You got into business because you’re really good at what you do – your skill or trade. You didn’t anticipate needing to become an expert in HR, finance, marketing, client relations, and project management. But it comes with being a small business owner. Unfortunately, so does the overwhelm. If the weight of success is pulling you and your business down, there is an answer to simplifying. And it starts with you.
Please find the full video transcript below…
Gordon Henry: Hey, hey, this is Gordon Henry at Winning on Main Street, and this week we’re fortunate to spend some time with Susan Fennema. Welcome to the show, Susan.
Susan: Hi Gordon. Thanks so much for having me.
Gordon: Great to have you. So quick intro on Susan. Susan Fennema is the Chaos Eradicating Officer (CEO) of Beyond the Chaos, a consultancy helping small business owners extricate themselves from their day-to-day business operations so they can grow their businesses and get their lives back. Very interesting. So, Susan, I know in the literature, on your website, you use the word overwhelm a lot to describe how you help SMBs. And I think those of us who are working with SMBs all the time certainly get that. So why do you think they’re overwhelmed? What’s the problem?
Susan: Many small business owners, especially of the size we work with, we’re working with owner-operators essentially. So it’s got to be a very small company, 25 people or fewer, or you can’t operate it if it’s above that. But with these types of companies, the people who start them tend to have been fantastic at their trade. Many times they are suffering under the weight of success and they’ve achieved that success almost in spite of themselves. They didn’t understand when they started the business that they had to do marketing and HR and Finance and handle project management and handle client issues and all of that stuff that comes with being a business owner. And sometimes they don’t do it well. They’re great visionaries and they can see what they want to create, but making it happen is the bigger challenge. And so how they get out from under the weight of what they’ve built themselves is a big challenge. And that’s where we can come in and really start taking things off their plate for them, helping them implement processes to simplify things, helping them be able to have dinner with their spouse in some cases. So many times we have found that people come to us when they’ve hit rock bottom and we’d love to talk to them before they get there, but many small business owners also feel like they have to do everything. It’s their baby, so they have to do it, and there isn’t help available. And even if there was, they don’t think they could afford it.
Gordon: Right. So what does a typical assignment for you and your company look like? And do you offer any guarantees or promises? Just walk us through it. How does it work?
Identifying the Weight of Success – Owner Activity Spreadsheet
Susan: We start with phase one essentially, which is discovery. Most software developers and advertising people are aware of what that means. We work with a lot of those groups by the way. But the thing is to dig in. We believe we serve the owner, not the business. But by serving the owner, we will make a better business. So we want to know what the owner is doing every day. We do an owner activity spreadsheet with them. We literally want to know every little thing you’re doing — just jot it down throughout the day as you’re working.
And then we also dig into their software tools. How are they managing projects? We really only work with project-based companies. Now we use that term loosely. It could be installing an AC unit is a project, but not companies that manufacture or sell widgets. So it’s usually a project management function that we’re looking into. So what software are they using? Are they using a CRM for their sales? What is the path of their client from the first time they touch them to the end when they get a glowing review or a case study or whatever they’re after? And we figure out where the gaps are, and where the owner is involved that he or she shouldn’t be, and we start helping them put software and process and structure in place.
Creating Process to Get Out from Under the Weight of Success
Gordon: This subject about software and creating processes and systems for your business is something we talk about quite a bit on this show. And it seems to be a critical and obvious area where a lot of entrepreneurs fall short, at least when they’re in the early stages of running their company. And it doesn’t need to be a computer system. It can be a process that you’ve documented and you do it the same way over and over, but it helps often if you have a system in place, especially as you said, for something like your customer database and your customer communications and your payments and your invoices and your receipts and things like that. So do you get into analyzing that then recommending the system and even installing the system? Is that part of what you do?
Susan: Yes. So we will help them figure out what the system needs to do for them and then we make a recommendation. And sometimes it’s multiple tools and sometimes it’s telling them that they need to stop using as many tools as they have and create a single source of truth. And we can help them do that too, help them gather that information into one place so that everybody knows what’s going on.
Gordon: Now I know you called yourself the CEO of your business. Chief… What is it? Chaos-
Susan: Chaos Eradicating Officer.
Gordon: Chaos eradicating, which it sounds like you’ve done successfully. But when you’re brought into these situations, you often step into a role they need you in. And that may be like a fractional CFO or a fractional COO, like where you’re doing actual work in the business, not just telling them how to do things, but you’re actually becoming part of the team, is that right?
Fractional COO for Small Businesses
Susan: Correct. We stay out of the finances, but the operational area, so we dig into all areas of that. So fractional COO all the way to project management. We do have relationships with virtual assistants that we can also direct to if they need that kind of help. But that’s one of the things we’re helping them do –figure out who you need and where you need them. The idea of fractional is a big thing that’s popular lately and we are only fractional. So if you want to hire somebody outright, we’re not your people. We want to be able to help the smaller people who don’t need a hundred percent of that. But our team, they’re working with so many clients that it seems like they’re there all the time. So you don’t lose that only five hours a week in the communications process when you’re working with a fractional company like that.
Gordon: You have a phrase I noticed, I guess this came from your website, you say, a structure can set you free.
Gordon: What does that mean?
Structure Sets You Free
Susan: So many small business owners also feel like: I don’t want the structure; I don’t want a process that’s too bureaucratic. I’m a big believer personally in calendar blocking. “I don’t want that much structure. I don’t want to put that in there. It’s going to tie me down.” But the problem is that it doesn’t. It actually frees you up to be thinking and working on the right things at the right time to empower your team to do work for you. And if it’s bureaucratic, it’s not a good process. So that’s the other part of it. Constantly simplifying helps avoid bureaucracy. But to me, without a structure, if I’m a business owner who is opening a new project with my team… And I don’t have a process for how that happens, and I’m having to reinvent the wheel every time, and then I forget half the things that I was supposed to tell them. And then, oh yeah, right, I forgot to give you the proposal that actually tells us what the scope is. All of that stuff ends up being interruptive over time. It leads to exceeding the scope or the budget of your project and it makes your team not feel that they are empowered to take the reins and lead it, that they feel like they have to rely on you for all the details. So putting that structure in place really starts to create freedom.
Gordon: Now I thought it might be useful to hit on just a couple of specific subjects that you talk about in your blog. I was reading about all these specific areas where I guess chaos gets created and I thought I would allow you to maybe say a couple of words about each one. So in your blog, one of the things you talk about is email management. So why is email management a problem for small businesses?
Susan: It is the most interruptive thing in our lives, and it is not anything that you can manage a project through. It doesn’t have deadlines. You can’t assign a task. And, you can’t build a timeline in it. Everything that comes in feels urgent. And as business owners, it’s a relief because it’s stuff that you can go through and answer. And, you feel like you’re making progress and you’re like, “Oh, this is great.” And then you’re like, “I’ve done nothing for two hours.” So making sure that the things in your email are going to the proper tools, whether that be your project management or your CRM, really helps with that. And I’m a big proponent of having a virtual assistant who checks your email for you too.
Gordon: Another one you talk about is clear communication and saying no. I think we all have a problem with saying no sometimes. Why is that such a big thing for small business owners?
Susan: Small business owners tend to avoid confrontation, especially when it comes to money. So if the scope of a project changes, instead of approaching it completely unemotionally because it’s not emotional and explaining, “Well, we changed this and the result of that is it will take an extra two weeks and it will cost X dollars.” And then, giving the client the opportunity to decide whether or not it’s worth it to make the change is often a step that’s missed. The client asks for it, so we did it and then we billed them and now they’re mad. And so that clear and concise communication upfront makes such a difference in the relationship with the client. And, to know that you’re working on something that’s of value. Sometimes the client’s just talking. They don’t mean, “Oh, I want to spend $10,000 on it.” You have to make sure they know what they’re getting into, I guess.
Susan: We’re professionals. We know what it is. They don’t.
Gordon: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. And one last one, a favorite of mine. Exit planning for small business owners.
Susan: Yeah. Yeah.
Gordon: So that’s a big one in terms of how they think of building the value in their business to eventually exit. What are your thoughts on that?
Susan: I’m a firm believer in having the end in mind and knowing how you’re going to get there. And there are different ways for different kinds of businesses. For some businesses, maybe your plan is, “I’m just going to close the doors one day.” Okay, that’s a fine plan and you can have that plan, but know that’s what you’re doing. I talk to a lot of business owners who are like, “I’m going to sell my business.” And you look at their business and you’re, like, all you have is a client list. You don’t have anything to sell because you are doing everything. And we don’t believe in slavery. They can’t buy you. So setting up that structure so that you have a business to sell or even hand down to children is really important. Without that, you don’t have anything to sell.
Gordon: Right. I always like that lesson because it really brings you back to all the things you’re talking about, the systems, the processes, and procedures because if the business can run without you, then you have a business.
Gordon: If the business requires you, you have a job.
Susan: Right. You have to think about whether another CEO can see themselves stepping into your shoes.
Gordon: When we come back, we’re going to hear Susan’s thoughts on what she would tell future entrepreneurs who are thinking about starting a business. Stay with us.
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Gordon: And we’re back with Susan Fennema, who’s the Chaos Eradicating Officer (CEO) of Beyond the Chaos, a consultancy helping small business owners extricate themselves from their day-to-day business operations so they can grow their businesses and get their lives back. Something we can all relate to. So, Susan, I thought before we go, we would ask you, what would you tell somebody who’s just thinking about starting their business? They haven’t started yet, they haven’t gotten into all the problems we’ve been reviewing. What would you tell them as they’re starting out on the journey?
Advice for Someone Just Starting a Business
Susan: Well, first, keep the passion, because you don’t have any more passion than you do on Day One. After that, it’s going to dwindle. But even if you’re starting as a solopreneur and you want to grow your business, start with the process. Start with having tools. So if you are repeating how you send a proposal to a client the same way every time, it means that you have more space to serve the client. So putting that structure into place, even when it’s just you, is really important for your own sanity.
And then the other big thing I would tell them is to calendar block their time from day one. Make sure you are intentionally spending your time where you should be, and also making sure that the priorities of your personal world are not being taken away, and that you’re setting those boundaries that calendaring can help you do.
Gordon: Yeah, terrific. We just have a few minutes left, but I’d like to ask you a couple of lightning-round questions. So here we go. Who would you say would be your mentor or person who through your career, you feel you’ve learned from a lot? Could be more than one.
Susan: Well, every business owner I worked for, I learned a lot. Sometimes it was about what not to do, but I learned a lot from it. But my biggest mentor is my father. He’s 81 years old and still owns his company. He’s in the active stage of selling it. But he was able to teach me the importance of systems, even though we didn’t talk about them that much. He feels they’re important. And also the importance of integrity and doing what you say every single time and what a difference that makes in your reputation and your ability to deal with people.
Gordon: So what is your secret to managing your time?
Susan: It’s calendar blocking. I gave that one away previously. I plan my next day, the day before it starts. I plan my next week, the week before it starts. I plan my next month, the month before it starts. I can look at December of next year and there are recurring events on my calendar of things that are going to happen. So knowing what to do next instead of figuring out what to do next is really helpful to set you free. The structure that sets you free.
Gordon: Yeah, terrific. Favorite hobby or pastime? I heard you liked to cook and go to Texas A&M football games.
Susan: Yes. So cooking for sure. I love to do multi-course, gourmet-type meals with multiple wine glasses and setting the table all pretty. That’s really fun. And yes, I can sit and watch college football. I could sit all day and not move. So college football’s a blast, but Texas A&M’s where my heart is.
Gordon: Sounds good. Well, this has been great. I wanted to ask how should people learn more about getting involved with you and potentially hiring you and Beyond The Chaos.
Susan: So I’ll give them a free giveaway if they’ll go to beyondthechaos.biz/ebook. Log in there. And I get it, if you’re an overwhelmed small business owner and you’re like, I’m not reading an ebook, you can also just email me from there and I’ll be happy to help you directly.
Gordon: Fantastic. Okay. And we’ll put that in the show notes as well. Well, Susan, this has been great. I think what you’re doing is fantastic and it’s going to help so many of our listeners. Hopefully, some of them will reach out and get in touch with you. So thanks again for coming on the show and great to have you here.
Susan: Thanks so much for having me. This was a blast.
Gordon: And thanks to our producer, Tim Alanman, and coordinators Dit Barnett and Daniel Huddleston. And if you enjoyed this podcast, please tell a friend or colleague, or family to subscribe and leave us a five-star review, we’d really appreciate it. Helps us in the rankings. Until next time, make it a great week.
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