610 Susan Fennema:
After almost 30 years spent founding and growing businesses and mentoring other female founders, I’ve come to the conclusion there should be an AA for perfectionists. Seriously. We can all get so caught up in this idea of perfectionism that we fail to delegate even the most menial tasks. It’s a trap that prevents most women from scaling their businesses to a million and beyond, and leaves us overwhelmed and spent. It doesn’t have to be that way.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who has made it her mission to rid all businesses of chaos – and build our delegation muscles.
Susan Fennema is the Chaos Eradicating Officer (CEO) of Beyond the Chaos, a consultancy helping entrepreneurs and small business owners simplify their operations and manage their projects so they can grow their businesses without overwhelm and get their lives back.
I can’t wait to introduce you to Susan! First…
What if there was a way to delegate tasks and know that your team will get them done exactly the way you want?
It would be transformational right?
I remember a mentor asking me what my hourly rate would be if I was landing a major contract, creating valuable IP, or bringing in a major investor – as opposed to what I would pay someone to fix a broken link, schedule calls, or for that matter do my laundry. Think about it. If an hour of my work brought in, say $50,000, my hourly rate would be at least $5000. Now what would it cost me to pay someone to fix that broken link? $25? $50?
When we think we’re heroes for “doing it all” we’re actually short changing our businesses – and ourselves. It creates chaos, slows your growth, and stands in the way of scale.
Susan Fennemma says she knew how to beat chaos as a 3 year old when she color coded and organized all the thousands of buttons her seamstress mother.
With 30+ years of operations and project management experience in professional service industries, Susan is now on a mission to improve American society exponentially – helping business owners focus on what they do best and delegate the rest.
Today you’ll hear how you can balance your perfectionist urge with delegation, and what tools can help you control the chaos in your business.
Let’s put on our wings with the inspiring Susan Fennema.
Melinda Wittstock: Susan, welcome to Wings.
Susan Fenemma: Hi, Melinda. Thanks so much for having me.
Melinda Wittstock: I love that you’re called the Chaos Eradicating Officer. So, tell me what led you to take on a mission of eradicating chaos?
Susan Fenemma: So, it started when I was a kid. It turns out that I have an innate talent to bring order to chaos. Even when I was three years old, I would sit while my mom sewed. She was a good seamstress, she made all of our clothes when we were little. And she would dump out this big jar of buttons, I actually still have the jar on my desk. And she would dump out this big jar of buttons, and I would sit on the floor and I would organize them by color and size, and how many colors and build them into this little graph so that it went from highest to lowest. So, even as a three or four-year-old, I was controlling the chaos. So, it just seemed like a natural thing to bring to business.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. So, it makes a lot of sense. So, chaos obviously, has a negative connotation and on the other side, there’s a certain chaos that comes with innovation. So, where’s chaos good, and where is chaos bad?
Susan Fenemma: Oh, that’s a great question. Chaos is great if it inspires you. I worked in an advertising agency for 10 years. There was a lot of chaos around the creative aspects of the job. It helps to have people shouting at each other with their points sometimes, because it made better work. It helped to have people pushed up against a deadline because the creative that comes out of being pushed up against a deadline is usually better than what if you give somebody six months to come up with, they very well might not do it at all. So, there is some degree of chaos there that’s good. But where it comes in that it’s not good is what is the process to get to that chaos.
So, in that same scenario, not having a deadline or missing your deadline, that’s the type of chaos that becomes bad. Not having something to create against, so a process where you have started with a creative brief with your client so that you understand the scope of what you’re trying to create. That you have a method after that creative is established to make sure everybody in the company, in the agency is on board and has the same buy-in to it, and doesn’t have another idea, and that there’s not a typo and all of those things. That’s the process surrounding that creative process that can be bad if it’s not in place.
Melinda Wittstock: And often, there’s chaos in business when there’s no clear mission or where employees don’t really even know how they’re being measured or what success is. What are some of the steps when you’re helping people to make sure, first of all, that communication, that alignment, all of that is in place?
Susan Fenemma: So, the first thing is to establish your process. So, what is that process and what part of that process are policies? Those are the rules. Those are the things that everybody has to abide by. That might be, do your timesheet before you go home every day or before you sign off, that’s a policy. And then you would have process and procedures, process is usually written, procedures are usually like checklists. And those types of things instilled can share both your vision. So, as a business owner, being able to share what is my expectation? What do I want this to look like? What is the output I want when someone follows this process? That needs to go into the process. And once you get there, then you have the ability to hold people accountable. And you do that two ways, you can either… Well, I actually suggest this as one whole process, but it’s two steps.
So, the first thing is that if you find people not delivering what you expect, you can go back and blame the process instead of blaming the person. So, the first step is “That’s not what I was expecting to get out of this. Let’s go look at the process and you can maybe explain to me where you got confused, or where it wasn’t clear so that we can fix that, so that you and other people doing this are more clear on what to deliver.” That’s great. Nine times out of 10, that person’s going to respond great. You’re going to have a better process, and you’re going to keep going on.
There are other people that are just going to say, “Oh yeah, I didn’t look at that.” And then when they go back, they’ll say, “Oh, I see. I should have paid attention.” And they are not going to do it next time either. So, that gives you the ability to hold someone accountable as well. So, you’re losing the blame part of it at the beginning, but you’re still maintaining the accountability part to reach the vision and the goal that you had in mind.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. And is it also important for team members to really understand why? Like why the process exists, right? Not just, “Here’s the process.”
Susan Fenemma: I’m a firm believer in that, and so usually if you’re writing a process, especially if you’re introducing it to new team members or to people that might be new to your field or new to the whole concept of what you’re doing, you want to put something in there that’s like, “The purpose of this, or the main goal of this or the outcome I expect from this is.” So, you can begin your process by explaining what you’re trying to get to in the end. You should be able to follow the steps without knowing the why, but you certainly do get more buy-in when people understand it.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. Because it just makes a team much more cohesive that everyone’s aligned and pulling in the same direction, and they kind of understand where they fit in the particular puzzle, which is really, really important. So, a business that doesn’t have any kind of structure or hasn’t aligned around the why, what happens? Obviously, it would seem that it’s not going to be running at its most efficient, but from the standpoint of the founder or the CEO, it’s got to lead to all kinds of the chaos-inducing feeling of overwhelm.
Susan Fennema: So, overwhelm is actually the main key that we work with. Many business owners who do not have the process and structure in place suffer from major overwhelm, because all they’re doing is putting out fires, solving problems, handling little bitty details that drive most people crazy, like, I don’t know, calling the bank and being on hold for three hours because of a clerical error, those types of things. And you cannot have people in place executing against your vision if you don’t have things written down.
And so, what begins to happen is, if you have two or three people, you can talk to them every day. You can explain, “Here are our goals today.” That might be okay, but once you start to scale, that is an exponential problem. And you can’t do that. You need some systems in place so that that kind of thing runs by itself. That you have a bookkeeper that you can say, “Hey, please call the bank on that.” That you have an assistant that can make sure that your schedule’s not double booked, and that your email is cleared out, and all of those great things that those people in those skill sets know how to handle. Otherwise, you don’t have any time to figure out how to grow your business, because you’re too busy working in it.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh yeah. Well, this is the classic and a lot of it, I think Susan, ties back to the fact that so many women think they have to do it all. It’s kind of this control freak perfectionist kind of gene, right? And I see it play out where women are afraid to hire early enough in their businesses, because they’re looking at those hires as an expense, rather than as an investment that’s going to bring a return.
Susan Fenemma: So, that’s a very good point, and I’m not going to lie, I am absolutely a perfectionist control freak. That’s why my processes are so clear and detailed. I want my vision to be executed. I want to be able to trust my team members to execute it without me having to handhold them the whole time, otherwise, what’s the point, right? I’ll just do it myself. But to your point about how do you decide when it’s time to hire, and when the overhead is okay? I’ll give you a quick simple exercise. Take a piece of paper, and as somebody who is not into paper, that’s a big thing for me to say.
Take a piece of paper, you’ll need a pen too, and write down the tasks that you’re performing throughout the day. Do it for about a week, and just go through those things. You might be able to group some. You might be able to strike some as, “I never do this, this is one totally out of the blue thing.” And you’ll get a list of those things that you normally do. And then start rating those. Are those admin-level tasks? Are they technician tasks? Or are they management C-level, CEO tasks? And when you do that, put a pay rate to each of those things, and start to decide real quick, what is your time worth?
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, this is so, so important. A mentor of mine, early on really took me through, “Okay, I can spend my time fixing links or doing the laundry, or I could land a client that’s worth a quarter of a million dollars to the business. Okay. So, what’s my hourly rate?”
Susan Fenemma: Right. And then all of a sudden it becomes much easier to pay those other people to do those other tasks, that are things that other people can do for you. And quite honestly, if you look at it from the standpoint of affecting society positively, you’re creating jobs, you’re giving other people money to perform work. So, that is growing the economy. That’s growing your local world, whatever your local world is, mine is actually a virtual, national world, but whatever your world is, you’re growing that and contributing to it, not just taking from it.
Melinda Wittstock: So, this is an interesting thing that perfectionism can live at the same time as delegating, because I understand the desire to have your business be in alignment with your vision, obviously, there’s a reason you founded it, right?
Susan Fenemma: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: And you have this vision in your mind’s eye. I think with perfectionism though, it sometimes gets confused with mastery. So, perfectionism in my mind, often manifests unfortunately not in the way that you’re talking about, but more like, “I’ve got to do it all myself, because I’m afraid to let someone else see my work until it’s perfect.” It’s like the person who cleans her house before the cleaners come.
Susan Fenemma: Right. So, there is a degree of that. And I’ll tell you, I suffered from that early in my career. And it’s limiting. It’s very, very limiting. You have to let some things go. I work with a lot of software developers. Man, you want to talk about people that can get down into the smallest little details of code, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a product that ships. So, at some point you have to say good enough.
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Susan Fenemma: … because in end, you have to be able to understand and be okay with the fact that good enough is not bad.
Susan Fenemma: That’s I think the differentiator between perfectionists and normal people. Normal people are like, “Good enough. That’s great.” And-
Melinda Wittstock: Well, you know what’s interesting in that context, right?
Susan Fenemma: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Like if you have an iPhone, right? Or an Android, right? And you take it out and you look at it right now, okay? And so look at all the things that it does, but then when the iPhone first came out, or actually not even pre the iPhone, when you first got a mobile phone, it was pretty exciting, right? All the things you could do, was it the iPhone? No. Is the current day iPhone the same as the original one? So, you have this vision of ultimately where you’re going, but the first iteration. You’d never get to market if you were to just continue, right?
Susan Fenemma: Right. You wouldn’t ever get it there. You would never make any money. You would never provide value to your clients or customers, and you would just sit there and keep working. And that doesn’t help anyone. Think of how the iPhone changed the world. I remember before the iPhone came out and I was carrying in my purse, I would carry my cell phone, a PalmPilot and a camera, and I remember thinking, “Man, all these things are going to be one thing.” And sure enough, they’re all one thing. But if you waited for that, people would get the iPhone and they’d be like, “I don’t know how to work this,” because they haven’t been moved up to it either.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. Remember the Blackberry, so the Blackberry was like a huge game changer.
Susan Fenemma: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: But then it was… right? So, the thing is innovation, it’s continually moving. And so say, for instance, you have your vision of what your vision is, and your vision today might be very different from your vision six months from now in the sense that you’ve learned more and your customers have helped you understand how to meet their needs better. It’s just a constantly evolving thing, so to be perfectionist in any given moment [crosstalk 00:16:12].
Susan Fenemma: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: … fast moving, right? And so the entrepreneur… And this is a question for you because the entrepreneur necessarily has to be comfortable with change, because not only is the entrepreneur changing something by solving a problem inherently, but every day involves change, every day involves things you can’t control, unexpected events, all kinds of stuff, right? So, you got to come to peace with change, but change can feel chaotic while being good.
Susan Fenemma: Right, it does. And to a degree, we all operate in a little bit of that, but the important part from my perspective is those things that don’t have to be chaotic, make them be so-
Susan Fenemma: … background that you don’t even notice them, so that when an emergency happens or when a change opportunity presents itself, you have the bandwidth to think about that, and to be excited about it, not to be worn out over the idea of even thinking about it.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. So, I think that’s where most businesses get stuck. There’s a statistic that only 3% of women entrepreneurs get to a million dollars or more in revenue. And I think the main reason is what you’re describing, because if you haven’t set up the systems, if you’re haven’t hired early enough, if you’re trying to do it all yourself, you’re going to stay stuck and not overwhelm, and just be on this task treadmill and never really grow your business.
Susan Fenemma: Absolutely. That is something that I suffer from a little, where I want to do everything at my household, and I want to do everything in my business, but if you don’t let it go, you just cannot go to the next level. I have an example with my VA who is great. She’s worked with us for about six months now. And when she first started, there were a lot of questions around my email. Well, every single time one came up, we documented what to do with that type of email or whatnot, and so on. She got to know the business, she got to know me. And now here we are six months later, and I can not open my email for the entire day, and I’ll have four or five that I might have to reply to. That’s huge. Now, is there a chance that I missed something? Yeah. Is there a chance that I miss something important? No. So, being able to let go like that and say, “Yeah, I might miss something, but it won’t matter,” is important.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: So, having systems in place are important, but also technology, right? There’s all kinds of tools, all kinds of things, what do you recommend there specifically to control the chaos?
Susan Fenemma: So, tools are majorly important, especially in this virtual world. The important thing is pick one and stick with it. That’s the first thing I’ll tell you, but you have to also make sure you know what they do. So, in general, most businesses need a CRM. That’s where you track your clients, your sales, the deals you’re making, that kind of thing. You will probably need some sort of a project or fulfillment tool that could be a project management tool. It could be an Issue Tracker, it could be something very specific to your business of what you fulfill. And then you need a financial tool and you need a communication tool. So, if you’re looking for me to set up your professional services business that runs creative projects, for example, with clients, I would probably send you down the path of set up Slack for your team communications, use HubSpot as your CRM, use Teamwork as your project management tool and use QuickBooks as invoicing system and your financial system. That right there can run your business.
I have interacted with a lot of people who come in, they’re, “I use Basecamp and it doesn’t work.” Or, “I tried Teamwork and it just doesn’t do what I need it to do.” And with tools, it’s important to note that just because you have the tool doesn’t automagically make things happen, you have to actually develop a process around it, and you have to make sure that you’re following that process and using that tool to its biggest successes. So I liken that to getting a hammer and nail and putting them down on the table next to you, and seeing how fast the picture gets hung.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. So, I think with tools sometimes there’s tool fatigue too, so you can have all these different things that don’t integrate very well. I know my own business, we’ve just moved almost everything over into Zoho, because we can do all the things that Salesforce, HubSpot does and then some, so we don’t need a separate auto responder anymore. We don’t need Asana anymore, we don’t… right? And it’s great, and we also use Slack and QuickBooks and Confluence and Jira. And so, this works really well. It all integrates perfectly, and it gets rid of all the huge numbers of different tools we had going. But it’s important, and I get what you say about sticking with them, so people get good at them and then document things like your SOPs around them and all that kind of good stuff. And so, tell me a little bit, Susan, about your clients. Who’s your ideal client and what are the main… We’ve discussed the overwhelm, and the need for systems and things. What are some of the other problems that your clients tend to face?
Susan Fenemma: We work with small professional services companies, I think 25 people or fewer that service, or that provide services like advertising or creative services, software development, advert or accounting boutiques and home services. So, the people that actually are essentially running projects with their clients, that’s who we mostly serve. And in general, the number one thing that we help them with is overwhelm. But we do process development, we do project management, and we do help the business owner manage their schedule so that they are more able to prevent interruptions. So, calendar management, calendar blocking, how to handle phone calls, what do you do with those, how to handle emails, how to handle those interruptions, even how to handle making time to work with your team and communicating with your team. So, all of that goes into the operational processes, which is what we are mostly dealing with, with our clients.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, exactly. Because once those operations are really set up and once your team is working great. They know how they’re being measured. They know what success is. You’ve got all that stuff going. You can really start to focus on other areas of your business where you’re adding the most value, and it changes depending on your business model. It starts to change over time. I know that this is my fifth business now, we’re entering into a period of rapid scale, a lot of hiring, a lot of growth, a lot of really fast growth. So, it’s been very much about laying the foundations for that scale.
And my job as a CEO has transitioned so much more to hiring and onboarding, and making sure that the people are set up for success. And as they are, I can move on to the next area of the business that needs my attention, and the next and the next. And sometimes, it feels like you’re going a little slower to be able to move faster, but it works when you’re very aware of these things, for sure.
Susan Fenemma: Absolutely. I think that it is important when you’re scaling to have that plan too of what is my job, and what is the job of the rest of the team? I’m at the position now where my team knows the type of people that we need to hire. So, really, I only have to do the last interview to make sure that we have the right person. They do all the rest, we work through a whole system. Shockingly, we have a process for that. And then that lets me right now, focus on marketing and sales. That’s where my focus is, perhaps one day, that’s something I grow out of there. And maybe I am just hopefully doing that four-hour a week E-Myth plan, where I’m just checking in and making sure everything’s humming along like I want it to.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s a funny feeling actually, that when you show up at… And it happened this week for me, where you show up in a meeting and you’re really not even needed, right? Because you’re so effective. “Wait, this is awesome. This is humming really well. They don’t actually need me.” It’s a weird feeling, but it’s also liberating. Yeah.
Susan Fenemma: And I do work with clients that fear that, “Well, what if I work out of a job?” Well, that’s-
Melinda Wittstock: That’s the whole point.
Susan Fenemma: … what we’re trying to do.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s the whole point, right? A lot of people go into entrepreneurship, like really creating a job for themselves rather than really looking at it in terms of, it’s a wealth creation exercise, so there’s leverage, it’s all these things and it does require a big mindset shift.
Susan Fenemma: Definitely. Definitely. That is a hard one to sometimes figure out, “Well, what are you going to do with your time when you have free time?”
Susan Fenemma: And that’s part of dreaming, and if we’re not dreaming, then we are not even working towards anything, we’re just working.
Melinda Wittstock: So, what made you take the entrepreneurial leap, Susan? What was the moment, the aha moment when you said, “Okay, now that’s enough. I’ve got to go help people figure this out.”
Susan Fenemma: So, it was very late in life for me. I’ve been in business for about five years now, or maybe yeah, five years. And so, I did beat that five-year mark, right? Five years is like the last mark of when people go out of business. So, I made that, I made it through COVID, so high five to me.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s great.
Susan Fenemma: But what inspired me was when I was ready to leave my last job, I started looking at job listings, and I thought to myself, “I would rather stab myself in the eye than do any of these. I want to do what I do best and what I do best takes two or three years to earn the trust of teams and the people that I’m working for as an employee. So, how could I do this instead where I can offer it to the world, offer it to all small business owners and help more than one at a time?”
Susan Fenemma: And that’s where it got born. Let’s just do it myself and make it happen.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s great. So, what were some of the toughest things for you in those early stages? I guess that has informed how you help people now. Right? You go through it yourself so you can help others?
Susan Fenemma: Oh, absolutely. And also the things that you learn as you go, everything forms your business, and as you pointed out earlier, changes your vision. So, when I started, I wanted to be a solopreneur, I didn’t want to have to mess with team members. And I didn’t want to get into management. I didn’t want to do any of that. I’m just like, “I just want to help people and move on.” Okay. So, my first client really was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. I essentially created myself a job where I was working for someone else again, as with my first client, and I fired my first client. And I learned a lot from that experience, how I wanted to shape my business. I continued through the end of that first year as the solo consultant, finding the work, selling the work, doing the work.
And it was wearing me down, because what I do was so detailed and because it involved project management one-on-one, I couldn’t do anything else. I was glued to my computer. I was glued to my chair. I wasn’t coming up with any great new ideas. And I wasn’t learning, I was just doing what I already knew. And so, I thought to myself, “Okay, I can help more people this way, but you know what would really help more people? Have more people helping more people. Have more people help me figure out how to help more people.” And so, I got over my whole, let’s keep this simple and do it myself thing and stopped being a freelancer, and became a business owner. And so, that was the transition I made into that, let’s scale, and let’s help more people.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, I think that’s great. So, what are some of the issues? Do you work mostly with women?
Susan Fenemma: I don’t, I work mostly with men, but my team is all women. And interestingly enough, that was not by design. I haven’t actually even interviewed a man to work on my team. Now, they’ll probably look at my team and they won’t even be interested, but what we do is very detail-oriented, very process-driven, and women seem to just be better at this than men.
Melinda Wittstock: They’re better at that. Yeah. I think that’s broadly true.
Susan Fenemma: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: I must be an anomaly though, because I’m like the vision person, right? Or I need that operational people to do all the details for me. I wonder whether men fall into the overwhelm as deeply as women do, only because God 600 or so episodes in here to Wings, one of the things that we really notice that women have a harder time delegating than men. Men just seem to be much better at just asking people to go do things. Does that bear that most of your clients are men, or do they struggle with asking people to do things?
Susan Fenemma: Most of my clients do not struggle with asking them to do things, but they certainly struggle with finding success when they do. And that’s because they don’t have that attention to detail. That’s why they need us.
Melinda Wittstock: I see it.
Susan Fenemma: So they say, “Hey, just go do that.”
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Susan Fenemma: Then the person has no idea what they’re supposed to do. They often expect their minds to be read. They often expect that, “Well, you have this job at another company, so do it the same way, but that’s not at all what I wanted you to do.” There’s a lot of that, and they don’t have structure in their business. So, they struggle to grow. They’re fine with delegating, they’re fine with hiring other people to do the work, but then growing past a certain number is a challenge, because they only have so much bandwidth to talk to those people every day. And they’re having to go back and correct all the time, what their team is doing because they have not managed to figure out how to give that clear direction.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. Absolutely. Oh my goodness. There’s so much to talk about. So, I want to make sure though, that people can find you and work with you, Susan. If they are the right type of business and fit for you, what’s the best way?
Susan Fenemma: Reach out to me, gobeyondthechaos.biz/ebook. You can download there our free ebook, Three Ways to Control Chaos in Your Business. And you’ll be able to also… there are ways to contact us directly if you just want to go for that there as well.
Melinda Wittstock: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us today.
Susan Fenemma: Thanks so much for making me feel like a super hero today.