A lot of startups fail not because they don’t have a great idea but because of three things – they don’t look at the back end of the company, they don’t have the capitalization, or they don’t know how to communicate effectively. Today, Ben Baker and guest Carolyne Simi, the owner of Your Project Planner, take a look at one of those crucial items – the standard operating procedures – of running a successful business. Listen to this episode to learn why it’s important to have your business SOPs in place.
We have Carolyne Simi on the show. She is the Owner of Your Project Planner. Carolyne, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I'm excited to be here. Thanks for making me a part of it.
You talk about things that a lot of people need but they never think about it. There are many companies out there with many big thinking CEOs that have these grandiose plans, but they don't look at internal structure. They don't look at standard operating procedures. They don't look at the back end of their company and how a company grows and the things that you need to do in order to make it successful. That's why 75% or 80% or whatever the number of startups fail. A lot of it isn't that they don't have a great idea. There are three things.
They don't have the backend. They don't have the capitalization. They don't know how to communicate effectively. I take care of one, you take care of the other. We can't help them with the money. They're not going to get that big bank role unless they have the structure behind them and have the communication with them. Let me let you tell my audience, where did Your Project Planner come from? What was the impetus of it? Where did you come from? Where are you and where do you see the company going?
I spent my career as a professional project manager in corporate San Francisco and New York City, working for major financial institutions. I’m always on Information Technology projects, system conversion, big projects that last for way too long and way too many problems every day where I came to the point that I had enough of that. I thought to myself, “If not corporate, what are you going to do?” I tried a few different things that didn't fit in real life. I could take the skills that I'd hung over all those years and turned them in a way that would be more useful and hopefully more attractive to the small and medium-sized business community. They have the same problems as corporate. They don't have the same resources to solve those problems. I called it Your Project Planner for lack of a more innovative, catchy name to use.
It tells the story very quickly.
I realized that what I could offer was project management for small implementations. As an example, one of my clients in New York City was a very small American presence of a German bank. They started so teeny tiny that they did all of their HR on an Excel spreadsheet. They grew and the Excel spreadsheet has fallen over. They went out of the marketplace. They bought a product that they liked signing a contract called MIA to come in and work as the conduit between them as the client and their system providers, vendors. It's a nice sweet spot and I love that thing. There are lots of learning, lots of stuff you can get your teeth into.
A small implementation project standard, operating procedures, strong job descriptions, performance improvement, empowerment programs, and also the last one is sitting with the business owner to start to extract those decisions that they make on a daily basis that they love to keep close to that to their best and get them out on the floor to the staff where they belong. All of that in a nutshell, they're all related things, but they're designed to help the team operate more cohesively. What often happens is they don't have those processes and procedures.
Processes and procedures grow like topsy and tribal knowledge. That's going to structure the tribal knowledge. There are many reasons that it doesn't work. When you start digging into it, then you realize that you've got duplication of effort, you've got massive confusion, and everybody's doing their job. They have the colonel of the job in their mind, probably very similar but the way they executed. It's different. It's their own take on how that job should be done. I realized that would be a big benefit for a small and medium-sized companies.
There's a lot there to unpack. Let's take this one step at a time. It's the big thing about small companies, smaller problems, big companies, and bigger problems. A lot of it comes down to size, scope and scale but the departmental issues are still the same. The fact that people need to understand where they are, where they're going, and how to get there is still the same. It's a matter of how many people were involved in the decision. You're right about the institutional knowledge. There are people within any organization that have been there for 25, 10 or 5 years that have an enormous amount of information between their ears.
God forbid, but if ever they get sick or they leave or they die, the organization can fail. If it's just one key person leaves that is the keeper of the secrets can throw any organization into chaos. How do you get your CEOs to understand because you alluded to that? How do you get people to understand the dangers of that institutional knowledge? That tribal knowledge? What the ramifications are about not getting that out into the public where everything keeps people from holding stuff in their chest and making sure that everybody understands what needs to happen, how and when?
It is not easy. That's an aspect that I did not count on. I didn't count on the fact that CEOs, their eyes would glaze over when I start talking about procedures. You alluded to it, business owners tend to look at their business as what their product or service is.
They also look at their business as their children.
It is their baby. What they don't realize is that their business is much larger than that. Their business is the structure and engine that makes the whole thing turn and work every day. If they don't have that engine there, they're just flying by the seat of their pants. I spoke to a business broker who told me a story about a client who had been in business for quite a while and was ready to sell. His key employee did not have his structure in place. One of his key employees, unfortunately, suffered a brain aneurysm, screeching, freaking, halt.
It can easily happen especially in the economy that we're in, that we've got workers with a different mentality. I'm certainly not bashing anybody. It's a different way of viewing Millennials' view things differently. They are not necessarily going to stay with you for a very long time. What does that mean? It is incumbent upon the business owner to create a culture and environment that makes them understand that they are part of something that's bigger than themselves. They're an important cog in the wheel. “I depend on the workers. We're all in this together. Let's make it work.”
There's a lot to unpack there too because they need to be happy with their job. What makes them happy with their job? When it flows. When it moves. When they've got their role and it's a significant role. There's no confusion. This is what I do. This is what you do. This is the handoff. This is how it works. We like it. They're starting to take ownership of their side of the business. They're starting to go to the business owner with solutions instead of just problems. Their hair isn't on fire anymore. Back to your original point, I'm finding it to be a tough sell.You cannot scale something that is fundamentally broken. Click To Tweet
I want to get back to the hair on fire because that's my area of expertise, which is how do you get people to understand their value within the company. How do we communicate it so people understand how their part of the company's success? We need to unpack this because business owners need to understand whether they're running a business, whether they're looking to retire, and we're getting to that stage where we have millions of Boomer companies are sitting there going, “I want to retire.” Like you, I talked to business brokers. We sit there and talk to them and they say, “All these business owners want to sit there. They want to call me and within six months, they want to be out of the business.” It's totally unrealistic because you need to have standard operating procedures in place.
You need to have the direction of the company. You need to have all the backend systems all set up. When somebody does take over the business, there's something for them to take over. It's how you convince companies and business owners that by giving up the institution's knowledge, by letting their tribe understand the direction and where the company is going and what the company's going to look like for the next several years. You're making the company better. You're making it to a position where not only the employees are happier, but you're also putting yourself in a position that if you do want to sell, you're not getting half X or quarter X, you're getting 2X, 5X, 10X or 15X depending on the policies, procedures and the things that you do in place to make you more successful.
It gets down to dollars and cents. For the CEO that is in the midst of their business or their career, there are two things that are important to them, time and money. What I'm finding is that they don't realize, and this is new for me of speaking to them. You have to boil it down to dollars and cents and time. Where are you spending way too much of your time? It's taking you away from what you need to do, which is to grow the business. What are you spending way too much money on that could be corrected? When you start talking to them in those terms, they begin to see that's an important aspect, that applying structure and allowing to extricate themselves from the day-to-day. If you don't do that as a business owner, you are an employee of your business. Who wants that? That's not why you got into business in the first place.
It's making sure you're redundant.
That’s not the deal. When you provide your employees with that structure, the baseline and all the knowledge, tools, support and encouragement that they need in order for them to take ownership of the business, they're not calling you out of your office every half an hour to resolve problems for them. That's the key. When you're starting to grow, you need to make sure that your operation is nailed down, smooth, flowing and working. If you bring people into chaos, you're going to bring more chaos. You cannot scale something that is fundamentally broken.
The one word that comes to my mind is control. I was in the same way, I'm a small business owner. Small business owners are entrepreneurs. They might have 1, 2, 5, 10 or 20 employees, but they're truly entrepreneurs because they don't know how to get out of their own way. They started the business. They had an idea. They have a passion. They have a desire. They live, breathe and die the business. Those can transition to being a medium-sized business owner or a large-sized business owner who realizes that it's not my job to do everything. It's my job to make sure that things get done. It's my job to put the right people in place, the policies and procedures in place, the systems in place so I become irrelevant. That was the one word I learn you say, people need to become irrelevant and unless there are those systems in place. It's almost impossible for you to become irrelevant.
When you go to sell a business, if you're an entrepreneur, you have nothing to sell. You sell your goodwill and it is as relevant as a phone book is in the marketplace. My dad, at the age of 77, shut down his construction company that he had been running for 35 years because he realized he was the business. He was fine with that. He had resigned himself to that several years earlier. He told me at age 60 or 65 years old, “I'm going to run this business as long as I'm happy doing it. When I'm not, I'm going to shut it down. No one's going to buy it. I'm not going to get 10X out of this thing. I'm building this company. This is a way for me to make a living and I was able to do that.”
You as a business owner need to come to that realization of what you want. If you truly want to sell a business, if you want to put yourself in a position where you can go away for twelve weeks a year and still have the business run or be able to give it to your kids, you need to have those policies and procedures in place. How do you come into a business that entrepreneur who wants to grow and help them see the vision? That's what it is. It's creating that vision, almost that sense of reality. If you don't do this, your business is only as profitable as you. How do you go about starting those conversations and how do you help them even start the process? Starting what you do is probably the most difficult part of it.
The conversation is most successful when we appeal to the emotion of the business owner. How often does someone ask a business owner, “How do you feel about that? How do you feel about all the hours that you're working on? How do you feel about the chaos? I really feel like there's a lot of chaos in this room. What's going on with that? If you could wave a magic wand and change things, how would they look? Where are you spending that money?” Having that time and money conversation that hits them in the gut. They are thinking about that magical one conversation propels them into, “If my business were more successful and an operating without me, what could I do?” They get wrapped up in their myopia. They have the blinders on. They don't see what's possible for them because they're in there on that hamster wheel. A few, hopefully, not all business owners feel like, “If my employees are coming to me for wanting my help and I'm needed, then I am part of his business.”
That's their value proposition. It helps them see that it is not their job. Your job is to grow this business, to take this business to whatever level you imagine. Not everyone wants to have a huge business, but if it is your intention to take it up to whatever level you aspire to, then you need some systems to make that happen because it's not going to happen without systems.
It's almost like you need to be a therapist before you can become a systems engineer.
They also listened to the idea of let's do some procedures, process improvement, job descriptions. In their minds, it's work that hardly anybody wants to do. They think, “That sounds so hard.” What they don't realize is that they don't have to do it. They're hiring me to come in. It's an iterative process. I sit with staff members, possibly even with them and ask, “How do you do your job? What's step 1, step 2, step 3?” You get the first draft. It's not perfect. You give it over to them and you say, “Work with this for a little bit. Figure it out and tell me where the holes are. What's missing?” We'll take another pass. We'll do it a third time and we've got it. That’s for 2 to 3 months probably. What I find is that I have to fit myself in and among their work because the daily work is king and eventually we get it done. It's much better for them.
It's also getting people to understand. I think this is a big part of it is what you do is a living document. It's not a one and done. People sit there and use the analogy of mission and vision statements. People spend all this time and all this effort to create these mission and vision statements. They put it in a binder. They put it up on the shelf and forget about it. If you do the same thing with your SOPs or your Standard Operating Procedures and your policies and procedures and you write them all down, put them on a binder and put them on a somewhere, they're worth about as much as the paper they're printed on.
They’re worth the binder.
Hopefully you bought a nice binder with the laminated cover. If that document is pulled down and evaluated on a regular basis and people sit there and go, “That doesn't make sense anymore.”A lot of business owners don’t see what's possible for them because they're constantly on the hamster wheel. Click To Tweet
That’s not how we do it anymore.
“We change this or we're thinking about changing this.” What does the policy say? What does the procedure say and be able to go back to say, “This is the historical data. This is where we came from. This is what we did. Is this still relevant anymore?” It could be as simple as how you run a meeting. If you're looking to bring a new vendor on board, what are the things that are important to you when you bring a new vendor on board or onboarding employees? There are many companies that have absolutely no procedure in place for onboarding employees. If you don't spend the time, the money, and the effort at the beginning to onboard employees correctly, they're going to leave you. It doesn't matter whether it's in 6 months, 1 year or 2 years. They are going to leave you if they are not indoctrinated into the system. If they don't believe in what you do and why you do it and how they fit in they are going to leave you. That's $100,000 or more walking out the door.
Back to that time and money conversation, there are many employers who do not understand that dollar value when they've got a staff churn. They don't understand that, “We'll limp along. We'll find somebody else. They'll plug them in and it will be fine.” You lost a bunch of money. You've opened yourself up to a huge amount of risk because you don't have the coverage that you need. Back to the excellent point about the binder, the hip way of doing procedures is to use these online platforms that are beginning to pop up. In fact, I'm starting to affiliate with a young guy in Australia who's created a product called systemHUB. It's very good.
What you do is you figure out and write up your procedures, you get them on to the systemHUB and when employees come to work in the morning, what pops up is a checklist of what they're supposed to do through the day. For training purposes, what sits behind that checklist is the full-blown step-by-step procedures. If you're ever confused about how or why you click on a button and up comes the full-blown procedures and you've got it there. When things do change, when they evolve, when they run into a problem that never anticipated in the first place, they've got a platform that they can go to and say, “It looks like this is what we have to change.” Right online, they change it.
All of a sudden, it becomes cascaded through the whole company.
My question to you is how flexible are those systems? It could become very 1984. If all of a sudden you need to do this and this, and if you don't check the boxes properly, we can't go to the next thing. If there doesn't have the ability, flexibility. If there doesn't have the ability for humans to make human decisions and to enable people to have the power within the systems to make decisions and to help customers and help each other and relate to each other on a human basis, we become automatons.
I think the agile way of doing things is to put enough procedure, checklist, whatever it is you want to call it. Put enough out there so that the business is being run the way business owner wants it to be run and expects it to be run, yet allowing enough flexibility for creativity, but the baseline of the business is being run correctly.
It's almost like a guideline and says, “These are the things that happened. These are the things that need to happen before a specific date.”
Not every nit and nat because that will drive them crazy.
They’ll tell you, “Don't forget payroll needs to be done.” It won't say you need to go through all the payroll procedures, but if you're brand new or you're a temper, you need to know that the payroll procedures, you click on a button and although all those payroll procedures will come up. Somebody new may be able to jump on it at a moment's notice.
You’ve got to have the daily, the weekly, monthly and quarterly. The whole business is in a box at the level that makes sense to the business. That's key because I can't go in there and impose upon them, “Carolyne sends me the version of what their procedures ought to look like.” It has to work on them.
With that, every single company's policies and procedures, vision for success, idea of goals are unique to that corporation. It comes down to the culture. There are certain things. There are certain policies and procedures that can be universal, but they all need to be modified somewhat to be able to work for that company. What's going to work for a twelve-person company may not work for a 1,000-person company.
It has to make sense to their level, to their culture, to the way they do business. It has to make the employees happy. People need a certain amount of structure. If you think about how we all go through our day, if you boil it down, you're going to find little bits of structure in there because that's how we operate. We're humans.
People want to feel that they know the direction that they're going. They don't want to feel they're being micromanaged. That's the system. How the system needs to be thought of is, “How do we let people know minimally what needs to happen? What we need to get and make sure to get done because there are ebbs and flows of every business.” Give the people within the business the power to figure out how those things are going to happen on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, as long as they understand what the overall overreaching goals of the company are what direction that we're going in. That’s what I can do is where you fit in. That's where your niche is. It's not the fact that you say, “I can come in and I can look at your company and create a set of policies and procedures for you.” It's important that we take a look at it and sit there and say, “What do we do for a company? What do we need to do to make sure that a company works effectively and that they're going to be successful?” Is that what it's all about? It's all about the company's success.
I've got two questions for you before I let you go. The first question is how people get in touch with you. It's important people need to get in touch with you.
You can visit our website, YourProjectPlanner.com and you can click on a button to have a fifteen-minute consultation. Let's see what you need to have done and see if we're a fit to work together. Also on that website, I've got videos that you can look at, lots of articles, case studies. You can learn a lot there.
I've crawled through your website and there is good information. I don't care if you're a company of five or a company of 500. This is a question I ask everybody as they walk out the door. When you leave a meeting and you get in your car and you drive away, what's the one thing you want people to think about you and Your Project Planner when you're not in the room?
What I would love them to think is, “I like working with her. She's passionate about what she does. It makes me feel like I want to work on this project too.” I want to feel it’s safe to engage with me.
Carolyne, you have been an absolutely wonderful guest. Thank you for being there. Thank you for adding some real value to my guests. Thank you for being part of the show.
Thank you. I've enjoyed it, Ben.
Carolyne Simi started her career as a professional project manager in the information technology space for major financial institutions in San Francisco and New York City. It was a good profession while she was an employee of those big banks, but an even better profession when she found the courage to launch her own independent consultancy in 1999. That became her introduction to entrepreneurship.
During those indie consultant days, she experienced a wide variety of projects of all sizes. It was an excellent training ground for learning how to stay nimble, focused, keep the team on track and problem solve our way to the finish line.
The next move was to leverage her corporate experience into a valuable service to help the small and medium-sized business sector. Your Project Planner has become one of the few companies that helps businesses become sustainable, scaleable and salable by implementing the tools, procedures, and processes that improve team cohesiveness and engenders ownership of the Operations side of the business.
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