097: Using Tech Strategically with Susan Boles

097: Using Tech Strategically with Susan Boles


If you haven’t yet downloaded the brand new freebie that I announced on the podcast last week, be sure to do that by clicking here.

Today’s episode is with Break The Ceiling host Susan Boles. She owns Scale Spark, where she works as an outsourced CFO and Growth Advisor for agencies, consultants, and other service businesses. Susan crosses her CFO role with a tech expertise (and you can see how we just clicked!) to help her clients have hit or are nearing a growth ceiling.

Susan’s clients are a lot like many of the listeners of this podcast… They have leads coming in and know what they’re doing, but they have hit a capacity ceiling. It’s either either impending burn out and kill themselves with work, or that they want to grow their business in a different way.

She likes to say that she doesn’t fix the problems of growth.  And she doesn’t solve for growth.  She solves the problems of growth. So when you’re growing, there are all of these operational problems that come up.

As business owners, we want to grow and scale and do more. Then we turn around and somehow have four or five, six tons of things on our backs. So we need to take a step back and create processes.

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Processes allow us to be more efficient and outsource with ease and grace. And in creating those processes, we maximize the effectiveness of our tech tools.

Remember — when you outsource, you hire someone who is able to execute on your vision — they aren’t setup to create the process, streamline the tools or make strategic decisions.

There is no one magic tool to make your business work better. I always say to implement the best right tool for the task at hand. So if you start adding tech too early, it just adds to the overwhelm.

If you buy a tool without really thinking through what you’re going to use it for, how you’re going to use it, and how it’s going to fit with all the other tools you’re using, it can really screw you.  Because now you’re paying for this other tool that isn’t doing what you needed to do. And you also feel overwhelmed, because you’ve just added the thing to your to do list that says go set up x, y, z tool.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Susan believes technology is one of those kind of last 10% aspects of business. It’s the last mile of the optimizing and streamlining your systems. Technology is the last trigger to pull but that’s because it’s really that powerful.

Especially when it comes to automation and being able to actually hand stuff off to technology. And this takes us to having a viable strategy for how you’re going to use a given piece of sofware before you can recognize its value.

When someone comes to me as says they want to implement a given tool, I almost always ask a lot of questions — they need to be READY. Even if it is the right tool, if they are not ready for it, I will give them homework to complete before we get started.

I had someone come to me not that long ago, asking me to set up the backend integration between Thinkific and his email marketing system.  And I asked why? His answer was because he needed it set up. That wasn’t the right answer. So I told him “you have to create your course and you’ve got to understand who your audience is and figure out your marketing message. Once you get to that point, then sure, I can set up this last 10% so that all of your systems can be working together.”

Sure, tech might be the answer — but what’s the question? What problem are we solving? Are they congruent in size?

Susan has seen a lot of people think that technology is magical.

They have this impression, and she gets this a lot with her clients, they just need a project management system and that’s going to fix all of their problems. The reality is there are so many questions that you have to answer before you get to that point of evaluating the potential tools. Do you even need a project management system and do you need the biggest one with the bells and whistles?

There’s so many questions to ask there. She always likes to ask them why they are doing that. And you have to ask why a whole bunch of times before you get to the point where that technology piece even comes into play.

What is the true problem that we are solving? Where are we trying to go? And what are we creating?

It’s so important to know the answers to these questions… I used to have a freebie on this website that included the question “Are you looking at this piece of technology as a foundation or as a crutch?” Or, in other words — Is this a bandaid type fix or a tool you intend to rest your business on?

Even with the right tech and the right SOPs, it’s important to hire the right help for the task at hand. Proficiency in a tool and the right hourly rate are great potentials for outsourcing. The key with a successful VA is that they do the job you want them to do in the way that you want it done. A VA is just someone who works for you and is not physically in your office!

Susan and I both understand that our clients come to us and make most their decisions when they are operating in emergency mode.

So when you come in and you are overwhelmed, and you are at your last straw and you don’t know where to go, it’s so easy to just pull a trigger and make it a crutch of desperately grasping for anything that will make the problem better. Making decisions in emergency mode is a very different mode of making decisions than thinking about the long term vision of your business and how the system function behind the scenes (not to mention what kind of business you want to grow!)

Laying those foundational pieces, be that process or technology or team members, whatever those foundations are.  You should be stopping, taking a breath, and then making a decision that is based off of your plan for growth, not off of putting a bandaid on the issue.

A lot of tech decisions come in a place of overwhelm or stopping the bleeding or in the space of just make it work. But, there’s something about taking that step back, and bringing in an outside advisor, and looking at things from a non emotional state. This is where I chose to take the conversation with Susan –> Just taking that step back and looking at some of the strategies to being objective rather than emotional.

Susan’s favorite question is: “Why are you doing it that way?”— there’s a real value in having an outside person, come in and force you to explain why you made the choices that you made Often the choice that was made was made because that’s the way we’ve always done it or because that’s the way it was done my old industry. Susan likes to tell the story of a client she was working with on her billing.And she asked why her client chose to bill the way that she did.

Objectively, Susan saw that this was causing issues in them being able to really harness the power of automation inside their project management system. The answer was because the person who started the company had come out of the television industry. And that’s how they build in television. And that was really the answer to why they made the decision that they did. <– there was absolutely no basis with their current business.

People will say, “When I started the company, I thought that I had to do it this way. You know, I thought I had to bill hourly because that’s how people bill. I didn’t realize there were other options.”

There is a series on Susan’s Break the Ceiling podcast about making default decisions. Subscribe to it if you haven’t — they are great conversations. Sometimes early on something is started and you may not even realize that you are actually making a decision. But this can have a huge impact down the road on what kind of business you actually have, how it operates and the systemization opportunities.

Susan gives the example of working with clients in POST PAY… or they pay after the work is complete. Post pay versus paying upfront for the work creates an entire workflow that you now have to figure out how to manage and administer and potentially how to automate.

  • you have to track time
  • you have to track materials
  • you have to have the methodology to turn that into an invoice that you then send to them
  • you also have to track them down later on to get them to pay the invoice

A very simple decision at the beginning to say, “Hey, I work on a project basis. Pay me up front. The End.” Your customer clicks the button, pays the money, and it’s done. That’s the end of the process.

This is so often a decision that you didn’t even consciously make, but it can have a really big impact on how much you’re trying to administrate, automate, and streamline.

Expanding on this — if you continue with POST PAY and want to outsource all of your billing to somebody else, now there might be upwards of six systems in place in order to make sure that your invoices get created and paid and that your team member can do their job.

Now for the good news: There’s nothing that we have in our businesses that can’t change.

I did this… earlier this year I decided that instead of doing split pay for my projects, if they were under a certain dollar amount, the only option was 100% pay up front. I understand that some of my bigger projects, the ones that are getting close to five figure or beyond, there’s probably a reason why split pay still makes sense. But projects that are on a much smaller scale and that take far less time, it doesn’t benefit me to set them up as split pay. Both payments would often hit my clients’ credit cards in the same billing cycle, so there isn’t a benefit to them! And I don’t have to worry about the client running off with $200 that they never paid me.

There’s nothing that says that you have to keep things the way they are. That goes for billing.  That goes for the tech tools that you’re using. And it goes with where you’re hosting your website, or where you buy your domain names. Everything can change if there is a business benefit to doing so.

But changing for the sake of change adds to the overwhelm that we were already talking about. So don’t just say, “Oh, well, Jaime and Susan said…”. We don’t want change for change sake. We want to be changed for benefit.

Oy — it was just Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday — we got a lot of buy buy buy messages this weekend about new tools in the online marketing and online business space. We feel compelled to try them out and invest in them.

Susan and I can both attest that implementing any new tool, even if it’s a simple one, still has work that goes into it.  There gotta be a thought process and a plan. It needs to integrate with the rest of your system and have a clear purpose!

And even if it’s not overwhelming, it still takes time to do it.

So, I repeat –> If you don’t have a really good business case behind why you’re doing something, then there is no value in doing that right now.

But it’s not a bad thing to be open to opportunity to say? “Oh, what else is out there?”  Something might be that silver bullet that truly optimizes your processes and optimizes your workflows. So, it’s always a balance — of time and money and energy and functionality.

And even if you’re not adding a new tool to your toolbox right now — we both recommend doing a tech audit and a process audit!

Susan likens it to giving herself the opportunity to see if there’s anything that changed within the tools she’s using. Are there new features that have come out to make her life easier? to eliminate a redundant tool (that wasn’t redundant before the cloud software tool was updated.)

And you could be saving money by eliminating tools.

And you can increase efficiencies by using all facets of a given tool.

An outside perspective

This is why an external audit (like the Tech Tool Audit –> https://techofbusiness.com/audit/) is so beneficial. Having someone who is not personally invested ask the questions and look objectively is your best next move. I’ll ask questions that you are then forced to answer.  Sometimes it’s really hard to do that for yourself. It’s hard to ask yourself questions about why you’re doing things.

Another approach that Susan suggests is to block out an hour on the calendar. It doesn’t have to be a week or a month. You can sit down for an hour and say, ”Okay, great. What piece of software do I want to look at? What one little piece of my system could I make better?”

And it’s great if you don’t have SOPs (processes written down) to do this as a matter of course. Because it might suddenly appear that there is an automation available like using Zapier to make things even more efficient!

When it’s written down, you don’t have to remember.  And you don’t have to use that brain space that says, “What are the steps I have to remember to do again?” Sometimes just slowing down and focus on one thing has compound benefits over the years and months to come.

If you can break it down into little pieces, and then just tackle that one tiny piece, that one task that you never have to remember it again.

Susan’s absolute favorite automation right now is from a calendly appointment, she has a zap that does all her new client setup on Google Drive. It might have taken her an hour or less, and then she never has to do it again. That one half hour that you spent setting that up, can mean that you save 15 hours this year, not doing that again.  What could you do with that freed up time?

Sure, it doesn’t have to be Zapier… it could be that you outsource the task to an assistant to every time a calendly comes in, that it’s a new client, that they do A, B, C all the way down through Z. But you can’t automate or outsource what you haven’t documented and the more that you document the more you feel in control. And the less you feel like, “Oh, I have to find this crutch. I have to find this band aid.”

The real power is in making that decision one time, deciding what that process is one time.  And that actually frees you up to spend your time doing creative fun things, and not trying to remember what order you need to do things right in.

This opens up real power in terms of creativity, for Susan. By offloading that out of your brain and just making the decision once, you open yourself up to space to create and imagine.

If you don’t like the term system or process — call it dance steps or something creative!

If you are a choreographer, it can be totally thought of as the dance steps to make my business run. Put your own unique name on it. It doesn’t have to follow anybody else’s rules.

Susan’s takeaway

If there is one takeaway, it would be that systems and processes don’t have to be scary. They can be simple like a checklist. And if you can just make decisions one time and then use that decision over and over again, that is really the key to being able to scale your capacity.  Because you don’t have to make that decision over and over again. You’re not using that same brainpower.  And you have made the decision one time and then you can just use that and move your brain into other more high value things.

I encourage you to check out her podcast. And if you haven’t joined the Expand Online Facebook group yet, you can get there by going to techofbusiness.com/community.

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