01:26 – SYSTEMS! Implementing Repeatable Processes Via Automation
09:28 – Strategies for Implementation
12:18 – Reclaiming Your Time and Cheap is Always Expensive
Work the System (Online)
— Jessica Kerr (@jessitron) November 8, 2017
23:20 – Choosing Successful Customers and Avoiding Perfection Paralysis
— Jessica Kerr (@jessitron) November 8, 2017
28:44 – Successful Use Cases
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35:33 – Iterating and Changing Processes
42:31 – Kronda’s Superpowers
Jessica: As developers, and as we’re writing automation for other people, we can also think at a meta level, and automate the parts of our jobs so then we can spend more thinking time thinking about the interesting part of code, like how to achieve the results that we want.
Kronda: Things that are easy vs things that are effective.
Sam: Executive Dysfunction and the idea of making decision rules.
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SAM: Hello and welcome to Episode 56 of Greater Than Code. I’m Sam Livingston-Gray. I’m pleased as Punch to welcome my friend and co-panelist, Jessica Kerr.
JESSICA: Good morning. I am thrilled to be here today because our guest is Kronda Adair. Kronda is the CEO of Karvel Digital, a digital marketing agency that helps established businesses double their revenue in 12 months using online marketing. She loves empowering small business owners to not be intimidated by all this tech stuff and she’s often covered in cats. Kronda, how many cats?
KRONDA: Two. Not quite a cat pile but enough.
SAM: But they’re entitled enough so they can cover you, right?
KRONDA: Yeah, they can totally cover me. There’s a recent post of just shenanigans under a blanket happening while I’m trying to nap. It’s epic.
JESSICA: Cats make better blankets than pillows.
KRONDA: This is true. They get cranky when you try to lay on them. That’s the most enthusiastic introduction I’ve ever had. Thank you.
JESSICA: Oh, you’re welcome. I am really enthusiastic today because you said you want to talk about systems.
KRONDA: That’s pretty much all I want to talk about these days.
KRONDA: Why are you excited about systems? I’m always curious.
JESSICA: I could go on about this for a while but —
SAM: What do we mean by systems?
KRONDA: Good question. I recently read a book called Work the System by Sam Carpenter and he points out repeatedly that everything that ever happens on planet Earth is the result of a step-by-step process: one, two, three, four equals result. The whole premise of the book is that if you manage your systems so that you control the output, rather than fire-killing and dealing with the bad results of unmanaged systems, you will have a better business, a happier life, etcetera, etcetera.
JESSICA: That’s interesting because I think of systems quite the opposite as one, two, three, four of result. In my reading, the interesting bits about complex systems is that there is no clear causality in most cases. We only construct the causality retrospectively but there are many conditions that make it possible for something to happen and then one trigger, which is often small.
KRONDA: Wow, so this should be an interesting conversation.
SAM: All right, reconcile those in 30 seconds. Go!
JESSICA: Like your website went down because one database [inaudible] had a network partition but there were six other conditions that led that to cause your whole website to go down. In a lot of what we do in devops and in infrastructure these days is mitigate those possible failures and make the conditions not exist.
KRONDA: But the mitigation is the system management. If your website gets down and you say, “It went down because of this,” then you further say, “It went down because of this. How can we prevent that from happening again?” That part is system management, where you go back and say, “This partition went down so we need more redundancy,” or we need whatever it is to keep that from happening again. That’s system management and you can do it proactively but you’ll never going to get everything perfect. When there are either mistakes or accidents or whatever, those are gifts basically telling you, “Your system could be better,” and inviting you to go and fix it.
JESSICA: Yes, so it’s kind of one, two, three in parallel conditions and then four and then something happens.
KRONDA: Yeah, I don’t think we actually disagree.
JESSICA: Yes. It sounds like we don’t.
SAM: On the face of it, it seems like a lot of creative people wouldn’t object to that mechanistic sounding description of one, two, three, four because if I sit down to write a piece of code or I refactor somebody else’s bit of code, if I sit down and analyze it very deeply there are one or 17 steps in my head but they’re all the result of my own life experience that nobody else can duplicate. But it sounds like you’re talking about a little bit more repeatable process.
KRONDA: Well, yeah because the context of this book is business and I’m running a business. That’s the context in which I think about it. It works for pretty much every part of life but particularly in a business, especially a business that you want to grow beyond just being one person, if you don’t have repeatable processes and you start hiring people, then you can’t really be effective because they’re all just waiting on you to check their work or tell them what to do or etcetera, etcetera.
One way that I put this in place is I have been sending out a newsletter every Sunday and that means I think of the ideas, I write the newsletter, I spell-check the newsletter, I put it in an ActiveCampaign, I schedule and all the stuff. When I got a virtual assistant, I filmed myself doing all of the steps for spell-checking and putting into ActiveCampaign and scheduling and I sent that to the VA and I said, “Write a process for this based on this video.” Then I took what he wrote and said, “You left out this part,” and we worked on it until I felt like, “If you follow these steps, you’re going to get the same result every time, which is the newsletter that goes out at 6AM on Sunday.” Then my job became just write the newsletter and send it over and then he would schedule it and do all the other things, then I get that hour back every week.
JESSICA: Like Mandy does for this podcast. We just show up and talk to people.
KRONDA: Exactly. They all seemed to have a pretty good system.
JESSICA: Mandy has a system. Yeah, it’s sweet.
KRONDA: I’m basically trying to do that for everything in my business, figuring out what are the things that happen over and over again and writing processes for them. This is the part of business that most people don’t want to do and find boring so they don’t do it so then they wonder why everything is chaos. It’s really interesting once your mindset changes to then, look at the world and look at how other people managed things and go, “Oh, yeah. That could be really a lot better and a lot less stressful,” if you would do these things but you won’t.
SAM: That sounds like just applying a developer mindset or a programmer mindset to business systems.
JESSICA: Yeah, exactly. That’s what we do when we code things, right?
JESSICA: That we have to set down all the steps in order and exactly what to do in each contingency. It’s automation.
KRONDA: Pretty much and people think that automation means that you can’t be creative but I don’t think that’s true either. I think once you understand what your role is and what the outcome is supposed to be and the steps to get there, then within that, you can be really creative.
SAM: Yeah, and especially, I was going to say that one of the steps in programming can be throw up your hands and wait for a human to solve it. That’s raising an exception, which you can totally do. If you can automate 90% or even 80% of the boring stuff, then that leaves you so much more time to deal with the special cases and the interesting parts.
KRONDA: Exactly. I’m basically trying to write myself into the position where my job with the company is mostly to work on strategy with clients and write content marketing. That’s what I would like to do all the time.
JESSICA: Yes, so you’re automating yourself but in the sense that you write a process for people, instead of the computer like we do.
KRONDA: Exactly. I’m programming people now.
SAM: That sounds messy.
KRONDA: Yeah, it’s super messy. Someone recently said to me about their mentor who doesn’t really code much anymore. He said, “Yeah, I’m programming grad student now.” For a long time, when I first started my business, I really didn’t have aspirations to hire people or grow or do any of that stuff. I was like, “People are messy and it’s hard and I’m just going to code my way until sunset,” and then I realized if I want to have a life, then I have to build something that runs without me and that means other people.
It’s hard finding people. I recently had to let go my first virtual assistant because there wasn’t enough attention to detail, like I was writing all these things down and they weren’t being followed and I’m like, “Come on.” If I’m going to spend all this work, then you got to follow it. It’s super messy and this is something actually now that I think about it, one of my early mentors at the one tech company that I worked at, it kind of went through the same process where he was really, really amazing developer and then moved into management and running the company. He was like, “The challenges are really kind of the same,” like you’re just programming and people and spreadsheets. It’s just different challenges but at the same kind of mindset, in terms of getting the output that you want.
SAM: And completely different strategies for doing it.
SAM: What I heard that you wanted to talk about systems. My first thought was about something like for example, getting things done or Personal Kanban or some of those other systems that people use to manage their own volume of work. I’m wondering if you use one of those, if you have managed to make one of those stick.
KRONDA: I haven’t really gone deeply into any of that. I know about getting things done and I know the premise of it and I think, maybe a few years ago, I sort of made a half-hearted effort but nothing has stuck. I think the strategy that I’m using right now is to try to focus on one thing and fix it basically, forever. Right now, my email is a disaster because I’m focused on fixing something else. I’m focused on the process and documentation for the business because that’s going to allow me to bring in people and say, “I need these things done,” and I can just say, “And here’s how to do it,” and it’s all documented. That will give me my time back, then go and fix my email.
By fix it, I don’t just mean like wade through the whatever 33,000 that there are now but like unsubscribe from a ton of things, figure out what is the system that I’m going to use to keep email under control, implement that system and then fix that forever, then I’ll move on to another thing. Maybe it’ll be scheduling or I don’t know but it’s a really hard way to work because when things are in chaos, which a lot of things around me are chaos right now, you just kind of want to dive into all of it and that’s a good way to not get much done at all. It’s been really hard but for the last, probably four months, I’ve just been focused on, “I’m going to implement enough systems in my business that I can pass things off to people and get the results that I want.”
JESSICA: Yeah, because when you’re trying to accomplish something, we gain our power from all the things that we don’t do.
KRONDA: Right, and just trying to get the time to do this one thing. I’ve been trying to launch a product for two years. It’s just been one struggle after another so I finally scale it down and said, “Let me release the first 20% of this.” I did that and now I’m trying to finish out. The actual essence of the product is the Working Websites course, which has become my side hustle that I would like to become my main hustle at some point. I was like, “I’m just going to launch this thing and that’s going to force me to create it,” so now, I’m creating it and then I will have something that exist, something that I can sell that doesn’t then take up more of my time, which is the thing that I’ve been trying to do for two years.
JESSICA: You do have a focus on reclaiming your time.
KRONDA: Yeah. I don’t see my family as much as I want. I don’t see my friends as much as I want. I don’t spend enough time on home stuff. There’s so many more things that need my time that I don’t have so the way to get that back is to fix the things in the business that can be automated and repeated and sort of buy back my time that way
JESSICA: Right, you can’t just do the things. You can’t just answer the emails. You have to go meta and build a better way to answer emails or pair them down.
KRONDA: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s in the Work the System book but Sam has a lot of blog posts and things, or maybe it was on a podcast and he talks about how he handles email. In his whole company, their goal is to never have more than 20 or 30 emails in their inbox and they largely succeed at that. I was reading a blog post on the website and I was, “Man, this text is way too small,” so I was like, “Well, I’m going to read about it,” because apparently they all read their email in a timely fashion.
Sure enough the next day, I got a reply from Sam and he was like, “You’re totally right.” Because basically the email is like, “Come on, dude. I know you’ve got to be in your 60s and your core audience is probably over 40s so what is with this tiny text?” He said, “Oh, you’re absolutely right. I am in my 60s and my tech team are all in the 30s and I’m sending them up an email right now to work on this.” Then he was like, “What’s your address? I want to send you my books,” and so I gave it to him and two days later, books showed up. Sure enough, he wrote some business documentation software and if you go in there, there’s a bunch of sample processes and one of them is how to send a gift to a client.
As soon as I send him my address, he fired that up to someone else and said, “Send her some books,” and then it happened and he works two hours a week. He went from working 100 hours a week to two hours a week so I’m like, “Clearly, this guy know something that other people don’t.”
SAM: That sounds like macroing the hell out of your business.
KRONDA: Pretty much. There’s another good book that I like called ‘Traction.’ The subtitle is ‘Get a Grip on Your Business’ and it’s through the Entrepreneurial Operating System — EOSWorldwide.com. There’s actually a guy outside fixing our fence gate right now and they came in and put up the first half of our fence, in the front of our house. They were amazing. They said, “We’re going to be out on this day to look at the property.” They showed up and they said, “We’re going to get you a quote,” and they got us a quote. The day before they came to build the first section of fence, I said, “What time are you going to be here?” They said, “Well, it depends. We have our Wednesday a meeting and it depends how many issues are on the issues list,” and that’s it.
It’s a really particular way to say something like that and I said, “Oh, has your boss read Traction?” He said, “Oh, yeah. We’re an EOS company,” and I said, “Everything makes sense now, like why all your stuff is dialed, why you’re so expensive, why your work is so good.” You know, it all made sense. It kind of made me want to, the next time we need something done, just go to EOS and be like, “Do you have anybody who does this?” because if someone’s running their business that way, it’s a pretty good bet that their stuff is dialed and they have systems in place and they’re doing quality stuff. In fact, there was an issue with the gate but because the way they run their company, they’re like, “We’ll send somebody out to fix it,” and it’s a very, very different experience from other contractors we worked with.
I actually read a blog post or I think it was an email that’s like, “Why are freelancers so flakey?” and it’s largely because they don’t have systems and they’re not charging enough so then they’re like chasing the next job to pay for the work that they’re doing, that they undercharged you for. When it’s like, if you just charge enough to really pay attention and do things the way they need to be done, then you can get a better result. That’s just like a theme that keeps showing up.
SAM: That sounds like a whole other topic right there.
KRONDA: Yeah, the Venn diagram of good, fast, cheap. We’ve run afoul of that in our search for a landscape contractor to do our yard so it’s become a project.
JESSICA: Yeah, and I guess it’s like software. The thing is cheap but turned out to be really expensive.
KRONDA: It does. I’ve been on both sides of that equation. I’ve been the one that screwed up and I’ve been the one to be like, “What is going on?” Now, when people come to me and they’re like, “Can you give me a quote? I want to compare with this other quote.” I’m like, “Yeah, mine will be more expensive.” Tell me what the result that you want is, like what’s in your budget is a real thing but if what’s in your budget can’t get you the result that you need, then you have to figure something else out because pretending that you can get what you need with a budget that’s too small is going to get you some half done thing or something that doesn’t work and then you’re going to be out of money and still not have the result.
The first time I really understood that was about a year ago when someone came to me and he wanted like e-commerce and bookings and all this stuff. He said, “My budget is $3500.” I’m like, “We can’t even keep talking for that,” and I said, “Look, this is what it’s going to take to get the result you said you wanted and if you want to keep talking, just know that,” so he did and went forward and that’s the most successful site that I’ve launched to date.
He immediately started making money hand over fist when the new site watched because now, instead of spending all his time on the phone with people who are trying to book this shuttle, they’re just going to the website. There’s a giant FAQ that answers all their questions, that tells them to go book their hiking permit and then they can book their shuttle and then they show up. That really kind of made that hit home for me.
JESSICA: I love that it’s called Entrepreneurial Operating System because that illustrates that in our working systems that have to do with people, I think we’ve been learning a lot from software.
KRONDA: Yeah, because in software you can’t not work within the system because then, it won’t work. You’re forced to figure out, how’s the computer understand this.
JESSICA: That’s true. You can’t just say, “This person is stupid.” It’s a computer. You know what it’s going to do. It doesn’t accept your blame.
KRONDA: Yeah. It’s like, “You’re not working within the system so I can’t give you what you want,” whereas with people, we can screw it up all day long and we might still get occasionally what we want so then we don’t know that the system needs to be fixed.
JESSICA: Right. I think as people, we like to blame the system and just wish it were different. You don’t do that with computers. We either make it different or we work in it.
KRONDA: Exactly. I was in a Mastermind group recently, where one of the questions was, “How are you all getting new clients? Because I’m torturing myself going to these networking meetings and I hate it.” I said, “Well, what are you doing with your website?” and she was like, “Oh, nothing,” and I was like, “Have you thought about that?” Yeah, but I don’t have the money to pay someone and I don’t want to do it myself. I’m like, “That’s it. Those are your only options.”
SAM: Right, a magical website elder will not going to come visit you on Christmas Eve.
KRONDA: Right. That would be amazing, wouldn’t it?
SAM: Right, that would be great.
KRONDA: I would be a magical website elder.
SAM: Hang on. Let me see if that domain is available.
KRONDA: I wanted to walk out of the room because option three obviously is do nothing and keep complaining but it doesn’t get you anywhere that you want to be. As someone who just officially took on the mantle of, “I’m going to make a product that helps teach business owners, especially non-technical business owners, how to do websites that actually help their business,” this is something that I encounter a lot: people who are like, “I just want to use Wix because it’s easier,” and nobody ever says to me, “Oh, I use Squarespace or Wix because it’s more effective and I get a ton of clients from it.” Nobody ever says that to me. It’s always, “It’s easier.”
JESSICA: It’s all about them, as opposed to the results.
KRONDA: Right, so I’m getting way better at just filtering those people out right away because you’re not the person I can help because you don’t have the money to pay me five or 10 grand to just build this for you and you don’t know how to do it yourself and I’m saying, “I will teach you how to do it yourself but you still have to do it yourself.” If they’re the type that are like, “Well, it’s hard so I don’t want to do it.” It’s like, “Your business doesn’t care. Your customers don’t really care if it’s hard.” Whether something is hard or not, it has nothing to do with whether you should do it. If it’s hard, that means you probably should do it. That’s probably the way to success.
SAM: And your customers are going through the exact same process, right? They’re looking for a bed and breakfast to stay in and your website doesn’t make it obvious how to contact you or how to use your services. I’m going to go find some other bed and breakfast who bothered to spend a little bit more time on their site, you know? It’s the exact same process of like, “This is hard so I’m not going to do it.”
KRONDA: Exactly. Oh, that’s good. I’m going to use that. That’s really good. You have to find the people who are really grateful and like, “Oh, this is hard and you’re going to help me?” Awesome. Let’s go. Those people are fewer and farther in between so it’s been interesting. I actually looking forward to next year because I have a contract with Prosper Portland, which is basically a business development commission and they created this inclusive business resource network to help underrepresented founders.
The woman who works for this organization came to me and said, “Everybody is asking for more help with digital marketing,” and I said, “Great. I’ve been trying to make this course for two years. Why don’t you give me some money and I’ll finish it.” We just did that deal and we’re going to have, at least 10, maybe more of their either providers like mentor businesses and/or the direct clients that they serve who are one of the first people to go through the course next year. That’s going to be really exciting to actually get feedback from the target audience to say like, “Did I really capture this? Is this still too complex? Am I leaving things out because I don’t know what I know?” I’m really looking forward to that.
SAM: That’s awesome. Congratulations.
JESSICA: It sounds like part of the process of making your customer successful is choosing customers who have a chance of being successful.
KRONDA: It’s a large part of the process and it took me a while to figure that out. Now, someone called it like the velvet rope, like you’re trying to get into the club. People are trying to get into the club that’s standing with the velvet rope going, “I don’t know. Do you have what it takes?” Because one of the classic red flags is, “We’re going to do our own content to save money.” In this, you are a copywriter. In fact, it’s your business. Chances are, you’re not going to come up with the content that’s actually going to speak to your audience and convert your website visitors into customers so then, you’re tanking your results in the interest of ‘saving money.’
JESSICA: So you’re going to save, at most a couple of thousand dollars, whereas with good copy and a really good site, the upward potential of the revenue you could bring in orders of magnitude higher.
KRONDA: Right. I do a lot of screening for that. I still get a lot of increase that are like, “Can you set up this theme for me?” where over this past year, I’ve been transitioning out of a development-focused company and into marketing and strategy-focused company. I am a developer and I do have developers on my team but you don’t get them until we know why we’re doing this and what result we’re trying to get. That makes the screening process much easier actually because it’s really apparent, really quickly when people just want you to be like their code monkey and say, “Put this widget over here,” and I’m like, “Yeah, but why? What’s the good we’re trying to do here?”
JESSICA: Your development skills are now a tool, not the product.
KRONDA: Exactly. The product is ‘let’s grow your bottom line.’ One of the favorite things I like to do is what I call the ‘under haul’ and that’s when you have a website that is really beautiful and has terrible code underneath or maybe it’s good code but it’s super custom so no one can touch it but the developer. Then what you have is a marketing site that costs $100 an hour to edit text because no one can touch it except the developer without breaking it and marketing websites need to be flexible.
I’ve gone in quite a few times and this has been like, “This looks fine. Let’s just make it usable so you can actually edit things without writing PHP or whatever.” I love doing those. There are so many gains. There’s not having to wait a week, while you send offer request to go change this testimonial to something else or there’s speed of implementation. There’s so many gains by just being able to move quickly and online marketing now is just like you don’t know what’s going to work so you have to be able to change things. That’s a another thing that I think is a very slowly, people are coming to the realization that having a pixel-perfect, custom-coded marketing website is actually not an asset, having something where it’s like —
JESSICA: Oh, right because what is perfect you don’t know.
KRONDA: Right, you baked in and like, you do this entire project, you baked in all of your assumptions or maybe you talked to a customer along the way. Probably not and then you baked in all those assumptions to your website and then you’re like, “Nobody’s buying,” or nobody’s converting. Being able to say, “We’re going to get our minimum viable product,” and they’re going to AB test the crap out of it and say, “Does this call-to-action work better? Does this header work better? Does this copy work better?” and being able to test that, that’s what’s actually valuable at marketing websites.
JESSICA: Yeah and in software in general, I think because when you get into a system that’s complex enough that you can’t have it all in your head, which is like all of them now, you also don’t know what’s going to work or what’s going to cause problems. Like you said, when there is a problem, then that’s a gift of, “Oh, ha!” This didn’t work as the way you thought it does, you have to be able to change it.
KRONDA: Yeah. I just keep talking about this and they figure at some point, I’m going to become a trendsetter. Not that I’m the first one talking about this. I actually found a woman who used to work for Microsoft and she has a whole imperfect website like growth engine system and she kind of crystallized all the things that I was thinking about. I was like, “Look, she went completely crystallized this and made a course to teach people about it,” so I was like, “Yeah, that’s totally on the right track.”
Perfection paralysis is a huge barrier. I actually relaunch my KarvelDigital.com site in July and I did it as a challenge to my email subscribers because of having all these conversations of people and it was all boiling down to, “I really want this result but I don’t want to do any work,” so I was like, “Okay, people. Tell me what are you going to do in the next two weeks. I’m going to relaunch my site,” which is something I’ve been talking about since the beginning of the year.” I just did it really quick and dirty and it totally wasn’t perfect but it was way better than what I had before, then I’ve just been improving on it slowly.
SAM: We were talking about systems a little bit earlier and I was curious if you’ve been able to help any of your clients implement systems to help their businesses run more smoothly and what kind of results that’s had for them.
KRONDA: The site I talked about earlier with the shuttles, just them having the website kind of forced them into a system —
SAM: Because they said they were going to do a thing?
KRONDA: Because they said they were doing to do a thing. Well, before people would call, everything was over the phone so people would have to call and they would ask questions — a lot of the same questions — and then they would say, “Reserve my spot,” but then they don’t actually pay until they show up and pay cash, then it’s like, maybe they show up, maybe they don’t. Just the fact of having a website now that has a booking system means this is how you have to book. All the questions, they’re all answered on a website and if new questions come in, then you can just add them to the website so you save a ton of time.
SAM: And it sounds like you get better customers or you only talk to the serious ones, right?
KRONDA: Yeah, with the shuttle thing, this is a trail in Northern California so they actually get a lot of Silicon Valley people who are tired of staring screens and like, “I want to get back to nature,” so the online booking thing isn’t a barrier. It’s a feature not a bug. The wood-sy who were like, “What are computers?” You’re getting like, “The computer people who are like, “Oh, my God. I need to get to the woods.”
SAM: “But I don’t want to talk to anybody on the phone.”
KRONDA: Right. I have a client that I do just for marketing. We have a marketing retainer so part of that is just trying to install more systems like they’re going to start using one password for sharing all their secure passwords and stuff. I went in just this weekend and we went over on how are they using ActiveCampaign, both for prospecting and for customer retention and newsletter stuff. We just went through and I’m like, “Why are you doing it this way.” I like to do this and save some time.
What I’m slowly moving toward is within the tech stack that I use, helping people use those things to be more efficient. Like ActiveCampaign, it allows you to do a lot of email automation, which means you can send people emails based on a page that they would visit on your website. If they visit a product page, then you can send them an email a day or two later saying like, “If you’re interested in blah-blah-blah, here’s a coupon.” Helping people implement marketing systems and also just use, I like to say the power of robots to save themselves time. Basically, any time I see a client doing something that computers could do it instead, I’m like, “Why don’t we let computers do that?”
JESSICA: Right, because we started out talking about systems that you’re building that are programming people and you did say it was like hard finding people but that was super messy. If you can build the system into the computer, that can be a lot less messy sometimes.
KRONDA: It is. It’s just getting the people to agree what the system should be and then the computers are like, “Cool. Tell me what to do.”
JESSICA: And it’s way easier to scale.
KRONDA: Yeah, it’s way easier to scale. It’s always a mess at some level because as soon as you bring a person into a situation, there’s potential for mess.
SAM: Right, but when they bring you in, you’re playing the role of the external consultant and you have a chance to help them decide to use a computer a lot more effectively than they might, if they were just on their own, right?
KRONDA: Exactly. I’m looking forward to doing more of that because I’ve been in this transition from being like, “I’ll keep your WordPress up to date,” to, “Let’s streamline your business.” It’s been a struggle, really to figure out how to market myself because there’s so many different layers — the marketing layer, of course — but I think the reason I talk about systems so much is that when you go in to help a client, if everything in their business is chaos, then you can’t suddenly be like, “Computers will help you.” You have to bring order and figure out what direction are you going first, then computers can help you.
A good example is I have a client who does delivery of their product. They’re actually to drive their products to their different customers. They came to me and they were like, “How can we let clients put a note in their order saying when they want it.” I said, “No, you don’t want to do that.” You don’t want to give your clients control over your delivery schedule because, then you’re efficiency is out the window. You want to say, “These are the days we deliver so if you order by this day, you’ll get your product by this day,” because that’s a system that you can follow that streamlines your business.
Sometimes, they might need something on a certain day but if you have the power to systemize and say, “This is how we do it,” and then find the customers who buy into that, that is a far more efficient and profitable way to run your business. It’s having those conversations where they’ll tell me, “We’re doing it this way and I’ll say, “Wait. Let’s just make a process for this and that will be how it happens,” but it’s really hard. The more people you have involved, the harder it is to establish those and stick to them.
JESSICA: We talked a lot about the importance of change. If you don’t have a system, then it’s really hard to change the system and make it better.
KRONDA: True because how do you remember how you did the last three or four times.
SAM: Right. If you don’t have a system, your system think really hard about everything all the time.
KRONDA: Right, exactly. A lot of people that I talked to who are solopreneurs, they’re freelancers or it’s just them and I start talking about this stuff and they say, “It’s just me,” and I’m like, “Great,” but you’re actually ‘present you’ and ‘future you’ and I guarantee the present you is going to do something and future you is going to be like, “What was I thinking? How did I do that?” Even when it was just me, like the act of writing things down, I have a ton of things documented now. I have use a tool called systemHUB to store all my processes for my business. I go and look at those all the time because I’m like, “I’m going to do this thing and let me make sure I don’t miss a step,” and then I’m not spending the energy thinking about it and just looking at the next step and doing it. In that, it saves me a ton of time, even if it’s just past-me talking to present-me.
JESSICA: What a mental energy.
JESSICA: I wanted to ask you, now that you’ve built some repeatable processes, how do you iterate and change those and make sure they don’t ossify?
KRONDA: Because I’m looking at them while I’m doing them, if I hit a point where I’m like, “Why is this like this? This could be better,” then I can change it instantly. If it’s someone else like virtual assistant or a developer, it’s the same thing. If they’re doing a task and they are like, “I think this could be better this way,” they can literally comment on that system and I can get and go, “Oh, yeah. That’s cool. Let’s change it.” The rigidity of the system is balanced by the willingness and the ability to change it instantly and make it better. Then that change for the better, you keep that forever because you wrote it into the system.
SAM: You know, this reminds me of something I saw on Twitter just this morning and I sent to myself to look at it later. It’s a Git repository called ‘Git Flight Rules,’ which is apparently borrowing from a thing in aviation where there’s extremely detailed standard operating procedures for how to deal with a particular thing. This is a bunch of flight rules around things that happened in Git that you want to do like, “I wrote the wrong thing at the commit messages,” as one of the entries in here or, “I accidentally did a hard reset and I want my changes back.”
KRONDA: Is it like a list of how to deal with those things?
SAM: Yeah, exactly.
KRONDA: That’s awesome.
JESSICA: Yeah, because Git has reversibility but it’s not obvious.
KRONDA: No, it’s not.
SAM: Nothing in Git is obvious.
KRONDA: Yeah, it’s been a while since I lived in Git, on the daily, too so if I had to go and do something, I’m like, “What?” A good example of this is I did a webinar recently. This was something like ‘past-me should have written down.’ I forgot that Keynote and WebinarJam don’t play well together. When I hit go on my slides, the entire screen for the webinar went black. When it happened, I was like, “Oh, yeah. I have a big memory of this happening before and that’s why I did Google Slides the time before this.”
KRONDA: But past-me didn’t write that down so present-me got to have five minutes of blank screen before my friend came in and was like, “Your slides are blank.” That’s a perfect example of like, “We need to capture these things so that they don’t recur.”
SAM: Yeah. I, for a long time, had a checklist of things to do. When I sat down to get ready to record the podcast, it’s like, “Plug in your microphone,” and I didn’t follow the checklist this morning and sure enough, I forgot to change my muting application so that when I thought I was doing push-to-talk, I was actually doing push-to-mute and no one could hear me.
KRONDA: Perfect example. The humans are always the weakest link in the system like, “Oh, yeah. I have a checklist for that. If only I read it.”
JESSICA: Yeah but yet, we also tend to fall back on, “The human did it wrong. It’s a training issue,” where really, if we get our system set up right especially in software, then the human is prompted to do the right thing.
KRONDA: If you read the Work the System book, Sam’s business is a call center. It’s basically a private 911. Imagine trying to systemize that like the way that people answer the phone and take messages. Mandy know something about this but they have all these systems in place and they’ve managed to quantify what makes a good phone call, like what makes a good phone interaction such so they can measure it —
JESSICA: Is it like something other than how quickly did you get them off the phone?
KRONDA: Yeah. I don’t know the details of it. He doesn’t go into it but they’ve basically managed to quantify it to the degree that they can measure the speed, the effectiveness, the lack of mistakes. I think in one of the podcast or one of the blog post he said there was a call rep who had basically gone something like 17,000 calls without a mistake. That’s amazing. If you can do that for a call center, you can basically do it for everything and they have a whole consulting business where they help people implement this. I’ve heard them talk about doing it for hair salons. They had a woman with a hair salon and she trained all her people in her method so that she could open multiple locations. When people who are like, “Oh, I can’t do that because my thing is special,” I’m like, “Okay, if you say so.”
JESSICA: “Keep doing your thing forever and ever and ever.”
KRONDA: Yeah but it’s tough. It’s slow-going. It takes a little bit before you start to see the value of it. If you don’t intrinsically see the value of it, then the only way to do it is to start doing it and prove to yourself that it works and that can take a while and I think that’s why people, maybe they start and they don’t keep going. I don’t know. I feel like I don’t have a choice because I do want to get my life back at some point. This has to happen. In my ideal world, I would love for my client service business to just run completely without me except for marketing and sales.
JESSICA: The parts where you personally do add the most value?
KRONDA: Exactly. Then in my other business, I would love to just spend time helping business owners figure out the online marketing thing. I would love to get to the people who are like, “I’m just going to use Wix because it’s easy,” and be like, “Actually, let me show you how you can do this other thing. It’s not as hard as you thought and will actually get you better results.”
JESSICA: Commercial time.
SAM: Yay! We’re going to take a quick moment to talk to you about giving us money because that’s what you need to do. Seriously though, if you would like to support us, if you like the work that we do and think that we’re talking about interesting and important things and you happen to have some extra money that you can throw at us, please do. You can support us at Patreon.com/GreaterThanCode.
One of the premier benefits, I think of doing that is that if you donate any amount and seriously, this can be like a buck, if you donate any amount, you get access to our Slack community, which is full of over 200 awesome people who have really interesting conversations about all kinds of stuff and it’s definitely one of the friendliest online communities I’ve ever been a part of. It’s one of my favorite places to hang out. I’m always excited to see the little new messages icon on that particular Slack. Feel free to support us: Patreon.com/GreaterThanCode. Thanks. Now, back to the show.
JESSICA: Kronda, what’s your superpower and how did you acquire it?
KRONDA: Oh, I think stubbornness is definitely one of my superpowers, which I think is necessary as a business owner because there’s so much that you have to endure in order to get to the point of having a successful business. I think that’s one of them. I think systemization and documentation, which we’ve talked a lot about because I actually enjoy that stuff because I understand the value of it. I understand how much better the future is going to be for me or whoever I’m doing it for and that’s what makes me enjoy it. I think those stuff are one of my superpowers.
Also, staying focused on what is the core purpose of things. Whenever one of my clients comes to me and says, “I need you to do this,” then I’m always going to say, “Why. What’s the outcome that you’re striving towards,” because it kind of like going to the doctor and saying like, “I need stomach surgery,” and the doctor will be like, “Slow your roll there. Let’s run some tests and tell me your symptoms and let’s figure out what’s really going on.” That’s what I like to do for clients and the tech things that they ask me for is to figure out what’s really going on and what’s the actual goal because maybe you don’t need what you think you need. Maybe you need more than you think you need. Maybe we could do something that’s way cheaper than what you thought you were going to have to pay. I think those are some of my superpowers.
JESSICA: How did you get so stubborn?
KRONDA: Genetics, probably. Long line of stubborn women. I think that’s probably most of it and let’s hope that I keep my memory when I get old because my grandmother is 93 and can’t remember anything but still stubborn.
SAM: It’s not a good combination, is it?
KRONDA: Yeah, it’s fun times.
SAM: All right. We’ve reached a point in the show where we get to do reflections, which is where we look back at something that really stood out for us during the call or something that we would like to remind our listeners of, something that we could look into or something that you learn that was really interesting. Who would like to start?
JESSICA: Me! Kronda, while you were talking, especially early in the show about how you look at one thing that you’re doing and you figure out how to fix it forever, I totally do that but as a developer, I’m doing that in code about code. Like the other day, I was like I need to be a change. I don’t know how many build files and I don’t know how many of our 220 repositories and I am not going to go look at every one. Some other times, what I’m going to want to do, change it to a bunch of build files again. I work at Atomist and this is what we build as tools to make this kind of automation easier so I wrote a program to look through all the build files and tell me which ones were still get tag, which is now going to fall on Travis.
I wrote a program to change those to send us an event and our other automation makes the tags in one place, instead of a thousand build files… Not a thousand but a hundred. Anyway, even as developers like us, we’re writing automation for other people, we can also think at a meta level and automate the parts of our jobs so that then we can spend more thinking about the interesting part of code like how to achieve the results that we want and it works everywhere. It does take an extra level of caring and thought. You have to be willing to think harder than you have to think to do your work, to think about how you do your work and how you cannot have to do that work ever again.
KRONDA: That’s a really good point.
SAM: Yeah so you have to have the extra capacity but once you spend it, you get a lot more of that extra mental capacity back later.
JESSICA: Yes. You can use your little pieces of slack that you used to think extra hard to increase the amount of free time you have later and then you can hang out with your friends.
KRONDA: I think you just encapsulated my entire life mission there with other [inaudible] basically. A business owner comes in and they’re like, “I need a website,” and that’s all they’re thinking about and then I start talking about like, “Why? Who are your customers?” They don’t want to do that. That’s the hard work. That’s the thinking, that if you did it, it would give you, in this case not necessarily extra slack but extra customers or extra time like the thinking and people are too busy killing fires or they’re in a hurry to do so that was amazing.
JESSICA: Yeah and killing fires feels productive. That’s why I was surprised when you said, the people find this boring. It’s not boring. It’s just hard.
KRONDA: Right. I guess to some people that’s the same thing.
JESSICA: Yes because some people have a higher need for cognition than others.
SAM: How so?
JESSICA: Need for cognition. It’s a personality characteristic and it’s how much you want to think about things, think about why, think about puzzles.
SAM: Oh, interesting. I’ve never heard that one before.
JESSICA: Isn’t that a cool phrase? That’s my phrase of the week. It’s on Wikipedia.
SAM: Oh, I better go and look it up then.
KRONDA: Nice. I’ll go next. I think one of the things that is a recurring theme for me that we talked about is things that are easy versus things that are effective and that’s a recurring theme in a lot of the stuff that we talked about, a lot of the struggles that I have with business owners. Usually not with my client because if they’ve reached the stage of being my client, they’re probably not a person who wants to take the easy way all the time. But in potential clients and people who come to me and ask me for help, a lot of them are just interested in what’s the easiest thing and that’s often not going to be the thing that gets you the result that you want.
Simon Sinek who wrote the book ‘Start With Why’ says that people don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it. You want to sell the people who believe what you believe and you want to hire people who believe what you believe so the mindset I have when I’m talking to potential clients or potential employees or potential partners is do we have a compatible view about the worth of doing hard things. What you talked about Jessica was really slowing down the speed up, instead of just going through and going like, “Let me go look at these 200 files.” You’re like, “Wait. Let me back up and think about how I could fix this forever,” and that’s a rare skill. It’s probably less rare among developers but it is a rare skill and personality type to find the people who understand the value of doing that.
JESSICA: I’m getting a lot of quotes. There’s going to be a bunch of tweets from this episode.
SAM: Earlier on in the call, I was thinking about a talk that I saw actually last night at the Portland Ruby user group. It was actually not a technical talk. It was about executive dysfunction. Dana Scheider gave a really interesting presentation about what executive dysfunction is and talked about some strategies that you can use to mitigate it. One of the things that she talked about was this idea of making decision rules.
One example from my own life is I was a vegetarian for quite a few years and I found it much easier to go through a menu at a restaurant because having a decision rule of ‘don’t eat anything with meat in it’ narrowed the menu down to three things that I could then choose between and I was actually always ready to order as soon as I sat down and saw the menu.
JESSICA: By executive dysfunction, you mean like your brain, because at first I thought this was going to be like how to fix your boss.
SAM: No, I mean, there’s a part of your brain in the frontal lobe that there’s a whole set of things that the frontal lobe of your brain does that are collectively referred to as executive function. There are things about like planning and sequencing and making sure you’re paying attention to the right thing and thinking about time and so on. When those things don’t work, you really have a really hard time functioning in this world. Having a decision rule, makes it so that it’s like having a mini-system that’s like one thing — I will eat A, B or C for breakfast, which means that you don’t have to burn the cognitive fuel to figure out what from the infinite possibility of food items I’m going to eat this morning. That’s just seems like something useful that we can learn from neurodivergent folks. I feel like there’s other ways that we can look out for that sort of thing.
KRONDA: That’s great, though. I actually had a client and she teaches people with executive function deficits and how to manage their time. I worked for her for two years and that was interesting because I’ll be like, “This is what we’re doing this month,” then three days later, they’ll be like, “Oh, my God. We need this right now.” Yeah, that was interesting.
SAM: Well, that’s our show and we’ll be back at you as soon as we possibly can. Thanks everybody.
SAM: Mandy cut that last part. It was too desperate.
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