Susan was featured on THINK Business LIVE, with host and business coach Jon Dwoskin. As a former Chief Operations Officer and current business owner, Jon knows the challenges that small business owners face when trying to grow a business. Susan and Jon share ideas on how business owners can get “unstuck”, and unlock their true growth potential, including:
- Why a Chief Operations Officer (COO) is one of the most important people in the company
- How to let go and delegate
- The simple exercise you can do to help you identify which tasks to let go
- Ways to determine who you need to hire and fire
Please find the full video transcript below.
Jon: Hey everybody, welcome back to this episode of Think Business. I’m looking forward to talking to Susan Fennema. Susan, I’m really looking forward to talking with you. I love your story. I love your company. Your company is Beyond the Chaos, which you found, and in quick summary, you are a COO, a fractional COO company for businesses that are 1 to 25 people. And as we were talking right before we went online, a lot of these companies, A, can’t afford a COO, B, don’t know they need a COO, and then you come in as a fractional COO.
I am a big believer, I always have been, that a COO is one of the most critical people within an organization because they’re all-knowing, they know how to communicate, they know how to be a CEO, they understand numbers, maybe not as much as a CFO, but they really get the operations and the guts, the internal and the external moving in a really good direction. So welcome to the show. I appreciate you being here. As we get started, I would like to chat with you and dive into those companies who are 1 to 25 employees who have no clue even what a COO does. So let’s start there.
Susan: All right. Well Jon, first, thanks for having me. Looking forward to this. Fractional COO work can be scaled from really big companies down to small ones. And these small business owners don’t realize how badly they need this. They are being the COO. They are doing all of that. And it sucks them into doing all of the details, which means they can’t ever walk away. They are always having to be in the middle of every project, of every process, and explaining what to do every single time. It’s something that totally can limit the growth of a small business.
Jon: But where’s the invisible limitation, because I think a lot of times people, they’re working hard, they’re working long hours, they believe they’re working smart. Where is the block that they’re in? What are they not seeing?
Susan: What they’re not seeing, I guess, is the other side. What that looks like when your business stops dragging you around and you start leading and driving it to where you want it to go. And when you’re really stuck in all those details, you can’t… Forgive the overused metaphor, but you can’t see the forest for the trees. You’re too in the day-to-day. You’re often overwhelmed. And many times, your personal and spiritual life, your health are suffering from doing too much. It’s not even the stuff you like to do. Most small business owners want to create something new and be off and running and sell, and maybe even do that thing that you were so good at that you started your own business because of it, and you’re not able to do it anymore because you’re just constantly putting out fires and handling details.
Jon: But let’s talk about that, because I see… As a business coach, I see what you’re talking about happen a lot. I work with solopreneurs to Fortune 100 companies and everything in between. And what I see a lot is the people that start their business, they love elements of that rush.
Then the business becomes a big business and the bigger the business becomes, you can’t touch everything that you once did. And I think that tipping point is 10 people. Once you go from 9 to 10 people, it’s a different ball game. And there’s a mentality of people that A, they don’t want to let it go, and B, they believe that nobody can do it better than they can, or that the company really needs certain elements of what they’re doing. So talk about how to surrender and let go and begin to delegate certain responsibilities that they need to, because what they’re doing isn’t the mission-critical work that is leading the company forward.
Susan: One of the ways I like to ask small business owners to look at this is to start making a list of everything that you’re doing. All the tasks that you’re performing. And put an hourly rate to it.
Jon: Oh, I do the same thing. I love that you do that. And I tell them getting your mail. Write down every minute thing.
Susan: Right? Getting your mail. Some of the things can be automated.
Jon: Wait, hold on, hold on. I love that you just said that, because I say it all the time. What people say to me is, “Hourly rate? I have no idea what my hourly rate is. How do I even calculate what that is? Is it what I want it to be? Is it where I want to go?” So how do you answer that question, Susan?
Susan: Don’t worry about that. Make up something. $125 an hour. Make up that. Because what you’re going to find is that many, many of those tasks you’re doing are 12, $15 an hour tasks. So it doesn’t matter what you set your own rate at. Look at what the task that you’re performing is worth, really.
Jon: I just need to spend a minute on this because-
Susan: I love it too, it’s a great one.
Jon: It’s such an important exercise. I usually ask people to do it for about three days, because after three days they’re tapped, but they really don’t realize how much they do that they shouldn’t be doing. I love that you do that. What else do you tell them, besides just putting an hourly rate on it? Anything else?
Susan: The other is, do you like it or not? Do you get energy from doing it? If you are a technician and that’s why you started your business… By technician. I mean, maybe you’re a copywriter or a software developer and you are still writing copy and you are still developing software in your business, if you love doing those things, even if it’s at a technician level, as opposed to a management level, then that might be something we want to figure out how to work into your day.
But if you have outgrown that, if you have started to be like, “Oh, I’m so tired of dealing with that, I’m tired of dealing with clients, I’m ready to look at bigger picture things,” then that’s also something we need to help you figure out how to write a process about and get to a team member to do. From that list of everything that you’ve put down and that now you have to figure out what you’re going to do and what you’re not going to do, you have to start with what can be automated, what can be systemized? And here’s the big one. What do you just stop doing all together because it’s a waste of time.
Jon: I love it. I love it. All right, so now let’s talk about what gets in the way, which is having the wrong people that you’re actually delegating to. You have a company, whether it’s a solopreneur shop… I work with solopreneurs to Fortune 100 companies and everything in between. I’ve worked with small companies when I had my own, and I’ve worked with big, huge corporations. With big corporations, if you’re not there, nobody notices.
If you have to work 10 hours a day, but can work the system and work 8, nobody’s going to notice. In a small business, you got to do everything that you say you’re going to do. I think people in every business is critical, but in a smaller organization, even more so. So talk about making sure you have the right people, how to hire the right people, and how to get rid of the wrong people if there is no seat for them.
Susan: All right, so I’m not an HR expert, but we do touch on this as we work in the operations, especially at the small company level. The first thing is you have to be real clear what you expect that person to do. And if you’re just saying… I’ve heard a lot of small business owners saying, “I need a virtual assistant.” I’m like, “Great, what are they going to do?” “Oh, I just need them to do all this stuff I don’t want to do.” Well that’s not good enough.
You need a job description. You need processes that they can follow so that they can execute it without you having to tell them every single thing. So that’s the first thing. You have to set your people up for success before you even begin to hire. So getting those systems in place, then hiring the right people, the interview process. You should have a process for that too. Always repeat it, the same steps every time. If you can get an outside person, especially if you’re small, to help you interview, that’s even better.
And then the third step is once you’ve have the person, now you can’t ignore them and hope that they succeed. You have to manage. You have to make sure that they are meeting your expectations and that you have to hold them accountable. And I find the easiest way to do that, because many of us are non-confrontational, we get something and we just, “Oh, I guess I’ll just have to live with that.”
One is everything that is done right or wrong immediately, say that’s right or great job, so that you’re constantly feeding that bank. So if something’s not right, it’s not a big deal, because you’re constantly giving feedback. The other thing is that if you’re having an issue and you’re like, “That is not the outcome I expected,” blame the process. Talk to the person and say, “Something went wrong in this process. I didn’t get what I expected. Can we figure that out together?”
Now you’re both on the same team fixing your process, and that process then is in a better state for the next person that might come along if it turns out that that person just can’t do the work. And trust me, letting go of somebody who can’t do it or won’t do it is substantially better than living with it.
So have a process to off-board too. Make sure what do you have to shut off access to in this digital world. That’s hugely important. And how are you going to handle it? Are you going to do, like a bigger company does, usually a three-step write-up process. Are you going to do that? Or are you just going to cut it and move? And that’s a decision you need to make. Once you make the decision, do it the same way every time.
Jon: That was like a little mini masters class.
Susan: A little mini one, yeah.
Jon: A mini masters class. You can tell you got to experience in diving in. So let’s talk about the companies… I’m part of an organization called Small Giants. Are you familiar with Small Giants?
Susan: I’m not.
Jon: Oh, you should… I need to make an introduction to you. Small Giants is an amazing organization. It was basically off of a book that was created, this amazing community and the philosophy behind the book is companies that choose to be great instead of big. It’s by a gentleman by the name of Bo Burlingham, and he’s amazing. So they started this organization where you can do really big things, you can have a really big company with only 10 to 25 employees. So talk about that philosophy of being big without having to have a thousand people. You can do a lot with 25. And I’m not suggesting working people to the bone, but between having 25 people, having virtual teams on top of that, assistants and things like that, you can get a lot done. Can you talk on that a little bit?
Susan: Absolutely. Jon, we’re not talking about manufacturing companies that might need a lot of people [crosstalk 00:12:50]. We’re talking about professional services type companies that are running projects and are delivering a service to their end client, usually. What you find is that many of the people are not working efficiently or effectively at all. So if you can build a system where you’re always repeating the same thing over and over again, where you are simplifying that process as much as possible, including your sales process, make sure that’s simple and straightforward, now you can start to serve more people, you can serve them better, your clients know what to expect, your team knows what your expectations are, and things start to hum.
And as things start to hum, you’re able to do bigger things because you’re not messed up with all the little details that suck the life out of everyone. Just being able to put those systems in place to start, even if you have not yet figured out how to simplify them. The act of getting a process written down automatically makes you think about it differently. You’re already saying, “Oh wait, why do we do that step? Should we do that step? Maybe we need an extra step to make sure our quality is correct.” So you’re now working on the machine that runs your business instead of working on all those little details that detract from your ability to serve.
Jon: Yeah. I love what you’re talking about. Now, before we go into a quick speed round, I want to talk to you about marketing and the small businesses and what their marketing mindset should be. I’m a big believer, marketing, you need to be doing a ton of it out of sight, out of mind. So how are you guiding your companies in that way?
Susan: With marketing, it is definitely something that can’t be put on the back burner. It is something that you need to have your own internal project running all the time, of all the things you have to do. That could be posting on your social media. Maybe you have an assistant who can help you with that. That should be writing. You need some blog posts. Hey, you can also be on podcasts, right? Go be on podcasts [crosstalk 00:15:19]-
Jon: Or have a podcast.
Susan: Or have a podcast and get that information out into the world visually, as an audio, as a written word, so that you’re sharing your expertise. Especially with a small business, you need to establish that you are the expert in the area you’re working in, and the more content you can create, the better. Now, strategies for that, I’m always going to suggest that even if you’re doing all this yourself, that you hire a marketing strategist to come in and help you. A fractional CMO can come in and help you and guide you as to what you should be executing.
Jon: I agree. Last question. I love this topic. Last question. Management. I’m a big believer, people leave in managers in companies. I see in many of the companies that I am working with, talking to, people I interview, managers get promoted because they were good at their job, but they don’t know how to manage people. And managers are the lifeline of every company. So talk about just the importance of having the right manager, training the managers… I work with a lot of managers. Training them how to work with people. So can you just talk a little bit about that?
Susan: That’s a good one, isn’t it? Some of that really needs to come from the character of the person who’s leading. So make sure you choose your leaders wisely. They need to be kind. And compassionate and understanding and all of those touchy-feely words, but man, they need to be tough too. They need to say, “No, the expectation is this. I need you to meet this by this date or this time or whatever.” Communication is what is so important, that that manager isn’t hiding information from the team or even not oversharing. Sometimes you feel like, “Oh, is it too much information?” It’s not. Share with your team?
And you set the tone, you set the example. You have to do it too. If you set a rule that says we have to be at our desks at eight o’clock and you’re not at your desk at eight o’clock, guess what? Everybody has permission to not be at their desk at eight o’clock. So you have to set the example as well as hold others accountable to that. It’s a hard one, and there are lots of managerial resources out there. There are podcasts to listen to of how to improve. And I’m a big believer in personality profiles too, to help you figure out how to communicate best with your team members.
Jon: That’s great. This was great. I loved everything that you talked about today, Susan. Ready for a quick speed round?
Jon: All right. Favorite book, and why?
Susan: One Minute Manager, just because of what I told you earlier. It’s a quick, easy.
Jon: Ken Blanchard, one of my all time favorite books ever. Yeah, I love it. Best piece of wisdom you’ve ever received?
Susan: Life’s not fair, from my dad when I was about four years old.
Jon: Finish this sentence. One thing that every business owner who owns a business within 1 to 25 people needs to grow their awareness in…
Susan: I’m going to go with interruption management. How to prevent yourself from being interrupted. I go with calendar blocking as the solution there.
Jon: Yeah, nothing better than calendar blocking. I’m a big time management believer and teach a lot of it. Last question. Fast forward 100 years. What do you want your legacy to be?
Susan: I want the fact that my company served these small businesses to be something that changed American society exponentially. If we cut the overwhelm from a small business owner who touches clients and vendors and team members and affect all that communication more positively, I think it uplifts all of us.
Jon: Yeah, I love it. I have one more question. We had so much business and I loved everything you were talking about, but I do always love to hear the one minute reader’s digest version of what got you to today. So give us some of the ups, the downs, the one minute Susan autobiography,
Susan: All right. Well, I have a natural innate talent to create order out of chaos. Even when I was three years old, I would organize buttons as my mom sewed. Very odd thing. Throughout my career I always served small business owners one-on-one, helping them exactly the way that we help small business owners today. So when I got ready to leave my last job and I was looking at job descriptions out there, I was like, “I don’t want to do any of this.” So I decided to take it to the masses and bring my 10 years of experience as a director of operations at an ad agency, my work as a project manager for a software company, and bout 20 more years of other experience into serving all small business owners instead of just one at a time.
Jon: I love it. Have you read the book by Tom Peters, Thriving on Chaos?
Susan: I have not, but now it’s going to go on my list.
Jon: So you may want to check it out. It’s a handbook for a management revolution. I think you may enjoy it. I think you may enjoy it.
Susan: Great, I’ll check it out.
Jon: Tell everybody, Susan, your ideal client, and how they can connect with you.
Susan: My ideal client is a small business owner who is a little bit overwhelmed, who is looking to grow their business. They would run a professional services business, probably marketing, advertising, software development, maybe an accounting boutique or something similar, and they need some help really getting themselves out of the business. The best way to contact me is go to our website and download our free ebook, which is Three Ways to Control Chaos in Your Small Business, and you can get that at beyondthechaos.biz/ebook. Our contact information is there too if you’re too overwhelmed to read the book. I’d be happy to talk to you directly.
Jon: I love it. Well, Susan, I appreciate you being on the show. Thank you very much. Want to highlight a couple quick things. Having the systems and operations that you’re talking about are so critical. Looking at your business like a machine. Marketing is key. Don’t put it on the back burner and actually hire someone, a fractional CMO to come in. The importance of management is absolutely key.
But I think also, which I want to highlight, which you didn’t say, but you said it, is knowing who you are and following your passion. Whether you’re working somewhere, leading somewhere, or starting building or growing your current business, do what you love to do, because like your dad said, sometimes life isn’t fair, but you control what you can control.
So if you stay in a lane that you love, then great things come from it, and you’re helping a lot of people with expertise that they normally maybe couldn’t get and/or thought they could afford, and now they can, so the ability is there. So I appreciate… Any final thoughts from you, Susan?
Susan: No, Jon, thanks so much for having me. This was great.
Jon: No, I appreciate it. Think community, if Susan can help you, please reach out to her, beyondthechaos.biz/ebook. You can also go to jondwoskin.com and download my book or my ebook for free. So much content to grow your business on today’s show, Susan. Appreciate it. Think community, thank you very much. Susan, it was a pleasure. I appreciate. Wish you all the best in everything you do.
Susan: Thanks, Jon.