Getting Operations Under Control
with Laura Doehle, Founder Elevation Business Consulting
The behind the scenes operations are not usually any business owner's favorite. Oftentimes, the true joy behind a business’s purpose can be overrun by the chaos of inefficient operations. In this interview, Laura Doehle, founder and CEO of Elevation Business Consulting, shares how she assists business owners in building efficient systems and processes in the tasks that overwhelm their business. If you find yourself or your business getting lost in the chaos, we have tips, ideas, and questions for you.
Notes from the Show
Most people do not go into a business because they are excited about the backend, they are excited about what the business can actually do. Laura Doehle, founder and CEO of Elevation Business Consulting, helps businesses get their operations under control so that they have time to enjoy just that.
Oftentimes, businesses are spreading themselves thin by spending their time focusing on their service and customers and then stretching to get all the little things done without having a system to get these important tasks done seamlessly. Laura works with her clients to set up systems that work uniquely for their business to streamline the behind the scenes that are crucial to a businesses growth. When the right structures and processes are in place, business owners are freed up to focus on the parts of the business that bring them joy.
Over the last 22 months of the pandemic, businesses have adapted to thrive in the new remote world. Many had to create new systems, new operations, and structures to fuel that. Now that the world is settling back to a new normal, what's next? Laura urges businesses to take a look at how they survived this unprecedented time, and to use more of that to propel them forward. For her, it's about the future for companies and not about going back to what it was.
Accountability with structure and function is a process individual to each business owner. Not only do systems, delegations, and processes need to be put into place for elements of the operations but it's important for business owners to have systems for check-in. A business owner has to hold accountability for all of the tasks, the information they hold, the employees carrying them out, and the efficiency of each system. These changes do not happen overnight, but Laura works with businesses and owners one on one to get their operations under control.
If you're struggling with operations and wondering how to get started getting it under control, Laura has a few suggestions. Ask yourself, what is your end goal? What do you want your business to look like and how does your role in that look? Then determine where and how you're spending your time. If you want to get in touch with Laura Doehle, check out her business website and send her an email.
Conquering the chaos.
Systems that free you to do what you love.
Maintaining the nimbleness that helped us survive & succeed in the pandemic.
Mentioned in this Episode:
Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:40
Hello, and welcome back to stop the noise. I'm Susan Tatum. And today I'm talking with Laura Doehle, who is the founder and owner of Elevation Business Consulting in the Seattle area. Welcome, Laura.
Laura Doehle 0:51
Hello, Susan. It's delightful to be here.
Susan Tatum 0:53
It is great to have you here because we're going to talk about your thing is that you help small business owners to get their operations under control.
Laura Doehle 1:04
Susan Tatum 1:05
And this is very near and dear to me, because as a small business owner, myself, I hate operations. You know, it is not why I got into consulting and what I do, and I have a feeling I'm not the only person that's like this
Laura Doehle 1:20
you are, you are accurate. Most people do not go into business, because they're excited about the backs end of the business. They're excited about what the business is actually doing.
Susan Tatum 1:29
So when when you when we talk about operations, what does that mean to you?
Laura Doehle 1:35
Really, it's the running of the business. So we're not talking about the product. And we're not talking about what the services, we're talking about the rhythm of your business? How are you keeping things under control, looking at different structures, for running that business, as well as different tools. So that can be things around your financials? Or your human resources? Like, there's all the GNA stuff we always think about, but to me, a lot of it is it's less about like HR, because you can go find an HR consultant, it's about how are you leveraging the way you run your business to get the most out of those different functions and not drive yourself insane at the same time? Which is a big piece of it?
Susan Tatum 2:13
Well, and that's a good point. Because you you mentioned in your, in your profile, and on your website, that about all this chaos that's going on in your your, I mean, in my words, you're saving business owners from themselves?
Laura Doehle 2:24
Susan Tatum 2:25
But they got into this, or we get into this sort of cycle of, I don't know about them, but I bury my head in, I don't open that letter, it won't it doesn't exist.
Laura Doehle 2:37
Yes. Well, you know, I think part of it is is like you as a consultant, you're delivering services. And so that's always where you're going to gravitate to is that is what services need to be delivered. Because that's where the revenue is. And that's what you enjoy. That's why you're doing this. And then all of a sudden, you're like, oh, wait, you know, my computer just died? Do I even have enough money to pay for a new computer? And where am I gonna find the time to set that computer up, and then it's, I'm spending too much time on social media. I know I need to do it, but I can't keep spending my time. And so then you stretch yourself thin, trying to fit in all these things that you know you need to do. Sometimes it's simple things like paying the bills, or opening those envelopes. And so then it becomes this chaos, because in between your focus time of working with your clients, which is what you need to do to make the money, you're trying to squeeze in bits and pieces of running a business without having like that structure that allows it to move seamlessly. So So I think it's it's really you're not abnormal, and wanting to bury your head, because where you get joy is in, in the consulting that you're doing not in? Let's look at my financials. And do I know how much it's gonna cost me to hire somebody new? Or do I even know that I'm ready to hire someone new? You know, it's like, we're at the end of the year. Right? So yeah, it's, we're all like, Yay, if we hit our goals, or have we not hit our goals, and then one of the goals was to be for next year, a lot of people set these goals, but they never really pay attention to how are they progressing on them? And are these goals realistic? Based on what they're willing to give? I've got one client who basically set the goal, I want to have hit all my goals before the holidays, because I don't want to have to stress out during the holidays. And so it's like that just mental picture of like, what does that look like? And then backing into how do you do that, but then you got to figure out how to track it. And that's where, like this, that how you run your business so that you can feel confident that you're where you're supposed to be and you're moving towards where you want to go.
Susan Tatum 4:33
So fair to say that you would be the kind of person that helps the plan, get come true, get executed, or maybe not the delivery of the consulting, but we refer to it as the backend.
Laura Doehle 4:46
So I'm the one that's going to help you figure out what needs to happen. What do you need to offload? Where can you What do you need to outsource potentially? Or where are the systems and tools that can streamline things? So really thinking about strategically what where are these different levers that are moving in your business and what needs to change? You know, like timekeeping is one thing and consultants, it's an hourly business, if you're just one person and Excel spreadsheet works great, as soon as you have multiple consultants on your team, working for the clients trying to keep track of time, and how much are you billing and getting those invoices out can become a very long and convoluted process. And it's stressful.
Susan Tatum 5:26
I can't, So I gave up time working for Time you know time for money years ago, and we do value pricing. But operations people always have us track the time. So you can see what went in and if a certain kind of client or certain project is profitable, that seems to be an important thing to understand.
Laura Doehle 5:45
It is yes. And I do believe that too, even if you do the value pricing, are you actually getting or is it a profitable project? how much time is it, especially if it's a new kind of product that you're promoting, until you've actually tracked how much time you're putting into it, you won't know that the price you put out there is actually a profitable price. And so we could spend a lot of time trying to track all of that. But there's also great timekeeping systems that are super easy to use, that you or your team members can put in and be able to quickly pull up how many hours were spent on this client, and what is our profit, or how many hours are spent this month, let's get our invoices out. And it just streamlines that process. And it seems really straightforward when you and I sit here and talk about it. But when you're in the throes of your business, and you're just trying to deliver, you're not thinking about that, you're just like fine, I'll just write it here on this piece of paper. And then when it comes time to do invoices, I'll open up QuickBooks and I'll find that piece of paper and I'll do it, which is not an efficient or effective way, especially if you're going to grow
Susan Tatum 6:43
true. So I use a an application called toggl that just, you know, track tracks my time tracks other people's time, but then it's like, yeah, well okay to track that, what am I going to do with it?
Laura Doehle 6:53
Well, I think that's where, you know, spending some time on your business and having those kind of a rhythm of business where you do take a look at where where was the time spent. And, and then being able to compare it too, you know, like, we invoice this client $1,000. And we put in 25 hours, we didn't make our money, or we invoice his client 1000. And we put in five hours, well, we made a lot of money on that. And so it's sometimes it's just taking 10 minutes to be able to compare those numbers. So that you can have a sense of, you know, I'm gonna do deep dive analytics, like, you don't have time for that, but to actually know what's happening. And because then when problems do arise, you can find the answers.
Susan Tatum 7:34
Yeah, yeah. So in your work with clients, do you set them up in these systems? And then and then, like, I guess you can stay around and do all of the deep diving that's necessary or, or be an accountability partner that said, Okay, you're gonna sit down, you're gonna look at these things for 10 minutes.
Laura Doehle 7:50
I think it's a combination. So I'm not going to come in and do all of that work on a monthly basis and keep things moving forward for you. But what I do do is help you set up those systems so that they make sense for you. I've done way too much research on different systems to meet different client needs. But figure out which one's the right one help you get that implemented, and then help you come up with how are you going to use that tool and be an accountability partner on that utilization, it's not usually just one tool that we're looking at. It's a whole line of, of different areas where help is needed, from the timekeeping, to the invoicing to even just looking at the financials. And I'm not a financial professional like I, I laughed, like, I did not go to school for finances, but boy, do I spend a lot of time dealing with numbers of money now. Because what I learned is that most business owners, they too, are not financial professionals. And so they're not sure like they can look at their P&L and be like yay, I made money. But they're not able to dig in understand what what changes will need to occur as I grow, if I'm going to add more revenue from an add more clients, does that mean, I need to be able to have more bandwidth on systems that are delivering a subscription service? Or does it mean I'm going to need to hire more? And what do I need to hire? And so looking at a P&L to know that you made money that month is great, but that doesn't necessarily help you predict where you're going to need to shift things as you change. The pandemic was one of those things where all of a sudden, we shifted with zero knowledge on what that shift would look like. But we started spending more money on technology than ever before, because that was how we were delivering services. And I know some companies where they was kind of like spending willy nilly, because they had no choice. We got to give people laptops, we got to give them home office setups. And we didn't they didn't think twice about it, but then all of a sudden, it was like whoa, what's happened to our financials? Are we sustaining this and how do we sustain this and it'd be nice if you have a grasp already. Before, you know, global pandemics happen
Susan Tatum 9:49
for the next.. yeah
Laura Doehle 9:50
I am kind of where where do you have wiggle room and where, you know, like for many organizations, it was yes, we just spent all this money on technology. But now we're not spending any money on travel. And so we just shifted one item to the next in the budget. So I a lot of what I do feels very ho hum, because I'm not telling people anything they don't already know, I'm just helping them take a second to think about what's going to be most effective for their business and, and truly putting structure and process in place. And don't freak out about the word process. Because I know a lot of small business owners have this like visceral reaction to the idea of a process. And that comes in many cases from having worked for large companies, where they over process everything.
Susan Tatum 10:34
Laura Doehle 10:35
But my experience is if we put in the right processes, it frees the business owner up to stop having to stress about everything. Because we know the steps that need to happen month end, when it's time to do the invoicing. We've already identified what are the four steps that have to happen in order to get those invoices out as quickly as possible. So we don't have to think about it. We don't have to worry about it. We don't have to think are we missing something, we just execute and move on. And in my experience, having process and structure kind of frees up people to be more creative and have more energy to put where they're best served, which is serving your clients.
Susan Tatum 11:09
That's absolutely true, from my experience, although it can be very painful to get from just making things happen, because I want them to happen to actually having a process that other people can follow when I don't have to be there making things that I want to have happen happen. So yeah, I mean, it. It's it's such a critical part of running a business. That it it just makes a lot of sense. So are you seeing now, what are you seeing now as changes? Hopefully we are coming out of COVID or certainly moving into the new whatever it is. And some people are going back to work. Some people are beginning to travel again. What how are you seeing businesses affected by that?
Laura Doehle 11:50
That I think that that's a total crapshoot right now, what each business is approaching is very different. And, and I think that that's good. Like I look back and think about was 22 months now that we've been doing this, and is remote world. And we're still standing, we've made it we figured out how to make it in this pandemic remote. Who knows what's going to happen next world. And those of us who are still standing really should use this as an opportunity to kind of take stock out what made me successful in this environment? And how do I take that forward? And instead of how do I go back to what was how do I take this and own it? And I think that's where we're at? Is there some companies who are saying, Yeah, we are, we've missed out on a lot of opportunities, because we haven't been able to go spontaneously meet people at conferences. So we want to get back to in person interactions like that, or where we get our most bang for our buck. Because we are present at such and such function, then there's other organizations that have said, Holy smokes, we are so much more efficient and effective in this remote environment. And we're not at a loss for business, we can maintain relationships from our computers, there is no reason for us to be back traveling the way we were. And so each company, I think, is really looking at how was I successful at surviving this. And and what can I take with me forward? I mean, you know, obviously, there's a lot of this like, well, do we go back into the office? Do we not go back to the office? Are people comfortable? What are your mandates? All those questions, and each business owner, I think has to grapple with that differently. Yeah. And a lot of that comes down to just value systems and what what's important to them and everybody's very different in that.
Susan Tatum 13:29
Yeah, Yeah, I think culture ..
Laura Doehle 13:31
Right, exactly. Yeah. But I think as a business owner, it's really been looking at but how can we be successful and then we can tweak it from there like we don't need to travel but people want to get together so once a quarter we get together once a month we get together and and creating those structures that makes sense for that business instead of doing what always was or the what we should and there's never any shoulds it's it's what really is going to help you be more successful at what you're doing.
Susan Tatum 13:56
So it sounds like now's a really good time to be thinking about what we learned and and how we apply that in the coming year. Well, I guess this is now December 1st of 2022 is we're recording this but if when people listening to this, if you haven't done this, take the time to go through and do it. Because yeah, because you're never going to have another, I hope, you're not gonna have another opportunity to have seen so much change so quickly, quickly, and see how well you you handled it really are, you know, it's surfaced as the problems.
Laura Doehle 14:32
It's true. Like we were all so nimble, we had no choice but to be nimble, but we did it. And unfortunately, not every business succeeded. But, but we did. And there are many that are listening to this that did, and they should be proud of what they have accomplished, to still be standing strong at this point. And so now it's, you know, we'll, I'm going to take that and run with it. I think when we were at this point last year, it was still so we had the vaccines were just about to be rolled out. Because mid December when the first people started getting vaccinations. So we knew that that was on the horizon. And we were also hopeful. And so 2022 or 2021, felt so full of promise that we're all going to get vaccinated, everything was gonna go back to normal by summer, and it was going to be wonderful. And there was a huge aspect of that. And then we've dealt with some other hiccups along the way, learning the Greek alphabet being part of that, and, and so I feel like there's been this like pullback of like, oh, it's never going to be what we want it to be. And so I'm of the mindset of like, Well, then let's just make it where we want it to be ourselves in the environment that we're in. And we did it, we survived 22 months of this, we can survive another 12 of pushing forward in a way that we have seen ourselves be successful.
Susan Tatum 15:51
And yeah, why not do it with a plan? And with Yeah, with knowing what worked and what didn't work? That makes a lot of sense. So what do you see? Like, what are the root causes of the chaos? I think I've already mentioned one about myself. Why does all this chaos happen?
Laura Doehle 16:09
So I think as a business owner, if you are going to be spinning a lot of plates, and all the plates are spinning at different speeds. And that is what causes the chaos is that you have no choice but to be aware and cognizant of all the functions of the business and everything that needs to be done. And even with delegation, which helps alleviate some of the like speed at which plates are spinning on your plate in your table. You still have to be aware, you can delegate recruiting, but you still have to be involved, you can have someone else doing your, your books, but you still have to review you can, you know, have someone else involved in sales, but you're still going to be a piece of that puzzle. And so I think that's what creates the chaos is that trying to make sure that all these plates are spinning at the rate that they need to spend, even if there has been delegation. And, and that's why I'm a big fan of like, we'll create the structure so that you know, when you're checking in on plates, and having having the accountability structures for your team, that so that you're not constantly questioning what is that getting done, where we add on that? You know, exactly when you're going to find out, you know, what update you're going to get? And when So creating those mechanisms, so that you're not constantly asking, oh, my gosh, is that plate spinning at the speed it needs to spin?
Susan Tatum 17:24
So how much of say a business owners time does it take to get from to get through that to get to this new wonderful land that you are describing? Where you know, where you just know that everything's under control? And you can see, you know, when you're going to be able to look at the right things when there's a schedule? And it's easy to follow? How much does the does a business owner need to be willing to say, alright, this is going to take me X.
Laura Doehle 17:58
There's no specific number on that. Because every person is a little bit different on how easily they relinquish and how quickly they can adapt to new behaviors. But it's not a it's not a one month process. To put it like I've had clients that have put in leadership teams and to create a leadership team and get them running and fully owning their functions. That's a long process.
Susan Tatum 18:20
Oh, that Yeah.
Laura Doehle 18:21
And then I have others that have are literally just trying to figure out it's six months in and how do I actually not deliver as much of the work as I have been and have others deliver the work so I can't have any time to focus on running the business. So So I think it really just depends on each person and how, how deep they are into the delivering of the work as well as how entrenched they are in how it's always been.
Susan Tatum 18:50
Laura Doehle 18:51
so So there really is is no timeline, but it's not an easy process when you're putting, especially if you put in a whole new system, basically how you're running your organization, whether, you know, like it's a weekly staff meeting, where we all look at every project, and are they on track and, and who needs help where, like just that small shift of a 30 minute meeting once a week, is has a dramatic effect, but you have to spend the time to start to create the rhythm where there's the the quick collaboration that needs to occur, and that it doesn't happen on day one. And so, so each of those each time you kind of put a process in place to help alleviate the strain on the business owner, it does take time for it to pick up speed.
Susan Tatum 19:30
So in your work, I mean, like how do you work with a client?
Laura Doehle 19:33
How do I work? So I do I have some group for group coaching programs, where business owners come together and work together through some of these challenges. And then I do one on one coaching, the one on one is, is more I would say in depth because it's more me really like you talked about like helping put, find a system put a system in, that's the one on one work, the group is more of a self directed approach to this change. So
Susan Tatum 19:58
so I'm just trying to imagine what it would and let's go with a one on one. So a business owner comes to you and says, you know, can't sleep at night, it's out of control, I want to grow. It's not it's not working? Where do you start?
Laura Doehle 20:09
So I usually start with the end in mind. What do you envision for your business? And for yourself? It's not, you know, like, everyone's like, Oh, I envision this multi million dollar business, and it's beautiful. And so then it stepped back. Well, what does it look like for you? What's your role in that? How much time are you putting into that? What parts of the business do you want to spend most of your time and energy on? And once you have that kind of end game in picture in mind, then you can like kind of peel back the onion of what are the changes that need to happen. And obviously, changes don't happen overnight. You know, it's can be as simple as I need to find a bookkeeper, okay, well, then let's find a bookkeeper. And let's figure out how to offload some of that. Or it can be, you know, I need to not work 75 hours a week, I'm wanting to work but not 75. And so, what do we need to remove? And doing an evaluation of how are you actually spending your time is an interesting exercise that I encourage every business owner to do spend two weeks no more than two weeks looking at where are you spending your time? And kind of the big buckets of like client service or sales or, you know, financial stuff for recruiting and like really understand, and then figure out if that's the best use of your time as the owner or not? And where's that imbalance? Because then that's where you start making the decision of, do we need to put in a system, like whether it's a technology, or whether it's like just a simple spreadsheet that solves this problem? Is there something like that, that can help us? Or is it I need to hire more people? Or I need to find a different resource? I mean, that's part of it, too. Sometimes you're like, Well, I have this resource, but man, I feel like I spent so much time, you know, following up with them, did you do this? Have you done this, that it's not the best resource. Like even banking, which seems so mundane, your bank. But if your bank doesn't allow you to either, like do online bill pay or receive ACH payments, and without a big fee? If you don't do it, like are you adding extra time to your life that you don't need because you have an inefficient bank. And spending a bit of time finding a better bank could potentially push you forward and get your money faster, save you a lot of hassle and headache. And those are the small things that can start to really add up and make a big difference and how you're running your business.
Susan Tatum 22:25
So I can certainly see the value in having somebody like you, or you know, just third party looking from the outside in saying, Well, here's the possibilities, and then helping to focus on what's the most important. I would imagine that the business owners superpowers are whatever it is that they like doing the most and hate doing the most would factor into the decisions that are made about how do we how do we tackle this
Laura Doehle 22:51
100% 100%. Right, like, it's like, play to your strengths 100% play to your strengths. And so you've got some who are really good at making the connection with clients. And that's where they should be focusing their time and then you have others that are more on the technical expertise and are better at coming up with what the solution needs to be for the clients. And so playing off of that. So that it's it's where are you What do you offload that's not at the greatest strength and a lot of cases there's also you know, business owner co business owners Got your partners? That that then that's where you figure out like, what's the divide and conquer? So this person is doing all the operational stuff. Why? What's the logic behind that? And does that make the most sense going forward based upon where you're at as a business and, and if you're, if you plan to grow, what does that look like, let's map out what you actually need to do to grow. Or if you don't want to grow, and you just want to sustain, which is a totally acceptable, you know, goal, what still needs to happen and who is going to best play the right roles to move it in the direction you want to go. So So what is a play to your strengths mean, unfortunately, as a business owner, you cannot eliminate some of the components of being a business owner. It's just inherent, you decided to put your name on this on this door. And so you're going to have to suffer the consequences of dealing with the CPA and making tax decisions and filing the right documents with the state and keeping up with all of those crazy things. You cannot eliminate that from your plate. It's about how do you manage that? And how do you carve out the time, so it doesn't become an afterthought, it becomes part of a successful business.
Susan Tatum 24:30
So what this time is going way too fast. But I do have one one last question. All right, I'm gonna ask you about obstacles, opportunities that you see for 2022? Or did we talk about that? Do you think?
Laura Doehle 24:42
Well, we kind of talked about it, because I do believe that the pandemic is our opportunity, as well as our obstacle, which is a, you know, it seems like a crop out answer. But just because I feel like, you know, we have done it, we have survived this. And so how have we survived it, that's our opportunity to take what made it work and flourish with it. But it's also that that obstacle we're going to face because we just have no idea how this is going to progress.
Susan Tatum 25:09
Someone once told me that when change is occurring, is the easiest time to make change occur. So if like if you're already in motion, and we were forced into that, so yeah, I think it makes a lot of sense to not get too complacent right now, let's, let's take this as, like I said, an opportunity to figure it out. I think that's brilliant.
Laura Doehle 25:33
Yeah, I mean, that's right. We all.. you're right. When you're making changes, the best time to make a change, because you have the inertia, its momentum is there. Yeah. And we've got the momentum. And I think if we keep trying to think and you read some of this in the news, too, and some of the big companies, I think run into this is how do we go back to what it was. Because we have all this great collaboration in our huge, massive offices. And I'm prefer working with small business because they, they don't have the opportunity to think about that. They have to think about what is here now? And how do I get where I want to go? And how it was. It's not how it's ever going to be again, there's just no physical way. I mean, I know my business model has shifted as a result of this. Yours probably has as well.
Susan Tatum 26:14
Laura Doehle 26:15
And and so for me, a lot of it is taking it and saying you know what, that Zoom license is the best money I spend every year and and you know, QuickBooks keeps telling me that I need to set up the part of my app that tracks my mileage. And I kind of want to like message QuickBooks and be like, where am I going? I don't have mileage. And so a lot of it is just this whole, like, stand tall and proud with what got you here. And then how do you take that forward? That's what our opportunity is for the next year plus
Susan Tatum 26:44
excellent Words To Live By. So for listeners that want to get in touch with you, Laura, and learn more about what you do, what's the best way to do that?
Laura Doehle 26:50
Um, my website has contact information on it. That's elevation-business.com And you can also just send me an email LauraD@elevation-business.com.
Susan Tatum 27:01
And your name is spelled DOEHLE.
Laura Doehle 27:06
That's the one
Susan Tatum 27:07
alright. Okay. And you're probably on LinkedIn.
Laura Doehle 27:09
I am definitely on Linkedin sure there's quite a lot.
Susan Tatum 27:11
Where we met. Alright, thanks again.
Laura Doehle 27:18
So much for having me here. This is wonderful.
Susan Tatum 27:22
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