Move Beyond the Chaos in Your Business with Susan Fennema

Reading Time: 17 Minutes

Could you alleviates stress with better project management, processes and procedures?

Susan Fennema helps small businesses use tools from Kanban boards to Gantt charts. She also sets up systems that help businesses reduce overwhelm and get more done at work. One of her particular focuses is helping people set up work-from-home environments that maximize productivity.

About Susan Fennema

Susan Fennema is the CEO of Beyond the Chaos, LLC  and the COO at CenterPoint Advisory Force. She graduated with a BA in journalism from Texas A&M University.

Read the Transcript

Allison:  My name is Allison and I am the owner and Executive Coach of Deliberate Directions, and this afternoon I’m so pleased we have Susan Fennema here with us. She is the CEO of Beyond the Chaos. She helps business owners gain control of their business by developing processes and structures for their business operations. She is a partner and CEO [unintelligible 00:32] advisory force. She is a graduate with a Bachelors of Arts in Journalism from Texas A&M. Susan, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Susan:  Thanks so much for having me.

Allison:  Absolutely. So Chaos is the topic of so many of my coaching sessions that I have with my prospective clients, and so I love the fact that you’re clearly focused on that, and I’m hoping we can dive deep into that today.

Susan:  Absolutely.

Allison:  Where are you located Susan?

Susan:  I am in McKinney, Texas, which is Northeast of Dallas.

Allison:  OK, fantastic.

Susan:  And it is still hot here. Even though we’re recording here in early October, still hot.

Allison:  We are in full-fledged fall here and the leaves are turning, but it’s super beautiful. All right, so I have a whole list of questions. I’m hoping I can just fire them at you and take the conversation wherever it goes. Does that sound good?

Susan:  Let me have them. [phonetic 01:28]

Allison:  All right, fantastic. So, what are some of the most common business Chaos issues you see in the clients you work with?

Susan:  Sure. So mostly, I work with professional services, companies that are small, and one of the first heads up I get or they get is that they can’t grow anymore. They’re struggling because their employees are quitting, or they can’t finish any projects or every project is over budget, and they don’t know how to control all of that, so that they are making consistent progress throughout projects, and throughout their business sales the same way they’re dropping sales leads is another good sign that I I hear from them.

Allison:  So you’ve hit like the hotspots of most of every business that I know. Do you think that there’s ever Chaos that’s just completely unnecessary?

Susan:  Yes, there is a lot of Chaos [crosstalk 02:28] No, of course, there is the kind of chaos that’s created from drama, and that can sometimes not be as easily controlled, because that has to do with personality types in that kind of thing. But you can reduce the dramatic reactions, you can reduce the things that cause the drama. So being able to cut back on things that you keep doing over and over again, but you never do the same way. Having a process and a system so that you don’t even have to think about it, it just happens, you go through the checklist and you’re off and running, those types of things can really help to reduce the drama and the chaos.

Allison:  So I probably should have asked you this out of the gate. But could you do your 60 seconds elevator pitch of how you help people?

Susan:  Sure. So beyond the Chaos is here to serve small business owners, and to help them in most cases to get their lives back. We want to empower them to repeat successes systemize the things that they do regularly and stop reinventing the wheel so that they are able at the end of the day to actually go and enjoy their family and all the things that they’re working for.

Allison:  Fantastic. Thank you. Just for our listeners, what would you describe or explain is the difference between a process of procedure and a policy, just kind of that baseline?

Susan:  Sure. So a policy is the rules, and if you’re a one-person business, you probably don’t need any policy for yourself. But it could be your holidays, or how people ask for time, how you’re required to enter time on a project. Those are policies. A process is usually a prose it’s a definition of how to do something, not necessarily a checklist, which is a procedure. So you might have a process that leads into a procedure, how you get into that.

Allison:  OK, I’ve always been a huge proponent of the quicker I can get my processes down. Even though I may still be the one doing them, the quicker I can offload that and delegate it later. I’ve seen by implementing those 3 things: processes, procedures, and policies. Some pretty huge breakthroughs. What are the type of breakthroughs that you see in your clients?

Susan:  Relief is one of the main ones. I mean, a total sigh of a Wow, I know where everything is, you can almost feel that sigh, they feel like they have a little bit more control over the things that they’re doing, and they’re not losing things, things aren’t falling through the cracks, and they get their life back, all of a sudden they’re going out to dinner with their spouses and spending time with their kids, and that, to me is the biggest reward.

Allison:  I think one of my favorite breakthroughs, and I’ve even experienced it in my own business, and I’m sure you have as well is when you are in Chaos mode, and you can identify some small fixes that kind of smooth it out, maybe provide you some leverage of your time that you can exponentially, it’s not just like, you can just do a little bit more you can do sometimes 10 times more, and I’ve found at least in my business, the more that I do, or the larger we grow, the less Chaos I have, which I love.

Susan:  And that’s because you’re systemizing how you’re doing it, you’re not just hoping that somebody takes it and does it the way you’d hoped.

Allison:  Right. So if we could talk a little bit about how to document the process of those 3 pillars? I don’t want to ask you personally for a poor example of it, but how are we missing the mark by doing it poorly?

Susan: 

  1. The first way that we’re missing the mark is that we’re not doing it. So that’s the first way.
  2. The second is that it’s in the owner’s head. The owner knows what his policy is, and he might be frustrated that his employees are not entering their time every day before they go home. But he’s never one set it and to never written it, and so those are important things to address, especially if you’re starting to have a bunch of employee turnover, they can’t meet your expectations, if you can’t tell them what they are.

Allison:  Absolutely.

Susan:  Most people can meet expectations if they know what they are. So, if you’re keeping it to yourself, that’s the first thing. The other is making sure that it’s in a public place, I mean, not public to the world, but public to your team, so that they know where to go look, if they’re, for example; installing a new server, they know where to go look for that checklist. So they don’t have to figure it out on their own, and they can do it the way you want it done.

Allison:  Right. Do you develop processes for companies? Or do you work with teams to develop the right processes? Or is it both?

Susan:  I actually do both, and I’ll write the process. Some people just start, that good at sitting down and working through it’s a technical writing almost, to my journalism degree helps me with. Y[crosstalk 08:14] if you don’t have that skill set, that’s certainly something that I can help you think through, and that’s where the challenge comes is; you have to start thinking through in really tiny minutiae, and then send the proposal to the client is, what tool are you using? What are your follow up steps? When do you send it? Is it before or after it’s been reviewed internally by 3 people? There are more steps to it than just send it out, and that’s what the documenting of the process helps with is making sure that that is consistent.

Allison:  So in documenting processes, what are the steps that we need to think through, I don’t know, if you have everything you touch, or every platform you use as an example that you just gave, or who reviews… What part before the proposal goes out? Is there kind of like an easy thought out checklist that you guide us on?

Susan:  You know, a lot of times it’s ‘why’ or ‘how’ or the question as you’re going through it, you know, who is doing it, when are they doing it, those parts you naturally come to but ‘why’ and ‘how’ are the important parts to also make sure that they get in there. You know, one of the methods that I have found that really helps, especially I’ve done this with my VA is when I’m not able to meet directly with them. I’ll hop on a zoom call or by myself and start recording and I capture my screen, this is where I go, this is what I do and start showing them how I’m doing it, and then all of a sudden, it comes in your mind even, ‘I forgot that part’, and you go back and show them that part, and so if you have it, where it’s documented like that, it’s a lot easier to go through and then write it up, I actually even sometimes have the VA write it up from what, from my recording, or from a transcription of my recording, depending on how long it is. So you can always have those transcribed, and then revise them, and they’re ready to go.

Allison:  Fantastic. One of the things that I talk a lot about with clients is when they’re thinking about a process, you have to possibly develop it in a number of different ways so that people learn differently. So sometimes listening to a recording or watching a video, and sometimes it’s a hands on process. So to make sure you’re documenting all 3, especially in an in depth process, because people learn [phonetic 10:56] differently.

Susan:  Absolutely. I’m a firm believer in that. I’m a reader, if you put me in just an audio where there’s no video and no reading. I’m doing 3 other things. I’ve already lost train of thought. So definitely people learn differently, and that’s important to know your team as well. Who are you? Who are you sharing this with?

Allison:  I’m very, very visual but I also like to do it, and sometimes I don’t even want to be told how I just want to try it. What is your favorite resource or book for any recommendation that you would have for people who need to start developing a process or a procedure?

Susan:  Well, you can go to my blog, I have a lot of tips on my blog, and that’s beyondthechaos.biz/blog, lots of things there. As far as books, and that kind of thing. No, I don’t know that I have a good recommendation there. It’s really thinking through it very specifically, I mean that’s the whole gist of it is it’s really detailed and specific.

One thing that you can do if you’re not good at those things, and a small business owner who might not have a lot of colleagues to help get a spouse or a child, talk through and explain to them how to do it. Somebody who does not work in your business all the time, but that you trust and you know that, we’ll be patient with you, and listen to the questions that they ask.

Allison:  I think having an outside perspective, who doesn’t have any understanding is a great way to start, especially someone with a young mind, because they’ll ask really great questions that sometimes we just assume like, of course, you know what that is. You know, I remember, it was many years ago, but telling my son will just hit the pound sign, and he’s like, “What are you talking about?” And I’m like, “The pound sign on the phone?” And he’s like, “Mom, you mean hashtag?” th[crosstalk 13:01] language, right?

Susan:  Yes, absolutely, and they’ll ask you why. The other part of this is having that outside view, when they’re asking you why all of a sudden, you might say, “Well, I don’t know, maybe, do we have to do that? Maybe we don’t have to do that.” So, always hear in your head, if you’re saying, well, that’s how I’ve always done it. Well, maybe ask yourself, why a few more times to find out if you need to do it. Because you also don’t want to be inefficient by doing things that are not necessary,

Allison:  On that similar, why do we do it that way? And that not having being the answer, but sometimes you just say open a document, it’s like, how? What do you mean open a document, it’s like, watch the software and then go up to the file and, walking through the steps sometimes we can’t assume? So that how goes several layers

Susan:  In which software?

Allison:  Right exactly.

Susan:  You’re going down to that granular of a level?

Allison:  Yes. For you in working with businesses, what is the most common process that you help them with?

Susan:  Sales is a big one, and we do a lot of project management just by the nature of our project management experience. But sales is the other one, and that touches a lot of businesses, where a tremendous number of businesses that sales leads are just falling through the cracks. They’re not closing business, because they’re not remembering to ask the person that called them for the proposal that, “Hey, can we meet on Friday to review the proposal?” You know, there are steps like that, that are being skipped and there’s no system so they just might remember a while later that they need to follow up and at that point, your prospect might have already found somebody else.

Allison:  And gone cold for sure.

Susan:  Absolutely.

Allison:  What’s the easiest process to set up or structure for a company? Is there an easy one?

Susan:  Sales is actually pretty easy. It’s just that nobody really thinks through it. project management can be a lot more complicated, because it depends on what kinds of projects you’re doing, and how many steps and all those kinds of things. But sales is pretty straightforward.

Allison:  Right. Sales is one of those things where we get busy, and it becomes sometimes less of a priority, but you’ve already paid for that acquisition to happen, and so to lose the conversion is one of the biggest ways to increase profitability. So a process that just double your profitability.

Susan:  Right. It also makes your money, and that’s the other part of this, too, is that it’s something that a lot of us is small business owners, we don’t really like the sales part, and so we postpone it or push it back. But you know, you’re here to actually make money so that you can serve more people and support your team, and your family and everything else, and if you’re not making that income, the priority, you don’t have those opportunities to do those other things.

Allison:  So sales being your number one, and maybe the easiest process to structure, and what would be your top 3 or 4 other ones that you work with clients on most commonly.

Susan:  So many of them are surrounded with Project Management, and there are a lot of different ones in that area. But we also do some operation level things.

For example; one thing that a lot of people have a hard time with is cutting the holidays, some small business owners like to send gifts or like to send Christmas cards or, you know, whatever the holiday is of your choice. But they all of a sudden on December 20 are like Oh no. What do I do? And so building some operational processes around, how are you going to remember next year that you really have to start before Thanksgiving, and setting those kinds of things up is good, and the other one that also is a big one is onboarding and off boarding of employees. What are your steps through that? You don’t do it that often when you’re a small business owner? And so every time you do it, you’re like, “Ah, what else do they need? Or where do I need to go? Where do I need to direct them? How do I make sure they know about what we do?” Make a list and off boarding is the same.

Unfortunately, sometimes when you have to off board have to do it quickly, and these days, the access that you have to give people into software, you need to know what they’re in. So you can shut that down quick if you need to. So that off boarding is part of something important.

Allison:  Right. I’d say those, for me that is very common, I would completely agree. Less so on the off boarding. so that’s you’ve just given me something to be thinking about. I don’t even think I have an onboarding process. So I need to.

Susan:  Well, you can take your onboarding process., and to reverse it, if you’re keeping a good list with each employee, you can then just reverse it.

Allison:  Yes, fantastic. So let’s talk about it from maybe we don’t yet have employees. So we’re solopreneur, there are more of those than people who have big teams. What is the easiest way for someone who is bringing a team member on for the first time on how to delegate? What should they be considering first?

Susan:  So delegation is a challenge, and I would say before you even bring somebody on, start to think about the things that one feels a little tedious to you, and things that you do consistently sometimes you feel like they’re beneath me. I have anybody else to give them to. So that’s one thing. The other thing are things that are totally wasting your time. Going through email where you only need to respond to 3% of the ones that you receive those types of things. There are virtual assistants that can do that stuff for you, that are trained in how to help you let go of it as well.

Allison:  Wow! I had one of those.

Susan:  Yes, they’re good.

Allison:  [crosstalk 19:40] respond on my own email.

Susan:  I do too, I don’t mind email. I stay on top of it. So not a big deal. But I do have a VA who does all my social media posts because I don’t love doing social media. So that’s the next thing.

What don’t you love doing?

I don’t like doing that, so I have a VA to do that. I love talking with my clients. So one of the things I’ve struggled with how to hand off is, I need to talk to them, I want to ask the right questions at the right time, I want to make sure that I’m able to respond to what they’re telling me that perhaps some of my employees don’t have that experience to be able to do, that man, can they take a recording of that and create a template for me. So figuring out those ways of what part can go away is important. But also knowing what kind of employee you want. I need help doesn’t necessarily mean if you’re a software developer, that you need another developer. Especially if you love software development, maybe you need a project manager instead.

Allison:  I pride myself in helping people figure out what they’re doing that is causing the Chaos that you’re talking about, right, and sometimes it’s not a process, but to figure out what it is that they’re not working in their strengths, which I think is a certain talent in itself to understand what I want to let go, and I’m going to be willing to let go and then develop a great process as far as I can take it, to hand it off to someone to delegate. So, what advice would you have for business owners who are constantly distracted by their own plans?

Susan:  Oh, that’s a big one. I love planning, that’s a favorite thing to do. I’m a big fan of calendar blocking, and to a degree, you also get to kind of mess around planning with your calendar blocking. I sometimes refer to it as calendar Tetris. So you build your calendar of what your plan is, and then all of a sudden, something goes awry, well, at least now, you got blocks of time that you’re going to move somewhere and make things happen. I try to limit that to being at the end of the day. So at the end of the day, plan your day for the next day, spend some time on it, that’s OK. But then when you get there in the morning, start working your plan, don’t re-plan it, and I think that’s really important is if you come in with that plan every day, you’re fresh, you’re awake, you’ve gotten some sleep, or maybe some coffee, whichever works best for you, and then you’re ready to move through the things that you already decided or priorities.

Allison:  So slightly different angle on this. Do you find that when your people who you’re training or who you’re showing the processes to, that they get distracted learning the process, so much so that they actually don’t do the work they need to they get stuck in the learning process?

Susan:  I don’t think so. I haven’t seen that happen that much. I do think sometimes they might get overwhelmed. Because all of a sudden, we’ve brought to light all these details that are before falling through the cracks, and now, Oh, no. So far behind, or I can’t catch up? Or how am I going to get to inbox 0 when I have 3000 emails? OK, well, I’ll just delete them. Sometimes just declaring bankruptcy is the best way to go, and you know, with projects is a little harder, because if you’ve dropped the ball, how sometimes do you have to reset that with a client and reset an expectation of “Yes, now you said we could have it at the end of the year, but it’s probably going to be February.” Once you start to capture all those details, you start to see some of those things.

So I see more overwhelm, as a result, then I see different overwhelmed or overwhelmed before, but that’s because they didn’t know. Now they’re overwhelmed because they do know… But there is a path to gain control of that, and that’s the important part once you get to that stage.

Allison:  So I just want to confirm you gave me permission to delete all of my emails, yes.

Susan:  If you have 3,000 emails, you’re not going to answer in many ways. So just delete them, and then from then on be better.

Allison:  [crosstalk 24:35] If you just thinking about that, that’s funny. I appreciate it. You are right. If you’re that far behind, then there has to be a clean slate of some sort. So can we talk a little bit about project management and for those of our listeners that do subcontracting of services of some sort. So in your experience, is there a common problem or challenge that employees or contractors need to share with their supervisor or their clients in this case, but they don’t share.

Susan:  Sure, one of the things that I see a lot with subcontractors is they just all of a sudden, go absent, you know, “Oh, I was on vacation for two weeks, I couldn’t respond to you.” OK, well, maybe you should have warned somebody that you’re working with regularly, that you would be on. Those types of things I see a lot from the subcontractors’ side. On the contractor side who’s looking to hire, I’m not setting the clear expectations of what do I expect you to do, if I need 20 hours of your time per week, and I’m not giving you enough to do those 20 hours, I expect you to say, “Hey, I need some more work, as opposed to redirecting your energy somewhere else to a different client, those kinds of things so I know that I’m serving my clients, if I have a plan that requires 20 hours of work a week. So that communication is really the biggest deal between a contractor and subcontractor.

Allison:  You bring up a really good point, and I think it’s almost just a really awesome communication going back and forth for work, all of those things. But do you have a tool that makes that easy that you suggest or recommend.

Susan:  I love Slack, and that’s something that you can invite your contractors into, it makes it really easy to hit each other up. It’s like stopping by each other’s offices, and when you’re working in a virtual world, like so many of us are this these days, it is like, “Oh, hey, there’s somebody in my doorway, what can I do for you?” It’s really changed my ability to communicate with my team, as well as with a ton of other teams, I probably have 13, 14 Slack channels with different clients and different groups, and also, if you are a work from home Virtual Employee, makes you feel a little bit more connected.

Allison:  OK, cool. So I am not familiar with Slack. So when you say connected, is it a video? Is it visual? Is it just instant message? Tell me a little bit more about it?

Susan:  An instant message on steroids,

Allison:  OK, on steroids?

Susan:  I’d say it that way. Some people are like, “Well, why would I use Slack instead of texting?”

Well, first, you can turn it off, and on your phones these days, I’ve heard horror stories of people getting texts from their clients in the middle of the night, and things like that. So this lets you go away.

Allison:  I like that feature.

Susan:  And there are some really cool things about it. You can set a reminder, if somebody asks you a question, oh, yeah, I got to go look that up, I’ll come back to that. in 3 hours or something, and so it kind of helps you maintain more structured work world, even though it seems like it’s a distraction. Because it can be interrupted, like email if you leave that open all the time.

Allison:  Right. What would you say is the fastest way to be able to teach a process to someone who is remote, not there with you.

Susan:  I’m a big fan of duo [phonetic 28:45] zoom video call.

Allison:  So that’s not something you would do through Slack, it would be back to the zoom example.

Susan:  I mean, if it depends on how big it is, if there’s a written document that I can shoot to them through Slack, maybe so… Normally, what I would do, we use teamwork projects as our project management tool, and we have a project in there that has all of our processes in it. So I direct people there to of “Hey, this is where the bulk of it is, if you have a question about something specific, we can point you in a closer direction”, but at least they have a resource it’s almost like a wiki.

Allison:  OK, that’s very cool. I have gone through all of my initial questions, and so I guess my question back to you was, for those who are listening and want to learn more, where should they go to learn more from you.

Susan:  My website is absolutely the best place beyond the chaos.biz. You can also shoot me an email Susan@beyondthechaos.biz, and I am happy to point you in the right direction or make sure that you have what you need.

Allison:  Wonderful Susan, thank you so much for your time today. I admire the help that you are giving our small business owners. So thank you for that.

Susan:  Thank you.

Allison:  And we’ll be in touch soon.

Susan:  Thanks so much for having me. I enjoyed it.

Allison:  Thank you

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