Business Infrastructure - Curing Back Office Blues
By Alicia Butler Pierre
Growth is not a bad thing. But too much growth, too fast presents a set of challenges often overlooked when discussing small businesses. The emphasis tends to center on the marketing and promotion necessary to grow your business, and not on the operations and business infrastructure needed to scale your business in a sustainable manner. These back office operations can make or break your business. The Business Infrastructure show provides solutions and real life stories to owners and operators of fast growing small businesses seeking practical tips for dealing with growth spurts.
In this first episode of Season 4, Paul Nicholaides shares an example of how he used processes to help a fast growing company scale without compromising their culture. He specifically explains how he helped shape his client’s business infrastructure based on their value chain and processes. Processes are a valuable component of business infrastructure because as Paul says, “Without it, there is chaos and people will produce different results.” He also debunks the popular belief that processes are only for large enterprises and stresses that, to be effective, processes must be purposeful, relevant and continuously improved. Discover the important lesson Paul says he learned from this experience as well as the two fundamental things he says are needed to sustain processes.
Alicia is the founder of Equilibria, Inc. – the world’s largest repository on business infrastructure for small businesses. And it happened quite by accident. In this episode she candidly shares the story of how this came to be by weaving together the messaging of each expert featured in Season 3 while acknowledging the mistakes she’s made along the way. In doing so, Alicia candidly describes how she created a methodology for business infrastructure and how you can implement it to position your company for growth that is manageable, sustainable and profitable. Also included are highlights from a conversation with fellow business infrastructure expert, Paul Nicholaides who confirms the benefits of business infrastructure. Together, they are doing their part to eliminate the knowledge gap prevalent with this unseen, yet vital business area.
Just because the word “cult” is a part of “culture,” it does not mean that your company has to function like one in order to attain sustainable success. As small businesses grow larger, the transformation into becoming more corporate can be jolting and founders and employees alike may fear losing the very essence of what makes a business so special. In this episode, Lakeisha Poole, a workplace futurist and expert in company culture, explains how a culture rooted in open communication and fairness can actually drive transformation in a positive direction. Culture does not have to be cult-ish, nor does it have to be toxic or adversarial to get things done. Listen as Lakeisha shares her insights as an employment lawyer in defining the: 1) “untouchables” in an organization, 2) the 3 main issues that lead to workplace breakdown, and 3) how to make ethics and inclusion-focused leadership practical and tactical.
Visionaries, whether executives or entrepreneurs, are great at developing and articulating strategy but may find difficulty in execution. This is where Kim Farmer comes in. As a certified project management professional with 30+ years in corporate business experience, she knows how to get stuff done! In this episode, Kim graciously gives us an excellent primer on project management to help you take specific actions to achieve your company’s growth strategy. No fluff, no B.S., ...this is where the rubber meets the road and this episode is one of the most important to-date because it’s all about action! Learn the 5 major questions to answer prior to beginning any project as well as the triple constraints you'll have to balance throughout a project. You’ll also learn how to identify, assemble and coordinate the people, processes and tools you’ll need to ensure your project’s success as Kim explains the Waterfall and Agile approaches to project management. Be sure to check out the show notes at BusinessInfrastructure.TV to access the resources you’ll need to plan and organize your next project.
As your small business grows, it will eventually need a layer of middle management. These front line leaders are the change agents who ensure the execution of your company’s growth strategy. But they cannot live their proverbial best life unless you, as the top leader, help them realize their best work. In this episode, leadership consulting expert Victoria Rodgers stresses the importance of putting “people before business.” Discover the mindset shift required of both entrepreneurs-turned-executives and individual contributors-turned-supervisors-managing-others to cultivate operational excellence. Victoria even makes the case for why business infrastructure is key to ensuring the right people are in the right roles and why even the best business processes aren’t always enough to keep good people around. This episode is jammed packed with information so you’ll definitely want to download it for ongoing reference!
Strategy represents the vision, purpose and long-term position of a company, but it does you no good to develop one unless you “plan your work and work your plan.” So says strategy expert Mark Pegues. In this episode, Mark compares the relationship between strategy and execution to a camera – zoom in to execute and zoom out to strategically plan. However, he warns, like business processes, a strategic plan is not meant to be shelved once developed but must be consistently leveraged to accomplish your company’s mission. Learn Mark’s 12-point guide to developing and defining your business strategy and why you should never change it unless your business’ fundamental values change.
“Kill Bill.” Kill the hourly bill to be exact. This summarizes the sentiment of investment banker turned CFO-for-Hire and pricing consultant, John Ray. John reminds us that our clients care most about results. Therefore, charging the right price means having a value conversation with your clients to understand how to price. In this episode, John unpacks the psychological factors involved in pricing, validates why pricing is the most important factor in profitability, and explains why you should stop billing your clients by the hour. Listen as he also outlines the process for figuring out your client’s desires and charging a price that aligns with the premium experience you create for them.
“Don’t be flashy” when operating your business warns seasoned commercial lender, Charles H. Green. Armed with 38 years of experience in funding small businesses, Charles knows plenty about running a business by the numbers and not by hunches. In this episode, he stresses the importance of being able to interpret your financial statements to understand your company’s financial story so that you know where to focus on improving. Discover what the 3 big categories of financial health metrics are, how it’s possible to be profitable but not have any equity or cash flow, and why an Excel spreadsheet can be more useful than bookkeeping software. As a former president and CEO of a bank and the author of several bestselling books on small business finance, you definitely don’t want to miss the sage advice Charles offers!
Kymone Hinds is in the business of helping people get stuff done! As an implementation strategist, he prides himself on bringing ideas to life. Every solution to a problem and every business starts with an idea, so its important to jot them all down no matter how far-fetched they may seem. In this episode, Kymone explains his 4-stage ideation process for vetting and focusing on which ideas will yield the best results. Find out how ideas are like Now & Later candies and why you should start small with a big vision when executing. You definitely don't want to miss this episode - you could be sitting on your million-dollar idea.
There’s nothing more frustrating than to invest in a newer software technology only to discover that it does not “play nicely” with your existing software. In this episode, software and web developer Garret Massey talks about the benefits of middleware as a cost-savings solution to facilitate communication between software. Listen as he reveals a 4-step process to guide you through mapping how information should flow in your service or product delivery. This will empower you in making wiser decisions before you invest in that next shiny new piece of technology you’re considering. Hint: evaluate before you automate!
Making decisions is risky business. As a small business owner, you might not have the deep pockets of a larger enterprise, so making the right decision the first time around can be critical. Decision science gives you the ability to compare multiple ways of solving a problem with the opportunity to add value while minimizing risk and bias. This is what Rob Brown specializes in. In this episode, Rob shares a four-step process to follow that will help you make decisions based on logic and not emotion. Through specific examples, he describes how to use this four-step process to yield the best outcome. Tune in to learn the difference between a decision and an outcome and why, as Rob says, “risk is always in season.”
According to global freelance matchmaker, Upwork, 57.3 million people freelanced in 2017. In 10 years, they predict that the majority of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers. As a small business owner, this means you will likely have more freelancers rather than employees performing work for you. Managing these dispersed, virtual teams can be challenging. This is where Sherry Heyl comes in. In this episode, Sherry shares how she was inspired to start Amplified Concepts as a share economy solution for freelancers. By pooling freelancers, she’s able to provide them back-office support resulting in reduced overhead for them and reduced project costs for you. She also shares best practices for managing virtual teams of freelancers so important deadlines are met without sacrificing quality. You’ll definitely want to download this episode!
Can you keep a secret? Your answer to this question can determine your ability to capitalize on your company's intellectual property (I.P.). In this episode, seasoned patent attorney Steve Wigmore breaks down the different types of I.P. using examples of well-known brands. There is both monetary and intrinsic value in your ideas and Steve offers guidance on how to choose among trademarks, trade secrets, patents and copyrights to protect your ideas. In fact, your I.P. is part of your small business' asset portfolio. Even intangible assets, like business processes, can be protected, especially if tied to technology. If you own a service-based business, you'll definitely want to hear what Steve has to say!
Do you have the audacity to take your business to the next level? Listen as staffing and recruiting expert, Dee Williams describes how to identify your niche and expand it into an empire. With a combination of laser-like focus, determination, and investment in continuous education, Dee identified a niche within the staffing industry and her aptly named company, Identifize Consulting, now serves as the world’s premier advisory firm for starting and scaling staffing and recruitment businesses. Her company’s portfolio spans across several divisions and leverages cutting edge media and software technology to deliver products and services. Dee kicks off Season 3 sharing how she accomplished this and more through a solid business infrastructure.
Promises are not made to be broken, they’re made to keep. And customers will hold you to that promise, whether you verbalize it or not. In this special 25th episode, hostess Alicia Butler Pierre takes a deep dive into using customer-centricity to drive a company’s culture and performance. Using an example from her book, she describes how shifting from a focus on a revenue-oriented goal to a customer-oriented promise can be instrumental in developing processes that enhance customer experience without sacrificing quality, value or revenue.
Racecar driver Chris Grigalunas stopped by to share some analogies between his love of driving racecars and his passion for driving business faster. With a background in data analytics and business intelligence, Chris foretells of the importance of pacing yourself and implementing a Just-in-Time approach when getting critical processes, people and software technologies in place as your business’ growth accelerates. In true entrepreneur fashion, Chris is proof that when you’re committed to giving 1000% in business, nothing can stop you – not even a head cold!
Jim Stroud is a man of many talents. Over the past decade, he has built an expertise in sourcing and recruiting strategy, public speaking, lead generation, video production, podcasting, online research, competitive intelligence, and online community management and training. He combines all of these skills to bring a fresh approach to help companies attract and retain top talent. In this episode, Jim describes how to use tools like video and LinkedIn to “bait” or kickstart your sourcing process.
In this episode, Alicia shares things she observed during a recent trip to Cuba and how those observations apply to how we run our small businesses. A notable observation was the admirable and continuous preservation of cars, culture and cuisine. However, many buildings have succumb to the lack of maintenance primarily due to economic factors. She makes the argument that it’s possible to save these buildings (and our parts of our business) through ongoing proactive and preventive maintenance. If nothing more, may these lessons Alicia shares serve as a cautionary tale of the importance to develop processes to monitor all aspects of your business to minimize both risk and...ruin.
According to quality expert Jarvis Gray, assessing the culture of an organization is one of the first things to consider when improving processes to ensure better quality. As a certified Project Management Professional and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt consultant specializing in healthcare, Jarvis shares some of his favorite tools and techniques for transforming operations to eliminate waste and make for a better and safer patient experience. He reminds us that it’s critical to move past the jargon and look at this for what it actually is – problem solving. So yes, these are tools and techniques that you can also apply to your small business. Tune in to learn how!
In this episode, entrepreneur Andrea D. Smith provides a practical and easy-to-remember definition of marketing. And she explains that it is NOT the same as sales. In fact, Andrea and Alicia talk about how to connect marketing to operations and eventually balance these two areas during the expansion phase of a business. The key is in recognizing operations management as a way to maintain your promises to your customers. Or as Andrea describes it, operations allow you to back-up your marketing promises with performance!
Look at any generic small business conference or workshop and the likelihood that a discussion on operations will be included is infinitesimally small. Oftentimes fast-growing companies looking for help in scaling their businesses find that the lion’s share of resources for processes and systems are reserved for manufacturing companies or larger enterprises. In this episode, Alicia has a frank one-on-one conversation to unpack the reasons why many small business event organizers attribute this lack of inclusion to “operations not being sexy.” Alicia also introduces her new book as a way of addressing this oversight. Her book is also a how-to guide for ambitious entrepreneurs serious about investing the time and effort to create a business infrastructure for maximum expansion impact.
Imagine if you could grow your business 10x faster. Better yet, imagine if your business could be “infinitely scalable.” How? Through artificial intelligence (AI). According to Scott Evans, founder and CEO of Markamind, AI is not only a catalyst for exponential growth, but it also makes data more useful and convenient. In this episode, Scott provides examples explaining how AI technology can help small businesses front-load their project pipelines, become more competitive, and exert more influence over buying decisions. As a decision science professional, he recognizes and acknowledges the fear that many associate with technologies that seem difficult to understand. This is why Scott also shares practical ways you can start educating yourself so that your business will not fall victim to the digital divide. Tune in, sign up for a free introductory course on AI, and start scaling your business!
“Know Thyself.” Thousands of years later, this ancient adage still rings true. In this episode, Keith Finger opens up about how globetrotting solo across 10 countries in a four-month period led to a period of self-discovery and not only made him rethink the way he operated his current business but also gave way to a new business altogether. Specifically, he talks about the people, processes and tools he sought in preparation for, during and after this journey. This helped him identify a common thread across the work he’s done over his corporate and entrepreneurial career. Learn how what he describes as his “epiphany” served as a catalyst for shedding the parental and societal expectations and instead step into his own power, making him a more effective and intentional consultant to his clients.
In this heartfelt episode, serial entrepreneur and real estate mogul, Nia Imani, explains how her personal mantra of “demonstrate, duplicate and delegate,” has enabled her to create and implement key systems that facilitate her bi-coastal lifestyle while expanding her business across multiple states and most recently, multiple countries. Tune in to hear how she flipped her first home at 24-years-old and used the proceeds as seed money to build and franchise a janitorial services company. Eventually, she sold that company and started a new one specializing in legacy lifestyle management. Nia did all of this and more without the higher education some equate with success. Don’t forget to download this episode – it’s a keeper!
At just 15-years-old, Sharron Lee knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. Her dreams came true when she opened her seafood restaurant — just one of several businesses she’d successfully start, grow and manage all while working a full-time job as a master data analyst! This episode is unique in that Sharron is the first guest to talk about how she leverages business infrastructure in selling a tangible product. Specifically, she shares her story of perseverance and tenacity in building her restaurant and candidly talks about recent challenges caused by fast growth. Sharron also reveals how her background in computer science enables her to outfit her restaurant with the best technology to streamline and improve the overall customer experience while also remaining in compliance because, as she says, “You have to run a tight ship.”
Tim Fulton is no stranger to business infrastructure. In fact, he’s built and sold several businesses in his 30+ year career as an entrepreneur and small business advisor, executive coach and facilitator. “Operations,” he says, “is highly underrated.” In this episode, Tim draws from both his research and experiences in working with thousands of entrepreneurs to reveal the undeniable realities of operating a fast-growing business. In doing so, he dispels four common myths about entrepreneurship and forewarns about the importance of getting your business infrastructure in place at the beginning stages of your company. This business infrastructure does not have to be elaborate initially; it can be something as simple as a checklist to ensure consistent service or product delivery. Listen to learn more about these myths. Hint: a high IQ is not a significant factor in determining success.
“The fortune is in the follow up,” proclaims Corey Moore as he kicks off the first show of the Business Infrastructure podcast’s second season. Corey, a serial entrepreneur, is the owner of Atlanta’s largest resource center for business and networking events. He’s also a professional networker and in this episode, he shares his tried and tested process to network your way to success. Like any process, Corey warns that it takes commitment and a genuine desire to build relationships to attain desired results consistently over an extended period of time. Once you listen to this episode, it won’t take you long to discover why he is known as the “NetworKING” in the Atlanta, GA metro area.
Technical Writer, Process Analyst, Lean Six Sigma Consultant, Black Belt, Master Black Belt…with all the process-related resources available, who exactly do you need to hire to improve your company’s operations? In this episode Tony Curtis, serial entrepreneur and owner of Curtis Process Consulting and gigPATH, explains how the answer lies in your ability to define your actual needs. He goes a step further by describing a 3-tier approach to use as a guide to not only recruit the right process specialists, but also retain them with a pay rate commensurate with the skills required.
Do you feel stressed out? Maybe a weekend hike can help! According to a 2018 report by the Journal of Travel Research, backpacking is not only good for your physical health, but for your mental health as well. In this episode, Tim Walter, an operations consultant, shares his experiences in hiking the Appalachian Trail for five months. Learn how Tim leveraged his professional background in project planning and strategy implementation to research and link the people, processes and tools necessary for him to “hike his own hike.” He emerged from his backpacking experience with better clarity, agility and perspective on wants vs. needs — all of which had a profound effect on him both professionally and personally. You might gain similar results.
The digital revolution is here and there’s no turning back! We are increasingly becoming more dependent on web-based apps and software technologies as tools to facilitate and enhance the way we communicate and operate our businesses. With infamous data breaches (not to mention cover-ups) and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation law, which went into effect in late May, 2018, cybersecurity is quickly moving to the forefront of small business vernacular. This is no longer something that only big corporations have to take into consideration. According to Gary Vause II, a cybersecurity expert and consultant, 90% of data breaches are “inside jobs.” In this episode, Gary chronicles his 30+ year career in information technology and shares the importance of implementing user awareness programs and data encryption solutions as part of H.R. and accounting policies. This information may change the way you think about data storage, protection and privacy in your company.
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely, even if competent staff surround you. The daily decisions to make are innumerable, the pressure is high and giving up is not an option. Sometimes you just need a sounding board or a person in a neutral position on the outside of your business to confide in. It’s during these moments when we can benefit from coaching. In this episode, Latarsha Horne, a Certified Professional Coach, explains the benefits of coaching. Learn how she tapped into her natural talents and combined them with her career as a corporate instructional designer to build a successful coaching business. She also defines the key difference between a business coach and a consultant and shares nine specific things you need to take into consideration before hiring a coach. Sometimes clarity is all you need to solidify your business infrastructure.
Think the lean methodology is only for large corporations and government entities? Well think again! This episode features John Kamp, an entrepreneur, Lean Six Sigma expert, Project Management Professional, instructor at Purdue University and U.S. Navy veteran. As you can imagine, he has a wealth of experience to draw from and you’ll get a feel for that in this episode. The subject of lean is huge, but John condenses its concept, principles and methodology into an easy-to-understand definition. He not only shares some of his favorite lean tools, but he also gives great examples of real-life applications. You don’t want to miss this episode!
Do you need to hire more people for your small business, but feel that good help is hard to find? Listen as my first guest and serial entrepreneur, Essie Escobedo, explains that good help is out there and why you have to do your part to attract them. Essie shares specific tips for attracting great people to hire or contract as well as some key things small business owners need to have in place to set new hires up for success. You don’t want to miss what she has to say about the role business infrastructure plays in the 17-year success of her company, Office Angels. Keep your notepads handy!
Have you ever heard the expression, “The devil is in the details?” In terms of small businesses, the “devil” represents those proverbial landmines, booby-traps and gotchas that lurk in the background (or back office operations), often going undetected. When they surface, the results can be catastrophic. Details, in fact, do matter! But sometimes this is hard for big picture entrepreneurs to admit. How to implement business infrastructure lies in being able to answer seven key questions. Find out what those questions are in this episode.
Necessity is the mother of invention. History teaches us this is true wherever there is a need to do things more efficiently and effectively. Business infrastructure is needed wherever there is more demand for your goods or services than you can provide or supply. You need to scale operationally while maintaining or increasing value for your customers.
Such was the case when a young inventor named Frank Sprague was inspired to create the first self-loading electrical motor designed for streetcars. Not only did his invention help clear congestion on the streets of Boston, but it provided a cleaner alternative to the coal-powered engines used at that time. Discover the similarities of how this story about building Boston’s early transportation infrastructure applies to the business infrastructure you can implement in your company.
Unmanageable fast growth usually makes the decision to invest in business infrastructure a no-brainer. But what if it’s too late? In this episode you’ll learn the ideal time to implement business infrastructure as well as the symptoms of unmanageable fast growth.
Find out the impact the Oprah Effect can have on how you manage and operate your business and why it’s imperative that you do your due diligence before partnering with others and accepting customer work or orders you may not have the capacity to deliver.
It takes guts, grit and gumption to start a business. Taking it to the next level, whatever that level might be for your company, requires the right people, processes and tools. It might also require an infusion of cash. This episode not only describes who business infrastructure is for, but also tackles the realization that you might have to step aside in order for your business to grow to the next level of success.
Through a compilation of sage advice and cautionary tales from other interviews of Sandy Lerner, co-founder of Cisco Systems, you’ll discover not only who business infrastructure is for but why as a business owner you must use a “systems approach” to solving your business’ problems.
Welcome! This is the very first episode of the Business Infrastructure: Curing Back Office Blues podcast. This podcast is targeted to entrepreneurs and owners of fast growing small businesses. We all know the importance of marketing and growing your business, but what happens when the dollars you’ve invested in marketing are paying off and you have more business than you can handle? It’s a perfect time to start looking at the Operations of your business and making sure you have the infrastructure in place to support that growing demand.
That’s what this show is all about–the often overlooked and rarely talked about subject of the nitty gritty details of your business’ proverbial back office.
In this first episode, Alicia Butler Pierre explains exactly what business infrastructure is. She also shares her journey from Chemical Engineer to advocate of operational excellence in small businesses and how it led her to begin spreading the message of
Being insane isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when it comes to managing fast growth in your small business. Find out why in this episode as Alicia Butler Pierre makes the case for insanity in your business operations and why business infrastructure is vital to not just talking about taking your business to the next level, but actually doing it!
Learn two real-life examples of how the original founders of now popular business software products not only recognized the importance of business infrastructure in scaling their businesses, but actually made strategic moves to ensure it happened. Both are to be admired for this recognition and decisive action.
But one founder enjoyed success unparalleled and the other, well, you can be the judge of that.