Susan Fennema styles herself the Chaos Eradicating Officer (CEO) at Beyond the Chaos, a company she founded first as a side business in 2009, but then became a full-time job in 2016. Because she understands that businesses could always run more efficiently, she helps empower businesses to get beyond the chaos and make the most out of their working time.
At Beyond the Chaos, Susan Fennema helps business owners “feel less overwhelmed, more effective, and quite productive at the end of the day.” How does she do this? Among her tasks as CEO are “implementing process improvements that can greatly increase productivity and effectiveness;” coaching entrepreneurs on “skilled project management that allows [you] more time to focus on doing what you love;” and “developing a plan that works for your business needs and then assisting in creating a corresponding process to ensure success.”
Prior to Beyond the Chaos, Susan Fennema used to work as a Dean of Success for Mighty Data, LLC and Art of Value. At Mighty Data, she created and implemented processes to be used by the virtual company. Meanwhile, at Art of Value, she consulted with customers who were trying to “implement operations for business model changes.” She also performed the same tasks she did at Mighty Data.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Susan Fennema: I was always the task-oriented, process-development guru for the small business owners I worked for before I went out on my own. I could go into a business and affect dramatic change within the first year, but then the rest of the time just felt like maintenance of the process/system that was created. It wasn’t cost-effective for the owner, and it wasn’t challenging for me as an employee. So the last time I went to look for a job, I decided to make myself a forever job and take my skill set to the masses. Now I can help multiple business owners at once. And our team is helping me make that exponential.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Susan Fennema: Honestly, I have had bumps in the road, but giving up has never really crossed my mind. After all, what would I do? Go to work for someone else? That isn’t any more profitable and it certainly isn’t more “stable” or “secure.” I’m in control of my own destiny and I like that. The hard times just seemed like “work” and I just worked through them. Sometimes I worked long hours through them, but I just kept pushing forward. We’ve always been profitable. And, I’ve structured the business to weather ups and downs so that we maintain profitability while serving clients — regardless of how many we have at a certain time.
But, I suppose a story about the hardest times might be about my first client. He was the absolute worst. I mean, sociopathic level horrible. I thought I had jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. I essentially left one job for another rather than leaving a job to build a company. But, it really made me evaluate what I wanted my company to look like and what my expectations were about who I was going to work with.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Susan Fennema: We’re a virtual company. Once, I was sharing my screen on a conference call, which was being recorded for release to more people. I finished my part and the rest of the meeting went on with others talking. Meanwhile, they were watching me shop on Amazon during the call! The lessons? If you are multitasking, at least do it privately!
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.
Be clear and concise. When you delegate, you cannot expect the person to read your mind. You need to be very clear about what you’re expecting the person to do and explain it as concisely as possible. For example, the other day, I asked my virtual assistant to replace a graphic for me in a blog post. I had actually copied a previous blog post just for the formatting and needed the image updated to reflect the new content. Well, I didn’t mention that last part. So, the new graphic I received was actually just a revision of the graphic that was already there. After I got over myself by saying, “What was she thinking?” I realized that I was very vague and gave such limited direction that she couldn’t succeed.
Explain why. It’s not enough that you just tell a person to do a task. Explain the reason behind it. Explain where it falls in the overall plan. When I ask my team members to check in every morning, I ask them to answer three questions: 1) What did you do yesterday? 2) What are you doing today? And 3) Do you need any help? Well, initially I was getting a laundry list of all the tasks they were performing. I realized that I didn’t explain why I wanted this information. They were trying to be thorough and provide me with “proof” (to a degree) that I should value them as team members. I explained that what I really wanted was to see 1) What value did you contribute to our clients yesterday?, 2) What is your number one task to accomplish to make this a successful day? And, 3) Are you stuck on anything that requires help from me or a team member? All of a sudden, they understood the point of the task. It was so I could have a top-line view of what was going on in the company without getting into all the details. And I got much better answers.
Manage the systems, not the people. It absolutely can come down to having the right person in the right seat. And there should be a plan around hiring and firing. But, there is a lot of in-between. If you are constantly frustrated and angry with the whole team, it’s probably not them. It’s probably you. You aren’t explaining well and the systems are not clear. Most people do want to do a good job for you. So, if you aren’t getting back what you expected, look at the system that went into creating the outcome. Is there even a system in place?
When I first started delegating my invoicing process to my virtual assistant, it was challenging. We invoice on Mondays and there are parameters around it. There have been times when the invoice that went out wasn’t correct. We’ve been able to easily clean it up with our clients, but rather than getting frustrated with my amazing virtual assistant, each mistake took us back to the system. We made it clear the rate each client paid. We made it clear how many hours they got billed for, where to find the hours, who to check with if the client needed more hours, etc. If I had just said, “invoice the clients please — like we’ve done before,” there would have been no way she would have succeeded. In some cases, she might have ended up fired. But, since we worked the SYSTEM rather than blaming the PERSON, we were able to get on the same page quickly and now it is a breeze.
Don’t “fix” it. If you delegate something to someone and it comes back incorrect, don’t fix it yourself. If you do, you’ve saved yourself no time and the person you are delegating to hasn’t learned anything. Be sure to give clear feedback and have them do it again.
We serve software development companies a lot. And one of the issues I’ve heard these small business owners mention several times is that they were up all night fixing <insert developer’s name>’s work all night. By fixing it themselves, they got no value from the team member, and the team member didn’t learn anything, and STILL doesn’t know how to do it the next time.
Don’t have time. Don’t like it. Aren’t good at it. Beneath your pay grade. Use those 3 statements to determine what to delegate first. If you don’t have time for it, you don’t like doing it, aren’t good at it, or it is beneath your pay grade, give it away.
When I was the operations director for an ad agency, I managed incoming account coordinator level people. Sometimes they would complain that they had to fill the copy machine or box up collateral for shipping. I always reminded them that we didn’t want the president of the company to have time to make photocopies. We wanted him to make time to grow the business. Consider what you SHOULD be focused on rather than what the next easiest task to complete is.
Giving away those things doesn’t mean that you’re “above it all”. It means that you are focusing on what only you can do. Growing and leading the company is the small business owner’s main job.
Jerome Knyszewski: One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft-quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?
Susan Fennema: Live by that cliche if you always want to do everything. It is not easy to delegate properly. It is not easy to systemize. It is not easy to be clear and concise. But, that’s why you get paid the big bucks! If you want to do big things, you absolutely have to let someone else focus on the small things. Explain what “right” is to you, and usually, you’ll get it.
In addition, in some cases, others do it much better than you can ever dream because let’s face it — you just can’t be the best at everything. It’s impossible.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Susan Fennema: You can find me on:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!