First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Susan Fennema: My husband and I are both healthy. He was deemed essential, so he never stopped working. As the owner of Beyond the Chaos, I never stopped working either. The year has been stressful, but we’ve made it through and have much to be grateful for.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Beyond the Chaos.
Susan Fennema: I worked for small business owners my whole career helping them simplify their operations and manage their projects – handling the details for them so they could focus on running the business. I could make a tremendous amount of impact during the first year or so, but then it just became maintenance. When I got ready to leave my last job, I realized there was a way to help more business owners with their operations and to make that maintenance that followed less expensive to them. So, I started Beyond the Chaos 4 1/2 years ago.
How does Beyond the Chaos innovate?
Susan Fennema: Our goals are to help build and support strong, honest American small businesses and to create chaos-free lives in the best country on earth. To that end, we work primarily with American clients and team members. Not only should we affect our team members and their families positively, but we should do it exponentially. Every client, each of their team members, all of our clients’ clients, and all vendors associated with each of those people should experience less chaos and drama in their professional — and by extension, personal — lives. The end goal is to improve family life (however that be defined) for everyone, affecting our society positively.
We do that by simplifying business operations and managing projects – using technology – to give small business owners the opportunity to focus on growing their businesses and spending time with their families.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Susan Fennema: We lost a few deals because of the industries our clients served (trade shows, hotels, entertainment). We also won a few deals from industries unaffected. Our business is virtual, so most of us “quarantine” all the time, and we knew how to work from home already. It has stunted our growth and made for some financial challenges, but PPP and EIDL have helped with that.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Susan Fennema: Beyond the Chaos is built to scale up and down. We are staffed with part-time contractors. The biggest challenge was making sure they were OK. But, all of them kept working, so we didn’t have to decide who to let go or anything like that. When we got the PPP money, I was able to put them all to work writing our OWN systems. So, we had the opportunity for the cobbler to build her own shoes, so to speak. We simplified and streamlined, and it has made us stronger as we start to come out of it.
The biggest lesson I learned is to take care of myself first. Stress and anxiety affect you. You need more sleep. You need to exercise. You need to not eat all the candy and drink all the booze in sight! That might work for comfort for a couple of weeks, but it isn’t a long-term solution. I learned I had to sleep more than I was. You can’t just do the exact same thing…you have to adapt your habits and structure to give yourself a little more care.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Beyond the Chaos in the future?
Susan Fennema: Well, I find eating and drinking relaxing…as mentioned above, but those are not long-term solutions! So, I learned that sleeping and exercising more, letting yourself grieve, and trying to be as normal as possible otherwise are the better ways to deal with stress and anxiety.
To protect (I’m assuming you meant to protect) my company in the future, we will continue to follow our systems that worked. We will assess each situation as it arises and determines what has to happen to manage our business and clients. Essentially, keep following the same path. It worked this time, and I can’t foresee a bigger, odder circumstance. (Hopefully, that’s not my lack of foresight!)
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Susan Fennema: My competitors are things…not other companies. No one else serves small business owners as we do. We are looking for those small businesses that are fewer than 25 people, and we tend to work more with those who are 10 or fewer. Our competitors are project management software and choosing to do nothing. We are working on a marketing plan to address those 2 things right now. Essentially, project management software doesn’t solve the problem. It’s just a tool – and without proper process and planning around the use of the tool, it will easily be used improperly. As for choosing to do nothing, there isn’t much we can do there except to continue to stay in touch with those who “pass” the first time. A few more months down the road, with that pain point still being there, it becomes a little easier game to stay in!
Your final thoughts?
Susan Fennema: Small business owners make this country go. We want to make their lives easier so they can do what they do best!