Move Beyond the Chaos in Your Business with Susan Fennema

Reading Time: 18 Minutes

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

Susan Fennema helps small businesses use tools and set up systems that help them 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

This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview.


My name is Allison I am owner and executive coach of Deliberate Directions. And this afternoon I’m so pleased we have the Susan Fennema here with us. She is the CEO of beyond deck chaos. She helps business owners gain control of their business by developing processes and structures for their business operations. She is a partner in Centerpoint advisory force. She is a graduate of with a Bachelors of Arts in journalism from Texas A&M. Susan, thank you so much for joining us here today.


Thanks for having me. Absolutely.


So chaos is the topic of so many of my coaching sessions that I have with clients and 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.




Um, where are you located? Susan?


I am in McKinney, Texas, which is northeast of Dallas. Okay, fantastic. And it is still hot here even though it is we’re recording here in early October. still hot.


Fall. 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 get because I fire them at you and take the conversation wherever it goes. Does that sound good? All right. Fantastic. So chaos. What are some of the most common business chaos issues you see in the clients you work with?


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. So another good sign that I hear from them.


So you’ve kind of hit like the hotspots of most of every business that I know, right? Do you think that there’s ever chaos that’s just completely unnecessary?


Yes, there is a lot of chaos. Now, of course, there is the kind of chaos it’s created from drama, right? And that that can sometimes not be as easily controlled because that has to do with personality types and that kind of thing. But you can reduce the dramatic reactions, if 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. You know, 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.


Right. So I probably should have asked you this out of the gate. But could you kind of do your 60 62nd elevator pitch of how you help people?


Sure. So beyond the chaos is here to serve small business owners, and to help them in the 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.


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


Sure. So, a policy is the rules, you know, and if you’re a one person business, you probably don’t need any policy for yourself. But it could be your holidays or you know how people ask for time off 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?


Okay. I’ve always, I’ve always been a huge proponent of you know, 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 three things, so processes, procedures, and policy’s some pretty huge breakthroughs. What are the type of breakthroughs that you see in your clients?


Relief is one of the main ones, I mean, a total sigh of Wow, I know where everything is you can, you can almost feel that sigh, that 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.


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 came 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 found at least in my business, the more that I do or the larger we grow, the less chaos I have, which I love.


Well, and that’s because you’re systemising how you’re doing it, you’re not just hoping that somebody takes it and does it the way you’d hoped. Right?


right. So if we could talk a little bit about how to document the process of, you know, those three pillars, so what? What is I don’t want to ask you, per se for a poor example of it, but how are we missing the mark by doing it poorly?


Okay, so Well, first, the first way that we’re missing the mark is that we’re not doing it. So. That’s the first way. The second is that it’s in the owners head. And 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 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. Absolutely. Most people can meet expectations if they know what they are. So if you are, 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 the, for example, installing a new server, that they 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.


Right. Right. Do you develop processes for companies or do you work with teams to develop the right processes, I actually do both YouTube and I’ll write the process. Some people just aren’t, you know that good at sitting down and working through? It’s a technical writing almost, to my journalism degree helps me with. Sure. Yeah. If you don’t have that skill set, you know, that’s certainly something that I can help you think through. And that’s, that’s where the challenge comes is you have to start thinking through in really tiny minutiae, not okay, and then send the proposal to the client. It’s 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 three people, you know, there, there are more steps to it than just, you know, send it out. And that’s what the documenting of the process helps with is making sure that that is consistent.


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


You know, a lot of times it’s fire, how are the question on that? As you’re going through it, you know, who is doing it? When are they doing it, those parts you kind of naturally come to but why and how are the important parts to also make sure that they get in there. And 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 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.


Fantastic. One of the things that I talk a lot about with clients is when they’re thinking about a process, you have to know 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 kind of documenting all three, especially in an in depth process, because people live differently.


Absolutely people. 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 like doing three other things. I’ve already lost train of thought. So definitely people learn differently. And that’s important to know your team as well. Right? Who are you? Who are you sharing this with? All right.


I may, I’m very visual, and so, 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?


And well, you can go to my blog, I have a lot of tips on my blog. And that’s lots of things there. As far as books and that kind of thing. Now, I don’t know that I have a good recommendation there. And it’s really thinking through it very specifically. I mean, that that’s the whole gist of it. Is it 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, and talk and explain, talk through and explain to them how to do it, somebody who doesn’t 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.


I think having an outside perspective, who doesn’t have any understanding is a great 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, it’s sort of I remember at it was many years ago, but telling my son, we’ll 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 right? The right language, right?


Yeah, absolutely. And they’ll ask you why. The other part of this is that 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 you know, always hear in your head if you’re saying, well, that’s how I’ve always done it. Oh, 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 in an efficient by doing things that are not necessary


on that similar so the asking the why, why do we do it that way? And that not having, you know, being the answer, but even the how, like, sometimes you just say open a document, it’s like, well, how like, what do you mean open a document, it’s like, watch the software and then go up to the file and, you know, walking through the steps sometimes we can’t assume right? So they can go several layers and which is Which software? Right?


You’re going down to that granular level?


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


Sales is a big one, okay. 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 that touches a lot of businesses that are a tremendous number of businesses that sales leads are just falling through the cracks. They’re not, they’re not closing business, because they’re not remembering to ask the person that called in for the proposal, you know, 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 prospecting might have already found somebody else and gone cold for sure. Yeah, absolutely.


What’s the easiest process to set up or structure for a company?


Is there an easy one?


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, right? sales is one of those things where we get busy, right? 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 Yes, double your profitability, right. It also makes you money. And that 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 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.


So sales being your number one, and maybe the easiest process to structure and what would be your like top three or four other ones that you work with clients on most commonly?


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, and one thing that a lot of people have a hard time with is come 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 you know, 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 what 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 an off boarding is the same. Unfortunately, sometimes when you have to awkward 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 awkward is part of something important.


I’d say those. For me, they say that 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 off boarding process. So I need to well, you can, you know, take your onboarding process and in reverse. reverse it. If you’re keeping a good list with each employee, you can then just reverse it.


Yeah, fantastic.


So let’s talk about it from maybe we don’t yet have employees. So we’re solopreneur, which, you know, there are more of those than people who have big teams. And what is the 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?


Right. So delegation is a challenge. And I would say before you even bring somebody on, start to think about the things that one feel a little tedious to you. And things that you do consistently that you don’t. Sometimes you feel like they’re beneath me, right? I don’t 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. Wow, I need one of those.


They’re good to respond on my own email.


And, and 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 Um, 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. But man, can they take a recording of that and create a template for me? Hmm. So figuring out those ways of what part can go away is important. But also knowing what kind of employee you want. Just I need help. doesn’t necessarily mean if you’re a software developer that you need another developer, right? Especially if you love software development, maybe you need a project manager instead, right?


I pride myself in helping people figure out what they’re doing that is causing the chaos that, you know, we’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 and right, which I think, 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.




What advice would you have for business owners who are constantly distracted by their own plans?


Oh, that’s a big one, right? I love planning. That’s my favorite thing to do.


I’m a big fan of calendar blocking. That’s really to me 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. Great. So you build your calendar of what your plan is, and then all of a sudden, something goes awry. Well, at least now, you know, you got blocks of time that you got to move somewhere and make things happen, right? 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 okay. But then when you get there in the morning, start working your plan, don’t replan it. And I think that 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, which whichever works best for you, and then you’re ready to move through the things that you already decided or priorities.


From a slightly different angle on this. Do you find that when you’re 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?


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 were before falling through the cracks. And now Oh, no, oh, no, so far behind or I can’t catch up. Or how am I going to get to inbox zero when I have 3000 emails, okay, well 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 Yeah, 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 One of those things. So I see more overwhelmed than I do as a result than I see in different overwhelmed or overwhelmed before, but that’s because they didn’t know. Now they’re overwhelmed.


But there’s a path to there is a path to gain control that and that’s the important part. Once you get to that stage, there you go. So I just want to confirm you gave me permission to delete all of my emails, yes.


If you have 3000 emails, you’re not going to answer them anyway. So just delete them. And then from then on, the better.


Just thinking about that, that’s funny. I appreciate it. You’re right. If you’re if you’re that far behind, then there has to be like 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 Are contractors need to share with? I don’t know, I guess their supervisor or their clients in this case, but they don’t share?


Sure, one of the things that I see a lot with subcontractors is they just all of a sudden go absent, you know, ah, I was on vacation for two weeks. I couldn’t respond to you. Okay, well, maybe you should have warned somebody that you’re working with regularly, that you would be out, right. Those types of things I see a lot from the subcontractor side on the contractor side who’s looking to hire, not setting the clear expectations of what I expect you to do if I need 20 hours of time 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 that I know that I’m serving my clients if I have a plan that requires 20 hours of work a week, right? So that communication is really the biggest deal between a contractor and a subcontractor.


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


I love Slack, Slack, okay, 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 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 1314 slack channels with different clients and different groups and it also if you are a work from home Virtual Employee makes you feel a little bit more connected.


Okay, 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? Like Tell me a little bit more about it?


An instant message on steroids, okay, on steroids.


I’d say it that way. You know, some people are like, Well, why would I use slack instead of texting and well, slack first, you can turn it off and on your on your phones these days. You know, I’ve heard horror stories of people getting texts from their clients in the middle of the night and things like that. So this one To go away.


I like that feature.


And there are some really cool things about it. Like 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 and, you know, three hours or something. And so it kind of helps you maintain a more structured work world, even though it seems like it’s a distraction. Because it can be interruptive like email, if you leave that open all the time, who writes, right?

Unknown Speaker  28:32 

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


And I’m a big fan of the do a zoom video call and walk through it.


That’s not something you would do through Slack, it would be back to the zoom example, as well. And I might 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 I my team has, 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 have, hey, this is where the bulk of it is. If you have a question about something specific, we can, you know, point you in a closer direction, but at least they’re they have a resource almost, it’s almost like a wiki.


Okay. Oh, neat. Okay, that’s very cool. I, 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?


My website is absolutely the best place beyond the 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.


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. Thank you.


Thank you. And we’ll be in touch soon.


Thanks so much for having me. I enjoyed it. Thank you.

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