Help! My Business is Growing

Driving growth with professionalized business operations, with Whitney Hahn

May 17, 2024 Kathy Svetina Episode 76
Driving growth with professionalized business operations, with Whitney Hahn
Help! My Business is Growing
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Help! My Business is Growing
Driving growth with professionalized business operations, with Whitney Hahn
May 17, 2024 Episode 76
Kathy Svetina

If your small business is currently growing, it might be time to professionalize your operations. 

The tools and methods that worked when you started may no longer work for you now that you're expanding. 


Without upgrading your ways of working, your business can fail. Inefficient processes and disorganization can hold you back, allowing the competition to leave you behind. 


So, how do you professionalize your operations?


What are the specific steps to get started?


How does optimizing your systems lead to sustainable success?  


And how do you streamline, standardize, and systematize things the right way? 


In this episode, Whitney Hahn and I discuss professionalizing your business operations; what it means, and why it’s important for growing businesses. She shared strategies for scaling smart and also provided insights on finding your customers and case studies on how to set up your operations for growth.


Whitney Hahn is the CEO of ProvokeBetter.com and a “Business Made Simple” Certified Coach since 2020. She is on a mission to help owner-makers grow their business while OUTgrowing their busy-ness. And guides small businesses through transformative frameworks, earning a reputation as a catalyst for thriving revenue machines. 


We discuss: (timestamps)

01:54 What it means to "professionalize business operations" 

4:51Managing the challenges in scaling business operations 

06:59 Understanding your target market is essential for business success

11:24  Identifying and addressing your customer’s core business problems  

21:36 Professionalizing business operations

25:41 The importance of documenting processes and procedures

26:29 Providing clear guidelines for success  

28:25 Tools to help with optimization

29:24 Avoiding the "busyness trap" 

30:23 Normalize learning from mistakes 

31:58 Case study: Optimizing business operations 

40:48 Actionable step to take to start professionalizing business operations




Resources:

Whitney Hahn, Small Business Advisor and Trainer, ProvokeBetter
https://provokebetter.com/

LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/whitneyhahn/

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/provokebetter

Youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/@provokebetter

Contact:
https://provokebetter.com/contact/

For a free business readiness assessment, visit https://provokebetter.com/help/


Kathy Svetina, Fractional CFO:
https://www.newcastlefinance.us/


Blog post | Driving Growth with Professionalized Business Operations
https://www.newcastlefinance.us/listen/driving-growth-with-professionalized-business-operations/

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

If your small business is currently growing, it might be time to professionalize your operations. 

The tools and methods that worked when you started may no longer work for you now that you're expanding. 


Without upgrading your ways of working, your business can fail. Inefficient processes and disorganization can hold you back, allowing the competition to leave you behind. 


So, how do you professionalize your operations?


What are the specific steps to get started?


How does optimizing your systems lead to sustainable success?  


And how do you streamline, standardize, and systematize things the right way? 


In this episode, Whitney Hahn and I discuss professionalizing your business operations; what it means, and why it’s important for growing businesses. She shared strategies for scaling smart and also provided insights on finding your customers and case studies on how to set up your operations for growth.


Whitney Hahn is the CEO of ProvokeBetter.com and a “Business Made Simple” Certified Coach since 2020. She is on a mission to help owner-makers grow their business while OUTgrowing their busy-ness. And guides small businesses through transformative frameworks, earning a reputation as a catalyst for thriving revenue machines. 


We discuss: (timestamps)

01:54 What it means to "professionalize business operations" 

4:51Managing the challenges in scaling business operations 

06:59 Understanding your target market is essential for business success

11:24  Identifying and addressing your customer’s core business problems  

21:36 Professionalizing business operations

25:41 The importance of documenting processes and procedures

26:29 Providing clear guidelines for success  

28:25 Tools to help with optimization

29:24 Avoiding the "busyness trap" 

30:23 Normalize learning from mistakes 

31:58 Case study: Optimizing business operations 

40:48 Actionable step to take to start professionalizing business operations




Resources:

Whitney Hahn, Small Business Advisor and Trainer, ProvokeBetter
https://provokebetter.com/

LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/whitneyhahn/

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/provokebetter

Youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/@provokebetter

Contact:
https://provokebetter.com/contact/

For a free business readiness assessment, visit https://provokebetter.com/help/


Kathy Svetina, Fractional CFO:
https://www.newcastlefinance.us/


Blog post | Driving Growth with Professionalized Business Operations
https://www.newcastlefinance.us/listen/driving-growth-with-professionalized-business-operations/

Kathy (host):

Well, hello there and welcome back to another episode of "Help! My Business is Growing," a podcast where we explore how to grow and build a business that is healthy and sustainable. I'm your host, Kathy Svetina, a fractional CFO and the founder of Newcastle Finance, a company where we believe that everything that you do in your business is eventually going to end up in your finances, and to have healthy finances is to have a healthy business. Well, the question is, how in the world do you get there? Well, this is where this podcast comes into help. If your business is currently growing, it might be time to professionalize your operations if you haven't yet, and this is because the technology, strategies, and even the people that want to fuel your success may no longer work or be enough now that you're bigger. Inefficient processes lead to disorganization, which threatens growth and can lead to missed opportunities and falling behind financially. I see this all the time. But how do you professionalize your operations? What are the specific steps to get started? And how does optimizing your systems lead to sustainable success? How do you streamline, standardize and systemize things the right way? As a quick reminder, all of the episodes on this podcast, including this one, come with timestamps for the topics that we discussed, and each one has its own blog post, so you can find all the links and the detailed topics in this episode's show notes. My guest today is Whitney Hahn. She is going to help me unpack this business growth and how to professionalize the operations. She is on a mission to help owner-makers grow their business while outgrowing their business. She's the CEO of Provoke Better and a Business Made Simple Certified Coach since 2020. She guides small businesses through a transformative framework, earning a reputation as a catalyst for thriving revenue machines. Join us.

Kathy (host):

Welcome to the podcast.

Whitney (guest):

Thank you so much, Kathy. It's a pleasure to be here.

Kathy (host):

It's a pleasure to have you here. And we're going to be talking about how to professionalize your business operations. Because you know, growth isn't just a goal. It's also a journey. And for a business that's navigating from being a very small business to now being a bigger business, and that it's more mature, there's this crucial transition phase that can make or break it. And the phase is all about professionalizing your operations, that you're moving from ad hoc processes to more structural, scalable systems, and if necessary, it will make the business operationally and also, of course, financially better, but it can be a growing pain, and can also be super daunting to a business owner. So Whitney, you've been doing this for a very long time. And we're going to dive into this first. But before we go into it, when we talk about professionalizing, business professionalizing the operations what exactly does that mean? And how does it truly look like?

Whitney (guest):

It's a great question, Kathy. The thing that I like to remind people of, and maybe many of the small business owners that you work with will resonate with this, is that sometimes, that's often the thing that makes you a masterful maker, it makes you an excellent accounting professional, it makes you an excellent coder, it makes you an excellent pie baker does not necessarily translate into being an outstanding owner. So for many of the owner operators, or the maker owners, as I like to call them, they get overly busy scrambling to figure out the entrepreneurial aspects of running their business. And they get further and further away from making the thing or being the masterful craftsperson that they loved being in the first place, the reason they got into business in the first place. They get just the gap gets wider and wider. And that's where that overwhelm comes from. We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking, "Well, I'm good at this thing. I'll be good at running a business where I get to do more of that thing." And it can be a really hard reality check when they're like, "Oh wait, I also have to worry about finances, HR, insurance, hiring, firing, training, marketing, sales. I don't have any time." And it's really, it's so, so common. I was talking with a real estate professional just the other day, for example. He is a young professional. He's about 30 years old, worked for other companies for a period of time, and then said, "I want to go run my own real estate company." He's now not even a year into it, and he's feeling the overwhelm. So I said, "Look, take a deep breath. If you could get back to the thing that you loved doing, what would that be?" And what he said, Kathy, just about broke my heart. He said, "Right now, Whitney, I don't love any of it." Oh, that's so sad. That's a really common story. And it doesn't have to be that way. Once you're able to start to professionalize and optimize your business, you can make huge changes towards escaping that busyness trap and having more time to do the parts of the business that you love.

Kathy (host):

Yeah, you know, I definitely feel that on my own too, because when I left the corporate world, you know, I was in the finance space in the corporate world for 10 years. And when I started the business, of course, I know finances, I've been doing finances for a long, long time. But running a business is not just about doing what you're good at. It's, you know, doing sales, it's doing marketing, it's doing the operations. And my culture shock was doing sales and marketing, because I've never really had to do that. You know, obviously, every time you go to an interview, you sell yourself, but it's a very different way when you're actually running a business. So if someone is listening to this and says, "Well, I understand this, I need to put people in place." What are one of the common mistakes that you see people making when they're starting to put that structure in and starting to professionalize their operations, because there are a lot of things that can go wrong?

Whitney (guest):

There are so many things that can go wrong. I think the first place to start is to recognize and identify what it is, as a business provider of a service or a product, that makes you unique—identifying your niche. I mean, there's no reason to talk about how do I get people trained and hired and so forth if there are no sales. There's no reason to professionalize the rest of the operation. You have to get cash flow going. That's, that's like the fuel in the engine of the airplane that hangs over my shoulder. If we don't have fuel in the tank, we're not going very far. So getting your sales going is step number one. And that starts with identifying your niche. What's the problem that you solve? And who do you solve it for? If you can answer those two questions, you've somewhat created a bullseye that creates the target audience. What's the problem you solve? And who do you solve it for? And then think, "Well, how do I get in front of those people more often, be more visible, be more credible, so that they see what I do, fall in love with me, and come hand me money." That's what it's all about, right? At its simplest, obviously, I'm oversimplifying it here, but sometimes we overcomplicate it. And so my job is to help correct and bring it back to something simple.

Kathy (host):

And if someone is struggling with, you know, it's funny, because I'm in a lot of marketing and sales circles as well for my business. And because I want to be fairly well-educated, so that I can help my clients, obviously, I don't help them with that. But I need to know what the issues are so that I can get the right people in place. And this whole finding the right people, and knowing what you offer to them sounds so simplistic, and it absolutely makes sense, obviously. But I feel like it's almost 80% of the struggles that businesses have is because they don't have that really nailed down, then it's going to come up with lower sales, obviously, cash flow is going to be a problem and all the other issues that it has. So going back to this, you need to know who you are offering the products or services to and where to find them. Let's figure out first, how do you, if you're struggling with this, what are the first steps that you can actually do to make this better for your business? Is there something, is there a framework that people can work through, several questions that they can ask themselves, anything that can help them get to the goal of getting this nailed down?

Whitney (guest):

Absolutely. There are a lot of great frameworks out there. And I'll share my favorite easy steps for you in just a second. Before I do that, I do want to mention, though, that sometimes when I'm talking about niche, and I'm suggesting to people, "Figure out the problem you solve and who you solve it for, that's your bullseye," they immediately lock up and say, "But I need more business than that. If I only go after my target audience solving my target problem, I'm afraid I won't have enough business." To that, I say, "Where's your favorite place in your hometown to go for a seafood dinner? Like a really good, special occasion seafood dinner?" They're like, "What? What? Why are we talking about seafood? Just play along with me." So Kathy, I'll ask you, what's your very favorite place in your hometown to go out for a seafood dinner? Like for a special occasion?

Kathy (host):

I don't eat seafood. But I do have a steakhouse that I really, really like.

Whitney (guest):

So a steakhouse. All right. Yeah. So you have a steakhouse in mind. If I asked you that, you can very quickly come up with that special occasion, in your case, a steakhouse. That's true. Are there other restaurants in your hometown that serve steak? There's probably hundreds of them, sure. And your favorite special occasion restaurant that you're thinking of for steak? Do they also serve other dishes? Yes, they do, of course they do. This is what I mean when I say, "In niche, the favorite special occasion restaurant that immediately came to your mind when I asked you that question is known for a specific thing. There's something about their food, their atmosphere, their presentation, their location that made them come to your mind in an instant, when there are lots of other restaurants in town that serve steak." Now, the restaurant that you're thinking about, if I came along with you because you love their steak, and I'm looking for seafood, I could probably find a really good meal on the menu that serves seafood too. So the steakhouse hasn't lost my business because I'm looking for seafood. And in the same way, as a service provider, if you find the thing that you want to be known for by solving a particular problem for a particular audience, you're still allowed to serve other things on your menu. But it won't be the thing, potentially, that you're known for. So what you have to remind yourself of as a business owner is when you select that target, that bullseye in the center, is that there are still lots of areas around the bullseye, other dishes on your menu that people could buy from you if you want to sell them. But when you have a thing that you're known for, that's where you will differentiate yourself from your competition. And you'll be able to charge a price premium because that's the thing you do, you follow me?

Kathy (host):

I do. And that's, you know, another example that I have, just this morning, I went to Starbucks, and obviously, I had my coffee because Starbucks is known for the coffee, but they do have breakfast sandwiches, they have pastries, obviously, if I want a pastry, not immediately that I would think of Starbucks, but if I want to have a croissant with my coffee, I can get it there, you sure can. And we as business owners have the option to serve other things on our menu. But what you want to be is the service provider for a particular problem and a particular set of target audience members instead of a service provider among many. That's where your price premium comes from.

Kathy (host):

And I think the reason why people get so hung up on niching, niching, however you want to call it, is because the first thing that comes to mind is "I have to go in a particular industry, like have to just work in a particular industry." But there are other ways that you can niche down. You can niche on a particular problem, you can niche on a particular, like for me, for example, I niche on revenue size for businesses, on a particular problem. So for me personally, it's businesses between $10 and $50 million that are struggling with professionalizing their finances. And what does that mean? You know, they've already had a bookkeeper and an accountant. But now they need to step up. And generally, when they come to me, they're like, "Okay, I've had this, but now I need more. I cannot be operating as a startup or as a small business, I need more." And that's that pain. So for me, as an example, I am interested in your opinion, is that a good enough niche? Or do I need to be even more specific than that?

Whitney (guest):

I like how you describe your target audience on Newcastle Finance's website. You've got something on your website that says something to the effect of, "Before we start to talk about how we might be able to help your company, let's make sure that we should be working with you." And you give some criteria for where you are usually providing the most value to your clients. And I think that's a wonderful tactic. I think everyone should do that. You should have criteria for "yes," you should have criteria for "no." And so the way that you've started, it makes absolute sense. Over time, you may narrow down on that even more because you've developed an even better expertise in a particular industry or particular company size or any number of other parameters that you find as a theme. So as we talk about the exercise that you might go through now that I've dispelled the myth of, "But wait, I can only sell steak, no, you can sell other things. But let's make sure that you're known for at least one thing," right? Now that I've dispelled that myth, let's talk about the process. What I like to encourage people to do is to look at the business that they've done over the last two years, let's say. Now, if you're brand new, you may not have that longevity. But look at what you've got, let's say you've been in business at least two years. Take a look at the client lists over the last two years. Make yourself a little spreadsheet. I love a spreadsheet because it's great to organize even though we're not doing mathematics in it and make notes on the size of the client, the industry they came in, the problem that you helped them solve, the budget that they spent to solve that problem. Maybe you're making notes on who you were speaking with, was it senior-level management, frontline people? How long was the engagement? You're trying to look at markers of that engagement and do that for several clients. What should become apparent pretty quickly are some patterns within your client base over the last two years. And until you do that exercise, those patterns may not become self-evident. You may not realize, "Oh my gosh, I've actually got a bit of a specialty with tech companies." Or "I realize I don't do great work when I don't have access to senior-level management," just as an example. So now you're starting to find those patterns, and you realize, "This is good for a yes, this is probably an indicator of a no." You've narrowed down what your target audience is, and be sure, this is critical, be sure to include something about the problem that you're helping them solve because buyers start their search in response to a problem they're experiencing. So if you aren't identifying and articulating a problem you solve in the same way that you're putting Central buyers are identifying and articulating a problem they have, you're always going to miss each other in the dark. So you have to, have to, have to make sure you understand that problem.

Kathy (host):

And the other thing that's interesting too, is that the initial problem that people or buyers might come to you for, it might be just a surface problem. But there is a deeper problem behind that, or a completely different problem. And that's, that is why you as an expert, essentially, you have to recognize, okay, these are the surface problems, but there is a deeper problem happening there. And I see this all the time, especially in the service providers, because buyers are not, that we're not educated, obviously, we are, but we do not know enough about that particular field to really understand like, what is truly causing this particular problem. And I see that too, like, you know, I've hired people in marketing and sales, and the stuff that I came up on was, "I need a person for this," it turned out to be a completely different issue that we have to fix. So you have to be aware of what is that superficial problem, not just the true deep problem that people might not connect with, because they don't know what you are?

Whitney (guest):  

Absolutely correct, you're absolutely correct in our restaurant metaphor. On the surface, it would be easy to say, "Well, people are coming to my restaurant because they're hungry." Sure, but why your restaurant instead of a fast food chain? Because they're hungry, and they want to impress their date. And they want to make sure that they could get gluten-free, if that's how they need to eat, whatever it is. So when we're talking about marketing, and identifying the problem, we often look at an external problem, an internal problem, and a philosophical problem, there are really three parameters to it. And the external problem I like to describe as the problem or the symptom your buyer is willing to admit they have, it may not be the underlying issue. So I may come to a service provider in the medical field, for example, because I want to lose a few pounds. That's the problem, I'm willing to admit that I have. Upon doing further diagnostics and testing, they may realize I'm actually a diabetic, I have terrible eating habits, I'm snacking on Ho Hos, just freebasing them all day. And they want to talk to me about that. But they have to meet me on the surface. And they say, so their advertising may say, "Do you have a problem eating Ho Hos all day long?" Maybe they'll get me, but probably they won't. Instead, they'll advertise around, "Do you need to lose a few pounds?" So those are examples of how it can show up. And you're absolutely right, you have to be very in tune to the symptom, the external problem, the symptom that your target audience is willing to admit they have.

Kathy (host):

And that's, I think, that is the hardest part in doing the marketing, is because you need to really have a lot of conversations with the customer to understand what is that trigger, that initial trigger, to get them through your door. And that is where, you know, knowing your customers really comes through. And I've seen companies over and over again, and even in my own, I did not have enough conversation. So you're kind of like joining the dark, like figuring out, "What do I do?" And it's such an easy thing to do, just talk to people, right? It shouldn't be, just let's go talk to them. But for some reason, we don't think of it that way when we start businesses.

Whitney (guest):

It's a great idea to talk to them and listen, and then start to repeat back the words or the phrases that they use. As a CFO, you've got this whole other technical set of vocabulary words that you know, and to you, they don't feel technical, they're part of your mastery of your craft. But to me, when I remember very distinctly, for example, the first time I met with my accountant, and he threw out "KPI," I had not at that point heard KPI before, and so in my head and in my body, like I felt this reaction of, "Wait, you're a business owner, you're an entrepreneur, and you don't know what your accountant is talking to you about right now. What's a KPI?" Do you say something? Do you not say something? And this head trash started. So I had to be a big girl and say, "I'm excuse me, what's a KPI? I know that's probably rudimentary to you, but to me, it was a brand new term." So even things that sometimes feel simple to us as that masterful service provider have to be broken down. Soon as they said, "Oh, that's a key performance indicator, that's a metric or a symptom that you look for for health or disease in your business and your finances and your process," etcetera. Okay, now I have it, now I've installed that vocabulary for me as a buyer, and I can move forward. But when you're describing the problem, the way that your target audience is, that's when it's really golden, because you want them having a response like, "Oh my gosh, they're in my head, that were you at my last leadership meeting. How did you know that?" That's when you know you've hit it on, you hit it on the head, even though you may know, the real root cause is somewhere much deeper than that. You're talking about it in the same vocabulary they're using for the symptom, the evidence of it that they're willing to admit they have.

Kathy (host):

Yeah, that's so true. And, you know, I've, I think it's funny you say that because even though I'm not on Facebook, but sometimes when I go in there, Facebook has a lot of information on you to begin with. But some of the copy and the videos of the products that they're selling just speaks to you, like, "I didn't know I needed that, but now I do," and I was, "Website, let me buy you this thing." And it's so annoying, but they get you because they know it because they had so much information that they're able to use that to. It's also, obviously, we have to do it in an ethical way, so that we're not leading people down the wrong path. But if you really, truly understand your customers and what they want, it's so much easier for the business to make money. That's my point there, you know, Facebook.

Whitney (guest):  

Yeah agreed. It's a little scary sometimes what they know about me, and it's not just Facebook, a lot of the social media channels, and big data has made that easier. And I have to remind myself, I was the one who told all of that to them, or through what I shared publicly through my behaviors online, etc. So as business providers, our opportunity is to listen and observe and try to let our target audience feel seen and heard, just as specifically, as we might feel seen and heard on social media, when we get served the ad for that we didn't know, we couldn't live without, until just that moment.

Kathy (host):

Exactly, you know, Facebook rabbit holes on the side, let's go back into this professionalizing your operations because we went down the marketing and sales, because that is such an important part of when the business grows, so that you have that fuel of cash constantly coming through, that you can grow. But once when you have that really dialed down, hopefully you're going to get yourself into a place where, you know, the pipeline is constantly flowing. And now you are faced with this reality of, "Okay, I have the pipeline, business is growing, but now I have to start professionalizing the operations," because as the business grows, you're going to need more people, more layers. So let's talk about this, like, where do you even start? Because I see so many people getting in their own way, because again, as we've talked about, at the beginning, they started the business as thinking, "Oh, I love doing this, it's just going to be me, or maybe two people," but then all of a sudden, you have a team of 20 people, "Oh my God, what do I do with this?"

Whitney (guest):  

Well, I will take a small bit of exception and pump the brakes around, all of a sudden you have 20 people, that doesn't happen by accident, those are choices you've made. 

Kathy (host):  

So let's just pause and say, it doesn't happen overnight, you go to bed and you have one person, and then all of a sudden you have 20 employees on your payroll.

Whitney (guest):  

I don't know how they all got keys,  but they're at the Keurig machine right now, "What am I doing with them? Now, that shouldn't happen that way at least." So what I like to talk about is just making those intentional choices for how you're growing and why you're growing. I will admit that for years, I followed a little bit of "hustle culture." To my own detriment, I felt like growing meant I had to add more bodies to my workforce. That was the only sign of, "While you're growing." And what I learned over time is not every business operates the same way. That's actually not the best growth path for everyone. So yes, where some people you grow and scale through other individuals, for other businesses, you grow and scale through the use of technology or through the completion of intellectual products, you wrote a book, you developed a course, etc. So just let's, I think we can agree, there are lots of different paths to growth and different ways to describe that.

Kathy (host):

Yeah. And to that point, it's funny, I just had a conversation with someone about this yesterday, because they were, they hired a couple of people and they were talking about, you know, "How do you scale the business and grow and all that?" And I said, "You know, for me, it's like I pay $500 to Zapier so that I don't have to pay $50,000 with someone to do it manually. That is my way of scaling it."

Whitney (guest):

Yes, totally different choice. In order to get Zapier to do what it needs to do for you, though, you probably had to go through a series of identifications of what are the processes. So once you've got your sales and marketing, your cash flow is moving because your sales and marketing are moving, then typically the next aspect of your operation to professionalize and optimize are the processes. There's no sense in building, in packing more people into that airplane we're trying to fly unless we know that all the systems of the airplane are moving, so it's a little bit of a give and take. Do I bring somebody in to help me with the processes, or do I have to have the processes 100% locked down before I bring somebody in? There's no perfect answer there, except to say, don't bring someone in thinking that just another body will fix a lack of process, will fix a lack of direction, will fix a lack of sales or marketing, or your identification of your niche and an understanding of the problem you solve and who you solve it for. You, as the business leader, that's your vision to drive. So if you can't articulate what you want, it kind of doesn't matter who you bring in, they won't be able to fix it for you, they'll just make the problem times two people, times three people, times four people, right? You'll just see it, you'll just see it grow. And they'll continue to make the same mistakes that you're making. 

Kathy (host):  

And the other thing on there, too, that's a good point, is it becomes so frustrating to you, as an owner, to see that "I'm bringing all these people in, but they're still not doing the type of job that I need them to do," or "I thought that they're going to be doing and it's not fixing the problem." Because the problem, really, the problem is, what the problem? Are the first you have to identify the true problem, not the surface-level problem? But generally what I've seen, especially in businesses I've worked with, is that there are no systems, there are no processes, and now you throw in this person that they're like, "Okay, I'm here, like, what do you want me to do?" You have to give them the direction. And if there's no direction, are they supposed to magically absorb what they need to be doing in your business? And how does that look like and what the goals are and what the vision is, it's so hard if you don't have that set.

Whitney (guest):

It's so hard for your business. And it's very hard for the new individual. I think we all go into a new job wanting to be successful, wanting to please, wanting to excel. I'm going to be an optimist and say everybody wants that in a new position. And if you're met with, "I don't know, just follow me around for a day and figure it out." Wow, that's tough. If there are no benchmarks, if there are no documented processes, or a video that shows me how it's supposed to be done, or description of what success looks like, it's going to be nearly impossible for the new employee to live up to that expectation. So you need to think about documenting, outside of your own head, in your own experience, at least a bare minimum structure for how a certain job is supposed to be done, or what your success is going to look like. Can't describe it, they can't live into it. There are lots of generative AI tools available right now that make creating a job description, or an onboarding plan for a new employee easier than ever before. In fact, one of the tools that I'm happy to make free for use to your listeners, for example, is an AI tool that I've been working on with some HR professionals, for example, called the Provoke Better Employee that helps you create a job description, if you've never had one, that helps you create an onboarding, a 90-day success plan for your new employee, if you never had one, that helps you create standard operating procedures around very, very common tasks if you never had one. So you can get that at provokebetter.com/help for listeners of your podcasts. And it's just, it's a really quick and easy way to get a first draft done that then you, as the expert and the leader of this organization, needs to of course review and refine for yourself, but let's not stare at a blank page. And let's give the people that are working with us a heads-up view of, "This is how you be successful here," so that you're able to streamline the best of your operations, not the worst of your own mistakes.

Kathy (host):

And this is a great tool, Whitney, thanks so much for mentioning it. And we're going to have that on the show notes too, because I have seen, even on my own, in my own experience, obviously, I run a business, that it's so hard when you're staring at this blank page. At least when you have something you can modify it, you can change, "I don't really like this," and you can revise it. But the worst thing is staring at a blank page, because it's like, "Okay, I have no idea where to even begin."

Whitney (guest):

Yeah, well, let's just bust through that and get a framework out there available for you to edit. It's much easier to edit sometimes than to start from a zero sum. So happy to make that available to you. But streamline those operations and make sure that everyone on your team knows what success looks like.

Kathy (host):

You know, we've got to, we've got to not just work hard, but work smarter. We're very, very smart.

Whitney (guest):

Yes, that is, that is the number one way for escaping the busyness trap, because it takes us three times as long to fix a mistake as it might have taken us to describe success in the first place.

Kathy (host):

That's really good. And also I think the problem with the businesses that I've seen too, is that they don't think of mistakes as teaching moments, it's "Okay, there was a mistake, we got to fix it and then move on." Yes, yes. But I always, I'm a proponent of if there's a mistake, we fix it, we pause, we do a post-mortem, figure out what went wrong and then fix that as well, because if you're just, again, if you're surface fixing it and throwing maybe another body in there because, "Hey, this is happening, we need someone to oversee it so that it's not, it doesn't keep happening all the time." Maybe the issue is because maybe it's a technology issue, maybe the person that made a mistake needs to be better trained, or whatever it might be. If it keeps happening, we have to have an analysis of why is it happening and fix that versus trying to, you know, circumstances.

Whitney (guest):

Absolutely right. And I think your examples are right on. Sometimes it is a technology problem. "Oh, I thought Zapier was connected. And somehow it got disconnected. And that's why that process didn't work." Oftentimes, it's a training problem. And sometimes we have to look at ourselves and say, "Have I described what right looks like? Did I document that process? Wasn't that the person wasn't trained, is that I never told them? That wasn't the thing I didn't want them to do in the first place?" And we kind of run around that tree a little bit. So you're absolutely right. I like to say anytime I'm doing that post-mortem, it's not about blame, it's about progress. "Let's make new mistakes, right? Nobody's got time to go back and make the same mistakes over, let's at least make some new mistakes." How do they feel about that? "Let's make some new ones." So not about blame, it's about progress, it's a variety in there. Yeah, right. "Dig, surprise me with something new this week, won't you? Let's make a new one." But I think destigmatizing that mistake is an important part of a safe company culture as well, because that's just a sign of growth. If I never make mistakes, that might mean I'm playing it a little too safe, and safe doesn't lead to growth. So I think there's a healthy balance there.

Kathy (host):  

So with this, we've talked about it in general terms, and what I also like to do on this podcast is I like to go into specifics, and the best way, I think, is going through a story. Do you have a company that you helped professionalize their operations, like when they came to you, they struggled with this particular thing? And then you uncovered and said, "Hey, this is not the right thing that you're really struggling with, it's these other things." And how did you fix them? Essentially, do you have any stories that you can share with us?

Whitney (guest):

Yeah, absolutely. Let me use an example from a creative services firm that I've been working with in Virginia, working with them off and on for about three years now. We'll work through a particular milestone, and then they'll implement on their own, take a break, and then we'll come and identify a new mountain for them to climb. When we first started working together, they felt that they were struggling with marketing messaging, they weren't getting great, right-fit clients, they didn't, they hadn't not yet identified their niche, they hadn't yet identified their "no" list. And so they were just kind of taking whatever work came along, very common for new businesses in particular, to be doing that, "Whoever, whatever pays the bills, I'll go do that." The problem, as we've discussed already today, Kathy, is, of course, that doesn't make you known for one thing, and it means you can't charge a price premium. It also means, and we haven't talked so much about this, that your processes are kind of all over the place because your products and delivery are all over the place. So you don't really get good at anything. 

Whitney (guest):

What they thought was, "This is a marketing messaging issue." So I met them where they were, that was the symptom that they were willing to admit to. And so I had them go through the exercise that I described a little bit earlier, "Look at your list over the last two years, let's see if we can find any patterns and commonalities between client work that you did really well, that was also very profitable for you." It jumped right out. One of the things that I was able to point out to them is that in this creative services firm, they had over the last year, I think it was 28 clients that they've worked with. And I added up what the total revenue was for each one of those projects on an annual basis. And I drew a line across the top 10. And I said, "Do you realize that your top 10 clients out of these 28 accounted for 50% of your revenue?" They hadn't done that analysis yet. I said, "Okay, so what if we could just clone those top 10 clients and replace everybody else on the list?" They're like, "That would be cool! Great." "What are those top 10 clients have in common? They're in this industry. And we solve this problem. Not all 10, but the majority are in this industry, we solve this problem." "Great. How do we tune marketing messaging to clone those clients, to attract more of those clients? Because they now know, 'We're really good at this, we can solve this problem for clients like you.' Because you know, the best way to prove to someone that you can solve a problem is to show them that you already have." Yeah, lightbulb moment.

Whitney (guest):

So now we start to build marketing messaging for this target audience having this particular problem, and the wheels of the engine start moving forward. So then they say, "How do we do a lead generator for that?" We talked about brainstorming some ideas for a lead generator, a way to collect email addresses and build their email list and have a way to nurture these relationships. The engine starts moving a little bit faster. "Great. Now we've got people interested." Look over the shoulder, "What's the next stage? Oh, they're interested in talking with us, but now our sales process rises to the top as an issue. We don't have a great sales process. We are in a vendor position, an order-taker, hands-on-keyboard type thing, and we want them to see us as an Expert Advisor instead, for the creative services that we provide. That's how we get our best work done." 

Kathy (host):

Great. So now we're talking about the sales process. "How do you elevate yourself out of that vendor position to that expert practitioner? How do you give proposals that allow the prospect a choice of yeses instead of just one size fits all, take it or leave it? How do you get them to see a better solution than the one that they came in the door thinking that they needed? How could you make your solution more robust, more durable, longer lasting? Touch on more viewpoints?" Right? So then we move through the sales process. Great. Now the sales process is moving, we have new clients. I bet you know where this is going. What's the next hurdle?

Whitney (guest):  

The next hurdle is the operations for service delivery, you get a gold star. So now we look at service delivery, let's optimize the service line. One of the things this creative services firm had never done is document the process of how we get our work done, from the client signs the contract all the way through their development of the creative concept, the creative work, revisions, reviews, it's delivered, we're asking for a testimonial or review at the end of it, and we're setting up the next engagement. They've never documented that process. And the result of that was, every time they did it, it was a little bit different. Some parts were good, different, a lot of parts were bad, different, than standardized. So we visualized it all, we standardized it all. And guess what they found? They were doing better work faster, which opened up more capacity for them to take on right-fit clients. And they didn't need to add a single new member to their team to do that. 

Whitney (guest):  

So now their profitability has gone up, their stress levels have gone down. And they didn't have to just wake up and find 20 people at the Keurig machine. They're doing all of this with five people on their creative services team, for example. So now the cash flow is there, operations are there, now they've got better money in the bank. What do they optimize next? What they optimize next is how they're using that money. So they set up a business savings account, for example, instead of just running paycheck to paycheck, you know, payroll to payroll, rent payment to rent payment, they can do all that. And they're siphoning off a certain percentage every month to put into a business savings account. So if there's a rainy day, if there's a downturn or no, a global pandemic that shuts them down for a few months, right, they're not freaking out, they've got some contingency money that they can turn to and make more measured decisions with.

Whitney (guest):  

So these are just some of the ways that we've optimized the major components of their business. And we're continuing to work with them to do that. They're tinkering with responsibilities on their team, they're thinking about the next service area that they want to open up, what's a new product line? How can we validate that before we spend a lot of money actually trying to put it out in the marketplace, all of those things. So over time, they have grown. I talked with the business leader just a few weeks ago, for example, about eight weeks into the year. And he had 50% of their target revenue already under contract, which for them is huge. He's walking around with such confidence, swagger, not overblown, but just like very settled. He can be very selective, much like I see you doing in your business, and make sure that he's got right-fit clients that they are absolutely sure they can do amazing work for. They're not just running around, you know, frantically grabbing whatever they can get.

Kathy (host):

That is essentially the position that you want to be in business, that you can be selective because you're the right fit for these particular clients. And on top of that, because you have that nice cushion in the bank, as well. And if you have those things, you're able to be a lot calmer and more selective with who you work with and what you do. And whatever money you got, because not all money is good money. Agreed?

Whitney (guest):

Agreed. And that is how you escape the busyness trap, you get to a point where you're more selective. And you're able to do better work for the clients that you do accept, because you have a great process, because you know they're a great fit, because you understand their industry, because you understand their problem, because you're working with the right people on your team and on their team. It just makes everything so much more harmonious when you're able to systematically optimize the way that you do things in the way that I've just described, that this firm has been so successful in doing.

Kathy (host):

Yeah, and it's also better not just for the firm, but also for the client as well because now they have this great customer experience versus working with someone that is just, you know, the heads are spinning and have no idea what they're doing on a day-to-day basis because the operations are up in arms and sales is not, it's... Yeah, as you can tell, I'm a huge fan of having the processes and having the systems and standardizing things as much as possible. Even if you do those things are customized, like for example, in my business I do a lot of things are custom, but the way how I deliver things is very standardized, because that way it's a better experience for the client and it also makes me a better provider, you know.

Whitney (guest):

Absolutely, you've standardized your systems, your processes, your frameworks, but you're applying them individually to each one of the special circumstances that your clients are seeking. And because you're selective with your client base, you know that your systems and standards and processes will be able to be individually applied in a way that makes sense. You're not saying, "Oh well, I'm always a steakhouse, but you want a hot dog? I could probably make a hot dog, right?" We don't expect that of a restaurant, why do we expect that of our service providers? Or when we are the service provider, why do we allow that to happen? "No" is an acceptable answer. "That's not our thing. That's not what we're known for." That is part of the vocabulary. I think, particularly if you're in a business development role, you need to incorporate "no, thank you" into your vocabulary, or you have no standards at all.

Kathy (host): 

Exactly. So Whitney, this has been an absolutely fabulous conversation. And you know, every guest gets this question at the end, because we're 38 minutes into this conversation. And there's a lot of stuff that you've given out to our listeners, but if someone is listening to this and they're saying, "Okay, I understand there's a lot of moving pieces here. Like I need to professionalize my marketing, my sales, my operations, my hair is on fire. Where in the world do I even begin?" What would you say?

Whitney (guest):

We have, among the tools on our website, which I'll make free to your podcast listeners, is a business readiness assessment. And it is a short online quiz that is absolutely free to take, that asks you about various aspects of your business and gives you a score so that you know, "This is the one that is hurting you the most right now, start here first." Because just knowing where to start is often a very paralyzing question for entrepreneurs. We think, "I have to start everywhere, I don't know where to start. It's all equally important." And in fact, it is not all equally important at the same time. So the business readiness assessment is also available on the resources that I talked about earlier, provokebetter.com/help, for listeners of your podcast. I'll put a link to that readiness assessment there as well.

Kathy (host):

Great, thank you Whitney. And I definitely can relate to that, because when you think you have to do everything, nothing gets done. And all you really want to do is go to bed and take a nap. 

Whitney (guest):

It's like, "Oh, Yes. And it's 9:30 in the morning, so that's probably not the best thing to do.

Kathy (host):

True. Especially, you know, if you have a business to run. So Whitney, thank you so much. We will put all of these resources in the show notes, and thank you for being here.

Whitney (guest):

It's been my pleasure, Kathy. Thank you.

What it means to "professionalize business operations"
Managing the challenges in scaling business operations
Understanding your target market is essential for business success
Identifying and addressing your customer’s core business problems
Professionalizing business operations
The importance of documenting processes and procedures
Providing clear guidelines for success
Tools to help with optimization
Avoiding the "busyness trap"
Normalize learning from mistakes
Case study: Optimizing business operations
Actionable step to take to start professionalizing business operations