When you start a business, systems optimization isn’t usually top of mind when it comes to priorities. However, if you want to scale and grow, you need to have processes in place for your team to follow.
Today’s guest is Alyson Caffrey, the Founder and CEO of Operations Agency. Her goal is to help organizations create powerful, reliable systems that support their vision.
In this episode, Alyson shares how you can develop your operations so you can run and grow your business at the same time. There is SO much great info in this episode if you are looking to effectively scale your business.
Hope you enjoy the episode.
Action ask: If you don’t have Loom or some other screen capture application, get one and start documenting processes your team can follow to get to “done right”.
Listen to the episode here:
Systems Optimizations – The Key To Scaling Your Business With Alyson Caffrey
My guest is Alyson Caffrey. She’s the CEO and Founder of Operations Agency, which is this really amazing organization that helps other organizations, B2B, B2C and nonprofits, figure out their operations and where they’re getting stuck and what’s getting in their way. We talked about processes, how to set up systems and some of the pitfalls that people have created for themselves when they haven’t come at this problem from a strategic perspective. Alyson and her team are there to help out in this arena.
If you have people on your team, if you are struggling with sales, if you are trying to figure out how to make sure projects get done, this is for you. One of the things that we talked about is this fear of selling. If a new sale actually makes you think you’re going to throw up on your shoes, because you don’t know how you’re going to execute on it, Alyson is a perfect person to reach out to. This episode is going to be helpful. I hope you enjoy it. I had a great time talking with her as I always do. Alyson, how are you?
I’m doing well. How are you?
I am very well. It’s a beautiful fall day here in the Nederland, Colorado area. I was over on the West Coast. It’s nice to get back here with the leaves changing.
There’s nothing better than a fall in Colorado, in my opinion. I wish we were there. I’m in New Jersey.
I appreciate you taking the time to hop on our show. I’m looking forward to chatting with you. I know we made our initial connection after I was a guest on Dean Jackson‘s show, and you had been a guest on that as well. I was like, “I need to reach out to Alyson and see what she’s all about.” I’m excited to continue that conversation. Tell us a little bit about your agency. It’s a fantastic resource for people looking to streamline their operations and create processes. I’d like to learn a bit more about how you got into that, and tell us all about it.
Doing Dean’s show is fun because I’m sure, as a lot of us realize when we start a business, we’re good at doing the thing that we’re hired to do, but we’re not amazing at marketing, the business running or insert another thing here. That’s actually how Operations Agency was born. We help business owners fill in that administrative gap in their business operationally after they’ve been going for a little while. They’ve got great marketplace notoriety usually and they can give a lot of great solutions to their clients.
I’ve been in business for five years. I was an operations manager at a marketing and PR agency. I left that agency and got approached by a whole bunch of people. They were like, “Can you do for me what you used to do for that guy?” I was like, “Yes.” I like to say that Operations Agency started out of need because it’s such an underserved, and frankly not very sexy part of owning a business. You start doing your thing, getting great results for people and all of a sudden, you’ve got maybe some employees, an operating agreement to make, partners to consider, and things start to potentially grow beyond your ability to be able to manage everything. That’s what we like to do. We like to help declutter that experience for entrepreneurs, business owners and help streamline a lot of the ways that they do things without creating a lot of friction on the owner’s end.
There’s certainly a very large need for that type of work. I wrote a blog post a lot a long time ago about wearing too many hats, and how that is this notorious problem that particularly founders have when they have a small crew. They’re doing everything. They’re sitting in all the seats. If you’re an attraction person, wearing all those hats all the time and probably not doing at least a few of those as effectively as they might be able to if they’ve worked solely focused on it or if they’re actually good at it. It sounds like your group helps people figure that process out and come up with ways to streamline things. Is that accurate?
Yes. Typically, business owners will approach me and say, “I am looking to hire a project manager.” “I know that I need a director of operations.” “We’re losing clients and our projects are constantly going over.” They usually will come to me with one or a handful of very specific things. As a business owner, as you get to a point where you’re growing and you do know where your deficiencies are, at least in parts you know that you’re losing clients, you know that your sales process could be better, or you know that your managing could be a little bit more efficient. They’ll come to me with these specific problems.
A lot of times, companies haven’t first figured out what their operational blueprint even hits, “Here’s what we offer. Here’s how we fulfill. Here’s how we sell and how we close.” It’s challenging to decide whether or not something fits if you haven’t decided on the blueprint. It’s like adding an addition to your home and not knowing what the layout of the house is. You don’t know if it’s going to flow or anything.
They start to take on these new projects. They start to, “Baby, say yes or no,” to new things. It creates a lot of confusion around the path like, “Where is this company going because we don’t know how we operate?” That’s step number one. That’s usually where I start with folks. I’m like, “We’ve got to figure out the layout of this house. What’s going on? What do we need for it to function? Who even lives here? What is their role and how are they keeping things on pace?” Even that conversation is largely valuable to kick things off.
You’ve mentioned lots of challenges or pain points in there that people are experiencing. Is there a big one that you usually hear over again that the people who could benefit from your services have?
Specifically, they’re afraid to sell. I work with a lot of agency owners, and what ends up happening with agency owners who have poorly run agencies is they are in a position where they say yes to something. They sell something and they know that it means that they need to stay up for the rest of the month until 3:00 in the morning to do that thing. It creates a lot of fear around doing that, especially if you have a family. I know a lot of entrepreneurs are juggling owning a business and having a family as well, just a personal life in general.
It’s difficult to say yes to big projects, big retainers when you know it’s just you, and all of the years of expertise and all of the knowledge on how to write lives up inside of your head. It’s not transferred to another person.
I was on a call with a prospective client and she uttered those words to me. She was like, “I’m afraid to sell because I know that it’s just going to be all me. It’s all going to rely on my shoulders. I can’t trust anybody to help me fulfill on this thing.” That’s a scary thing because what you’re saying no to is growth. That’s what’s happening here.
When we start a business, we’re good at doing the thing we’re hired to do but we’re not amazing at the marketing or the business running.
Essentially, if you have a business or an organization that you’re looking to try to scale, but you’re still stuck in that mode where maybe 1 or 2 people are doing all the work, that sounds like it’s where you come in, swoop in and save the day hopefully.
It’s been interesting in 2020 because we’ve been dealing with a worldwide pandemic. Lots of businesses have had to make shifts. What I’m thinking is the natural struggles of the entrepreneur, the growth issues that we’re going to face during the pandemic or whatever else happens. It’s a universal truth. At one point in a business, we’re going to need to focus on how we operate in order to scale. That’s the universal truth, at least in my view.
This post-pandemic business faces some interesting operational problems. They either have to lay off half of their staff and then redistribute responsibilities to a leaner team, or they’ve experienced tremendous growth and had to double their team overnight. They have a lot of bodies on their team, but are not exactly trained or effective in a certain vertical.
That’s another key position where ops starts to become helpful or at least this conversation about blueprint because if we keep with the house analogy, if we’re that first company and we’ve downsized from 3,000 to 1,500 square feet, then we’re in a position now where we need to figure out how to utilize our space a little bit better.
The members of that household are going to find that their lives are going to change a little bit. Some of those conversations, especially post-pandemic, and in this case, we’ve been approached by a lot of folks who are either in a position where they’ve never talked to ops, or they have and now it looks drastically different than it did in 2020.
All that institutional knowledge is up in their head as well. It is the thing that I hear a lot from clients is they’re stuck in that mode. I certainly have experienced this myself where you have something that you have to take care of and you think, “It’s going to take me 15 minutes to do it or 1 hour to tell someone how to do it, so I’m just going to go ahead and keep doing the fifteen minutes.” Those are those great opportunities to say, “At least let me document this thing while I’m doing it for the first time, then at least it’s out of my head.” I’m assuming that those are some of the things that you and your team help with as well.
Those are some of the key activities that we try to encourage with our clients, is making those difficult decisions instead of delegating, and delegating to do it well from that 360. Where does it live in the organization? What is the definition of done? Getting super clear on what that means to delegate something.
In my mind, the scenario that you’ve just given, 15 minutes to do or 1 hour to show someone how to do it, then showing someone how to do it means that we never need to revisit that fifteen minutes ideally again. It’s challenging because we’re stuck. A lot of business owners are stuck in that delegation piece where they’re either afraid to delegate something because they’ve been burned in the past or truthfully, a lot of folks probably don’t even have someone that they can even delegate to.
They don’t have a person either in their department or frankly, they have no team at all. It’s often that I find that a lot of people who are just starting out in their business and it’s just them don’t see a ton of value in creating procedures yet because they’re like, “I don’t know who to give this to. It would still be me doing it.” I say, “You have every opportunity now. Go find someone. Go get someone else to help you. Pay them less than you’re making right from your very own business, then you start to see the margin there.” It’s fun once you start to geek out on some of the numbers in terms of time and money savings, especially in a service business that you can save when you start to implement some of these things and pull some of these levers.
This is something that we’ve been trying to do a lot more throughout our tenured Relish Studio, which was started back in 2008. I’m always trying to look for something that I can get help with because every minute that I spend working on something that I can either have another teammate help me with, or particularly if it’s something that someone does better than I do, which are a lot of things these days, that’s one minute that I can also spend on getting new business and focusing on strategy work and the things that I do best.
It’s like you double your money in a lot of ways, but there’s this mindset shift that needs to happen where you have to grab ahold of the idea that it might be costing you a little bit of money, but the amount of time that you’re saving that you can then apply toward other bigger money-making efforts is worth it.
There’s a gentleman who I follow quite a bit. He’s a coach for software companies, and he has this activity called Zone of Genius. You make the most money and you’re worth the most to your business, whoever you are, if you’re the owner, project manager or whoever, if you stay within your zone of genius. What ends up happening is we have a lot of tasks, in the beginning, to take on for a business. Some of them are sales-related. Some of them are fulfillment-related. You’ve got through your marketing efforts, business administrative stuff and your HR stuff. We’re constantly in this state of needing to juggle several different types of activities.
What that’s doing is it’s only getting 60% of our actual efforts versus if we stayed in strategy all day. If we were able to stay strategic all day, not only would we work that muscle and get better at that muscle versus entering in invoices, that’s almost like a commodity. That’s process-driven. It is encouraging folks to look at things like that in a different light. I agree with you. You’re able to spend your time working on revenue-generating activities versus a reactive type of hourly rate work. It changes your day and capabilities.
I have found that growing into that zone in my business, growing into the strategic and sales zone, which is where I like to live, is going well for us in the sense that I find so much more enjoyment out of my days. I look forward to meeting with clients about strategy. That’s something I enjoy doing. Something to be said about the way you approach a task as well. If you can eliminate some of that stuff that’s not doing it for you, not making you happy, in a position where you now can thrive and grow strategically, it is extremely undervalued.
I was thinking about that in terms of getting rid of all the cruft that’s on your mind. If you’re in a strategy meeting but you know that you have to do invoices when you get back to the office or whatever it is that is not either in that zone of genius or just something that you don’t love. It’s sitting back there where if you knew that was going to be taken care of, the amount of energy that you could put toward that task at hand would be increased as well. There are efficiencies all over the place in terms of making this shift.
What are some of the things that you recommend business leaders, entrepreneurs and organizational leaders do to kickstart this process of figuring out how to engage with someone like you to help with their operations?
You make the most money and you’re worth the most to your business if you stay within your zone of genius.
Typically, what I like to think through is consistency. Project management, for example, is a big area of deficiency for a lot of businesses who are just starting to figure this out. If you constantly are looking at, let’s just say, your project management tool, if you even have one, and you’re like, “What is the status of this thing? What am I doing?” It’s funny because so often, I hear it from a lot of my teams. They say to me, “Some days, the CEO or whoever comes in and they’re just like, ‘Where’s this, that and the other?’” They get blown up on Slack and on Monday.com or whatever the tech stack they’re using. It’s because there’s no transparency.
There is no simple report or simple anything operationally that a project lead, a CEO type or anybody really can look at to say, “This is the status of how things are going.” Typically a lot of people feel that pain. One time, I was talking with a client and he was like, “My number one goal is to not have that ‘oh crap’ moment in the shower where I’m sitting here in trying to relax, and all of a sudden I’m like, ‘Did I send that email? Did so-and-so finish that task? I forgot that one thing.’” We all know it when we experience it. You get that thing of, “I need to take care of this now.”
It goes back to what you were saying before. You can’t be present doing other things, being with your family, working on other tasks in your business, delivering strategic input. If you’re over here mentally thinking to yourself, “I need to send that email. It’s two days late.” It’s difficult for me sometimes to put my finger on it because it is unique to each business, but you know those feelings when you start to have them. Those are the big signals, at least for me. From a service perspective-wise, and a lot of my agency owners start to see feast or famine months. That’s a huge one for them that you can tie some stuff back to. That’s huge in terms of ops.
We know that something operationally is broken if we are selling a lot one month and then fulfilling a lot the next month and not bringing in any revenue. That’s happening for sure. The second big thing is there’s no central location for operational transparency, whether that would be a scorecard, a project management tool or something to give a solid health check.
I hate to say it, but a ton of turnover in your staff. If your staff comes in and they’re like, “I don’t know what to do or how to be successful here.” That turns into them having poor performance and leaving. That is also something that’s a huge signal for me. I like to treat some of those things very seriously at the beginning of our engagements. All of us can probably sit here and say that we’ve had at least a fraction of 1 of those 3 things. It’s happening throughout our business, but it’s helpful to start to get above it and look at changing that.
Those are some good things for people to be looking out for when they’re starting to brainstorm whether or not they might want to bring someone on. Is there a particular methodology that you follow in terms of bringing on new people to your programs? Are there stepping stones or do you jump in with both feet and just get going?
It does depend on what they need, the size of the business, the scope of everything, but I typically have an operation that simplifies a process, which I go through with my team and clients. It helped us solidify the phases. What I do is I root that inside of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. How that works out for us is we identified the basics. In my opinion, over the years, I’ve established two operating pathways for a business at the baseline. You’ve got your standard operating procedures, the things that you’re doing day in and day out, and then you’ve got your growth initiatives. Be it your quarterly planning, special projects, doing an event or doing something like that.
Those are the two pathways that should always be cleared operationally. We should be able to simultaneously exist well, the business should run and then we should also be able to grow, whether that’s 1% or 5% quarter-over-quarter. We need to be able to accept new growth opportunities because anything in nature if it’s not growing, it’s dying. I like to encourage businesses, especially very early on in the game to establish that operational pathway for themselves because if they don’t, I fear that they’re going to just get stuck.
Those are the baseline of things. How that works is we’ve got standard operating procedures. That’s the first lever that we pull there to help define that first pathway. The second one is your quarterly planning and project planning process. What that looks like is we run through that at a base level with our clients, then we go through the rest of the Hierarchy of Needs. For the most part, that’s like the food and waterline, where you’re like, “We cannot survive if we cannot operate and we cannot grow.” That’s just going to go away.
Next, we take a look at the team. We try to create a home for our business. That’s the shelter for Maslow’s Hierarchy there. We want to be able to create some solid training, solid responsibilities and solid project management parameters and in that bucket. What we want to look at is if someone came in here tomorrow, would they be able to achieve what we need them to achieve with what we currently have? Whether that is project parameters, a job description, a list of responsibilities or a key performance indicator, whatever that needs to look like. The levers that we pull there are projects and team training. Those are two huge ones.
Then we move up to data and we take a look at how we’re performing from a data perspective. This is a key performance indicator. This is your scorecard. Where’s that central location like I was talking about before, where we can create some transparency? If we’ve got our standard operating procedures firing on all cylinders, we’re growing quarter-over-quarter, month-over-month, or managing projects well, our team is doing an amazing job. Where can we look to, let’s just say, quarterly assess from a number’s perspective where we’re at?
That is probably the most attractive stage for a lot of my clients. They say, “We want to get there. We want something that’s in front of us and we want to be able to know where we’re going next.” I said, “Okay, but it does take a lot of work to get there. We can’t just pull a number out of thin air.” Something worse than not looking at numbers is looking at incorrect numbers. We’re in a position where that’s usually the most exciting piece for our clients. They’re like, “Let’s get down. Let’s get the scorecard in.” That’s the lever that we pull, the centralized location for data and operational transparency.
We take a look at profit really deep. I know that we always want to look at profit, not wait until the fourth quarter, but we take a look at systematic ways to increase profits quarter-over-quarter. That could be 1%, 5% or increasing. If someone’s doing poorly profit-wise, we could set a solid goal and try to increase their profit pretty significantly, then we go deep into per project and per employee. We can say, “From a profitability perspective, these are our most profitable projects.” We can then make a solid decision and say, “We’re going to double down on these projects, then we’re going to eliminate some of the more expensive projects.”
This is where we can start to use the data that was in the previous step to help make us more money in the long run. That’s an exciting stage as well for a lot of my clients. My final phase, I love it’s called the prosper phase. This looks a little different to everybody because a lot of business owners have frankly, a lot of different goals for their business and what they want to do. This phase is about how they want their business to look in their life or function. Let’s just say a piece of a new society, if they want to give back a lot, if they want to be in a position where they’re known for something specific, or they want to live a laptop lifestyle and spend most of their winters in Bora Bora.
We can start to reverse-engineer or solve for the other side of the equation and say, “If we need to operate like this and do these things to be wildly profitable, give our clients the best experience ever, and we want to spend our winters in Bora Bora, what does this like?” Then we can start to start to play, dream a little bit and say, “What do we need to have in place to live?” It’s to seriously design a life that we want to live. That’s the general process that I bring all of our clients through. It’s been very helpful for us in terms of grounding them in a path.
We should be able to simultaneously exist. The business should run and then we should also be able to grow.
The other piece that a lot of people we see missing is they’ve never actually figured out where they’re trying to go. From a marketing perspective, for example, they’ve either learned about or decided upon some activities, but they don’t have a roadmap for where that’s taking them. Even having that is such a valuable little chunk of the equation that I could see putting together this entire program, how beneficial it would be for an organization that is looking to figure out how to improve their performance. If they’re nonprofit, do more good in the world, and if they’re a for-profit agency, increase profits and have a healthier business that works for them, which is something a lot of people are missing.
It’s almost like a relationship. A relationship takes work, input, and it’s almost like they’ve entered into or found themselves in a bad relationship. It’s something that doesn’t bring them joy and that they loathe working on right instead of in. Everything has needs. You’re always satiating the need, but instead, we want to focus on the essential things, the things that are going to help nurture your business. It’s often that I come in and I talk to these business owners, and frankly, it’s a why for me. I talked to some people and they are just so overworked. They haven’t spent time with their family.
It’s a position that I am so upset to hear that they’re in. You can tell it’s taking a toll on their life, their business itself, their relationships. Figuring out having a business in the first place is half the battle. That jump initially is very scary. Being able to grow a business to a certain point takes a lot of guts and courage, but what takes another leap, to use Seth Godin’s terminology, is to start to create an asset that doesn’t rely on you, and to create something that can work for you.
That’s something that, unfortunately, a lot of business owners don’t take that leap because it might mean giving up some of their profits. It might mean another uncertain time or they’re afraid of losing their business because they don’t want to hire somebody and put some responsibility in their hands. That’s a scary time. Truthfully, it’s something that I am very passionate about fixing.
A lot of my clients are in a position where they can return to the life that they love. They can return to spending more time with their children, be present with their spouse, and be more active in their community instead of staying up and burning the candle at both ends, fulfilling on client projects or doing things like that. It’s something I hear very often.
I’ve been a part of a couple of peer groups that have the four-pillar type philosophy in terms of you have your business, your relationship, yourself, your health and wellbeing, as well as your tribe, community or crew. There are all of those kinds of pillars that you have to consider. If you can get them in balance, then people tend to be most productive, most effective, happiest, and have these very fulfilling life experiences.
When any one of them is out of whack, you have the potential to have everything topple over. Organization leaders, whether that’s a nonprofit, a purpose-driven organization or even in general a for-profit business, a lot of the upper echelon tend to get caught up in that business, so that pillar tends to get a lot of the attention and the others are now unstable.
Creating a mechanism by which your business can work without your presence, or at least you have an understanding of your profit model so that you can take some time off from time to time, hopefully, regularly without feeling like you’re just leaving things to rot. It’s such an incredibly valuable thing to figure out and to have help with. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with asking for help when we need it. Do you see a certain type of organization that either benefits most from your approach or from bringing in a fractional COO?
No. I work a lot with service-based businesses, but I also have two software companies that I’m working with. Anyone can benefit from not necessarily working with me, but thinking through some of these concepts and being in a position to say, “This is how we operate and grow,” those basic needs I was discussing and being in a position to say, “This is how we are functioning day-to-day and here’s how we grow.” It’s usual that service businesses are affected, probably the most by some of the anecdotes that we’ve been presenting on this session here.
They’re in the position where they have client work or they’re working on a project-by-project basis. Those folks in a software company would be in a position from an anecdotal perspective, where they would have a very difficult, time-crunch position, where they would be getting the one of the software out, and they’d be in a position where it would lighten up a little bit more. They’d be a little bit more data-driven out of the gate because otherwise, they likely won’t be profitable. They don’t know how long they generally keep a customer or what it costs to get a customer.
Someone like an agency owner or any general service-based business, they’re in positions where they’re usually bidding out contracts that they have no idea how to price. It’s a shame because they’re like, “I think I should make about $150 an hour,” or wherever it is they start. They’re in a position down the line where they’ve got this pricing model that might be outdated or it might not be 100% true because they don’t know exactly how profitable they are on these projects. General reassessment does the company grow on pricing, fulfillment, consistency, and all those types of things.
It is something that I do think generally affects a service-based business a little bit earlier in the process. Truthfully, I’ve worked with companies who have been in the 7- and 8-figure mark, and they haven’t touched any of this stuff. It’s so funny how they’ve gotten this far, sometimes it is beyond me. They’re like, “We’ve just bootstrapped it to this point.” I’m like, “Good on you for bootstrapping it to $10 million.” That’s impressive, but I think the service business or the agency business is going to be a little bit more difficult to grow a business to that size with a service offering if we haven’t had some of these core discussions about ops.
When you start working with a client, do they typically start with your quarterly process and then escalate up to more hands-on? What does the model look like for people who are coming in and looking to engage with you and your team?
Our approach is standard, but our results are custom. What that means is that we typically will take on a project with our clients. We work in 90-day sprints. All of our client projects typically are 90 days in length, and we have two different types of projects. We have strategic and implementation client projects. The strategic projects look like going through this process at the strategic level with the client and saying, “If you have a team or you’ve got someone to help hold these levers, we can go through this and clear the path.” It provides some of that clarity and checks in on them. We can establish some key metrics and then we’ll check in with them over 90 days.
Something worse than not looking at numbers is looking at incorrect numbers.
We’ve got the implementation projects, which truthfully, obviously includes the strategic element because how can we do a solid project without strategy? We do everything for them. We are a full-service operations agency, which means we can write procedures, establish rules of engagement and create templates inside of a project management tool. We can create sales flow and build out different tech platforms. We can create custom integrations that hopefully decrease some of the administrative workloads for some of the team members and make data a little bit more visible. That’s a small window into some of the things that we do.
We also work a lot with HR teams on standardizing training, and we’re a certified partner with a company called Trainable. They’re wonderful at standardizing that experience. When you get a new employee and make sure that they’re trained on your procedures, how does he work and how you want things. We do take on a handful of projects like that as well. As I mentioned, those are our two main veins.
Honestly, we don’t stray too much from that. I love the simplicity of what we offer of my business. It’s something that I like a lot. My clients also like the simplicity of being able to do a 90-day engagement with us and say, “This time, we’re going to work on the sales department. This time we’re going to work on the customer service department.” It’s very cut and dry. As for some of our larger companies, they have specific budgets for different departments, and it’s easy to allocate those funds operationally to working with somebody like me. It’s been something that I felt has gone well for us.
I appreciate you walking me through that process. I’m curious to know how a small organization might tee up the idea of working with a consultant such as yourself, versus a much larger organization. Particularly, when you get into larger organizations, they do tend to have budgets tied to different areas of focus within their business, and applying those budgets to ops certainly can be incredibly valuable in time and efficiency. It’s a productivity boost for sure. Have you worked within the nonprofit space much, or is that something that’s outside of where you tend to land?
In my original 9:00 to 5:00, the very first Operations Manager position that I held, we helped a ton of nonprofits. It was more on the sales and marketing arm. From an op’s perspective, I can advise a little bit more in there in sales and marketing-wise, but I have worked with nonprofits here and there sprinkled in just more so in the strategic capacity. I do find that nonprofit needs extend a little bit farther than from an ops setup perspective like operating agreements and legalese. It extends a little bit farther than I can go, but I have some solid recommendations inside of my network.
Truthfully, it’s something that I said to my project manager, “It would be wonderful to do some nonprofit work throughout the year.” Honestly, I thought I was going to grow up and be a lawyer. I’ve always wanted to do pro bono work once a quarter, twice a year or something like that. It would be great to get involved with some nonprofits that we can help do some operational changes.
It’s funny how nonprofits don’t necessarily consider sales as part of the opportunity or the job description, but particularly for executive directors and people in those types of positions, you are doing a lot of sales. You’re convincing people that this is the right place to help, and that your team can get this job done as part of your mission. Then creating systems around that I think can be incredibly valuable for nonprofits because a lot of times, they do have even more limited resources than perhaps in the for-profit space. It’s creating standardized processes that they can follow, which tend to help streamline in the absence of being able to just throw bodies at it.
It’s tough when you start to look at, for example, funding in nonprofits. It’s like those feast or famine ones we talked about before. We either need to keep funding top of mind, 24/7, and create some amazing procedures for that, and that is sales. That’s very much sales, especially when you start to talk about one of the things that we did at the organization that I worked with.
We helped them create ways to start conversations with donors and people who would be able to further the mission. In that case, having a system to be able to do something like that all the time is something that I think is very overlooked because oftentimes we see donor events and things like that once a year. Instead, we can create micro versions of those to help us create a little bit more consistency.
We talked about that as the inspire phase where you have people who have raised their hand and said they believe in your organization, and then have either given time or money to the organization or both, and how can you escalate, advance that relationship or keep it moving where you can get them to bring in their businesses, a corporate donor, some sponsor, or at least be willing to make it easy for them to share all the benefits that you bring to the table to their network to help spread that word.
It’s this idea of how we get repeat business and referral business in the nonprofit space that can be repeat donations, volunteer work or helping to evangelize around the organization and its mission, and bring more people into the sphere of influence. For most people, it starts as a one-off process where you’re reinventing the wheel every time you do it. You’ve written that email 90 times and you can start to recognize when you’re doing something again. That’s a perfect place for a process.
There are three stages to a process at least that I’ve seen in my experience. There’s the “I do it myself” over and again. The second stage is, “I’ve created a process and delegated it, so someone else can now get the same result that I was previously getting.” The third stage is multiple people or in a department of people at scale can get those same results that you were getting with that process. It typically changes. Your process might not look the same with you doing it, versus you giving it to somebody else to do it because there might be an extra step you want them to take to report or whatever else to make sure that it’s being managed properly.
It might also take another quick change because at scale, you might not be able to do the personal touches that you did in the original process. We can’t be afraid of our process changing as long as it’s still delivering quality results, both on the business side and on our client’s side or on the end-user. If we can start to take a look at things like that where things are constantly evolving and growing, the process doesn’t always have to be the process.
That’s something that folks get a little intimidated by when we start to take the car down the road of going through standard operating procedures. They’re like, “Things change all the time.” I’m like, “That’s okay. That’s fine. Let’s change all the time, but what we need to do is document current best thinking because what we’re going to do is we’re going to wake up tomorrow. We’re going to have no idea what to do.”
I had that conversation with someone where we were talking about how you don’t have to get it completely right as long as you can get it out of your head. You can massage on it or make it someone else’s task to refine and improve that process. You delegated the process creation. It was like it took that piece off your plate as well. It’s amazing the power of committing to noticing those things and then making sure that you get it out there to at least your organization’s common area.
It’s a muscle to build for sure because I know a lot of business owners and teams don’t have process creation woven into their culture. It does take a little bit of time. Sometimes, there’s going to be some pushback. You’re going to get sore after your first workout, and it’s going to happen. You’re going to need to make sure that you’re committed to the result because there are going to be some barriers. Things are going to change. They’re going to change often and quickly. One of the biggest things to establish is that creating processes or procedure internally and then centralizing it.
We can’t be afraid of a process changing as long as it’s still delivering quality results both on the business side and on the client’s side.
There’s nothing more frustrating probably in the entire world than searching in the Google Drive. We got all these things piled up in Google Drive somewhere. Eventually, it’s going to be difficult for someone to find them. Being in a position to centralize things is a huge step to take, even just to do tomorrow. If you’re reading our conversation, take that at least. If you know that you’ve created some documents at some point to help your team move things forward without you, centralize them now.
Get them in a place where there’s one link to bookmark or share with everybody so that you’re not like, “Where’s that one thing we created that one time?” You’re spending 25 minutes looking for it. At least give a place, a central location. If your team takes it on themselves as well to create some new procedures or new checklists and things, they can also dump it right in that central location.
That’s amazing advice. I will have to take you up on that because I certainly have some stuff that’s all over the place. We started documenting processes and putting them in one place. We’ve been doing that for a little while now, but even that repository could be a little bit better organized. Figuring out ways and creating systems around which people can find the information that they need and be able to get to talk about and iterate on that and make it even better.
I enjoyed our conversation. There’s so much great information out there. I know that you have a bunch of great resources on your website for people who are seeking and start dipping their toes into this wonderful world of streamlining operations and building out systems. I would encourage everyone to head over to your website, which is OperationsAgency.com, and check out everything that you have there available. Where else can people find you online if they have questions or want to learn more?
OperationsAgency.com is probably the best place. We have a Resources page there on our site. There are trainings, templates and some other things that you can get into, depending on what your needs are. Truthfully, I’m super accessible. We’ve got a Facebook Page on @OperationsAgency. I answer those messages truthfully. Please don’t abuse them.
For the most part, I’m super accessible. I’m very involved in the process of talking with someone about their needs and whether or not this journey is a right fit because, truthfully, it’s something that I’m very passionate about fixing these relationships between owner and business. I want to make sure that this isn’t going to be an exercise in futility if we need to focus on sales and marketing versus ops. I’ll let you know that for sure. If anyone’s got any questions or anything related to ops structure, team training, utilization and all of that stuff, I’m super available. You can hit me up on Facebook or even just shoot me an email from our website.
That’s very thoughtful and generous of you. I would encourage people to take advantage of that because you have a good handle on how to take people’s businesses and just make them work more effectively and efficiently for them, which is pretty much what every one of us is wanting to do.
I love talking about jobs.
That’s a great segue because I love having these conversations, but one of the things that I wanted to make sure of is that people take action. I know that you mentioned if people could have one takeaway go in and make sure that they have their processes all dialed into one area at least, and make sure that knowledge is accessible by their team. If there was one other thing or anything else that you would have people do after they’ve read our show, what other piece of action would you want them to take?
If you do not have Loom or some screencasting tool on your Chrome extension or whatever browser tool that you’re using, get it now because a part of the journey of getting a lot of this institutional knowledge and these years of experience out of your head, if you’re the business owner reading this, is going to be a visual of, “This is what I see when I’m doing something correctly. Here’s what I mean by definition of done.” If you’ve already centralized where you put some operational tutorials, procedures, things like that, you can just dump those screencasts right in there as well, and then someone can very easily access, “This is what Alyson meant when she said, ‘Go fill out the scorecard.’”
It’s very helpful. We’re living in a time where it’s easier than ever to connect with somebody else. Connecting with somebody on your team, letting them see what you’re seeing on your screen is almost like having them in the room with you, just being able to teach them what it is you’d like to see from them and what it is you’re expecting. Get Loom if you don’t have a central location for how-to documents, checklists and anything operationally related, go ahead and create a spreadsheet or Google Sheet and just share it with your organization as soon as you can.
I’ve been using Loom for a while now, and it’s such an amazing tool. I know that there are plenty of tools out there, but getting that resource that people can go back to is incredibly valuable. Thank you for recommending that. Alyson, thank you so much for being on the show. I appreciate it. I look forward to continuing our conversation and seeing how we can help everyone run a much more streamlined operation in the future.
I had such a pleasure. I can’t believe that time went by so quickly. I’m pumped to be able to share and I hope that everyone got some wisdom out and maybe is going to start to take some of these action steps. I’m rooting for you.
I’m rooting for everybody else as well. Go check out OperationsAgency.com and get your operations in order. Talk to you soon.
About Alyson Caffrey
Alyson Caffrey is the founder of Operations Agency and co-creator of the Operations Simplified™ Framework. She’s commonly referred to as ‘The Wolf’ among our clients because she just gets it done. Alyson is best known for helping streamline the back-end ops for a multitude of brands, but mostly digital and creative agencies.
As a fractional COO for many high-growth businesses, Alyson fell in love with the results that clear ops bring to a service business. She and the team at Operations Agency are determined to help businesses thrive profitably, serve more clients and create high-performing teams. Alyson is a new mom to a son named Frank and enjoys spending her time at home with her growing family.