The End Goal of Maintenance Mode, What it Is, and What it Isn't

To wrap up this Maintenance Mode theme, I wanted to take you behind the scenes with my executive producer, Sean McMullin, and talk about what I learned from all my interviews over the last few months and what I experimented with and tried out in my own business.

Susan Boles
July 6, 2021
"Susan reflects on her key takeaways and AHA moments from a season of chats with founders about what maintenance mode is in their business."

Maintenance mode as a topic for the podcast actually came out of a personal capacity crisis.

Like a lot of people, since March of 2020, I've been without child care. With my son in hybrid school all year long, I gradually started having less and less time to devote to ScaleSpark.

I lowered the bar on my expectations for myself and what I could accomplish again and again and again, but there was still stuff that just wasn't getting done.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't sitting around doing nothing. I executed a big business model shift that included piloting my first group program and creating my Not Rocket Finance course.

I got a TON done. But it was a lot less than I normally would have.

Then at the beginning of 2021, I reached a bit of a crisis point.

I couldn't keep trying to shove a full-time business and being a full-time stay-at-home mom/homeschooler into the same hours. Something had to change.

I really started to take a look at what I could stop doing, what needed to change, and what systems I needed to build to take my business from one-to-one client services to a scalable business that could operate in maintenance mode.

And I've spent the last 16 episodes interviewing founders about maintenance mode and consistency, exploring capacity, business model, and techniques to prepare and execute maintenance mode in your business.

So to wrap up the theme, I wanted to take you behind the scenes and talk about what I learned from all my interviews over the last few months and what I experimented with and tried out in my own business.

So I brought my executive producer, Sean McMullin, on the show to interview ME about maintenance mode.

Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • How shifting from big picture problem solving to treating the process of being consistent as a series of small experiments satisfied the need to break things in the business
  • Why you need to figure out how you’re self-sabotaging, then why you’re doing it in order to create effective systems and supports that keep you from it
  • Why maintenance mode isn’t about finding the perfect system but stacking systems that are good enough
  • Steps to start looking for what you can automate, delegate, or make more efficient in what you do every day

Learn more about Sean:

Learn more about Susan:

Episode Transcript

Susan Boles (00:01):

Is freedom. It's freedom of choice to spend time away from your business or to grow something else or to focus on growth in your own business. The investment of the time and the resources and the effort that you put into maintenance mode, it's the beginning of that snowball that makes a difference in the end.

Susan Boles (00:27):

I've spent the last three months interviewing founders about maintenance mode and consistency. If you go back through the feed, there are 16 episodes diving deep into the topic and exploring capacity, business model and techniques to prepare and execute maintenance mode in your business, but to wrap up the theme I wanted to do something a little different. 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 your operational capacity. This maintenance mode topic and journey actually came out of a personal capacity crisis like a lot of the other business owners I talked to. Since March of 2020 I've been pretty much without child care. My son was in hybrid school all year long so throughout the course of 2020 I gradually started having less and less time to devote to Scale Spark. I lowered the bar on my expectations for myself and what I could accomplish again and again and again but it was never actually low enough and there was still always stuff that wasn't getting done. Now, don't get me wrong, I wasn't sitting around doing nothing, I actually executed a pretty big business model shift that include piloting my first group program and creating my not rocket finance course.

Susan Boles (01:46):

I mean, I got a ton done but it was a lot less than I normally would have and everything I did took so much longer. Then at the beginning of 2021 I kind of reached a bit of a crisis point. I couldn't keep pushing off my business to teach virtual third grade and I couldn't keep trying to shove a full time business and being basically a full time stay at home mom and homeschooler into the same hours of the day. Something had to change so I started exploring maintenance mode for my own business, really starting to take a look at what I could stop doing, what needed to change and what systems I needed to build to take my business from one to one client services to a scalable business that could operate in maintenance mode. Just about that time I was talking to my producers about new themes for this podcast. I was kind of stuck and Sean threw out this idea of maintenance mode. It was a term we'd been kind of rolling around for a while and it was a perfect opportunity to dig into a cool theme but also for me to explore the topic deeply while I was working on maintenance mode behind the scenes at Scale Spark.

Susan Boles (02:56):

To wrap up the theme, I wanted to take you behind the scenes in my own business. What I learned from all of my interviews over the last month, what I experimented with and tried out in my own business so I brought my executive producer, Sean McMullin on the show to interview me about maintenance mode.

Sean McMullin (03:15):

Do you want to do any sort of intro or anything or?

Susan Boles (03:17):

No, because so much of my personal journey was the impetus for this theme. It's been really personal in a way that other themes have not. Other themes have been expertise and telling the story and talking about stuff that I already know and I guess the digital privacy theme was a little bit like that but that wasn't stuff that I knew, that was stuff I was exploring and so it was still personal, it related to my values but there was so much from every conversation that I had to take and incorporate into what I was doing or incorporate into my mindset and it ended up being kind of a 12 episode targeted coaching for me where every time I was trying to actually do this because I'd never really had to, maintenance mode didn't have to happen in my business, it just didn't. Working one on one with clients didn't require that kind of business. Now, it meant I couldn't actually take a break, breaks were really hard because clients always needed me and I was always the person working with them but I'd never come up against anything that required me to really think long and hard about what happens if I have to be out of the business because I hadn't had to be out of the business.

Susan Boles (04:33):

If I had, it was something that I planned and could control for and let clients know that I'm going to be out of the office this week. It was just a different kind of business and the shifting from primarily one on one consulting services to courses and programs and more scalable services meant that this was something that had to happen. Also just kind of coming up at the realization that no matter how many times I lowered the bar this year it was never low enough in terms of like my expectation of what I could do and it wasn't really until I came and was listening to the episodes and talking to people realizing that some of that was my mindset, some of that was me just wanting to repeatedly break and solve the same problems because I find it intellectually stimulating and some of it was just that my business kind of hadn't... It wasn't a problem I had to solve until it was. That make sense?

Sean McMullin (05:35):

I think so.

Susan Boles (05:36):

Because system wise I'm really good at systems. If I can figure out the problem that I'm trying to solve I can very easily solve that problem. The issue for me was this need to break stuff. I want to break stuff because it's interesting and it's a challenge and I get to use my brain and I get to think creatively and for me operating as a business is a lot about using creativity in different business models and different modes of operation and that piece of being a business owner really appeals to me but this year has also been really explicitly shown me that that is not... It's not sustainable for me and that it's fine to operate that way when I'm operating at 100% but when I'm operating at 10% of me, it just doesn't work and when I found that I was starting to get really... I was getting really frustrated with what I could accomplish versus what I expected to accomplish and realizing that there's so much efficiency in the consistency in doing the same thing over and over and that in practice while I felt like it was going to be boring, having to talk about the same thing every time, having to do the same thing every time.

Susan Boles (06:57):

What I found was through little experiments where I said, "Cool, I'm going to be consistent at this one thing for this period of time and see what happens," and treating it as an experiment, as what works. What doesn't work. Where did it go wrong and how can I make that better and focusing my need to break and make things more efficient on the process and not on the overall picture kind of satisfied that need to break things-

Sean McMullin (07:24):

Oh, that's interesting.

Susan Boles (07:24):

And not breaking everything.

Sean McMullin (07:27):

There was a way to identify the need behind why you were breaking things, right? Once you identified where that need came from you could find more productive less damaging... You could find more productive ways to satisfy that need.

Susan Boles (07:45):

Yeah, I really had to understand why I was doing the things I was doing and what was it that was keeping me from wanting to accomplish my goals and the example I've used a bunch of times is my email newsletter. For the longest time I didn't send out an email because I couldn't figure out what to write and every time I was like, "I should send an email, and I know that this is important for my business and being consistent and sending emails is very important for my business." I could say that in my head and yet still could not send an email on a regular basis because every time I opened Google Docs or Convert Kit or wherever I was trying to write it, looking at that blank page, blanked my brain out. Even if I had a great idea, I could not write it and we've been talking kind of around mindset and I think this applies not just in maintenance mode but in business as a whole is trying to figure out why you are sabotaging yourself because we all do it. We all do it in very different and very creative ways sometimes and figuring out that you are doing it is kind of the first step and then figuring out why you're doing it is the second step.

Susan Boles (08:55):

Then there's this third step of what systems or environment can I put in place? What can I do to create support, create a system that helps me not do that thing, that helps make it easier for me to not do that thing? That's been really powerful for me is identifying where I'm throwing a wrench or where I am sabotaging myself and creating structure or a system or a process or even just environmental design kind of things into this is no longer a decision that I have the opportunity to self sabotage it. Now, it's not a decision for me to send an email newsletter, I'm not emotionally like... It's not an emotionally fraught decision anymore where it was because it was this thing that I should do and I'm supposed to do and I'm not doing it so there was a whole lot of like emotional burden built up behind that and it's not a decision now, it's just a habit. It's just a fill in the blank another task on the list.

Sean McMullin (10:00):

Well I think it takes quite a bit of self awareness to even get to that point, to identify what that fill in the blank, what you need from that. We always talk about people and their attempts at productivity hacks and the things that they do to keep themselves on to do their to do list but it doesn't matter what it is, unless it works for you it's not going to work.

Susan Boles (10:19):

Yes, exactly.

Sean McMullin (10:21):

To not just create that system for yourself where you don't really have a choice and it's a particular... It's yours. It's personalized to you.

Susan Boles (10:30):

It's mine. It's personalized to me and the specific way that I sabotage myself.

Sean McMullin (10:38):

Let's back up just a little bit. There is a question we've talked about and I'd like to kind of take a step back. We've been talking a lot about maintenance mode and this series that you've done on the podcast around maintenance mode. One of the things as Lou and I were working with these episodes, it was kind of a common thing that I noticed was one, the term maintenance mode sort of was a surprise to people. The term maintenance mode didn't mean the same thing for every person and it almost had to be explained to them in a way before they'd be like, "Oh yeah, yeah. I do that," but I wonder a couple of things. It sounds like maintenance mode is going to be different for... It has to be personalized to kind of what we're talking about and I wonder after having talked to all these people how you would define maintenance mode in a general sense but more specifically what that means specifically for you.

Susan Boles (11:34):

Yeah. I think you're right. I think it's personalized to every founder, every business. It's going to mean something a little bit different and it's going to look a little bit different in every business and for me I guess after having talked to a whole bunch of different people and gotten a whole bunch of different definitions and perspectives for me it's really about figuring out how to have your business continue to run and exist without you. Not permanently, not forever but have the confidence in the process and the team and what you've built to know that if you have to step away for a day or if you want to take a vacation for a week or you have to be gone for a month that nothing is going to break, nothing's going to come crashing down and I think I know I am guilty of this and I'm sure it applies to a lot of people is that I never felt like I could genuinely take a break. Really take a vacation where you're not doing anything. You're doing nothing related to the business, you're not checking email on the beach, you're not... I'm just going to connect for that one Zoom call from the patio and really genuinely being able to say, "I'm not going to be here this month." It's going to be okay.

Susan Boles (12:58):

It can be really challenging to figure out how to make that actually happen in your business but also there's just so much freedom that comes with that because it gives you permission to actually take a break and actually step away and I think that break is really, really necessary for a lot of people and it's also very hard to come by if your business is not set up, if you're not thinking about it in a way of what if something happened and I couldn't be here?

Sean McMullin (13:29):

You know, it's so interesting, we had talked on that what works interview that I don't remember what the timing is as far as when this Break The Ceiling episode's going to come out relative to when the what works episode is going to come out.

Susan Boles (13:44):

I think they're pretty close.

Sean McMullin (13:45):

Yeah but I brought up the analogy of maintenance mode and autopilot mode and now based upon what you have just said I no longer think that autopilot actually is maintenance mode because-

Susan Boles (14:04):

See, and I loved the idea of autopilot because I think that's exactly what it is.

Sean McMullin (14:12):

Well, I think what I'm thinking is you need to sort of... The autopilot idea sort of needs be expanded beyond just autopilot to a fleet of airplanes or something, I don't know, because the idea being is you're the pilot and you put it onto autopilot. Someone still needs to be there. You can't like go take a nap, right?

Susan Boles (14:36):


Sean McMullin (14:36):

Or I don't know, maybe they can.

Susan Boles (14:38):

For some businesses, you could go full autopilot. You know, if you have a business where you're selling templates or tools or some sort of thing where you could go for a window without having to do customer support, customer support is the piece of that is really difficult to put on autopilot. Somebody has to be there or you have to set the expectation that nobody's there. I don't think you need a fleet of airplanes. I think you need somebody and what that somebody looks like depends on what your business looks like. If there's a lot of stuff that has to happen day to day, for example if you do one on one client services, that's really difficult to put on autopilot unless you have somebody who can be you for that client. You either have to find somebody to be you which is what some people do where they create a fleet of coaches or you have to set the expectations with clients that sometimes you're just not going to be around and make that up front. I think how monitored your business has to be really has a lot to do with your business model and what you're actually delivering and how it's delivered and I think in a course style business that's going to look really different than an agency or a consulting business where you're working one on one with clients on complicated projects. I loved the autopilot analogy.

Sean McMullin (16:04):

Yeah, you throw in copilot and you throw in yeah and then you've got... You can really work on that analogy.

Susan Boles (16:13):

Yeah, I love it and I'm stealing it just to let you know.

Sean McMullin (16:15):

You should because you're going to write a book called maintenance mode or something aren't you? I just know you are.

Susan Boles (16:18):

We'll see, we'll see. I am really really interested in the concept for sure.

Sean McMullin (16:30):

Because to use the autopilot analogy you couldn't even... The existence of a button that's I'm just in my mind there's a big red button that says autopilot and you push that button and then everything just goes [inaudible 00:16:43], Captain Sean you can now take a nap. There is so much work that goes into getting that plane to where it even has an autopilot button let alone so that you can... So that as a pilot when you push that button that you trust that it's actually going to work. In your business maintenance mode requires quite a bit of preparatory work.

Susan Boles (17:09):

It does and I think that's the end goal of maintenance mode is to get to where you have an autopilot button. Where there is a button where you could say, "And push. I'm taking a nap. Push I'm taking a vacation." The goal of maintenance mode is to get to where you have an autopilot and I agree, there is definitely a lot of work to prepare to be at that point, especially when you think about all the little tiny processes and things that happen every day in your business and so I think it's a gradual evolution to get to that point and it requires you to step back and think kind of strategically. It is really hard to get to the point where you have an autopilot without looking at the big picture of your business and consistently putting effort towards that goal. It's not going to happen without intention because it's too easy to run a business and react to everything that happens instead of making decisions and building systems to get to the specific goal of having an autopilot button. That's not to say that it has to be hard or big or overwhelming. Autopilot, maybe it just doesn't take you that long. Maybe you already have existing processes and you just have to think about how to make them a little more smooth, a little more automatic, a little more delegated. Maybe you could delegate parts of the process.

Susan Boles (18:44):

Being able to do a little bit at a time and creating one process and stacking that on the next one and the next one and the next one and eventually you get to the point where it is at that autopilot point and I think for me the issue of getting to the autopilot point was wanting to solve the same problem in the same part of my business over and over and over because that's the stuff that I'm interested in. For the longest time it was project management systems which I love. They're the best but it is a surface level problem. A lot of us, we think that perfect project management system is going to solve the problem of capacity, and communication and all I need to be able to get into maintenance mode is the perfect project management system. The truth is it's not the system, it's how you use it.

Susan Boles (19:42):

There's a lot of nuance to that and for the longest time I would just switch systems thinking that it was going to solve the problem, not realizing that all I was doing was just solving the same problem over and over and over instead of making one problem solution good enough, moving onto the next one. Trying to get the next one good enough. Moving onto the next one. Make it good enough and instead I just wanted to iterate through the parts that were most intellectually interesting to me and realizing that maintenance mode is the result of stacking a whole bunch of good enough processes and then sure, go back and refine and edit and putting in processes doesn't mean that it has to be like that forever but it's make a decision, use that decision over and over and over until it's time to revise the decision. That part was really a challenge for me was just solving the same problem. I was having the same discussion, trying solve the same problem in different ways even though the solution to the problem was good enough. It was fine. It didn't need to be perfect.

Sean McMullin (20:51):

Well, and it will never be perfect.

Susan Boles (20:54):

It will never be perfect. The journey of owning a business is not a straight flat line, it is ups and downs and roller coasters and falling flat on your face and huge successes and all of those things are going to change what you need in your business but if you can get this base level foundation built the stuff that you need for maintenance mode to create an autopilot it's the same stuff that you need to create to scale your business efficiently. It's the same tools, it's the same processes, there's just two different end goals and to me the end goal is freedom. It's freedom of choice to spend time away from your business or to grow something else or to focus on growth in your own business. The investment of the time and the resources and the effort that you put into maintenance mode, it's the beginning of that snowball that makes a difference in the end. Even tiny investments can have really big payoffs. One of the examples that I really like to use when I'm talking about increasing your capacity is finding time savings that maybe it's just five or 10 minutes every time you do something and a really good example is something like text expander or Alfred where it's a software program that allows you to create snippets and basically use a hotkey to plop a snippet of something down.

Susan Boles (22:25):

It's not a huge amount of time saving all at once, maybe it's saving you 30 seconds where you had to go look for your template or 10 seconds by not having... I use it for like URL's all the time so like all my social links I've got a clip. But if you look at it as well, this is something that I do three times a day, if you can save 10 minutes three times a day, 30 minutes is a huge chunk. 30 minutes times five days a week, times 52 weeks a year times five years, that's monumental return on investment and it is such a tiny effort and pretty low cost too. So I think sometimes we tend to overestimate the amount of effort that a lot of this takes and underestimate the payoff.

Sean McMullin (23:20):

One of the biggest challenges that I've personally had with that is outside of the having the experience to be able to know what to expect is one thing but additionally... I have a new business and I'm so in the weeds working on the business that creating those systems that will eventually have the payoff, I so often feel like I don't have the time to even create them because I'm so in it and-

Susan Boles (23:54):


Sean McMullin (23:54):

But to your point of just incrementally one thing at a time-

Susan Boles (23:59):

One thing at a time.

Sean McMullin (23:59):

As I'm doing that I've reached this point where I no longer constantly feel like I'm in the weeds.

Susan Boles (24:05):

Yes, it's a gradual thing and one of the things that I like to encourage is if you're doing something that you do on a regular basis, start with stuff that you do all the time. Figure out if it's something that you're eventually going to delegate or automate or if it's just documentation that you're creating to be able to train somebody to do the thing that you need to do as your backup but a really easy way to start is just create a Loom video while you're doing something. While you're doing the thing that you do all the time, make a video recording and talk through what you're doing. Even at the base level if you don't make it any more complicated than that, that's onboarding material if you hand it off to somebody, it is you could give it to a VA, they could turn it into a checklist or a template task or find another place to put it and it doesn't take you a lot of effort because you're just doing the thing that you normally do and maybe you're talking about what and why you're doing it or you're explaining the thought process. If you have to make a decision at some point, here's how I'm thinking about this decision.

Susan Boles (25:11):

The time is really minimal and the payoff is you're creating all of these resources and assets that you can reuse over and over and over. The same way if you answer client questions and you answer the same question a hundred times, create a email template or make a Loom video that you can send to every client and eventually that can become a resource library that you give clients access to because you've answered all of their questions already. Little investments of time. None of those take a big amount of time. They're not a separate task or a project or anything that you have to do, you're just documenting while you're doing and you have eliminated a lot of the problems like when we go to hire and we're not quite ready because we don't have documented processes or we don't know exactly what we're hiring for, well you've solved that problem. You can hire when you get overwhelmed instead of having to be worried about how to I onboard this person and all of those things. You at least have basics done. It doesn't have to be this big involved thing. It can just be a little bit at a time.

Susan Boles (26:22):

Something like creating a checklist for yourself as you're following a process to make sure that you don't miss anything and you don't have to try and remember what you're supposed to do with each step can be really powerful in terms of increasing your capacity, your team's capacity and it's one of those things where the first time you kind of have to take it on faith. You have to approach it as an experiment of going to give this a try. I'm going to see how it goes and usually what happens is you immediately see the benefit of having invested this time and effort. The payoff is there in that you don't have to remember what you're supposed to do or it doesn't take you as much time because you're not looking for the links everywhere. That payoff is like a little dopamine hit that says, "Oh, remember that felt really good? Where else can we do that?" I always like to say, "Find something really easy to start with and see the payoff and that payoff kind of gives you the incentive to keep working towards that maintenance mode goal. I have a question for you.

Sean McMullin (27:25):

Oh yeah. Lay it on me.

Susan Boles (27:28):

You have a different perspective on this and you also have a very different business than I do. Your business is very dedicated to process. You're doing the same thing with every episode, every time on every show and for me consistency came through on a lot of my interviews as a central theme and it was a focusing on consistency as a way to get to maintenance mode was a core concept for me to internalize. Now I have don't break it and consistency is efficiency and those are my two... That's what happens in the back of my head. What helps you stay or become consistent in your own work? When you've struggled to be consistent, what's helped you be more consistent?

Sean McMullin (28:14):

Well, a lot of what you've been talking about, templatization, system tracking. The biggest thing for me is making sure that the information is in front of me where I need it, when I need it so that I can repeat it again and everything that we do, everything is documented and designed to be recreated.

Susan Boles (28:41):

It's interesting. For you, you're talking about Yellow House as a new company which it is but it is also a second company.

Sean McMullin (28:53):

Well yeah, I mean jeez, we totally have the advantage of that.

Susan Boles (28:56):

I mean not second company but multiple company so you're not coming into it with no reference. You and Tara specifically before it even existed as a company said, "Cool. How do we design this so that there's autopilot and we can... The intention of the business wasn't we're going to be in this forever, this is our passion and our baby and you designed the business specifically with the assumption that you would not be at some point in the future operating in it or that you didn't have to be.

Sean McMullin (29:33):

Yes. That we could take a step back from a certain level of responsibility and potentially at some point entirely.

Susan Boles (29:43):

Yeah and I think it's interesting because that thought process, that perspective, that mindset was the incentive to document it every step of the way because you knew that was the end goal. You knew you were going to hand that off to somebody at some point and I think a lot of business owners don't think about that eventuality. We don't think about businesses as what if I had to sell this one day? Or very few. Very few service business providers are going, "How do I create this business to be something that I could sell at some point or to be something that... How do I take a step back? How do I design this into the DNA so that I'm very aware that my goal is autopilot is maintenance mode.

Sean McMullin (30:33):

And along those lines and sort of parallel to that or in conjunction with that is the growth within it because the entire model of Yellow House in theory there is no limitation to the growth because all you ever do is you just add another person into a certain level of responsibility and continue to grow and then you build another team after that-

Susan Boles (31:00):

Just add a side on the org chart [crosstalk 00:31:01] them and-

Sean McMullin (31:01):

I'm not 100% sure if this applies but it's like fractaling out right? It's just an algorithm that continues to grow and I'm not suggesting that that's the way that we want to go or that we should go but this templatizing, this reproduction of systems to be able to be recreated and/or handed off there is potential for constant growth there.

Susan Boles (31:28):

Yeah, in the same way that a lot of marketing agencies do this kind of pod structure where they have a creative director, an editor, and a client services person and they just add more pods on and I know a lot of accounting firms are doing similar structures. It's like a modular-

Sean McMullin (31:47):


Susan Boles (31:47):

Just a modular system.

Sean McMullin (31:49):

Modular system.

Susan Boles (31:50):

No, and I think it's interesting because it applies the kind of modular system applies for certain kinds of businesses and the way you describe it is exactly what I'm talking about when I say that aiming for maintenance mode means infinite scalability which is add on another pod and also the freedom to take a break. There's nothing that you're going to do tactically that is different. If I say, "Cool. Design this business to scale," or design this business to take a break." The skills and the tools and the tactics you use are pretty much identical and the end result is choice about are you using that freedom? Are you using that time? Are you using that resiliency to create space or to create growth but the actual actions are the same.

Sean McMullin (32:48):

Do you know one challenge that comes to my mind is that as we talk about and I'm be curious what you have to say about this. As we talk about building things in sort of a very consistent modular way that everything is theoretically very repeatable and consistently the same thing over and over. You do throw in an unpredictable variable which is your client and that there's a couple of things. They are unpredictable and right?

Susan Boles (33:22):

Aren't they? Every client, everywhere.

Sean McMullin (33:25):


Susan Boles (33:26):

For everybody.

Sean McMullin (33:28):

I would say that there has to be somewhat of a flexibility to receive their expectations and their needs. I mean for sure you establish this is what we provide and there's a limit to the needs that we will satisfy because we're not the right fit for you. You can find your needs met elsewhere but one of the things as you and I are talking about this that I am somewhat cautious about is that I don't know the... I'm trying to find a really nice way to say this. All clients consider themselves to be very, very special.

Susan Boles (34:08):

Sure, yeah. Are you telling me that I am not special?

Sean McMullin (34:12):

Oh you're special. But for some people that I can specifically think of it wouldn't be very satisfying for them to know that they are basically an element that's basically dropped into a plug and pay system.

Susan Boles (34:27):


Sean McMullin (34:29):

That is not really like, "Well wait a second. I'm bringing something amazing into the world. You can't treat me like this." Some element in there, there has to be this human element and that's why a lot of these system and whether or not it's me that does it or somebody who I've hired to do it, working directly with that client and those needs and working with the emotional elements of it does kind of put a spin on things.

Susan Boles (34:58):

I agree and also I think there is... There's room for both. There is the ability to say, "Here's how we work. Here are our boundaries, here's the process which I argue in a lot of areas is actually competitive advantage. Saying that you have a defined process, saying that there's a specific timeline, saying that here's how we work and we've done it a lot of times. We know this works because I personally... I look for those people that say I've got a process. Here's how long it's going to take, here's how much it's going to cost. Knowing that they've done their process over and over and over and I can have confidence that they are going to stick to their deadlines, that it's going to stick to the price, that I am clear on the expectations because they have done this spiel a bunch.

Sean McMullin (35:49):


Susan Boles (35:50):

That can be a true competitive advantage and you can say like hey, if that doesn't work for you then we're not a good fit. You can stick to your guns on the process but also that you can find ways to make the process both efficient and human. Email templates don't have to be written by a robot. They can be the real template that you would really send somebody and really in your voice. For example, I used the example of my onboarding email which is automated and most people would probably be surprised that it's automated but it's automated and it's the real template that I would send everybody, the information that I would change is I'm pulling it from other places, it's personalized to them and they get the information right away. They're not waiting on me to personalize it so it's a better client experience for them. They know what the process is, they know what I need from them, they know how to submit it, all of those things but it's still from me. It's still human, it's still exactly what I would say even if I was writing it over and over and over. I think being able to recognize that just because it's efficient doesn't mean it needs to not be human and genuine and authentic and friendly and that those things can both be true.

Sean McMullin (37:22):

I agree and-

Susan Boles (37:24):

And you don't have to tell them that it's automated. I mean if you work with them it's clearly, it's automated.

Sean McMullin (37:32):

Most people that I work with are refreshed that... They just want something brief. They don't need me to be like, "Hey how's your dog?" They just want the information so they can move on with their lives. I can tell you from a personal mindset place where my personal challenges of going into something resembling maintenance mode because we're trying to do that this summer. We're trying to take a month off and oh my gosh I don't even know how it's going to happen. It's my mindset stuff that this personalized element, this human element but I need to be there. I need to be hands on. They need me. It's my personality that keeps them sticking around. It's because they like me. These are mindset things.

Susan Boles (38:26):

Yeah. I mean, that's yes an no.

Sean McMullin (38:28):

Yes and no.

Susan Boles (38:31):

As a client I don't care if you're the person editing my stuff. I don't actually care if you're the one sending out emails. I don't care if you're the one creating the social media stuff and yet you are the reason that I still work with you guys but it's conversations like this where I go, "I don't have an idea for a theme. Help." And you go, "What about maintenance mode? That sounds interesting." Which is literally how this mode... That's how this theme happened.

Sean McMullin (39:09):

I know.

Susan Boles (39:09):

I keep hearing this term maintenance mode and me going, "That's fantastic. Let's do that." That's literally how this epic theme happened was that conversation and so I think it's recognizing where does that personalized touch matter and where does it not?

Sean McMullin (39:20):

Right, right, right. Well and it sounds like maintenance mode also is not a permanent mode.

Susan Boles (39:27):

Yeah, I don't ever really envision... I don't ever envision maintenance mode being a thing forever.

Sean McMullin (39:36):


Susan Boles (39:36):

It's a system that operates behind the business that gives you flexibility, it makes systems more resilient, gives you the opportunity to focus on other stuff and it does give you the freedom to step away for however long you need to or go on a vacation or focus on scaling but I think there's seasons in our businesses. No matter what kind of business you're in, there's a season. You're either in a growth season, you're in a maintenance season, you're happy where you are and just trucking along, maybe you've got a personal crisis going on that you just can't deal with your business right now. It's designed to help keep the need of time and energy and resources in your business to a minimum of what you have to invest and making sure that what you are investing is really valuable. That you're spending your time on high value things, that your team is spending their time on high value things. It makes everybody's job more interesting. Nobody wants to do boring stuff like sending invoices. Even bookkeepers who that's their job, they don't want to be spending their time doing invoices. We all want to be focusing on stuff that really rewarding and interesting and maintenance mode is a way that that happens.

Susan Boles (40:48):

The more I have put different areas of my business into maintenance mode where the base level operating stuff just happens the more I get to focus on creativity. We know what the process looks like. Instead of spending any energy with the process all the energy goes to the creative parts. It goes to thinking about new themes or figuring out cool guests or coming up with cool ideas for episodes and investing that time in editing the episodes or trying new stuff. Zero percent of my energy goes to the logistics now. All of my energy can go to the creativity. Instead of having to be at 100% in your business all the time, all of your energy focused, maintenance mode is the thing that allows you to keep it running even if you're only at 10%.

Sean McMullin (41:43):

You're right.

Susan Boles (41:45):

That 90% that's left over after bare minimum operating is the stuff you get to play with. You can experiment with, you can do more cool stuff with. You can spend more time with clients, you can spend more time with your family, you could do literally anything else with that 90% but it's about the idea that it doesn't take 90% of you to operate the business, it takes 10. I don't think maintenance mode is anything you ever really finish and check off in your business. I think you can get to basically minimum viable maintenance mode where you've gotten the basics down. There are systems in place then it's mostly there. Then I think you have to start stress testing it. Seeing where there are weaknesses or stuff that needs to be improved or shored up. Once you've gotten to maintenance mode it's easier and more efficient for sure but it's still not maintenance free. Over time though you can improve, refine and upgrade all the systems that run maintenance mode but by getting to minimum viable maintenance mode you've created the capacity both time and head space to be able to do those upgrades. After you get to that minimum viable maintenance mode it's time to take a break. Reward yourself for all your hard work and take advantage of what you've just built.

Susan Boles (43:01):

Maintenance mode gives you freedom and breathing space to choose what's next but it's also a lot of work to get to that point so when you get there take some time and rest. If you liked this episode, please share it with someone you think could benefit from it.

Susan Boles (43:17):

Break The Ceiling is produced by Yellow House Media. Our executive producer is Sean McMullin. Our production coordinator is Lou Blazer.