create the structure that also evolves with you as you grow.
Hussein: Yeah, good. So, small businesses that you work with, are there steps that you take to make the product easier for them?
Susan: Yes, so there’s two ways we tackle new business clients. So, when they come to us, they are either in extreme pain, because a project has gone off the rails, they don’t know how to save it, they’re completely overwhelmed and they need help to fix that now, it’s an emergency. And so, we will jump in on something like that, obviously, we prefer if you come to us before it gets there, because we could have prevented it, but once you’re there, we can dig in and a lot of times that involves just kind of resetting the project with the client and the team and kind of getting it going again, setting new expectations.
If we work on something like that from you, we’re kind of doing the opposite of what we would like to do, because from there we work up to your operational processes. What we prefer to do is to get people proactively that are coming in, ready to grow their business, realizing that they have a stop and it’s them on the bottleneck, right? The owner is always the bottleneck, by the way, it’s not that you’re doing something wrong, that’s just life.
I’m still the bottleneck in some things, as you come across them, you just say, “Okay, everybody needs me for that. How do we systemize? How do we automate?” But we prefer to start with a discovery phase. So, for those of you who are software developers or marketing advertising professionals, you’ll understand what a discovery phase is.
You’re getting to know your client. You’re getting to know how they work. What is important to them? In our case, what is the biggest pain points that they need to solve? What are the things that hurt the most that might be affecting the bottom line the most, or might be affecting the life of the owner. And then we put together a plan, an implementation plan, that’s based on priorities.
With that plan, we give rough estimate of how many hours we think it will take to solve it. And then we can divide and conquer that with the client. So if they want to take it and do it, they can take it and run with it and just execute everything in that plan.
Hussein: So, you’ll make a process and you give it to the customer and if they choose to do it themselves, they can do it themselves?
Susan: Right, so we give them a plan. So, at that point we haven’t developed anything, but we know what needs to be done. We might know they need three processes in this area, a new software tool, training for their team. They might need a project manager for three hours a week or something like that, so all of that goes into the plan. And then we give that option to the client of, you can execute that yourself, we can do a hybrid model where we help with some, you help with some, or we’ll do all of it. One of the things I don’t love are consultants who give small business owners another list of things to do that they’ll never do, or that they don’t know how, or that they just don’t want to, because it’s stuff they’re not good at and they don’t like.
Hussein: This is my next question. So, with you creating this plan and perhaps these processes and the company already have their plans, I guess, and their processes, aren’t there some complications, they don’t go hand in hand, or do you work with them to replace their own processes and their own plans?
Susan: We absolutely work with them. So, we’re not coming in and saying, “Here is your process.” We’re working within to figure out what they’re doing. For the most part, most business owners know what they’re doing. But it’s all in their head and they are the keeper of it.
Hussein: But this is the problem there, and you have to put it in paper, I guess?
Susan: Well, we’re anti paper here, but yes, you have to get it written in a document that is shareable with your team.
Hussein: Yeah, exactly.
Susan: And so, that’s how you start to exit, because if you’re holding the process in your head, one, the busier you get, the more steps you might skip. And two, you don’t have any ability to delegate to anyone, anything, because it’s all coming out of your head every time. So, many businesses are running systematically perhaps, but they are like, “I can’t get past three people.” Okay, well, you can’t get past three people, because you don’t have the ability to scale, because it’s all in your head, it’s all on you.
Hussein: It becomes in the rush of the moment, like you do this, you do this, you do this and it becomes probably overwhelming to do that all the time without having some kind of a roadmap or a blueprint to follow?
Susan: Right. And so, speaking of blueprints, one of the things we might do for a client is help them figure out that they have four project types. They only run four types of projects with their clients, so we can set up templates in their software tool so that when they start a project, they’re starting from a checklist that’s ready to go for that project, which simplifies everything.
You’re not remembering that each time, you’re not tempted to skip a step. When something goes wrong with a client, something you never would have imagined, you can be like, “Oh, if only we had done X, that would have prevented that.” Next time that’s in your template. Next time that’s a step. And so, you’re doing that and learning from everything as you grow and evolving over time too.
Hussein: Yeah. From your experience, what is the best way to manage the day for any business owner? What the focus should be on?
Susan: I love that question. So, usually the small business owner is going to be responsible day-to-day for sales and marketing. That’s really what they’re best at, nobody can sell your business better than you, so to speak.
Hussein: Yeah, obviously you’re going to believe it 100%, whatever you are selling, yes?
Susan: Right, and some hate that part, so that’s okay, you fill that role and you give them another role, but the goal is first figure out what you as a CEO want to do, like to do and are good at and is at, quote, your pay grade. Now, I know we’re all like we sweep the floors, we do everything, right? But should you be? If you’re looking at what you’re doing every day, put an hourly rate to it. Is that the hourly rate you should be making? Start to decide what you should and shouldn’t be doing based on that. And then, put some structure around your day. I am a huge believer in calendar blocking. Block out your calendar so that you are taking care of your priorities first.
In my mind, those priorities are first your spirit. However, if you are a Christian that prays every morning, do that. If you’re not, whatever it is that fills your spirit has to be the first thing that’s your priority. Put that on your calendar first. Then move to your health. You’re not good to anybody if you’re not physically healthy. Are you exercising? Taking a break for lunch? Are you joining your family for dinner at night? Put those things on your calendar. That’s the second priority. Third priority is your family. Make sure with your family that if your kid has a soccer game, you get it on your calendar. Those things go first.
That’s why we do this, right? We do all that for those things. And all of that helps us be better at our jobs. So, after that, then we’re into work. Now, put on that calendar when are you working on your business? When are you creating new marketing campaigns? When are you focusing on how you’re going to grow and really working on your business and then guess what’s going to fill in the rest? Work will fill in the rest.
Hussein: That’s cool. You’re working at Beyond the Chaos at kind of every aspect of the client’s life, let’s say, and business together, you integrate them together. You make a lot of things priority in their personal life also, so actually it is very important, someone to keep, for example, their health and their communication with their families, for example, to keep running their business, because not all life is business.
Susan: Well, if it is business, I would challenge you and ask you, why are you doing that? What is your purpose? Is it just to amass money? That’s great. If it’s to amass money, what are you going to spend it on?
Susan: Are you going on vacation? If you’re spending it to go on vacations, how are you going to go on vacation if you don’t have any structure? Whatever your goal is in creating this business and in working, there is a reason you’re doing it and you might not know what it is, so that’s another thing to sit back and say, “Man, this stuff is hard. Why am I doing it?”
So yeah, it’s very important to us that these small business owners get their lives back. And we really believe that we’re affecting American society in a very positive way. Because there are a ton of small business owners that are overwhelmed. When you are overwhelmed, you’re not nice to your team, to your family, to your clients. And that rolls downhill, right? So, the more we can support our clients to get their lives back. the more we’re seeing that it affects all of those and so on. And so, it’s this exponential change.
Hussein: Exactly. So, what you’re working on is great, so can you give me tips for starting projects on time? How do you do that? Because as you mentioned, any business owner, any entrepreneur, probably juggling a lot of balls at the same time. So how do you make them actually focus on the projects that they should be working on in their business?
Susan: So, that’s a fantastic question, because the other thing that is true with small business owners, man, we like to start things, but we don’t like to finish them. We want somebody else doing that part. We’re like, “Oh, I got a new client, onto the next thing.” Okay, well, we still have to do the work for them, right? So, the goal is to put some structure in place so that you don’t have to remember all of this stuff, especially if you are an owner who also needs to work on a project for clients.
It’s important to first start with a project management tool that works for you. If you have never used a project management tool, I would suggest something like Basecamp or Asana or Trello, even. If you are using those and you’re like, “Eh, I need more,” you might look at Teamwork. That’s our very favorite. We are Teamwork partners and I became a partner because the product is so good.
So, that’s where you start, get a tool that you can manage. Then you got to put process around that tool. How do we use that tool? LIke, if you have a hammer and nail, the picture doesn’t automatically get hung on the wall. You have to measure where it goes and figure out where the little hook is on the back, right? You don’t put them on the table and magically the picture’s up. The same with your tool, right? You have to have some process around that and some structure of how you’re going to build out your projects. And then when you’re working with your clients, the first step to a successful project is a very clear proposal.
What are you delivering? What’s the expectation? What’s the scope? What timing are you looking at? What’s the budget? That’s where the project management comes into play. Now you know, “Well, we have to deliver a new software app in three months.” Okay, well, you don’t want to wait three months to start that, you’ll fail. So, you start from the back, delivery, okay, back it out, client testing, back it out, beta, keep backing it out until you have the whole thing built out with all the steps assigned to the right people with dates in your tool and now everybody knows what they’re supposed to do to execute it.
Hussein: Great. You mentioned sales and marketing earlier. I think sales is the pulse of the business. Because the more you make sales, the more revenue, at least you will have. Forget about net profit now, but we are talking about revenue to the company. So, do you work a lot specifically on the sales process, because lack of sales means lack of revenue, right?
Susan: For sure. We start with our clients from where’s the first touch of a client, however they come to you, whether you’re pulling them in or they’re coming to you, when you first talk to them the very first time, what’s their path through your whole thing to get to the end where you have a great case study or a great testimonial and they’re out there in the world going, “Oh, you should use those people.”
What are the steps to get there? And it starts with the sales process, right? That process needs to be carried through. Because your process and your way of interacting with the client tells them what it’s going to be like to work with you. So, if you forget to follow up with them or you email out a proposal and cross your fingers, hope that they sign it and never follow up, all of those things are a testament to how your project is going to run on the other end.
So, start with that sales process of this is exactly how we move them through. For example, with us, they reach out to us. We set an appointment to talk. If they don’t get on the calendar, we have a follow-up set to remind them to get on our calendar until we have a meeting. After we have a meeting, we talk through what we need. The next step is a proposal meeting that we schedule on that call. We send automatic reminders before that next meeting to make sure that they’re there. After that, we write a proposal, or after that, we share the proposal with them on the call and then we send it to them through Adobe Sign so they can digitally sign it and we have a whole set of followups until the expiration date of the proposal.
And then at the end of that, hopefully we have a new client and we have a process of how do you invoice them? When do you start, how do you turn it over from sales to the person who’s doing the work so that they know what they’re doing and they know they’re supposed to start and the client knows who their consultant is? All of those are important to get you, one, a sale, but more importantly, to have the clients start to trust you that they’re in good hands when you get to the project execution stage.
Hussein: Exactly, this is very important. So, can you give us three tips or three ways to reduce chaos in any small business or for any entrepreneur that’s having problems with their business overall?
Susan: Absolutely. The first step is really to focus on developing your process, so what structure do you need in your business? This could be onboarding and off boarding clients or team members, it can be the sales process, the project process, how do things move through your company? That’s the first setup area, really focus on that process and simplify and streamline is going to be your theme forever. This doesn’t end, this is an ongoing.
Hussein: Yeah, it’s ongoing, of course.
Susan: Then the next part is getting your project management under control. So, at that point, you’re looking at, what’s the right tool, how are we using it, do we have a project manager? Are we fulfilling work for our clients on time, on budget and within the scope that we agreed to in the proposal?
So, that’s the second area of where you really need to start to control that chaos. And then the last area is the calendar. The making sure that the owner’s calendar is organized and cleaned up so that they’re preventing interruptions. So, it’s really about interruption management so that the owner can focus on the business. So those are the three steps I push through to clients to get them working on that business instead of working in it.
Hussein: Cool. So can you give us one takeaway from this episode, Susan?
Susan: One takeaway, just one?
Hussein: If you have more than one, you can do.
Susan: No, I got one. Systems will set you free. As much as small business owners, we feel like we started this because we want to do what we want to do and we don’t want that bureaucracy, I’m not talking about bureaucracy here, I’m talking about systemizing things so that you are set free and your business is set free to grow, so systems set you free.
Hussein: Awesome. Where can people get in touch with you and your business?
Susan: Well, we have a book, an e-book, Three Ways to Control Chaos in Your Small Business, so if you will go to beyondthechaos.biz/ebook, you can download that book. If you don’t have time for a book or you’re not a reader or whatever, all of our contact information is there, so feel free just to reach out to us from there.
Hussein: So, that’s beyondthechaos.biz, right?
Hussein: That’s for the e-book and your website beyondthechaos.biz, right?
Hussein: Awesome, thank you for being here today with me on The SuccessGrid podcast, Susan.
Susan: This was great. Thanks for having me.