38: The DRY Approach to Workflow Processes with Susan Boles of ScaleSparkPublished June 9, 2020
Run time: 00:48:31
The “Don't Repeat Yourself” (DRY) development approach of writing code as simply as possible to make it reusable can also be applied to standardizing and automating workflows to reduce repetitive patterns. Virtual CFO and software expert Susan Boles joins the show to discuss the evolution of automating workflows and how the process doesn’t start with software. Susan shares actionable tips on where you can get started with automation, what to work on after you’ve automated the low-hanging fruit areas of your business, like onboarding and delivery, why you should work with virtual C-Level persons like CTOs and CFOs, and how you can find experts to help you take your business to the next level.
In this episode, you will learn:
- How to understand your processes, from onboarding to the messy middle to delivery, before implementing software automation tools
- When you need a C-level expert in place of a VA
- Why it’s never too early to bring in an expert
- How “You're the average of the five people you spend the most time with” applies to business
- Where to find your online tribe
This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group, where we make sense of mobile app development with our non-technical approach to building custom mobile software solutions. Learn more at https://jmg.mn.
Recorded May 6, 2020 | Edited by Jordan Daoust | Produced by Jenny Karkowski
Tim Bornholdt: [00:00:00] Welcome to Constant Variables, a podcast where we take a nontechnical look at all things technical I'm Tim Bornholdt. Let's get nerdy.
Today we are interviewing Susan Boles of ScaleSpark. ScaleSpark takes agencies and consultants from digital duct tape and WD40 to smoother than a Mercedes-Benz operations using a custom blend of process, tech, and financial knowhow. I like that. In this episode, we discuss the winding path Susan took to starting her business, where you can get started with automation, what to work on after you've automated the low hanging fruit areas of your process, like onboarding and delivery, why you should work with virtual C-level persons like CTOs and CFOs and how you can find experts to help you take your business to the next level.
So this episode real quick, you might hear a difference between how I sound now and how I sound in the interview. And that is because I decided to select the wrong microphone input. You'd think after doing podcasting for several years, that I'd have everything figured out, but you know, here we go. I had an impromptu dance party with my four year old before I hit record. So just kind of you roll with the punches, right?
So hopefully, my boy Jordan here can make it sound fantastic, and there won't be any issues, but bear with me because this really is a fantastic episode. So without further ado here is my interview with Susan Boles.
Susan, welcome to the show.
Susan Boles: [00:01:47] Hey Tim. Thanks for having me.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:01:48] I'm really excited to have you on. I really want to, right off the bat, I want to hear your origin story and what led to the creation of ScaleSpark.
Susan Boles: [00:01:59] So my origin story is long and rambling, so I'll try and make it as succinct as possible. So I started off my career in the Air Force, like leadership positions really early on. I was a security forces officer, so I had a lot of responsibility and a lot of just mostly what I did all day was go to meetings.
But I got out of the Air Force and ended up in higher education. So I was the data nerd basically for universities and colleges, basically counting people in a variety of different ways and doing state and federal reporting. So it ended up being pretty much business intelligence about students.
And that kind of started me on that path of really using data to make decisions, you know, in universities. The institutional research, which is the office I was in, is like the office of all data. So if you have a question, that's where you go. And I spent quite a while in a variety of institutions, but I got married and my husband was active duty Air Force.
So we started bebopping all around, moving, and it was a great position to be in because it's really flexible. There's almost always a university around and there weren't a lot of people in institutional research, so it was easy to find jobs, but when we went overseas, we moved to England for about four years, and the higher ed system there is really different. And so I ended up working at a small bicycle shop, managing a cycle shop, which was just something that when we got there, they had an opening and I was like, well, that sounds fun. I like biking. I want to own a small business someday. That sounds like good experience.
And so I ended up managing the bike shop for a few years while I got my MBA, and that kind of led me into small businesses. And when we got back to the States, we decided to open a business. We bought a guest ranch up in Northwestern Colorado, which was lovely. But also not the right business for us. My son was one, and we ran it pretty much ourselves like a BNB. So there was a lot of interesting stuff behind the scenes and that's kind of where I got into the technology part because I needed to figure out really efficient ways to run our business. I was still working full time while my husband mostly did a lot of the in-person stuff.
So my role in our business was always the behind the scenes. So I did the payroll and I did the accounting and the technology systems. And I got really interested in the whole like cloud software area and just started poking around and ended up kind of accidentally becoming a cloud software expert for small businesses in a time when there weren't a lot of them.
And so we ended up selling the guest ranch. We opened up a retail running store, so in person brick and mortar store, and did the same thing there. So I kind of got to see a few different industries and how kind of behind the scenes software could make it really efficient and it could make it so that I could work full time and also be running my business, running the whole backend of my business with just me, because we had to be really efficient.
And so those experiences helped me figure out how to use technology to be super efficient and to keep all of that admin stuff to a minimum. And so during the time I ended up taking a position, a remote work position as the like data and technology person for an outsource accounting firm. So I was working kind of as a CFO, but mostly focused on the technology and the software.
And as we started doing implementations, I realized that I wasn't implementing the right tools. You know, I couldn't get very early on in the sales process. So the projects would get handed to me and they're like, Hey, we're going to implement the software. And I'm like, Well, that's great, but that's the wrong software. You know, if you know like cloud based software, there's a lot of really similar products that actually do things slightly differently. And the slight differences make a really big difference to how it solves the problem.
So I was getting really frustrated with that kind of issue where I'm like, Hey, this isn't the right thing. We're doing the implementations. It's not going to solve the problem. Let me get earlier in the process, so where it can help you pick the right tool, and that just didn't work.
And so eventually I just got frustrated and I was like, you know what, I'm going to start a business. And that's what we're going to do. We're going to help people choose and implement the right software for their small business. And that ended up being mostly focused around like accounting and project management, like payroll, the real nitty gritty backend stuff, where software can be really powerful.
And so, yeah, so ScaleSpark started originally as essentially a software consultancy, but I've been working as a CFO pretty much full time the whole time. And so for the first couple of years, I focused on the software and then realized that I kept forgetting to tell people that I was a CFO. And so I would be like talking about how their software hooks into their accounting software and how those connections in that data is really critical to being able to make decisions about your business. You gotta have the data all in one place and they weren't taking the advice, kind of with that knowledge base, because I had forgotten to tell them that I was a CFO who actually knew what I was talking about.
And so then I kind of shifted into positioning more as a CFO with software expertise, which is where I am now. So that was a long winding road that like kind of every piece of the puzzle gave me a bit of the experience that I bring now. But yeah, long, long and winding, it definitely was not a direct path.
And if you'd told me 15 years ago that I was going to end up basically being an accountant, I would have laughed at you. It was like I completely accidentally became an accountant.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:08:26] Well it's crazy to be accidentally becoming an expert in cloud based software, because like you said, especially when you were first getting into it, there weren't that many people.
And I would imagine now, I know that you like to get in and play with and experiment with a ton of different tools. And so it's just kind of, it is really funny how people just kind of go from one path down to another.
And I mean, when you mentioned Air Force, I was like, Oh, that's so cool. Like, there's a million questions I could ask about that. And then you talked about opening a running store and I'm like, Oh God, now you're pretty soon, you're gonna tell me you opened a brewery. And then we're just not even going to talk about software automation or outsourcing or anything, because all I'm going to want to talk to you about is running, and all these other things that I'm interested in, but leaving that aside, I want to actually get into some talking about some software automation.
And I think that one place I want to start is, a lot of times people hear automation, they hear software and just, they really don't have any idea like where to get started with that. And I can use myself as an example. I use this all the time. I run a software company, but tracking our sales, we weren't even doing that. Our process was an email would come in, either me or my business partner would grab it, and then, you know, we would talk to them once and forget to follow up with them. We didn't have any CRM; we didn't have any process in place. And we were like, all of a sudden, one day we wrote down on the whiteboard, like here's, you know, who are all the people that we've been talking to for sales and we listed out like 80 people. We were like, Crap, there's been all this opportunity. Like we've just completely been setting this aside. And having some software or whatever really helped with that.
So I'm kind of actually looping back to a question for you. Let's say that I'm in a situation where I know like software could be helpful for, you know, helping my business grow and scale.
How do you know if you're ready for that? And how do you, where do you actually begin taking some of your processes and some of the frameworks that you might not even have like written down, but you've just been kind of doing that, how do you know where to get started with all of this crazy automation stuff?
Susan Boles: [00:10:32] So I actually recommend you don't start with technology, which may seem a little counterintuitive because oftentimes the technology, the automation is the way you get really efficient at it. But the way that a lot of automation products work is that you need to know what the process is. So if you're not really clear with what your process is, it's going to be really hard to, one, set it up cause it's going to ask you, you know, all of these questions that you don't know the answer to, and it's going to mean that you're probably going to get really stuck when you start to go implement whatever the tool is because there's a lot of settings and configurations, and really, regardless of what software you're using, that's going to be true.
So I always recommend that you start the way that you guys did, like, just use a whiteboard or a piece of paper and write down either what you've been doing or what you want to do, because that's a great place to start. And understanding what your process is, and if the word process freaks you out, that's okay. I'm not really talking about like a set in stone process. You know, you may not think you have a process, but you're doing something that may not be perfect. It may not be the same thing every time, but you have a concept of how you're going about doing your business. Write it down, make a checklist, list of bullet points. If you have a project management software, put it in there. But the point is, really just to start with an idea of, what do you want to accomplish? What is the process that you're trying to either make more efficient or make automatic, or just make it the same every time?
Tim Bornholdt: [00:12:15] That leads me to another question. So, we've had this realization, right? Like ever since we had that whiteboard sales moment where we were like, Oh crap, we're not doing anything and we need to do something. You know, we've been trying to figure out how do you actually like document our process.
So we do custom software and no two projects are ever the same, really. Like there's some similarities, but I feel like it's hard for us to, and probably for everybody, it's hard to hold a mirror up to yourself sometimes and figure out where do you get started with finding deficiencies? So being somebody that that is your full time job is to point out flaws and help get them fixed, how do you do it? Like how would you come in and how would you help somebody try to figure out what part of their business is like the low hanging fruit? That's what I'm trying to say.
Susan Boles: [00:13:10] So I always start with, yes, low hanging fruit. So the parts I tend to start with are the things that you're already doing that maybe don't need to be a human.
And for example, one that tends to take people a lot of time, if you have a team, that technology is a great solution for is running your payroll. So that's one where as a founder, you can quickly suck up time if you're not working with an accountant or a bookkeeper that's doing it for you. And a software like Gusto is a great option because it's designed to help you do that as easily and as quickly as possible. So those are the kinds of places where I'm looking.
The other one that I always start with is how you're processing payments and invoices. Because again, that's something that's really critical to your cashflow. So it makes a big difference to your actual financial position, and that's cash., Cash is king. Cash matters. And so anything you can do to streamline your cashflow will automatically pay off in your business. So what I mean by that is, is there a way to send invoices automatically? So maybe you don't have to worry about remembering to send it, and setting email follow ups if you are.
So I always tend to lean if there's a way to get automatically paid or paid upfront, I tend to lean that way because it simplifies a very complex workflow. And what I mean by that is if you think about the process of you're doing like time and materials kind of billing, that's a really complicated long-winded workflow. And it might not seem like it on the kind of surface, you're like, Ah, just send them an invoice and they'll just pay it. But what happens is that you now have to actually have a system to track your time and track your materials. And then you have to be able to turn that into an invoice that you send them and then you need to have a way for them to pay you, ideally like a button that they can click that says, Pay this invoice, but maybe not. So you have to be able to take that invoice and you have to send it to them, and then you have to figure out a process to follow up with them if they're not paying right away. So you've got this whole long workflow of more complicated systems or very time consuming, manual process if you're not going to go with software.
Versus if you can do either upfront or automatic kind of payments, the workflow looks like great. We're working together. Enter your credit card details. Cool. We'll bill you at the appropriate intervals when it's supposed to happen. And from the business owner standpoint, you don't have to do anything past that point. You don't have to turn it into an invoice. You don't have to worry about whether or not they're going to pay you. You just know that the payment is coming in because you already have their details. So that's kind of what I'm talking about, where there are places in your business that aren't client facing necessarily that can really take you as the founder or your administrative people and be using their time in a much more effective way than just sending an invoice. Sending an invoice is really important because it's related again to your cashflow, but time spent sending an invoice isn't super valuable. Does that makes sense?
Tim Bornholdt: [00:16:54] Definitely. Yeah. And that's something we've been struggling with too, is we send out invoices on the first of the month, and we're sitting at the sixth of the month right now, and invoices haven't got out because we've just been so busy. It is like one of those things that's a process we're actively working on right now with our bookkeepers, how can we automate a bunch of that and get a lot of that off of our plate so that somebody else can do it, or that it's automated. Because I would love to find a way to switch over to value based pricing, but we've been just seeing a lot of success with going with time and materials. And I'm sure a lot of people feel the same way too, when it's just there's pros and cons to both approaches. You just need to, like you said, figure out where you can find efficiencies and if you can get a process in place for tracking time and have it feed right into, you know, the hours get approved at the end of the month, and then that generates an invoice and the customer can pay it. And it's just as seamless and simple as possible rather than having to sit down in front of a thousand different emails that other people may have sent you with their hours and all of that stuff.
It's, yeah, it's just kind of centralizing all that information into one place so you can quickly take action on it.
Susan Boles: [00:18:06] Yeah. And not only does that, you know, having that kind of data, that like time tracking data, even if you are doing value based pricing, tracking your time gives you so much data about your projects, about your profitability, about the effort that you're putting into each project. Like there's a lot of really valuable data in all of that that can help you kind of decide what direction you're going to grow. But one of the things that you mentioned, so even with time and materials, you can do things like, my favorite is like a refillable retainer. So you say, Cool, you know, we ballpark, we think we're going to spend about this much on it, you know, in the next month or each month for the project. And you do basically a refillable retainer. So you're like, Cool, it's going to be 5,000 each month, we think, so we'll charge you 5,000 at the beginning of every month. And then when we get to the end of the project, we'll send you one invoice or wrap it all up if the retainer, you know, if we went over or under, which is a nice way to kind of short circuit the admin part and allow you to automate kind of the cashflow part.
You know, there are certain projects where it's hard to do value based pricing. Custom software is really difficult because you don't actually know how long it's going to take you or how difficult it's going to be. You do run into issues all along the way, but creative solutions like a refillable retainer or monthly kind of things have a lot of benefits, both on the admin side, but also on the cashflow side.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:19:47] I'm stealing that. I mean, I'm borrowing that.
Susan Boles: [00:19:49] Feel free. That's what I'm here for.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:19:51] Exactly. Okay. So we've talked about kind of some of the backend stuff, right? We talked about low hanging fruit. So let's say that we've got those in place and now you're more getting into, you know, some kind of operational deficiencies. How do you go about diagnosing those and, and finding ways that you can improve on, you know, the actual customer's processes? Is it really on a per customer basis or are there kind of general things that you see that once you've got kind of your billing in place and automated, you've got your time tracking in place and automated, are there other areas that you see are right for improving?
Susan Boles: [00:20:33] Yeah, certainly. I mean, I am of the mind that no matter what you're doing, there's always opportunities to improve, to add value, to make it more efficient.
Um, and you mentioned earlier, you do custom software development, which every time you do a project, it is a little bit different, but the process through which you deliver that custom project can be kind of standardized.
If you think of, like, there's certain phases to each kind of interacting with clients, right? There's kind of the onboarding phase where you are saying, here's how the project's going to go. Here's the timeline, here's the team. You know, everybody's got kind of a different setup for onboarding clients, but that's a process that can actually be pretty well, if not automated, it can certainly be maybe templatized. So places on the onboarding side that are easy to look at is like using Zapier to set up your client folders. So if you have a standardized way that you set up your software systems or your folders for assets and resources and documentation and that sort of thing, that's a great place to use something like Zapier to automate that process.
You can use it to say, Cool, I've got a new client. Set up my files. And then it'll just do it. So you don't have to have somebody go in and copy all the templates or copy the folders or set up the folder structure. It just happens. And that's one that's really time-saving.
Another one is just thinking about using how you communicate about the start of a project. You can use an email sequence for that, whether you're using your email marketing software for it, or just a template with, Here's, you know, here's the key points about this. Fill it in and send it. It makes it a more efficient process and it allows you to have more consistent customer service, you know.
When you're not having to constantly try and remember what the next step is, you can start adding more value and you can make it take less time for your staff so they can spend more time actually developing the software, or if they're, you know, an operations person, they can handle bringing on more clients in the same amount of time. So client onboarding is a place that regardless of what your process or what you're selling really is, that's a part of your process that lends itself pretty well to templates and automation, which is another like pretty easy area to start with.
So yeah having email sequences or having things built into place that you can hand to a client and say, Here's what you need to do for us to move forward with the next steps. Just follow steps, one, two, three, four, and then hand it to us and we can plug it in. Yeah, that makes sense.
It's the mushy middle stuff that, you know, maybe there aren't a whole, well, maybe I should ask you. In that mushy middle stuff, is there, are there things in that process that you see that are pretty typical or once you get to that point, are we really talking about the differences between different companies? Everyone's gonna do something a little bit differently, so you kind of have to just work through your own process and figure out what your secret sauce is that you can automate in one sense or another.
Susan Boles: [00:24:14] Yeah. So once you get to the middle, it does get pretty specific to how you work and what you're actually doing. But that's not to say that it can't, that you can't make it efficient, that you can't make it kind of templatized.
So one example is to create internal resources to collect information from clients. You know, when you start a new project, there's always so much information that you have to get from them, but if you have even just something like a worksheet or alike a Google form to say, Cool, I need your, brand logo. I need you to tell me who your contact for this project is going to be. Like you can just send them an onboarding email that says, Here's the form, send us some of this information. So that's a good example.
The other thing I like to use as examples is in my own process,like you do, I do custom solutions, but they're within the framework of a product. So if I am doing an action plan, which is basically an audit, a review, we do a software audit. We do a financial systems audit. We look at your team, like it's a very customized solution. And then I spend a lot of time doing in depth interviews and getting information from the founders. But behind the scenes, I have a lot of resources that I've created too for my own internal process to help me deliver more efficiently.
So for example, I have a worksheet that lets me do a software audit. So I'll go into their accounting system, pull the information about what they've spent it on, stick it into my worksheet. And then I can like, you know, I've got drop downs so I can officially say, Yup, this is, you know, we're keeping this, we're replacing this. And it calculates the cost for me. Cause I'll talk about, you know, are we saving money? Are we spending a little bit more, but getting efficiency gains? So all of those calculations happen.
And then when I'm providing the report for this thing, my report is kind of templatized. It's got the format. For example, if I'm recommending a new software tool, I write a little paragraph about here's what this tool is. Here's what it does. And so the paragraph is kind of templatized because I'm not really gonna say anything different. If I'm, you know, recommending a new accounting tool, it still does the same thing. Usually I'll add like a sentence or two, if it's really specifically pertinent to why we're using it for that company, but a good bulk of it is there. And so my report is built with all of these different paragraphs and all I have to do is just delete ones that I'm not going to use, so it ends up being a very customized solution. But it's pretty efficient for me behind the scenes and really because of a kind of flat rate sort of project, the faster I can get to delivering the solution, the more profitable it is for me.
So there are a lot of resources behind the scenes that you can create to help deliver in a more consistent and efficient, effective way for you, so you're not spending a lot of time developing assets or reports or those kinds of things because you could be spending that time delivering more value to your client or delivering better service or adding something that all of a sudden you have time for now. So even if you have a really custom service that you're offering internally, you can create a lot of those resources that are specific to however, you know, whatever it is that you're delivering.
And another similar solution is I work with a lot of like web design firms. And they'll do like a content map that's kind of similar and they can use that to help figure out what they have to write or what they have to design, but they're collecting the information in the same kind of way. Does that make sense?
Tim Bornholdt: [00:28:34] Yeah, that does. I think it's kind of thinking like a developer in some sense cause there's a principle in development called DRY, don't repeat yourself. And the principle behind that is that you want to find ways that if you're constantly having to do tasks over and over and over again, you do it once and then you can just call upon that to do it many times. And that doesn't mean that sometimes, you know, you might have to make modifications here and there to the specific way you're using that data. But I think a similar concept here applies of, you can find ways to, find a task that you're finding yourself doing over and over and over again, and then, you know, it's, like, you said before of how you basically start without technology, right? Like just write out a piece of paper, figure out how it is you do it and kind of conceptualize that flow. And then find ways where you can make a spreadsheet that you can just fill in a few macros and it's done or a word document or whatever. It does make a whole lot of sense that you can find those little sub routines you do within the bigger chunk of work you do for your clients, and then you just run it through a standard process that you've improved upon time and time again. And there you go, you save some time and you've automated some of your process away.
Susan Boles: [00:29:56] Yeah. I love that analogy because it works. You're right. It works exactly the same way. That's what you're trying to do. You're just trying to do it with essentially the administrative part of your business.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:30:09] Exactly. I want to change topics a little bit here cause you talked before also about the virtual CFO that you don't tell anyone about. So I want to take a minute to-
Susan Boles: [00:30:18] Well I tell people about it now. I just kept forgetting about it.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:30:20] But I feel like we're kindred spirits in that way because you know, we just started offering virtual CTO services cause we basically do that already. Right? You were doing that as well, but you just didn't put a name to it. And I wanted to talk a little bit about that, about virtual C-level services.
Why would somebody bring on a virtual CFO or CTO or one of those C level positions? What would be kind of what you see as like an impetus for doing that?
Susan Boles: [00:30:59] So I think this is true, not just with C level positions, but with an expert. So if you think about hiring an expert, you're hiring them because that is what they do all day, every day. Right? So if you bring in a software consultant, you're hiring them because they know software. You may not know software, but they know software and that's why you would bring them in. Right? You might work with them on a project basis or, you know, just to have as like a CTO on staff to say, Hey, I have this problem.
And the benefit of working with somebody in like a C suite level position is that those are people that are experienced at looking at the big picture. And that's where you really get a lot of value from working with like an outsourced C-suite person, whether it's a COO, CEO, CTO, CFO. They are used to looking at the strategic picture of your business and they have experience fixing problems.
So if you think about hiring, like, you know, the kind of go to trigger is, I'm overwhelmed. I need a VA. Right? That's standard kind of protocol. We get told that that's what we're supposed to do. Right? But if you hire a lower level person, you've created a person you need to manage. You now need to delegate things to them. You need to explain to them how you want things to go. You need to give them a checklist and maybe you don't have that.
The benefit of working with an expert or C level person is they don't need to be managed. They are going to come in and be able to own that area of the business and not just own it, but create this momentum in your business that's just going to create kind of that snowball effect of like, you fix a little bit of problem here. And that's cool. That starts the snowball. And then you can move on to the next level solution, but you're not going to get that with kind of lower level people.
So where something like an outsourced CFO or an outsourced CTO might be a little bit more expensive, it also means you can do a whole lot more with a whole lot less. So for example, when people bring me in as a CFO, a lot of that day to day stuff that you might have two or three operations managers or VA's using, they might be the ones doing that work. Bringing in somebody like me with the expertise to pull in software solutions or to say, Nope, this is really a place where we should actually hire a person. That's really powerful and also really cost effective. So even though you might be paying a little bit more for that one position, because of the level of experience they have is actually going to save you maybe two or three lower level people that you might have to pay. So it can be a really effective way to get a high level of expertise without having to create a big staff.
So there are people that I work with that are doing, you know, seven, eight figures and their staff consists of an outsourced COO and an outsourced CFO, and then we have a few freelancers that we work with, like copywriters, and that's it. So it's a nice way to create a really resilient, lean, profitable kind of business.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:34:37] When does that make sense to jump into having like a virtual COO or C-level person? Cause I think it, like you had said, you know, that if you're not prepared for that with having like a process and everything in place that they can follow, that you're just creating yourself more work.
But I think on the other end, if you jump over into bringing on a CFO or a CTO or whoever too soon, you might not, it just might be a waste of time and effort and money, or maybe not. What are your thoughts on when is it the right time to start looking to outsource that type of position?
Susan Boles: [00:35:12] So I think there's two kind of perspectives here. I don't actually think it's ever too early to start bringing those people into your business because they are experts. So you're going to get a breadth of experience, and they're going to be able to sort of.Skip those, Oops, we tried this and that didn't work and we just wasted a bunch of time and money on it. They're going to be able to kind of short circuit that process. So where if you were gonna do it, if you were kind of going to bootstrap and get yourself through this position, maybe it's going to take you 3 to even 10 years to gain that experience that they just have. So it's a way to create that growth track a whole lot faster than you would have.
And I think that's true, not just for C-suite positions, but also just hiring expert consultants. That's what you get is you don't have to learn how to do that thing. You're hiring somebody who only does that thing, and they're going to do it. They're going to be able to help you avoid situations you shouldn't do. They're going to help you avoid all of those kind of pitfalls that they know because they've been doing it. So I don't think it's ever too early to start thinking about bringing in experts.
That being said, a lot of these, you don't have to work with them all the time. Right? So it doesn't have to be you saying, Cool. I need to bring on a CFO. That may not be the best solution for you. You may not be at a stage where, one, you can afford that, or two, you're really gonna get the level of value added. Maybe your business is still kind of in the experimentation stage, or you're not really at the scaling stage, which is kind of the point at which you'd want to bring somebody on not full time, but on a more regular basis. But there are also C-suite type people, those level of expertise, that you can work with on maybe a little project basis.
So I use my example of the action plan. That's designed to be kind of a contained project that gives you something that you can take and apply in your own business. If you're not ready to work full time with me, likewise, I have like intensives, which is a one day project, where we are fixing a specific problem. So maybe we are getting your accounting system set up to collect better data, but you're not going to work with me, you know, necessarily every month to get that data. But maybe you come back and we work on interpreting that data once you have it. So there are providers out there that you don't have to work with them all the time or every month to be able to get value out of their expertise.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:38:08] I mean, you sold me. So if I'm looking for one of these people, cause I think it does make sense to have... There's like that saying of "Yyou are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with." And I think that principle applies, especially in business, the more that you hang around successful business people, the more that you're just going to, the techniques and the things that they do are going to rub off on you. So where do you go and find these people? What's the, do you have any places that you see people find it. I mean, obviously you and me for filling the CTO and the CFO role, but other positions. Where do people go and find these people?
Susan Boles: [00:38:54] So I always tend to find them in, like you said, communities. So I'm a big fan of like small group programs or Masterminds or there's a community my friend Tara runs called What Works, which it's literally a community for business owners. So oftentimes I'm finding them in those kinds of areas. But if you're looking for like a COO type person, you know, you have a project manager or you want an outsourced CFO, which I think is probably the one that it's much harder to do not working full time in the position. Cause they're kind of the ones that are going to take over your operations for you. But that's what you would kind of Google search for is for project managers, for outsourced COO. If you're familiar with the traction kind of methodology, they have a directory of outsourced COOs. They call them integrators, but they're COO's, and that's a really good place to go as well.
But quite honestly, I always just ask my friends, you know, so if you have five business friends, they probably know somebody who does this. And that's where I tend to, you know, I almost very rarely work with that level of experts without me either knowing them or coming in through my network. And that's because I'm just a part of a lot of those small groups, because I find so much value out of, like you said, being in the room with smart people.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:40:40] Yeah, me too. I think it's tough when you first jump into business, and you don't have networks established. Cause I know, I'm sure you're the same way, when you first start up a business, you hit up, you Google and find all the networking events you can go to and it ends up being a bunch of personal finance people and the occasional, like, you know, CenturyLink rep or whoever that's trying to sell you on getting higher speed internet for your business.
But, yeah, I think you just have to keep going out there and finding networks that are actually providing you value and, and conversely, the more value you put out there, that's going to also come back to you in the long run in a lot of different ways.
Susan Boles: [00:41:28] Yeah. And I've definitely found that to be true in both Masterminds and kind of online community type areas is the amount of effort that you put in to be a valuable member of the community, that kind of creates some more valuable community in and of itself. And that's, you know, when I started, ScaleSpark, it was my first online business. It was my first business that I didn't have a physical thing. It was a service business, you know? So you had to figure out what it is and how you're going to talk about it, which was not the same with a guest ranch or a running store. You know, when I tell you I run a guest ranch, there's not a whole lot else that I have to explain. When I say that I own a running store, you know that I sell running shoes, but it's not the same with the service business. How you talk about it, how you position yourself, there's literally no limit to what your service business could look like and what kinds of services you can offer and how you could position yourself. And it's a much harder kind of thing to figure out what you are. And when I started, you know, I don't think I would be where I am or able to talk about what I do the same way I do now without having a really solid community to go ask questions to. And people that, you know, took the time to kind of pay it forward and explain things like copywriting to me.
And so I am such a huge proponent in I'm finding those communities. And if you can't find one in your local area, because like you, I've had pretty bad luck with in-person kind of communities or networking events. But finding an online community of people that are, kind of finding your tribe, the people that like to run businesses in the same way you like to run businesses, there's really no value that you can put on that. That's where I've gotten so much. So I always recommend that.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:43:33] It kind of goes back, like I'm not that old, but I do remember like the times before the internet, where if you were really obsessed with something, like I was really obsessed with the Simpsons growing up and, you know, you can only talk to your friends that are within arms reach so much about that topic, cause they're not as interested in that as you. But as soon as I discovered online message boards and all the other different areas and venues that you can find community online. I found people that are just as annoyingly, obsessed with it as I am. And there's like infinite amount of those, like you said, tribes on the internet that you can kind of go and keep searching until you find your people. Cause that's definitely what's kicked our business up a notch has been surrounding ourselves with people that think the same way, like you said, as us and want to do business the same way as us. You kind of feed off of each other and opportunities kind of just show up. It's never, you know, the overnight success thing, but it's, the more you show up and you put in the effort to be valuable to other people, opportunities kind of present themselves as a result of that hard work.
Susan Boles: [00:44:47] Yeah, absolutely.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:44:48] Well, I don't know why we got onto that topic, but that was, I think, a fun tangent. Final thoughts about automation. If I'm getting started, if there's pitfalls that you see that happen all the time with people, just final thoughts around what's going to be beneficial for me in finding ways to automate parts of my business.
Susan Boles: [00:45:11] I think probably my best advice is don't automate too early because you want to make sure that when you get ready to automate that your process is pretty stable. And what you'll find is, you know, at the beginning of the episode, I recommended that you start with a piece of paper or a whiteboard and figure out what your process is. But the more time that you spend looking at your process, it's an evolutionary process. It's not, you figure out your process and it stays like that forever. At least at the beginning, you're gonna iterate, you're going to send your template emails and get five questions back and you'd be like, Oh, well that would be really good information to add to that template so the next person doesn't have those questions cause I can just go ahead and answer them.
And so I always like to try and wait to automate, you know, like fully automate something until it is relatively stable, because it's hard sometimes to go back in and figure out the place where you have to, you know, edit that email template. If it's automated, if it's set in Zapier and you gotta go through your 15 steps Zapier to figure out which, you know, which email is that in? Where should I add it in? So I always like to say, you know, let your process evolve a little bit before you go and automate.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:46:34] That's fantastic advice. I can't think of a better way to end it off. How can people find out more about you and more about ScalesSpark?
Susan Boles: [00:46:43] Yeah. So I have a podcast myself. It's called Break the Ceiling, and we pretty much talk about this kind of thing. It's, you know, designed to give you some unconventional strategies to make the backend of your business a lot more efficient and profitable and easier to run.
So break the ceiling, you can get that wherever you listen to podcasts. And then if you want to check out my website it's scalespark.co. It's not a .com. It's a .co. Or hit me up on Twitter. I'm @TheSusanBoles.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:47:16] Susan, thank you so much for coming on the show. I learned a lot and I guarantee that other people listening to this also learn something. So thank you so much.
Susan Boles: [00:47:23] Yeah, thanks for having me. This was really fun.
Tim Bornholdt: [00:47:26] Thanks to Susan Boles of ScaleSpark for joining me today on the podcast. You can find more about ScaleSpark by visiting scalespark.co.
Show notes for this episode can be found at constantvariables.co. You can get in touch with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm @TimBornholdt on Twitter and the show is @CV_podcast.
Today's episode was produced by Jenny Karkowski and edited by the fantabulous Jordan Daoust.
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