Susan Boles (00:04):
I've been spending a lot of time this year thinking about capacity. It's always been a topic for me with my clients. A lot of the work I do focuses on helping clients streamline their operations to increase their capacity without increasing their costs or business complexity. But this year, and last I've been spending a lot of time thinking about my own capacity because I haven't had much, and that capacity I do have seems to get smaller and smaller and smaller both in the actual amount of time available to me, but also in my capacity to be able to take on new work, new projects. Everything seems to take longer and be harder than normal over the last year because it hasn't been normal. I long for the days when school comes back and childcare exists again.
Susan Boles (00:55):
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.
Susan Boles (01:07):
ScaleSpark actually started as an outgrowth of me running businesses and holding a full-time job. We owned a guest ranch and then a brick-and-mortar store. I worked full-time and also ran all of the back ends of those operations, and I had to figure out a way to make that backend run seamlessly and efficiently because I only had maybe an hour or two a day before I went to my day job to run it, and that need to be really effective with my time led me to software. I used software tools to make the operations mostly run without me. Understanding how to use technology to boost capacity was something I had to learn for my businesses to survive. Eventually, I started ScaleSpark to help other businesses harness those tools and boost their own capacity.
Susan Boles (01:53):
So it feels weird to say that capacity has been a real issue for me over the last year, because increasing capacity is one of my core competencies. It's one of the things that I'm really great at, but when school and work and parenting all overlap without any real support systems for over a year, you can systematize and plan all you want, it doesn't make it any easier to get through. Not to mention the collective grief and trauma that we're all trying to work through that at least for me has created this kind of heavy film of exhaustion over every minute of the day, which sounds kind of bleak, and honestly, some days it is. But what it led me to was thinking about my business in a new way. It pushed me back into those days when I had a business and a full-time job, when time is at an absolute premium.
Susan Boles (02:45):
So the first question I asked was what can I just stop doing? It actually turned out that there was a lot of stuff that when I really examined it, wasn't bringing value into my business, but it was actually sucking up my time. Stuff like hours on social media quote engaging with folks or changing my services or my website or my email opt-in just because I had the time to mess around with it. I needed to get my business back to a place where if I needed to, I could set it and forget it; maintenance mode.
Susan Boles (03:16):
Now I think of maintenance mode as that stage in your business where it kind of runs itself, where you have systems and processes and everyone knows what they're supposed to be doing and the train just keeps rolling. And because I was thinking about maintenance mode for my business, I started to notice lots of other people talking about maintenance mode too, and I wanted to explore the idea here on the podcast. So that's where we're headed for the next little here on the show. We're going to be exploring capacity and maintenance mode. For this first episode, I wanted to figure out what maintenance mode means to different people and what it looks like in different kinds of businesses.
Susan Boles (03:56):
I started asking podcast guests and people around me, what maintenance mode meant to them, and I never got the same answer twice. And interestingly enough, when I started looking for guests for this theme I went searching for people who were in maintenance mode in their business, it was actually really hard to find them because almost no one seemed to think they are in maintenance mode. It seems to be this far off future place or state that they're aiming for.
Susan Boles (04:24):
For this week's episode I pulled together some of the answers I heard from these conversations into a single episode to explore what maintenance mode really is and what it looks like from a lot of different perspectives. First is Anna Wolf. She's the CEO and owner of SuperScript Marketing, which is a content marketing agency for financial brands. She has a team at her agency and she's spent a lot of time building systems and doubling down on what she's really good at.
Anna Wolf (04:55):
I think if you're growing, you're just never in maintenance mode. The whole growth question it's a tough one. When do you stop growing? I mean, it kind of feels like as a tiny business, you're always growing, even if you don't want to be Amazon one day. There's this assumption that there's always more growth on the table. For me, I only recently in the past few years started to see people say, "Oh, I think this is enough. I'm there. I'm at my kind of limit," or, "This is how far I want to go, and so now I'm focused on maintenance mode."
Anna Wolf (05:40):
I'm not answering your question very well because I think it's, yes, we're in a level of maintenance mode. There are certain things that this is how we do them and they work really well and we feel really good about them and our clients are happy with them. I've already mentioned a few of them, like the way that we process new content or how we manage our content production process. As I said, we are still growing. We're sort of designing for a maintenance mode at five times the revenue that we are making right now, or three times the number of team members that we have right now. Whether we're doing that correctly or not remains to be seen. We'll get there and we'll see.
Susan Boles (06:28):
You won't know until you get there.
Anna Wolf (06:29):
Exactly. Yeah. I think there is a maintenance mode going on and then there's a growth mode and they're both happening simultaneously. This past year, I think has been a lesson to so many people, myself included that you just don't know. Things can just change. The rug can be pulled out from underneath you at any moment, and anything you thought you planned for so perfectly could be totally the wrong move. What thrives is resilience. It's basically this ability to be flexible and to let go of stuff that you thought was going to work and then it turned out it didn't.
Anna Wolf (07:18):
So I think that that is maybe the muscle that we're trying to build versus this idea of getting to the top of the mountain and okay, now we're in maintenance mode, like that's some sort of destination. I think it's just always going to be a journey and it's ongoing. Leaving it open-ended like that can be scary, but I think it's just also more realistic.
Susan Boles (07:47):
I loved Anna's idea of growth mode versus maintenance mode, and this idea that you can sort of be in both at the same time, that building and growth mode is building for maintenance mode at some multiple of your existing size, that you're building maintenance mode for the future.
Susan Boles (08:05):
This is really the same concept behind scaling a business. The skills and systems and tools that you would build and develop for maintenance mode are pretty much the same as the ones you would build for scaling because the idea behind both concepts is to get the bottlenecks and the excess unnecessary steps out of the way. So whether you're building systems and processes with the intention of putting your business in maintenance mode, or whether you're prepping to scale, internally it looks pretty similar. Either way, the focus is on increasing your capacity, whether you're going to use that additional capacity to serve more customers and clients, or to allow you to take a step away to breathe.
Susan Boles (08:48):
Our next clip is from Ryan Lazanis. He is the founder of Future Firm, which helps accounting firm owners grow an online scalable firm that supports their ideal lifestyle. Future Firm has an online community membership, group programs and one-on-one consulting with Ryan. Ryan thinks about maintenance mode more in terms of how much work a specific product takes up his time?
Ryan Lazanis (09:13):
I think about that base tier that I have in Future Firm Accelerate, the product is out there, and if a million people sign up to it or a hundred people sign up to it it's the same amount of work to a certain extent. It's not a one-to-one ... Yeah, how can I answer this? I automatically think about my base tier; 75 bucks a month, Future Firm Accelerate, you get online courses, you get a community that I pop into every so often to see how everyone's going. I do a monthly ask me anything call. And for me, that's maintenance mode. Whereas some of my other tiers, I would not consider that maintenance mode because there's an online coaching component where I'm actually messaging back and forth with people. So I can't onboard 10,000 people into those plans because that would not be maintenance; that's actually doing work at a certain point in time.
Susan Boles (10:12):
For Ryan with a more productized business than Anna, he thinks about maintenance mode on a more product-by- product basis. So which products don't require him to be as involved and which ones can run on their own without requiring him to spend much time to make sure that they're running. Maintenance mode in a course or community-based business like Ryan's is going to look a lot different from maintenance mode in a client or service-based business like Anna's agency. With digital products or courses, the real focus is on scaling on making sure that you can deliver what you promised over and over again, and designing systems to handle that volume is the key.
Susan Boles (10:51):
Ryan can build systems using technology that basically deliver his services for him, and he could step away for a while without any of his clients really noticing. But Anna has new clients coming in the door all the time with unique requirements. Each client requires individual work, so without a team, clients would really notice if Anna just took off for a month or two. The two businesses are different so their maintenance modes are also going to look different.
Susan Boles (11:18):
One of my favorite descriptions of maintenance mode came from an interview I did back in August with Tamara Kemper. It's episode number 43. Tamara is the founder of Process Mavens. Just like me, her job is basically to help clients get in maintenance mode. Her focus is on systematizing and documenting processes. And she said this.
Tamara Kemper (11:39):
For me, it means that everyone is clear on what they own in the business, and that means not only the things that they do, but also the outcomes that they're supposed to be responsible for and that they know how to do those things. So that may mean that you've just written everything down, it may mean that you've got some really amazing systems built that kind of makes sure that you do them repeatedly and reliably same way every time. But really it's just having that clarity of here's how we do things, here's who does what, and here's what the outcomes are that drive us to our business's success.
Susan Boles (12:25):
Tamara perfectly explained exactly why process can be so powerful for increasing your capacity, whether that's for maintenance mode, scaling, or just to make your job take less time. Having a process means you make a decision once, and then you basically reuse that same decision over and over and over. You decide what a certain process looks like, figure out the steps and then you just follow the checklist.
Susan Boles (12:52):
Defining a process is the first step of preparing to enter maintenance mode and not spending time, essentially making the same decision over and over, which is what you do when you operate without defined processes. Well, that means you have to take more time and more brain space away from other more important decisions. So you define the process, you document it, and then you just use it. If that sounds kind of intimidating, break it into the tiniest part, like creating an email template for an email that you send all the time or creating a quick reference checklist for each step in the onboarding process so you don't miss a single one.
Susan Boles (13:32):
Now while maintenance mode and processes and systems have been what I work on with clients, it's a key part of my work. Getting into maintenance mode on my own business has been a little bit challenging for me, and maybe you can relate.
Susan Boles (13:46):
Here's a short clip from a conversation that I recently had with one of my producers, Sean McMullen, from Yellow House. I was supposed to be interviewing him to get a clip for this episode and he managed to turn it around and ended up interviewing me. We were talking about the idea of maintenance mode versus startup mode. In startup mode, it's about getting everything up and running and really just moving towards the next thing versus maintenance mode, where it's all about consistency. I've always thought of myself as more of a startup CEO, someone who comes in, get stuff set up and then moves on. I've never really stuck around long enough to have to figure out maintenance mode, and now I'm having to do that for ScaleSpark. So I'm having to think about maintenance mode in a whole new way.
Sean McMullen (14:33):
Maintenance mode as we're calling it, it's something you find challenging a little bit.
Susan Boles (14:40):
Oh, absolutely. I am a startup CEO. I am very good at starting things, fixing things. My whole career professionally was based off of me coming in, fixing things, setting up the system and leaving. Once something is systematized and maintainable where you are just supposed to execute the same process over and over again, I really struggled because it feels boring to me. The piece that is interesting to me is the solving of the puzzle or solving of the problem or tying things together, and so maintenance mode for me is just difficult because it's just follow the checklist. Just follow the checklist you already designed. Follow the process you already designed. For me, while that is a relief sometimes, intellectually it's not super stimulating for me. I want it to be exciting and new all of the time. This is why I get myself into the situations that I do.
Susan Boles (15:52):
It is a real challenge for me and something that I don't know that I'm struggling with, but it's certainly something I'm focusing on to make sure that I am not breaking the system. I am not messing it up. I will follow the thing that I said I was going to do. It's certainly been a limitation for me always having to try new things, and while I'm really good at systematizing things, in maintenance mode you sort of have to limit how much effort you're going to spend improving something. So for me, I can always see how it can be better and I will derail myself making it better.
Susan Boles (16:33):
I see this with my clients and with myself. So much of being able to successfully scale a business is about consistency. It can be really hard to be consistent, to follow the same path over and over again, to say the same thing, stick to the same message. I think the trick is figuring out a way to be consistent and still make room for flexibility, for growth. Exactly Anna's point at the beginning of the episode.
Susan Boles (17:02):
So how do we do that? Well, that's what I want to explore throughout the series. I've got some really fantastic guests lined up to talk about the shifts they needed to make in their business to expand their capacity and prepare for maintenance mode and the mindset shifts they had to go through along the way.
Susan Boles (17:20):
Next week, I'm kicking it off with Ryan Lazanis, a two time founder who built, scaled and sold his accounting firm, and now has a second business, Future Firm, where he teaches accountants to do the same. We'll talk about how he thought about his second business differently and how he built it with maintenance mode in mind the second time around. So make sure you hit subscribe in your favorite podcast player so you don't miss it.
Susan Boles (17:46):
If you want to join in on this conversation live, come to the next Dollars + Decisions Roundtable. It's a finance and operation strategy session for business owners like you. And it is a great way to talk through some of the challenges you might be facing with scaling your business or trying to figure out how to get into maintenance mode. You can register at scalespark.co/dollarsanddecisions, all one word, or you can just click the link in the show notes. Hope to see you there.
Susan Boles (18:14):
Break the Ceiling is produced by Yellow House Media. Our Executive Producer is Sean McMullin. Our production coordinator is Lou Blazer. This episode was edited by Marty Seefeldt with production assistance by Kristen Runvick.