Ashley Gartland (00:00):
I think the really important thing is checking that assumption of you can build a big team if that's what you want and that's what you love and that's what you want to do, but that shouldn't be the default decision, right? You shouldn't say, "The only way I can scale is if I have a big team," because there are so many other alternatives.
Susan Boles (00:18):
Every decision you make in one area of your business affects other areas of your business. We often tend to think of the different areas of our business as individual silos: marketing, finance, operations, our team. We view them as each being inside their own box. But in actuality, business doesn't really work that way. It's an ecosystem. Every part of your business affects the other areas of your business because they're all interconnected.
Susan Boles (00:50):
The decisions you make about the kind of business model you have affect how you market your business. Those decisions also affect the size and roles of the team you want to have, the software you need to use. And all of that in turn affects how profitable your company ultimately is.
Susan Boles (01:09):
And you can turn it right back around the other way. Maybe you have a vision about the size of the company you want to run. Maybe you don't want a team. Well, that decision affects the kinds of products and services you can offer, the business model that fits you best, the software you need to use, because it's all connected.
Susan Boles (01:27):
I'm Susan Boles and you're listening to Break the Ceiling, the show where we break down unconventional strategies you can use to save time, boost your profit, and increase you operational capacity.
Susan Boles (01:38):
So if all the parts of your business are interconnected and the decisions you make in one area of your business affect the other areas of your business, that means the quality of your decisions matter even more. And this the reason you'll always hear me emphasizing considering both your values and your data, because they both need to come into play in order for you to make the right decisions for you.
Susan Boles (02:04):
Each decision you make in your business is like stacking a brick onto the foundation of your business. You're building what your business really is, one decision, one brick at a time. So it's important that they move you towards both a healthy, sustainable business and one that you want to run.
Susan Boles (02:26):
If you've listened to this show for any length of time, you've probably heard me talk about default decisions, this idea that sometimes the decisions we make in our business happen by default, either because we didn't know there was an alternative or we didn't realize we were making a choice or because our choices seemed to be limited based on our experience or our industry.
Susan Boles (02:47):
And the reason I talk about default decisions so much is because of this idea that our decisions matter. The choices we make in our business matter. They impact not just the business we end up building, but how well it runs, how much we like running it, and whether or not it's sustainable. Sometimes, how well your business operates or how much you like running it can come down to a single key decision. Something like choosing to package your services or shifting to a retainer model or even starting to take credit cards can have a huge impact. And that's why I want you to be making choices consciously, not by default, because they matter.
Susan Boles (03:31):
So today, we're going to talk more about this idea of default decisions and how the decisions you make in one area of your business affect all those other areas. My guest today is Ashley Gartland. She's a business coach who helps people simplify and streamline their business, and she's actually been on the show before back in January.
Susan Boles (03:50):
Now, Ashley and I have a lot of the same beliefs and values when it comes to running businesses. We both have very small teams, we really value systems, and we do our best to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. Ashley and I decided we wanted to have a conversation about this idea of default decisions and how we each saw the concept play out in our own businesses and in our work with clients. So we decided to invite our audiences and have a live conversation about it.
Susan Boles (04:20):
So today's episode is a little bit different format than normal and slightly longer than a normal episode. Ashley and I each brought a few examples from our work where we've seen business owners get tripped up with default decisions. So it's not really an interview as much as you getting to listen in on our conversation around this idea.
Susan Boles (04:40):
I am really passionate about examining the choices that you are making in your business because really when you understand why you're making choices, that enables you to potentially decide to make a different choice. So default decisions are really the choices you are making in your business that maybe you don't notice that you're making. So they come from your preconceived notions about how your business should run.
Susan Boles (05:07):
So we all come into business with experience, either from the industry we came in from or other experience or just our beliefs in general. And they can really color our view of what you're supposed to do, how you set up your business, what your business model is. All of those come from a place of our experience. And oftentimes, we don't realize that those are the choices that we're making because we don't really know anything different.
Susan Boles (05:37):
So if you ask yourself why are you making a specific choice, why did you [inaudible 00:05:43], why did you pick your software, why did you pick your business model, why are you operating the way that you're operating, and if you ask yourself why and you're answer is, "Well, I don't know," or, "Because we've always done it that way," or, "Because that's just how our industry operates," that's a really good indication that the choice was made by default. It was something that you just assumed was supposed to be the way that it is.
Susan Boles (06:09):
So these default decisions really can affect pretty much every area of your business. They affect your business model. They affect how easy it is for your business to operate. And I have a really good example of this.
Susan Boles (06:23):
So a few years ago, I was doing a software implementation with a digital marketing agency. So we were implementing a project management tool that connected to their finances. We kept running into an issue because they were calculating their marketing weird. They weren't doing it in a way like traditional computer systems expect you to calculate margin. And so we were having to create all of these weird custom workarounds, maybe [inaudible 00:06:49] so much more expensive.
Susan Boles (06:50):
And when I asked them, "Why are you doing it this way? What's behind this choice," the answer was that one of the founders actually came out of the television industry and that this is how they had calculated ad rates in the television industry. Now, they were in a digital advertising firm. They had nothing to do with TV advertising. But because one of the founders came from this specific industry and that's how they did it in the industry, that's just how they decided to do it in their business now, even though totally unrelated fields.
Susan Boles (07:27):
But that decision was causing them such a huge headache. We were spending more money on fancier software. They had more operations people than they needed because they couldn't automate it, they couldn't take advantage of the computer systems and all of the automation that comes with that. So if you can overcome your default decisions, it can open you up to new, better, more effective, more profitable ways of running your business.
Susan Boles (07:56):
So that's my short and sweet summary on default decisions and why they matter. And over the course of this conversation, Ashley and I are each going to share three common ones that we see in our work and how that might affect your business.
Susan Boles (08:13):
So Ashley, you want to kick us off?
Ashley Gartland (08:15):
Yeah. I just want to say one more thing about the definition, too. I just want to really bring this point home for people, is that when you're making default decisions, it can be so limiting and that you don't even know that you're not operating the possibility in your business.
Ashley Gartland (08:28):
So I see so many people struggling with their services and like, "I'm not really liking them and I don't like how my business is running here," struggling with the amount of hours that they're working or thinking they have to use certain tools and systems that they really don't have to use. That's because they're making default decisions, like you said. They're based on those functions that they're making or they're just borrowing from other people's models instead of taking a moment to pause and say, "What do I really want this to look like? What's going to be in the best service of me?"
Ashley Gartland (08:51):
And when you do that and start making your decisions from a place of discernment, that's when you get to build a business that fits you, the work that gets the results you want, that scales smart, that allows you to work less. And that's why I'm so excited about this conversation. So I'm fired up over what we're going to be sharing here.
Ashley Gartland (09:05):
So, yes. So like Susan said, we're each going to be sharing three requirements that we see that are certainly more of the themes that are the big points that we wanted to touch on.
Ashley Gartland (09:13):
So I'm going to kick things off with the first one, which was assuming that the cookie cutter business model in your industry is your option or the industry standard is your only option. What I want to say first there is this is really normal. If you're getting into the online space or you're getting into business for the first time, it's really normal for you to take a look around and say, "Okay. What else is going on here? What are people doing? How are they delivering this service? How are they working with people?" and to build your first packages from that, from borrowing from what's working for other people.
Ashley Gartland (09:44):
But there comes a point where you are going to want to take a look at those and reframe them and streamline them and make sure that they fit the way that you want to work and the way that you want to live, too, but make sure those services actually fit your life.
Ashley Gartland (09:59):
So when we are just borrowing from other people, we're negating that fact. And what I like to do when I'm doing work to help people streamline their services and design them in a way that suits their life is really start from a place of possibility and start by asking some questions. So I actually like to start with the life stuff first, because that's totally my jam, and I like to ask, "What are your lifestyle goals? How much do you want to be working? How much time off do you want to have? How do you like to work? Do you like to work with people in a deep dive, or do you like to work with people for a year and have a deep, immersive partnership?"
Ashley Gartland (10:29):
And I urge them to think through those things because the sky's the limit and it really has to be about figuring out how they want to work. So we ask those questions about lifestyle, about hours worked, about the way they like to work. I definitely have a revenue conversation here. We want to make sure that their services are matching and their pricing is matching their revenue pools. And then I like to ask about client experience, like what do they think is going to give their clients the best experience and results.
Ashley Gartland (10:52):
And what's really funny here is how often I see people all of a sudden saying, "Well, the industry standard is kind of broken. That model, I can see how it's not working for people and I want to try something different." And that's where some real innovation and fun services come out.
Ashley Gartland (11:07):
So a couple of examples just to make this really tangible for you guys. I think coaching is such a great example because you can be a business coach, a finance coach, a health coach. And what's really common is for people to get started and they're like, "I'm going do one-on-one," or, "I'm going to do groups." And those are the only two things that they can really see as possibilities. They can't see, A, that they can do those things in a really different way. They could do one-on-one or they could do groups in a really different way. Or they might break into some really untapped areas like doing coaching intensives or doing boxer coaching, which is something I've experimented with. I've seen other coaches do masterminds completely by email, which is completely outside the box. And then there's all these hybrid models.
Ashley Gartland (11:47):
So I think when you get locked into this idea of, "First, I do one-on-one, and then I stay with groups, and this is the only way it can work," you end up building a business that's a match for someone else, but not you. When you ask yourself, "How do I want to work?," you start to see that you can bring in some of these other types of services or shift to some of those types of services and get to a really good place.
Ashley Gartland (12:05):
So that was one example I wanted to share. The second example, I work with a lot of copywriters, just because that was my initial business, was in the sales writing world and copywriting world. And what I see there is done for you is the go-to. They're like, "People need help with writing, and the only way I can help them is to just take it off their plate and do it for them." And that can certainly work. If that's your cup of tea, then that makes sense to go that path.
Ashley Gartland (12:25):
But what I see with a lot of my clients is that, "I'm a really great coach. I'm a really great teacher." And so it makes more sense for them to come up with a course or a group program.
Ashley Gartland (12:34):
I have a client right now who's just killing doing copy coaching, where she's doing coaching intensives with people to teach them how to write sales copy or she's doing long-term partnerships to help them and mentor them to write their own sales copy. So that's working amazing for her.
Ashley Gartland (12:48):
I have another client who's doing a product type service that allows her to do copy [inaudible 00:12:53] very tight and efficient way so she can work with a lot of clients in less time, and that's been phenomenal for her.
Ashley Gartland (13:00):
So hopefully, that starts us brainstorming. I think what's really important here is if you're like, "My services are okay," or, "My services, I'm not loving them right now," is to go back to that question and be like, "What am I assuming here that I have to do. And if I took those assumptions away, what are the possibilities here for me to explore?"
Ashley Gartland (13:17):
So Susan, do you want to add anything there? I know you've done a lot with business models too.
Susan Boles (13:22):
I think the real key that I see folks stumble on here is there's an element of giving yourself permission to do things differently. A lot of our notions are based off of either what we see people doing, but a lot of it is just saying, "Hey, this is my business. I get to pick what it looks like," and giving yourself permission to be creative and to literally think of something that nobody else has thought of yet. There's no [inaudible 00:13:54] encourage you to look for business models outside of your industry.
Ashley Gartland (14:00):
Susan Boles (14:00):
A lot of the times, there's a lot of competitive advantage in taking an industry standard business model in one industry and applying it to a new industry where that was never a thing. There's a lot of power there. So take your sources of inspiration from everywhere. Don't feel like you're limited to your industry or your niche.
Ashley Gartland (14:23):
Yeah. I just saw a brilliant business model last night. We're redoing our backyard, so we're looking at landscaping services. And I found someone who had beautifully figured out how to do it virtually, had taken their virtual model from some of the other businesses, but they were going to apply it to the landscape industry. And I was like, "This is brilliant." And there's no way they came up with that by looking at what other landscape architects were doing.
Susan Boles (14:44):
Yeah. Similarly, I just saw a photographer that is offering online photo shoots. Literally, you can do family photo shoots, brand photo shoots, and they do it using your phone and a photographer on the other end talking you through the shots, and then they edit it. And it was just totally out-of-the-box ideas where you're applying these new concepts and can create really a competitive advantage because you're the only one doing that.
Ashley Gartland (15:14):
Yeah, especially right now, right when other people want to go to branches and can't. I'm sure that that probably creativity came from the constraints of this time. So I love that.
Susan Boles (15:22):
Yes. I love constraints. Constraints are great. Very good for creativity.
Susan Boles (15:28):
Okay. So the next one I want to talk about is this notion that time and materials or billing by the hour is either the best way or the only way to go. So a lot of my work with clients has to do with their finances, because, well, that's pretty much ... that's one of the main things that we work on. And the decision of how to bill your clients and how to accept payments is one that can really have a big impact, both on your cashflow, on your revenue, but also on your workflow.
Susan Boles (16:03):
And this is one where I see a lot of folks get tripped up, thinking that there are no other options, they have to bill hourly because that's what the industry expects or that's what their clients expect, and that's the only way to go.
Susan Boles (16:17):
So I want to talk you through an example here. So if you look at the typical workflow for time and materials billing, right? So first, you do a proposal, you accept the proposal, maybe you take a deposit, and you have sent an invoice for that, right? Then, you have to track your time, because if you're not tracking your time and you're not tracking your team's time, you can't bill for it. So you have to have a system that tracks your time and your materials against you specific project.
Susan Boles (16:45):
Then, once you've done the work, you have to have a system, either a person or a technology, that can take that time and turn it into an invoice. Then, you have to have a system to send the invoice to your client. Then, you have to have another system to accept payment. Either they're sending you checks. Please don't do this. But I've seen it happen. They're sending you checks, and then you have to go deposit the check, and that's an extra step.
Susan Boles (17:09):
Or you're literally just waiting for them to pay, right? So you send them the invoice, it's out in the ether, and you're just hoping that they actually do. If they don't pay you, though, you have to go track them down to get them to pay you. There's the risk that maybe they won't. And that is a very long, very complex workflow to streamline or make efficient if you decide that, "Wow, that's taking me a whole bunch of time and I'm not getting paid very regularly."
Susan Boles (17:36):
So contrast that with having a packaged service or a retainer with a set price. There are lots of benefits to that. One, you know how much it'll cost up front and so do your clients. So better for everybody because they can budget to actually pay you the whole amount. And it's less emotional for you to sell because it's a just thing. Here's the thing. You don't have to hem and haw about how much it costs or what it's going to include. It just is.
Susan Boles (18:07):
But because that sort of package allows you to know up front how much it's going to cost, that is a totally different workflow, because if you do up front or recurring automatic billing, the workflow goes like this. Here's the thing, they buy it, they pay you and they either pay you up front or they sign up for automatic payments that just happen. And that's literally the entire workflow, contrasted to that really big, long, complicated workflow.
Susan Boles (18:39):
And so you really short circuited a lot of your administration by making one really simple tweak to say, "I'm not going to bill my time and materials. I'm going to bill up front or automatically." And not only does it streamline your operations, but it also actually improves your cashflow because they are going to pay you on automatic payment or they're going to pay you before you do the work. So it eliminates a lot of the risk, a lot of the headache, and also allows you to manage your cashflow.
Susan Boles (19:08):
So this is a default decision that I see so many of my clients making that is an easy swap for them that has huge impacts on actually really every area of their operations and finances.
Ashley Gartland (19:20):
Yeah. Susan, when you talk about ... I'm so on board with this. This is how I started my business. This is how I see people being so successful with theirs, is moving to the retainer model or product type services or packages. But I think the hesitancy for people is, "Oh my gosh. Then I can end up working twice as much." I have not found that to be true at all, but I think they're like, "The concern is, if I go on retainer, I'm going to be overworking myself."
Ashley Gartland (19:44):
Have you heard that from your clients?
Susan Boles (19:46):
Oh, sure. Absolutely. There's always a ton of hesitancy around this, and there are two different directions that you can go. One, you go with a retainer with very firm boundaries, "This is what's in scope. This is what's out of scope. If you do this, that will be extra," or you have packaged add-ons that you can add to your packages.
Susan Boles (20:08):
The other option that is usually a nice transition or if you are somebody who really can't do packaged very well. So an example of this is custom software development. Sometimes, you really have no idea how long it's going to take because, until you actually start the work, you don't know what headaches you're going to run into, where you're going to run into problems. And so those kinds of projects are really, really difficult to come up with, "Here's the flat price." There's a lot of risk involved with that.
Susan Boles (20:37):
So one of the solutions that I like recommending to people is a concept of a refillable retainer. And this is basically ... it's a little bit of a hybrid. But if you are baby stepping into packages, it's a nice transitional step. And the concept here is that you take whatever you would have given them as the estimate for time and materials and you get as close as you can to a ballpark, they pay that up front as a retainer that you then basically work your hours, you bill your hours against that retainer. And if they go over a little bit, you can invoice them extra. If you are under a little bit, you can roll it over to the next time you're invoicing them. But this is something that allows you to do ... you are getting paid before you're actually doing the work and really minimizes the risk at the end.
Susan Boles (21:26):
So even if you decide not to bill every month and just at the end this project or the end of your work together, you do one final audit, billing, and say, "Okay, great. We were just a little bit over. Here's another four hours that we need to bill you." But it really minimizes the risk and you get a lot of the same benefits of working off of a retainer or upfront billing without having to be exact. Minimize the risk a little bit in terms of your estimate.
Susan Boles (21:55):
And then you can use that and track your time against those kinds of projects until you have enough data, that you've been doing the same kind of project over and over and you have a really good idea of how long it's going to take you and your team, how much effort is going to be in there. And then you can move that into, "Okay. We're very confident that this is what it's going to be. Here's the package, here's what it includes, and here's the price."
Ashley Gartland (22:18):
Yeah, and it matches. I think that that's a really good point, that sometimes you're kind of ... At the beginning, you are throwing spaghetti at the wall a little bit.
Susan Boles (22:25):
Ashley Gartland (22:25):
You're making an informed decision. You're saying that this is how much it's going to take. I can definitely say this with my coaching packages. Now, after four years doing that, I'm like, "Okay. I know roughly how much each client's time is going to take with our calls and outside of our calls with reviews and those types of things," and I can estimate how many retainer clients basically I can take at a time.
Ashley Gartland (22:47):
And it's not a perfect science, but you have super users and you have people who use it pretty lightly, the in between stuff, and it averages out so that I'm always able to get my work done in 25 hours a week.
Ashley Gartland (22:56):
So it's really interesting that, once you start playing around with it, and like you said, you can adjust, you can figure out what exactly is going to be in the scope, and you can make sure the price matches and hours match and then move forward from there. So I love that.
Susan Boles (23:08):
Yeah. And I think once you get your behind-the-scenes process, like the process you use deliver your services, the more defined and I call it productized, but the more defined process that you have for delivering each one of your services, the more efficient you get, and the better data you have.
Susan Boles (23:33):
Then, as you start moving into fixed price services, the more profitable you actually get, because then you're ... In a traditional time and materials billing, you'll see this a lot with lawyers or accountants, the financial incentives are really misaligned with the value you're delivering to your client. So if you're billing time and materials, your incentive is actually to take as long as possible to do the thing that you're trying to do, which is totally counterintuitive to actually delivering great customer service.
Susan Boles (24:04):
So the closer you can get to fixed fee packages, there's a lot ... That realigns your financial incentive because you as a provider, the more efficient and effectively you deliver that service, the more profit you actually derive from it. So there's so many benefits to thinking outside of the box with your pricing and packaging services.
Ashley Gartland (24:27):
Yeah. And you can grow more without working more, which I know we're going to get to.
Susan Boles (24:29):
Ashley Gartland (24:29):
But I'll let you move on to the next one.
Susan Boles (24:33):
Now what? That's the question I hear from a lot of service-based business owners. Maybe you've been asking yourself, "Now what?," too. You've built your business from the ground up and your business works. But maybe it's not growing. You keep bumping into a ceiling on how many clients you can take on and maybe how much money you can make.
Susan Boles (24:54):
And maybe now, you're even wondering if your business has staying power. You might be keenly aware of how small challenges could easily balloon into big problems as the market and the economy change. I help entrepreneurs decide how to take action so they can build more resilient business that's primed for growth.
Susan Boles (25:14):
I combine strategic thinking with a background in business finance, data, and operations to see the patterns that have your business bumping against a growth ceiling. I'll show you exactly what you can do to break through and make more money, all while making sure the foundation under your business is strong.
Susan Boles (25:32):
I have a few new client openings for my quarterly or monthly advisory packages. When you work with me, I'll examine your financial reports to spot opportunities. We'll talk about where you're feeling friction and discover ways you can reclaim your time and attention. We'll dig into how to scale your operations without sacrificing quality so you can increase your capacity and make more money.
Susan Boles (25:56):
And each action you take will be informed by strategic financial insight and data-driven operational planning. The result, you'll feel wildly capable and in control. And you'll finally break through that ceiling.
Susan Boles (26:11):
Ready to learn about working with me as your business advisor? Go to ScaleSpark.co/Advisor.
Susan Boles (26:21):
Okay. So the next one is this concept of assuming that you should hire low level administration people because, on the surface, they seem cheaper, versus using technology or more experienced people early on. And what I see happen so often is that, when you're starting out, you're doing everything and you get this feeling of being very overwhelmed. And oftentimes, the common wisdom is, "Oh, you just need to hire people," right? And that's always the first trigger people tell you to pull is, "Oh, you're overwhelmed. You're too busy. Just go hire somebody."
Susan Boles (26:55):
But the reality is that hiring is really expensive. It is usually one of the biggest costs in any business, is actually their team. And it's really, really hard to cut if you need to. So especially in this current scenario, if you had over-hired, it's really, really hard to look somebody in the face on your team and say, "I can't afford to pay you anymore," because once you hire, other people are depending on you to provide for their families or to pay their house bill. And it is very difficult for anyone to look somebody in the eye and say, "I can't pay you. I have to fire you."
Susan Boles (27:33):
So I always recommend that hiring is actually, to me, is the trigger of last resort, because it's really hard to undo once you pull that trigger. But the other aspect is that, unless you are actually prepared as a founder in terms of your team management and with relatively defined processes behind the scenes, if you haven't gotten all the stuff about how you run your business that's in your head, if you haven't gotten that out of your head into something, it can actually cause a bigger headache and more overwhelm when you hire somebody, because then you have to worry about finding the right person, which takes time. You have to interview them or do test projects. You have to train them so that they're effective. And that all takes a big chunk of your time. So on the surface, hiring isn't necessarily the best trigger.
Susan Boles (28:30):
Using technology as an option, especially at the beginning of your business, is really cheap and also super easy to cut if you need to. The software system out there is not going to have their feelings hurt because you're like, "Yo, I can't pay for you anymore." They're used to that. That's their business model.
Susan Boles (28:48):
So in the long run, if you spend some time at the beginning using technology to automate things that ... And there's a lot of parts of the operation and administration of your business that technology is great at, setting up client folders when clients start with you, or a lot of the accounting and invoicing process is a good example as well. That means that not only do you not have to do it, so it takes that off your plate, and later on, when you do decide to hire, nobody else ever has to do that and the people that you hire can spend time doing much more valuable work.
Susan Boles (29:26):
So the other aspect of this is that when you do hire, especially at the beginning, there's real value with hiring very experienced people. Especially if you are new to business or a new business owner, sometimes you don't know what you don't know. And hiring, even if it's just for an outsourced or working with contractors, those people, if you are hiring them for a specific thing, that's all they do. They are really, really, really good at it and they know all of the places where most people get tripped up.
Susan Boles (30:03):
So you don't have to train them. They can actually start training you so you understand what they're doing, you understand that part of your business, and you don't have to go bootstrap it. So if you hire very experienced people at the beginning, one, you don't have to manage them, two, they'll actually train you a little bit. And so you get the dual benefit of getting thee best bang for the buck because you are literally taking advantage of somebody who is the best at doing that thing that you hired them to do and you don't have to have that whole management headache.
Susan Boles (30:37):
So an example of this means is kind of ... One of my clients, he is a public speaker and he teaches courses. And I think his revenue is somewhere in like $750,000 a year. But he went with a strategy of he actually didn't hire any employees and he hired very, very experienced people and let them do their job. So his team actually consists of him as the CEO, he has a COO person who actually runs his operations, he works with me as his CFO, and he has like two contractors that help him write content. And that's it. He has a very, very lean team and very effective at doing what they're supposed to be doing because everybody's coming from a place of expertise. So it can be very, very effective, especially at getting you a lot of traction very early on.
Ashley Gartland (31:36):
Love it. Thank you for setting me up for the transition so beautifully so we don't [inaudible 00:31:41] to scale.
Ashley Gartland (31:41):
But I wanted to touch on two things that you said there. I totally agree. I think that when my clients come in, they're very overwhelmed and overworked. They're like, "I just need to hire a VA," or, "I just need to hire an assistant." That's just what they're hearing and they're totally ignoring the fact that it makes sense to get some systems in place first.
Ashley Gartland (31:58):
And what I think trips people up is when they're like, "I don't know what systems I need," which we can fix, or, "I'm not techy. I don't do software. I don't do systems."
Ashley Gartland (32:05):
So I want to also illuminate an alternative, which is finding out what systems you need and hiring a contractor to help you set those systems up, training on those, and then let those take the place of a hire in your business until you're ready to hire that more experienced person. So I have quite a few clients who are using a Dubsado for their CRM and they're like, "I don't get. It's not for me. I know it could work really well for me. I know it could automate a ton of things, but it's just not my strength to set it up."
Ashley Gartland (32:35):
So there are people who that's their job. You can hire them for a Dubsado intensive, they can set it all up for you, you're set up, and then the systems can take the place of a full-time hire or an always available hire.
Ashley Gartland (32:48):
So I think that's really just something that I wanted to touch on there, that there's also these alternative things to think about.
Susan Boles (32:54):
Yeah. You actually reminded me of another aspect. So like you were saying, most people hire a VA or they hire a bookkeeper, and that's going to fix their problems. But the reality is that most of these folks, unless they're specialized, are entry level people. They are going to execute process that has already been defined. So like a bookkeeper, a bookkeeper is designed to classify the data in your finances. They're not really there ... There are a few now that are starting to do this, but they're not really there to do financial advisory, which is what a lot of people ... They want a bookkeeper to tell them what to do, but that's not a function of a bookkeeper.
Susan Boles (33:36):
And that's the distinction between operating with a bookkeeper versus operating with somebody like an accountant that does advisory or a virtual CFO, where some of them may do bookkeeping, but their goal is to do advisory, use that data in a more effectively.
Susan Boles (33:52):
Similarly, VAs may be there to help you define your process, but that's not all of them. They're not all there to be able to pull what's out of your brain. They might just be there to execute a checklist that you already have.
Susan Boles (34:09):
So think through that level of expertise versus, like Ashley was saying, somebody who is experienced in a particular system or experienced with helping you select the right system. That, to me, is an example of somebody who is an expert that you get a lot of value out of hiring an expert, get your systems, get your foundations and your processes set up, and then that is the thing that allows you to hire that lower level person to execute the process that an expert has helped you design.
Ashley Gartland (34:43):
Yeah. And then it works really well. And I think [crosstalk 00:34:45].
Susan Boles (34:44):
Yes. That is the sequence, where it should be define your systems, then you can bring in a low level person to execute it.
Ashley Gartland (34:51):
Yeah. I see. And it can be hiring someone to help to set them up. I have plenty of clients who it's just about creating their SOPs and it's about literally recording their processes and then passing it off. And then a little bit of a transition stage, right, where you're bringing someone new on board. But I completely agree that it is so much better to do it that way than to be like, "I'm hiring. This is a hot mess. You figure it out."
Susan Boles (35:11):
Ashley Gartland (35:13):
So we're not [crosstalk 00:35:14].
Susan Boles (35:14):
And as somebody who has been the, "This is a hot mess. Help me figure it out," it's so much ... That takes a lot more strategy and big picture vision to help you figure out the process than to execute it.
Ashley Gartland (35:28):
Yeah. So I love this topic. So we're going to keep talking about team. The assumption I wanted to dig into was assuming that you need a big team to scale. So I owned my first business as a solopreneur, pretty much no help. I was a food recipe writer. So occasionally, my husband would do the grocery shopping for the recipe testing, and that was the extent of help.
Ashley Gartland (35:46):
Looking back, I can see so many places where I could have used some help and it would've allowed me to scale the business, but I just couldn't see it then. And I think the reason that I didn't want to scale or I didn't want to build a team then is because I didn't see myself in that role. I was like, "I don't see myself as the manager. I don't see myself ... I don't want an agency. That's not what I want this to look like." And I didn't want to grow the big team and then have this business that I hated.
Ashley Gartland (36:09):
So I think people, either they hear that they need this big team to scale and they decide, "I'm just not going to scale because I don't want that," or they do it and they don't like how their business ends up looking.
Ashley Gartland (36:18):
So I want to propose an alternative, which is that you can build a very small and mighty team for yourself where the people taking ... having those very expert people on your team and having them take ownership of complete tasks. And that can be a really beautiful model for a team that keeps it really lean and really intentional and allows you to scale.
Ashley Gartland (36:38):
So what I like to do with my clients is take a step back from just making those assumptions like, "I need the VA," or, "I need the OBM," or, "I need a bookkeeper," and ask, "Who do you really need?" If we really took a step back and we said, "This is how you need to spend your time to grow your business and run your business," what's left? Where are the areas that we need to fill in the gaps and what person has the right expertise for those that we can bring on as a contractor or bring on as a part-time person?
Ashley Gartland (37:07):
And what's really interesting is most people are like, "I need two people," or "I need three," or I have one client who literally I asked her that question like, "What's the dream team? What are the roles," and she's like, "Five," and she rattled them off exactly. I'm like, "Okay. So that's how we're building."
Ashley Gartland (37:21):
So I think it's just really good to take a step back and ask yourself those questions. The first part of that is really getting clear on your role and what your ... the people at Clockwork would call it your queen bee role or your zone of genius. There's all these labels for it.
Ashley Gartland (37:34):
I really think about what are the things that I need to be freeing up my time to do that are going to serve my clients and grow my business. So for me, that's content, producing content, that's doing the client work, and that's doing collaborations like this. That's the three areas that I need, which means that all the other areas of my business are places that I can actually bring on experts as contractors or as a team to fill in those gaps again.
Ashley Gartland (37:58):
So for that example of the client who wanted five, to make this more tangible for you guys, she runs a bookkeeping agency, like an accounting firm, and she wants it to be really small. She could scale this thing incredibly and she probably will over time. But right now, she's like, "It's a team of five. These are the only services. This is what we want, small and lean." So she needs a bookkeeper, she needs someone to handle taxes, she needs an admin ops person, she needs a marketing lead, and then she needs herself. And that's it. And that's something that she's grown into. This wasn't the team that she had in the second month. This is the team that she has in year two. And what this is allowing her to do is go from the low six figures to multi six figures in her business without working more, without becoming the manager, and just doing the things that she really loves doing and letting other people use their expertise and do the things that they love doing. Now, the business is running like this beautiful, well-oiled machine.
Ashley Gartland (38:49):
So that's one example. When I started my coaching practice, I was still in that, "I'm a solopreneur. I do everything myself" and quickly realized that if I wanted to work 25 hours a week and spend time with my kids and take care of my health, that was not going to be the option that I could pursue.
Ashley Gartland (39:04):
So I ended up hiring a pretty high level person. I ended up going ... skipping over the VA and hiring an OBM because I knew that that was the role that I wanted to grow into. And so we started really small on a project basis, and then she eventually joined my team. So now, I have her as my OBM, there's a VA that works under her, and there's a designer. And there are other people who she has on her team that I bring on additionally if I ever wanted to. But that team of three has been incredibly powerful and has allowed me to ... Last year, I was able to more than double my business because of this team while just working 25 hours a week.
Ashley Gartland (39:35):
So I think that's really helpful for people to hear because it shows you that we're the small team you can scale and you can do it in a way that doesn't have you working all the time. So hopefully, those examples are helpful. But jump in, Susan.
Susan Boles (39:48):
I was going to share my example because it's similar to yours, but in a different way. So I, like Ashley, have a very small team. Technically, it's just me. I'm the only employee of the company. And I don't have any contractors that I work with on a regular, retainer basis. And a lot of that is ... So I hire, I bring in experts, but it's usually on a project basis, like I want to redo my brand or I need some help with a specific copywriting project and I don't feel like writing it myself or I've hired a copywriting coach.
Susan Boles (40:23):
So normally, I am working with specific people on a project for some sort of temporary timeframe. But what I've done is, behind the scenes, almost all of my actual administration is driven by systems and technology that I very consciously put in place so I don't have to do that, I don't have to hire somebody to do it, and also I don't have to remember to do it. I'm very much of ... I don't want to have to remember to do anything. I just want to know that it's going to happen.
Susan Boles (40:54):
And actually, I spoke incorrectly. I do actually work with one contractor all the time, and that is my podcast producer. So they are actually on retainer and they are producing podcasts as my main content. But it's [crosstalk 00:41:12].
Ashley Gartland (41:11):
... a specialized expertise. Yeah, and I love what you said about systems, too. The reason I'm able to have such a lean team and the reason they don't need to work tons of hours to run my business or help me run my business is because we have these beautiful systems that allow not only me to do things more efficiently, but also them to do things more efficiently.
Susan Boles (41:28):
Yes. And so I think if you are making a conscious choice to stay small, which you don't have to. If you want to grow a team, you can absolutely grow a team. And I think it should be a conscious choice whether you want to grow a big team, whether you want to stay small and lean. Some of that has to do with you as a person. Do you want to be a manager of people or a manager of a managers, which is ... If you're thinking a traditional agency model and you are the founder of an agency and you have project managers and you have VPs and that kind of thing, you as the founder become a manager of managers, not anything else.
Susan Boles (42:10):
So when you are thinking about do you want to grow a team, do you want to stay small and lean, some of that is think about what you want to do on a day-to-day basis and if you like managing people or if you don't, because they are also two really different skill sets. In our traditional career world, we give very little training to people who are supervisors and usually promote them based off of them being good at their job, which doesn't necessarily make them good supervisors. And there's not really a great mechanism for folks to learn how to be a good supervisor before they become a good supervisor.
Susan Boles (42:47):
So that's just some ... an aspect to think about when you're trying to make this choice of do you want to be a manager or do you want to actually just do your business and go about your life.
Ashley Gartland (42:59):
Yeah. And I think that's my tie-in back to the default decisions. I think the really important thing is checking that assumption of you can build a big team if that's what you want and that's what you love and that's what you want to do, but that shouldn't be the default decision, right? You shouldn't say, "The only way I can scale is if I have a big team," because there are so many other alternatives.
Susan Boles (43:16):
Yeah. I have seen literally probably 100 different business models and different ways to scale and lean teams getting to a million dollars and giant teams getting to a million dollars. For me, the difference really comes on the back end. A lean, mean team that is very skill-specific, very effective at doing what they're trying to do is super profitable. And when you have a really big team, your benchmark for the revenue that you have to get to in order to make that profitable is so much higher.
Ashley Gartland (43:52):
Susan Boles (43:52):
So for me, that was one of the decisions why I chose to stay small, is because it's super profitable and it's very low risk. I've had very capital intensive businesses before, actual, physical locations, and they're just so much riskier than lean and easily movable, very flexible, responsive, that sort of thing.
Ashley Gartland (44:16):
Yeah. And my whole thing, I'm like, "I love to see people putting more money in their own pocket." I like to see them supported and freeing up their time. But in order to create the life they desire for themself, I want to see their revenue looking really healthy.
Susan Boles (44:26):
Ashley Gartland (44:27):
So well, we touched on this one for a long time. I'll let you go to the next, Susan [crosstalk 00:44:31].
Susan Boles (44:31):
Oh, we're both really passionate about this one, I think. So the next one is assuming that the software tools that your buddy recommended are the best ones for your business and that your software won't change as your business changes. And the truth is that every business is unique because every founder is unique and every business model is unique. So there's no right stack. There's no right software mix for a specific business.
Susan Boles (44:59):
And your buddy that is recommending Asana as your project management tool probably has no idea of the actual workflow that you're doing and whether or not that's actually a good, efficient tool. Maybe it works for them and for their business, or maybe it's actually the only thing they know about. They just threw it out there.
Susan Boles (45:16):
And I see this happen all the time. That's how most folks when they get into business pick their technology, is they're like, "Oh, so and so said QuickBooks was awesome, so I'll just use QuickBooks," or, "Oh, they said Trello. I hate it, but they said that's what I should use and it doesn't at all work for me."
Susan Boles (45:32):
So really, you need to think about your software as an ecosystem. It's all there designed to be a foundation of your business, particularly in an online business. Usually, team is the number one expense and software is the number two expense if they are working remotely. But it's there to support your business, to support your workflow. But it also needs to be customized to your workflow and your business and really how your brain works, how your team works. All of that should go into the software that you're picking for your business.
Susan Boles (46:06):
So when most folks kind of, "Oh, I'll just pick that one," and then slap it on here, and then they get really frustrated when their software is just a tangled mess of Christmas tree lights. And as your business changes, as your business model evolves, maybe you bring in a new revenue stream that requires new technology to administrate, but a good role of thumb is that every time your team triples in size, your operations will change. So that doesn't necessarily mean that your systems have to. If you pick really flexible systems at the beginning, sometimes they can flex. But that's a general rule of thumb that I see that works.
Susan Boles (46:44):
So when you are just a one-person shop, you can get away with really, really simple tools because you don't have to tell anybody. Most of the stuff that you need to remember is actually in your head. You might be able to get away with Asana because it's just a reminder.
Susan Boles (46:58):
But when you start expanding your team into two or three people, you then have to communicate what's going on with other people. You have to get what's in your head out of your head, into something that they can actually execute. And again, when you go from three people to six people, three people, you can hold it together over email pretty well, but when you go to six people, keeping everybody in the loop is a totally different game changer.
Susan Boles (47:23):
So just think about that, that as your business evolves, your systems are going to evolve as well, and they should, and that your buddy who doesn't have a business who told you about this tool may be not the best person to actually recommend something that is a conscious best choice for your business.
Ashley Gartland (47:45):
Yeah. And I also want to say one thing that I see with people here is that they have systems that work really well for their business, and then they hear about something else and they assume that it must be so much better. And so they will spend like three weeks setting up new systems in their business without even needing to for maybe a micro improvement.
Ashley Gartland (48:03):
So I think that, yes, you should check your systems, and yes, you should, as you grow your team or as your business model becomes more complex, you should check to make sure that the systems are a match. But also, you should make sure that you're not doing systems fondling like, "I got to go jump to the next thing," and [crosstalk 00:48:21].
Susan Boles (48:20):
... cost of planning.
Ashley Gartland (48:21):
Yes. And I see my clients do it so often because I think I attract more of the type A, "I love organization. I love systems and tools" type people. And I'm always like, "Let's make sure that it's a good match before you waste your time switching, that you're really going to see the benefits." So I think that's the other assumption to check when it comes to systems and tools, is just because I see this bright, shiny object over here, is it really necessary, is it really going to improve my operational capacity and my efficiency and my business to reform? And if it is, then it's not a default decision. That's discernment, right? And it's [crosstalk 00:48:54].
Susan Boles (48:53):
Yes. And it's actually going to be a [crosstalk 00:48:56] conscious choice.
Ashley Gartland (48:56):
Yes, exactly. And if it's not, then you get to stay where you're at and save all that headache of moving things. And I say this as someone who, last year, when my business really saw a jump in revenue and the team changed a little bit, we needed to change some systems as they took some more things on for me, and it was a month-long process of moving things. And I'm so happy now that it's through and it was intentional and it was the best thing to do, but it was also ... It was a month. And [crosstalk 00:49:23].
Susan Boles (49:23):
Oh, and a month is pretty fast, to be honest. A month is pretty fast when you're talking about swapping systems. And usually, where the benefit comes in is actually ... it's pretty incremental, like you said. If you have a system that is working, oftentimes you're better off trying to work within the system. It's when there's some big, glaring, "Oh, this is actually limiting our ability to communicate as team," or, "This is literally the reason we can't take on more clients or we can't serve more people."
Susan Boles (49:59):
But often, what I see is that folks assume software is going to fix a problem, and the issue is actually not having a process. The process should inform the system, not the other way around. At no point will a shiny new software tool fix your issue if you don't know what you're telling the ... What are you trying to fix with that software?
Susan Boles (50:26):
So I always recommend that people get really clear on what is the problem that they're trying to solve, make sure that the tool that you're using to solve that problem is the right tool. But it should go process, then technology, not the other way around.
Susan Boles (50:40):
Oh, and the other one that we were talking about is when you evaluate your systems. I always recommend that people do a software audit, so run through all of the software that you're using, how much it costs, review them to see if other functionality has come out in the tools that you're using. So once a year is usually more than sufficient, and usually the purpose of that is just to cancel anything you're not currently using and save some money.
Ashley Gartland (51:07):
Yeah, and also just to make your business run better, right? We did this in the summer, and what turned out was I was paying for a tool that wasn't that much. It was like $300 a year or something. But I hated it, my team hated it, and it was costing us money. We moved to free tools that my team loves. Now, they handle all the client onboarding using these two tools and I'm saving myself $300 a month. But the bigger value there is that it's so much more efficient and easier for us to do it.
Ashley Gartland (51:31):
So, yes. Okay. Anything else you want to say on this one?
Susan Boles (51:34):
No. I can go on forever, but [crosstalk 00:51:36].
Ashley Gartland (51:35):
We're coming up on time here so-
Susan Boles (51:37):
Ashley Gartland (51:38):
So the big assumption, we teased this at the beginning, was that assuming that you need to grow more, you need to work more. And I think that we've touched on this at different points in this whole conversation, that a lot of times when people are like, "I want to scale my business," it's, "Okay. How do I take on more clients? How do I bill more hours?"
Ashley Gartland (51:53):
And a lot of times when I see when people are doing that, that's when they come to me and they're like, "I'm in burnout. I am in overwhelm. I'm overworked. This is not working for me." And as someone who wants people to have this business that creates a big, beautiful life for them, that just doesn't sit well with me.
Ashley Gartland (52:06):
So I always like to start, as you guys have done, is I like to start with lots of question. And the question here, "How can I grow more without working more?" And it's really interesting when you give your brain that question and you enter that conversation with a coach and someone who can reflect back to you how many interesting solutions can come up there.
Ashley Gartland (52:22):
And sometimes, it's about increasing your pricing, right? That's the obvious one that comes out, that's, "Maybe I should just increase my pricing." And oftentimes ... or I wouldn't say often. Some of the times, that makes sense. I do see people undercharging themselves and it's like, "Okay. It would make sense to bump your pricing up. And right there, you've increased your revenue without working more."
Ashley Gartland (52:40):
But often, it can also be about changing your business model or about outsourcing some things that are not profitable uses of your time so that you can work the same amount of hours, but just use those hours differently. So on the business model front, like that client I was talking about, the copywriter, she went from done for you, pretty standard prices for her, done for you copywriting to a coaching model where she's able to serve more people in her course. So she gets ... it's more profitable for her. It's not passive income, but it's more profitable. She's doing these coaching intensives, so they're short-term and it's more profitable. And she's working with people long term as a coach. And so, again, more profitable, but she's working the same hours.
Ashley Gartland (53:20):
She's actually still chosen to make that very conscious to keep done for you, but now she's doubled the price on it. So it's at a premium. So she's only doing that with people who are willing to pay the premium to do it.
Ashley Gartland (53:31):
So that's completely changed her revenue potential without requiring her to work more. I think that's a really great example.
Ashley Gartland (53:38):
For me, I didn't really want to change the business model. I really love the one-on-one work. So the question was what can I delegate, what can I outsource so I can work the same amount of hours, but just use those hours differently? So I realized I don't really love social media. I love writing the content, but the picking of the images and creating the graphics and all that stuff, I'm like, "No. Not enjoyable for me."
Ashley Gartland (54:00):
So my team took that on. My team took on client onboarding. They took on a lot of these little pieces that were taking up my time, which increases my operational capacity to do more intensives every month or more one-on-one clients every month, or what I've done this spring is added a new service that's allowed me to add like 10 more clients to my business in a really light service. I couldn't have done that working the hours that I wanted to work if I didn't delegate more and outsource more. So it's just changing the way that you use your time.
Ashley Gartland (54:27):
So I think that can be really helpful. It might also be going back to the systems and the automations. You might be bringing on some tools or software to help you free up your time so you can use more time for revenue generating work. But it looks different for everybody. The point I think I want to make here is that, if you don't assume that you have to work more to grow more, then you see some possibilities that you may not have known existed.
Susan Boles (54:48):
Yeah, I love that. I think there are so many triggers, different triggers you can pull to play around with how much money you're taking home. You may not need to increase sales. Maybe you just need to be more efficient on the back end and reduce your costs there, eliminate unnecessary stuff you're doing. Maybe you can just stop doing something. That's my favorite, is, "Do we actually need to do this thing that we're doing or could we just stop? Does anything happen if we stop doing this?"
Susan Boles (55:20):
So a good example of that is invoicing. Does anything stop if there's not a person sending the invoice? No. Having the computer send the invoice is actually better because nobody has to remember to do it, you get paid faster. So there's a lot of ... Oftentimes, what I find is that we're trying to streamline or make things more efficient later on in the workflow, when really the right question to ask is at the beginning, "Is this something we have to do at all?" And that can be really powerful in terms of just cutting wholesale out a whole bunch of time that you are spending, like your example with social media. Is this something that needs to get done? Yeah. But you don't have to be the one to do it. Literally, just pick it up, take it off your plate, and move on.
Ashley Gartland (56:05):
And is it something that needs to be done at the volume that I was doing before? Social media is such a good example of the being at my coaching practice was like, "Let's give this lots of time, lots of engagement, lots of posts." And over time, I'm slowly move the needle back actually. So my team's just posting like three times a week or two times a week for me. And that is ... it gets the same results.
Ashley Gartland (56:23):
So we're using less time and we're getting the same results. So it's a really smart way to balance things out. I totally agree.
Ashley Gartland (56:30):
I think that that can be a really great question. I feel like when you ask clients, "Do you actually need to be doing this thing, or could you be using it for a revenue generating activity?," you can almost hear the pin drop. It's just dead silence. And they're like, "Oh."
Ashley Gartland (56:41):
And it's that permission giving, right, like you were talking about. Someone finally says, "You don't have to do that thing," and they're like, "Oh, and I can use that time for something much more valuable for me."
Susan Boles (56:50):
Yeah. A great example of this, very early on in my business, I was very susceptible to that, "I should be doing this. I should be doing this. I should be doing this. That's how I'm going to get clients." And yeah, a friend was just like, "But do you ..." I'm like, "I need to be posting on social media. I need to be collecting an email ... I need to have an email list. I need to do all of these things." And the question, "But do you? Is that where your clients actually come from? Are your clients even on social media?"
Susan Boles (57:21):
And at the beginning of my business, the answer to that was actually, "No." So I'm almost four years in and I'm finally like, "Okay. Now it's time for me to start thinking about those additional ways of bringing in clients because my systems of referral and all of those other systems are already working behind the scenes. Okay, great. Now, I can turn my attention to this thing that is going to have significantly less impact actually on my business, and now I have different goals."
Susan Boles (57:53):
So I think the question of, "Is that really something you need to do?" is so powerful because it was so liberating for me to just be like, "Oh yeah. I don't need to do that. I'm just not going to."
Ashley Gartland (58:04):
Yeah. And the answer to that is either everybody stops doing it or I personally don't need to be the person to do it and someone else on my small, lean team can do that.
Susan Boles (58:13):
If you want to connect with Ashley or learn more about what she does, you can find her at AshleyGartland.com or on Instagram as @ashleygartland.
Susan Boles (58:23):
But what I want to leave you with is this. Your decisions matter. They are the bricks that you stack to create what eventually becomes your business. And each decision you make in one area affects all the other areas of your business, because your business is an ecosystem. It's not a bunch of silos. And that's what we will be talking about the rest of this month, how your decisions in each area of your business affect your business ecosystem.
Susan Boles (58:52):
Next week, I'll be talking to Tamara Kemper from Process Mavens about how your decisions around your process affect your business ecosystem. So hit subscribe in your favorite podcast player so you don't miss it.
Susan Boles (59:04):
Break the Ceiling is produced by Yellow House Media. Our production coordinator is Sean McMullin. This episode is edited by Marty Seefeldt with production assistance by Kristen Runvik.