School for Startups Radio is a podcast that interviews successful entrepreneurs and business owners to teach individuals how to start and build a business. I recently got to speak with host Jim Beach about my leap into the world of startups, why business owners need to systematize, and what features should absolutely be included in your project management tool.
Please find the full video transcript below.
Introduction: From the AMFM 247 radio network, broadcasting from AM and FM stations around the country. Welcome to the Small Business Administration award-winning School for Startups Radio, where we talk all things small business and entrepreneurship. Now here is your host, the guy that believes anyone can be a successful entrepreneur because entrepreneurship is not about creativity, risk or passion, Jim Beach,
Jim: Everyone. Welcome to another exciting edition of School for Startups Radio. Today is Tuesday, March 30th, and I hope you’re having a fantastic day. In response, we have a fantastic show for you. We’re going to talk about mindset and getting your head in the right place. Getting beyond the junk. All of that. Two fantastic guests today will help us with us. First up, we have Susan Fennema, she’s going to help us get beyond the chaos.
And then we have Kevin Stacy. Who’s going to help us get our mind right and navigate the noise. I can’t tell you how important this is, that you are mentally capable, ready, excited to do all of the things. Remember we have a very unique type of entrepreneurship here. We don’t care about passion, which means you have to provide the incentive to get out of the bed and get the email done, the project done, the report done, the podcast done, the marketing done, make the sales calls.
You got to sit down and make 70 outbound sales calls that morning. That is what we were talking about. So, an important distinction, we’re not going to worry about your passion. You can reserve that for your church, your synagogue, your mosque, and your spouse, but you’re going to have to really love and get out of bed and get started and get going to work with your mindset in the right place. Today’s episode, supercritical. I can’t wait to share it with you. We will do that in about 20 seconds.
We are back and again, still so very appreciative that you’re spending some time with us. I am very excited to welcome to the show, someone who is very creative with her title, and I hope will help bring some normalness to our lives. Please, welcome to the show, Susan Fennema. She is the CEO, chaos eradicating officer, of Beyond the Chaos. It is a consultancy that helps small business owners, that’s us, with under 25 employees, simplify their lives and manage the work so they can get back to actually going out there and making revenue. She is the author of the book, 3 Ways to Control Chaos in Your Small Business. Susan, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Susan: Hi. I’m great. Thanks for having me, Jim.
Jim: It is my pleasure. All right, so I love your title. That’s what I was referring to, chaos eradicating officer. What kind of chaos are you talking about here?
Susan: We’re talking about that chaos that totally creates overwhelm in small business owner’s worlds. The not knowing what to do next, having too many irons in the fire, having projects that are over budget, over time, and way beyond the initial planned scope and not even knowing necessarily what comes next and how do I focus on my finances? How do I focus on marketing? How do I do all this and manage my team? It’s all overwhelming. And we have some solutions to help you find those three ways to remove some of that chaos.
Jim: Awesome. All right. Well, I’d love to hear about that, but before we jump into that, tell us a little bit more about you. How did you get started? How did you start your own business, your own agency? Give us a little bit of your entrepreneurial history.
Susan: So, my history of being a small business owner is short. I’ve been the owner of my business for five years. I did make it past that scary nobody makes it past five or not that many make it past five. So I made that. But my history and experience come from always working with and working for small business owners for the past 30, 35 years of my career.
I have always been that right-hand person. I am naturally gifted with being able to pull systems and build processes around tasks that are repeatable and to make them simpler as we go. So, making sure that you can streamline and do something difficult in as few steps as possible, as well as making sure that you can repeat it easily is really my God-given talent, to an extent, but in working with all of these small business owners, I learned that they all are very similar.
All of us are. I am. I fall into that world as well. We start a business because we’re great at our trade, we’re great project managers or copywriters or software developers. And then all this other stuff gets in the way of you even being able to do what you started your business to do in the first place. And so it becomes overwhelming and you start to even lose a degree of happiness.
So when I went to look for my last job, and it was the last time I ever looked for one and will be, I was like first, I don’t do any of this, it all sounds awful. I don’t want to do any of these things. And I don’t want to go back to working in a corporate office. I had been working for a software developer, in a work-from-home position, for six years, and I wanted to continue that virtual type environment.
I love it, it’s great. And I just said, “Why do I not take beyond the chaos…” Which at the time was a side business to help with personal organizing, “Why am I not just expanding that and helping small business owners do the same thing?” Essentially personal organizer for small business owners and be able to help more than one at a time. And that’s how Beyond the Chaos, in its professional form, was born.
Jim: I love it. That makes so much sense. And it grew organically, which means you were able to bootstrap it, to a large degree. You own a 100%. And I don’t know, that’s just a good, solid way to grow a business. It makes sense. Right?
Susan: Absolutely. There were next to no startup costs. It was essentially just me in my same home office that my last job was in, even using some of those tools I already knew about from having that previous virtual job, but in their free forms, because I didn’t have enough people in it or enough projects in it or anything like that yet. So definitely a way to bootstrap up.
I was not able to really kick off my business until I left my job because the owner there knew me very well. And he was on my social media, all those kinds of things that you would use, so I did have to make a clean break. But I already had a world where I was known, liked, and trusted. And so I had the ability to that day, the day that I ended employment, to be able to just start sending out emails to contacts that I know. So essentially a free way to start a business.
Jim: Brilliant, Susan. Makes a lot of sense. Who is your perfect customer now? A small business owner that blank, blank, blank.
Susan: Sure. A small business owner who is overwhelmed, first, and second, he or she is in a professional services industry. So not manufacturing goods and services or not manufacturing goods. I guess you could manufacture a service and we can help you with that because that’s more like software development and also the owner is a bottleneck in the business. They do not have many structures in place to be able to consistently repeat their successes. And then also struggling with the use of technology as tools to help them systemize and streamline their business.
Jim: All right. Let’s talk now about some of your advice, some of the things that you would help that small business owner do. If I can’t create a system, should it be done at all?
Susan: That’s a really great question. And I learned a little bit on the simplification route myself because when I started out on my own, our first instinct is we’ll take whatever clients you can get and however you can get them, customize every proposal, deliver whatever they need. And so you develop something that you can’t get help doing. It’s not a brand. You’re essentially an employee of all these other businesses. You’re a freelancer. So once you change that mindset to what do I sell and how do we repeat it? Now, you’re starting to work yourself more into a business perspective.
If you can’t systemize that, it does become harder to sell. Now, I’m not saying don’t ever do it. There might be situations where it’s what you normally do, but it’s much bigger and so maybe you as the owner are going to be the implementer in that case, as opposed to your team that obviously commands a much higher dollar, but it gives you a structure to make that decision in, to be able to say, “I’m going to make an exception because we can make a lot of money very quickly if I handle this.”
I also recommend not doing too many of those because most of us as the owner needs to be focusing on the sales and marketing aspects of our business and not on the implementation of it. And that can become a challenge if you do not have a systemized business. So the short answer, yeah, I would steer clear if you can’t make a system. Don’t do it or figure out how to make it simpler.
Jim: All right. What are the three things that you talk about in your book to control chaos? Can we go through those?
Susan: Absolutely. The first one is to systemize your business. Make sure that you have a process for what you’re doing and that it’s not in your head, that it is written down, such that other people can understand and follow it. Those processes can surround things like your sales process, how you open a project, how you close a project, how you hire and fire, how you onboard clients, how you onboard a team member.
So all of those things might not even be things that you do that often as a small business owner, especially if you’re talking about onboarding a new team member, small business owners don’t hire people that often. So being able to be consistent with that so that you don’t have to sync through each step each time makes it a lot easier to repeat quickly when you need to. I always laugh about this one, offboarding a team member, that one you might have to do in a hurry, so you better have a checklist and a process there. So, that’s the first area that I would want everyone to tackle is do you have assistance written down and shared. The second part…
Susan: Okay. Go ahead.
Jim: I was just thinking this, Susan, I used to run summer camps and we had 90 summer camps running around the world simultaneously, not just one or two, so 90 of them. So we had to have systems. And the first system that I thought of was everyone on staff needs to know how to get to the hospital. From where you are, how do you get to the hospital? We were based on university campuses. So we weren’t out in the woods. We were downtown Philadelphia, for example, or MIT or SMU, in your neck of the woods, places like that. So the first process we got was how to get to the hospital.
Eventually, Susan, this is why I started this story, I had to create a process for, and I was a 26-year-old boy at this time, not a man, boy, how to deal with a young woman having her first menstrual cycle.
Susan: Oh, wow.
Jim: Because that happened to me at Georgetown, knock, knock and anyway, so I created a system based on that, but that’s not easy. That was hard for me. It still traumatizes me to this day.
Susan: Well, and because you had that experience and you realized yeah, this is going to come up, if you put that down, you take that trauma away from your other team members that might be in that same experience. Now they know how to handle it. And they know it might come up.
Jim: It’s knowing that it might come up. The fact that during training, we all talked about it, I think, made them more at ease.
Susan: Yeah. And talking about it amongst adults, if it makes it a little easier to talk to a child and be less surprised and comfort them. So, absolutely, that is an example of something that you could develop a process around how you handle things like that. So, that would be the first area.
Jim: Yeah. All right. Number two then.
Susan: Number two, manage your projects better. Most people are managing projects with their clients through email, and I’m not afraid to just flat out say that is the wrong way to do it. You need a tool and you need a process around how you’re using the tool and you need to require your whole team to be using the tool. So building that process around your project management is really the next piece of that. That’s going to start to enable you to deliver your projects on time, on budget, and in a structure to be able to stay in scope with them.
Jim: What’s your favorite tool?
Susan: My favorite tool, without question, is Teamwork. That is one that is not as well known, perhaps, as Basecamp or Asana. I think it has way more functionality than those two offers. And it just does everything that you need it to do in a great format. So, that’s my recommendation. If you are brand new to project management, if you actually are managing in email, you might start with a baby step to Asana because Teamwork is an overwhelming tool, it has so much functionality. So once you are ready for more, Teamwork does let you import Asana into it. So you have a nice little path to your success.
Jim: For those of us who don’t use Asana or have never done that, me included, Susan, what are the features that would be included there? What would it help me do?
Susan: So any project management tool that you choose should allow you to build a schedule, it’s usually a task list or to-do list type thing, where you build a schedule out for what your deliverable is. You can assign due dates for each of those tasks. You can assign a person who has to execute those tasks. The next big part of the tool is being able to communicate with your client on each one of those tasks. Now you can usually do that two ways.
Either the client can be in the tool with you, which some clients will or will not do, but these tools all offer the ability to simply add a comment or a response to a task and send that out to your client. Now your client can keep operating an email if they want and just reply to it and the app just sucks it right back in.
So something like Asana or Basecamp will work for that. It’s a general structure. Once you get more challenging-type projects, it will allow you to build Kanban boards, Teamwork will. Sorry, these others, not necessarily. Asana has Kanban boards. But Kanban boards, where you can move things through a process. Gantt charts, if you have a bunch of dependencies.
Teamwork has a time tracking tool in it as well if you estimate time and track time. Teamwork will also, even if you’re estimating time and tracking time against those tasks, it will help you manage the workload of your team because it knows who is assigned what, when it’s due and how many hours that’s going to take them. So those are some basics that are involved in a project management tool.
Jim: All right, I’m going to have to investigate that one. I’m going to give myself an F minus in this section, Susan.
Susan: Well, in your case, if you were running these camps back as a 26 year old boy, you would potentially have a project open for each one of those camps. You would have the team members that were involved in each camp assigned to that project. And your first step would be know where the hospital is. You’re already starting to see how that project management works into the process of that too.
Jim: And then step number two, get the hell out of that industry. Are you a parent?
Susan: I am a parent of a dog and a cat, but not of a people.
Jim: Imagine being the parent of thousands of dogs and cats and having to worry about all of them and so it was stress city.
Susan: No kidding. I can only imagine.
Jim: So anyway, number three, please.
Susan: Number three. After you’ve created that structure, your project management systems running well, the third thing, you need to start to get out of your own way. And what we do the best as small business owners is less interruptions drive our day. So you need to start managing those interruptions. Now, if you’re doing a good job of systemizing and project management, you should have a ton less emergencies. So that’s the first part of that.
The second part of managing interruptions is starting to build a structure around your day. I always suggest calendaring. That is one of my favorite tools of all time. It’s not an actual tool you can buy, but a system that you can put to put together in your calendar. So just start blocking off the times that you’re going to do things. And I know that this show is big on setting priorities as small business owners so that we’re not letting work totally overtake us.
And part of that is creating this structure of when are you going to work. So start on your calendar. If you’re starting with a clean slate calendar, start with your spirit. Block the time for that. When are you going to church? When are you praying? And when are you meditating? Whatever your God may be. How is that worked into your schedule? The second priority is your health. When are you exercising? Make sure you go eat lunch. Especially those of us working from home.
We might sit at our desk for five hours straight, figure out when you’re going to stand up. Even that kind of thing is important. So your health is your next priority. If you do not have your spirit and your body taken care of you are worth nothing to anyone.
So make sure those are taken care of first. Now your next priority is your family. And everybody’s families look different, whether that is going to your daughter’s piano recital or it is going to your husband’s work event, making sure you have dinner together every night, whatever your family and friend life looks like, get that on your calendar next. And then the last thing that you’re going to put in there is work because guess what? It will fill every hole. So make sure that you put the important things in there first.
Jim: Yes. I have a question that I do, a game that we do with some of our guests, and its name your top passions. And we offer no advice, no criteria for that. And it’s so fascinating to say people who list five work things. Don’t you have an outdoor passion or a family passion or a God-related passion or anything like that? So anyway, I’m glad that yours are clear and spread many different parts of life.
Susan: Exactly. You just have to take care of your whole life, not just your business life if you’re going to be worth anything in your business life.
Jim: Yes. And I think that if you’re really good at it, they should be able to combine in such a way that you should be able to have time with the family that is also business time. For example, having the entire family stuff envelopes or something for a mail-order that your business is doing.
Susan: Sure. Come holiday season I’m sure many children have had the enjoyable time of stuffing Christmas cards, sticking stamps, and licking envelopes.
Jim: That’s right. And if they can do that then they can help your business stuff or mailer.
Susan: Absolutely. I was raised by a small business owner and I got to do some of that too, but it’s important that they understand where all their stuff comes from. This thing involves more than just me being gone from nine to five, essentially.
Jim: I love it. That’s great advice. Susan, how do we find out more, follow you online, get Beyond Chaos?
Susan: Sure. So the best way is to go to beyondthechaos.biz/ebook and download that book you were mentioning, 3 Ways to Remove Chaos From Your Small Business, and it will go into depth on these three ways that we’ve talked about. If you just want to contact us, that contact information is also on that site. You’ll be able to follow us on LinkedIn, all that is there as well.
Jim: Fantastic. Susan, thank you so very much, great information and I hope your sports teams win this season. I know they’re very important to you.
Susan: Well, Blackhawks are pulling it out a little bit so hopefully there’ll be an improvement. Yes, I do love all that. It’s Fun.
Jim: That’s hockey?
Susan: That’s hockey. Yes.
Jim: Okay. I had to make sure. Susan, thank you so much. And I hope you’ll come back again on School for Startups.
Susan: Thanks, Jim. I really enjoyed it.
Jim: And we’ll be right back.
Originally published at Beyond the Chaos: Small Business Project Management and Operations Consulting.