How To Set Up Operations
Alicia Butler Pierre
The Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
How To Set Up Operations
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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i my team and i recently discovered as of a few months ago called notion n-o-t-i-o-n dot s-o if you're looking for a a creative quick way to store and and capture your processes look into that tool it's basically a wiki um that unlike dropbox or google drive yes you can document all of these things devin it but what i find is that when you're using some of these platforms even sharepoint or you know again google drive evernote and things tools like that they're great because it's stored in the cloud notion is also a cloud and web-based app but it gives you the benefit of being able to see everything and and not have information hidden in folders and you can quickly search for things hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin miller the serial entrepreneur it's grown several uh startups in the seven eight figure businesses as well as a ceo and founder of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com and i'm always happy to help now today we have another great guest and it's an expert episode which i love because we get to talk about a whole lot of fun and exciting uh or fun and exciting things is alicia butler pierre and i'm trying to make sure i'm working on not or mispronouncing people's names so hopefully i got it right but as a quick introduction so a little bit about what we talking about is a bit more on the the operation side of a business and kind of how you go about what is operations why do you need operations kind of what do you identify with that sometimes why do operations take a back seat with startups and why they shouldn't but why it happens and what you can do to avoid it as well as a little bit on you know maybe covering a little bit on processes and looking at assets on the balance sheet and how to set up those operations and infrastructure and maybe even a little bit of ip we'll see if we get there so a lot of fun conversations that i'm excited to have and with that much welcome on the podcast alicia thank you devon and you pronounce my name perfectly all right well i you know that doesn't happen very often so i'll take that as a big compliment because i'm usually like i think it's this way and then they always come back and hear about it i always have to apologize i'm like it's really no intensive and offense intended it's just that i for whatever reason i i tend to slaughter dave so glad i got one right so with that what before we jump into the you know talking a little bit of operations and whatnot maybe give the listeners kind of a bit of your background one or two minutes on kind of why you're an expert in this area what are your experiences and why they should listen to what you have to say sure well thank you for for sharing your platform with me first of all just to give i guess a really quick quick and dirty description of my background and why it makes me an expert my career actually started in chemical engineering devon and that's where i was first introduced to process engineering so for those who may not realize it many chemical engineers when we work in chemical plants and oil refineries we're really called process engineers and what that means is that in the manufacturing of a particular product in in in my case my very first job was at monsanto so i was making roundup and if there was a batch of roundup that was created and for some reason it didn't meet all of the specifications as the process engineer i had to figure out well what went wrong in the manufacturing process that caused that final product to not meet the specification so i knew i didn't want to be in a plant for the rest of my life or an oil refinery so i actually went back to business school and and there's i i should also say i quickly realized devin i would say maybe several months into that very first job as an engineer that i didn't understand the business decisions that drove our day-to-day production schedules and we we each i remember each each group each unit within the plant was assigned its own accountant and every month we would have meetings with that accountant and i'm sure you can appreciate this with your your ip uh you know your law background it would be like you coming and speaking to me and i'm like what on earth is he talking about copyrights and trademarks and and infringement and intellectual property laws so that's what it was like listening to these accountants i i didn't understand the language of business and that's what accounting is so that's what prompted me to go back to graduate school in business school at tulane and so i would work full-time during the day go to school at night and by the time i graduated devin you know i i had this feeling i needed to get out of new orleans that's where i was living at the time and i just abruptly quit my job i had my newly minted mba and i relocated to atlanta georgia where i knew one person and i thought wow you know coca-cola is headquartered here delta airlines home depot all of these all of these companies that had a corporate presence here and i just knew for sure they were going to be banging down my door to hire me and that did not happen so you know again to kind of fast forward this story so what i ultimately ended up doing was through a period of soul-searching and self-reflection and introspection started to really reflect on what what am i naturally really good at and is it possible for me to build a business around that and devin even when i was flipping burgers as a teenager no matter what job i had even into my you know young adulthood i was always good at those jobs because i was organized not necessarily because i was the smartest person in the room but i was very organized so i started my company equilibria 16 years ago oh my gosh it's so hard to believe uh but 16 years ago and it actually started as a professional organizing company and what i quickly learned was that many of the people that i worked with i would say a good 90 of them were business owners who were operating home-based businesses and it wasn't that they were hoarders or chronically disorganized people they just needed systems and processes so that's where my process experience working as an engineer came into play and eventually over the years the language shifted from providing professional organizing services to business infrastructure services and so after working with hundreds of clients speaking on many stages having that that engineering background that my friend is what makes me an expert i think awesome well that was a great run through and it was fun to hear a little bit of your journey of how you got here as well as is all the experience that drove you to here so now with that with that introduction let's dive into the topic at hand a bit and the first question especially if you're a startup or small business it's going to be a simple one but what is operations or what is that kind of thing what does that mean and what should how should they interpret that as far as you know because sometimes you'll hear ceo or chief operations officer or some variation of that and say well that sounds good we we probably have that we we do operations we sell stuff we make stuff but what is when they're looking at kind of what operations is and why they need it kind of what does that mean i'm really glad you you started with this question because i take for granted that many people still don't really understand what we mean when we say operations so the most simplified definition that i can give is if we were to compare this to marketing marketing is are the activities that relate to your company's products and services being seen and operations is refers to the activities that aren't seen but are experienced by your customers so marketing involves obviously the sales the branding the the personal branding the promotion the publicity of the pr the customer facing things that you do social media podcasting all of those things that you do to generate awareness about who you are and what you have to offer in terms of goods and services operations is the stuff that goes on behind the scenes that nobody sees your customers would never see but they definitely will experience the impact of those operations for example just just to use i guess something that's fairly recent for us as of this recording the blocking of the suez canal right so that's that's totally operations focused customers just know oh my gosh i'm waiting on certain products to be delivered to me what the heck is going on what's taking so long they just know that they deliver on amazon exactly you just know as a customer regardless of what company you were you know you ordered something from you just know that there's a delay but you don't realize what's going on behind the scenes that's contributing to that delay so now you have a bad experience and you know that that retailer that you have purchased something from and you're waiting on delivery from now it impacts your relationship with that retailer so marketing is the scene operations is the unseen that's the simplest way i can define it no and i like that i mean it is really kind of what happens behind the scene in the sense you always see what happens on in the front end you know you see the videos you see the marketing you see the podcast but even taking the podcast as an example we have people that will go you know after we do the recording and we'll do do some processing we'll add in the intro add the extra we'll post it on different sites we'll do the you know the description and all those that happen so that you can see the end product we oftentimes don't really think about it because to your point is kind of like the amazon prime hey i i expect two days shipping i don't know how it happens or even one day's shipping sometimes now i don't know how it happens but it gets done and i get frustrated when it doesn't happen because i've been promised something they didn't deliver on so i think when that with that idea you know operations can have a big impact because you get a lot of customers you work a ton on the front end on marketing and sales to get them in the door but if they don't have a good experience if things don't happen if they're not delivered on it doesn't matter how good of a sales team you are you have to have both sides of that coin that is that is perfect and i love the fact that you mentioned the word promise because that's another way that i define the difference between marketing versus operations so marketing is all about what is that promise your promise is to provide a podcast for example every week you know and then operations is how you actually deliver on that promise so to your point what are all there's so much that goes on behind the scenes and putting together a show and but people just listen they just know okay i subscribed to the inventive journey and i know when to expect a new episode but they have no idea what's going on the things that you have to do to to to find to book guests you know collecting headshots creating custom cover artwork all of those different things that go into creating a great listening experience no i i definitely agree with you and so it's interesting so now now shifting gears just a bit on that so let's say okay so somebody's listening or they're starting some business and say okay you convinced me you know my front end is great we do a lot of great marketing but our back end is it's horrible or you know it could be improved or it's disorganized which happens you know a lot of times especially to start for small business you're oftentimes running it you know running as quick as you can to get the income in to grow it you don't often you kind of mix things together you duct tape it together such that yes it gets out but there isn't a lot of operations or a lot of forethought that goes into that if that's the case you know how do you start to define or identify how to fix or make your improve your operations or what should there be those operations is it do i go hire a ceo and have somebody else just offload it and take over for me is or should i be doing it myself or how do i tackle it or if i don't have the money to hire a ceo or someone to manage that kind of how do you go about tackling that or figuring out how to start improving or fixing your operations it all starts with asking a simple question what work needs to be done and believe it or not devin from there that's the answer to that question can literally set the foundation for creating what i call business infrastructure when you mention hiring a co some of your listeners may not have the funding for a co maybe not even a fractional co suffice it to say that many of us as as the entrepreneur we are the visionaries we're we're thinking at that 50 000 foot level right and some of us don't have that ability to get into the weeds to get onto the ground level roll up our sleeves make sure that everything is documented every eye is dotted and every t is crossed if you know that that is not in your wheelhouse definitely get with someone who is maybe you might have to consider bringing on a partner if you can't necessarily afford to pay to your point for someone to function as a chief operations officer or if you maybe you might even get an office manager sometimes a really good executive assistant possesses those skills the point is get as much information out of your head and onto quote unquote paper because until you start to document things you cannot have a baseline or it would be very difficult to figure out what your baseline is so that you can know what and where and how to improve so now and i think that's great i do think you know a lot of times even just an executive if if to your point you can't afford a you know a fractional co or a ceo or you don't you know what wherever position you're at you're saying you know good executive system that even keeps you organized keep things moving can oftentimes help to fill that role at least initially as you grow and get bigger so now let's say okay so now i got i i get my you know i first of all you convince me i need to get my operations in order second of all i go and hire my administrative assistant or my fractional ceo or if we have the money the full co you know what is now the steps because there's a lot of things that go you know take is and i'll just take the law firm as an example because it's an easy one i can make there's a lot of things that go into it it's everything from client generation finding new clients getting new clients making sure that their process is good making sure everything gets get things filed on time making sure the quality is good making sure that you know everybody's doing what they're supposed to getting billing out getting invoices paid getting payroll and i can go on and on and that's really what i've described as almost any business and that's a lot of the operations and you can't necessarily tackle it all at once or you get overwhelmed in the sense if i tried to go and improve every one of those systems all on the same day i just want to stop because there's no way i could accomplish it no matter how many even no matter how many people i have on board it's just not it's not going to be possible do good so how do you start to identify which portions of your operations are most critical or the ones to focus on first that will have the biggest impact well even i would say before we even get to the point of improving because so many people like to just jump right into that first documented so remember how i was i mentioned the question what work needs to be done that's so critical because your answer to that identifies or helps to identify every single task or activity to perform in your company no matter how mundane or how complex so even if it's checking the physical mailbox and and distributing mail is something that's relatively mundane compared to something more complex is actually helping one of your clients file a patent application but you want the idea is you want to get again all of that information out of your head and and who whoever else you have on your team get the information out of each other's heads onto paper once you understand all of those tasks that are involved the next step that i recommend is to group those tasks into departments most of us small businesses we don't if we ask if we're asked the question what does your company look like on the inside we're unable to answer that question so before you can even start talking talking about processes what does this company look like does it have a legal department accounting marketing i.t hr operations those are some of the basic things and then you can start to figure out now that you know your departments the tasks to perform in each department who are the ideal people or resources to perform these different tasks not you even though you may be doing a lot of things current day current state it doesn't mean that you ideally should be performing those tasks and that a year three five years from now you shouldn't be performing those tasks then you're in a position to figure out which processes need to be documented within each department the reason that's so powerful is because what i always recommend doing next devin is creating what i call an inventory it could just be a simple table in microsoft word it could be a spreadsheet sheet that you could create but you might have a tab for example for every single one of those departments that you've identified in your company with a listing of every process to document and then you and your team get together and say where is the lowest hanging fruit which processes if you if you could identify the top three which we know that we want to improve all of them but we can't to your point we can't do it all at the same time but what are the top three where if we were to improve these top three processes over the next 90 days it would significantly impact our bottom line in a very positive way that's an approach that i would use you know go through the rigor of figuring out what what work to needs to be performed how to group that work into departments and then ultimately processes then prioritize those processes tackle the top three first and then from there just kind of put the rest on a schedule no not like that because that's kind of even even when i get into you know intellectual property which i think there's a bit of overlap it's kind of the same thing as you can oftentimes you know you have patents and trademarks and copyrights and business formations a lot of things to tackle and as much as you want to get it all done you know at once or all the same time because they you know especially if you're type a personality or a bidding or 10 of you're a startup or an entrepreneur you know type oriented you want to get it all done and you want to get all done now and yet you're going to burn yourself out you're not going and even if you try to get all done now you're probably going to end up cutting corners and not getting it done as well as you should because you're trying to tackle so i like the kind of let's do it figure out first of all what are the departments what are the areas break it up get it on paper and then choose those kind of those top areas that are going to be most impactful the business and the other thing that i think the people oftentimes overlook is a lot of times where you should do it is what's going to drive the biggest roi or return on investment meaning you know let's see okay we have 20 different tasks and they're all going to be important but some of them are going to improve the our customer experience some of them are going to make it so we're on time better so we ship more quickly so we get better quality in whatever the areas you're lacking let's do that because it will have the biggest impact on your business and then those other ones that you still want to really get to but aren't as impactful then let's move those down on the list until you have the ability to get to them absolutely absolutely and i if if it's okay you know i if i could just share really quickly in my book so that's what i just described as part of a framework that i've created speaking of the inventive journey that's that's a framework that i invented back in 2008 and it's it works every single time devin regardless of industry regardless of well i will say this it tends to work better for established companies because when you're a startup you're still trying to figure things out you don't know what you don't know but once you've been in business for at least two to three years you've kind of started to work out a routine for yourself even though you still may be figuring a lot of things out i think you're just in a better position to be able to identify processes that that need to be documented but the name of my book is called behind the facade how to structure company operations for sustainable success and so it literally tells you step by step how to do some of the things that you and i have been talking about so far awesome no i i definitely i'd encourage people to check the book out to get in for more information because we're starting to wrap towards the end the podcast and there's always so many more things i want to talk about than we ever have time but that does give us a good transition to we'll we'll jump to the last question and then we'll chat a little bit about that um as we start to wrap things up which is a question i always ask at the end of each expert episode is if you're talking to someone that's you know in just kidding whether it's bootstrapping just getting in a startup just getting going and you know there's a whole bunch of things that we covered a lot of things we talked about a lot of things in your book they can only choose one thing if you say hey if you if nothing else walk away do this one thing to get your operations in better order and better plays what would be that one takeaway or one thing they should get started on i so i i would say buy my book but but if i could recommend a technology if that's okay so there's a tool that i my team and i recently discovered as of a few months ago called notion n-o-t-i-o-n dot ion.so if you're looking for a a creative quick way to store and and capture your processes look into that tool it's basically a wiki that unlike dropbox or google drive yes you can document all of these things devin it but what i find is that when you're using some of these platforms even sharepoint or you know again google drive evernote and things tools like that they're great because it's stored in the cloud notion is also a cloud and web-based app but it gives you the benefit of being able to see everything and not have information hidden in folders and you can quickly search for things so i definitely encourage your listeners go and check out that that website sign up for a free trial play around with it see if you like it because it it could really revolutionize the way that you capture and store and share your information awesome well i definitely encourage people to check that out i always like tools that we can use because uh if you find the right tools it can make life a lot easier so you already hit on a bit with the the book but if people are wanting to reach out to they want to be a new client a new customer they want to be an employee of your team they want to be an investor they want to be your next best friend any role of the above what's the best way to reach out to your find out more i welcome all of you above uh the best way honestly is to connect with me through my personal website and that is alicia butler pierre.com so that's a l i c i a b u t l e r p i e r r e dot com and when you're there it's like a hub for everything that i have going on so if you want to find out more information about the book you can do that you can find out about my podcast the business infrastructure podcast as well as my consulting firm equilibria and there's links to all of my social media profiles there as well awesome well i definitely encourage people to check out check out the website check out everything alicia has going on plenty of good information a lot of things to connect up on so well as we wrap up thank you again for coming on the podcast now for all of you that are listeners if you have your own expertise to share or your own journey to share feel free to go to inventiveguest.com and apply to be on the podcast two more things as listeners one uh make sure to click subscribe and your podcast players so you know when all of our awesome episodes come out and two leave us a review so new people can find out about us last but not least if you ever need help with patents trademarks or anything else with your business reach out to us at millerip law just go to strategymeeting.com thank you again alicia it's been fun it's been a pleasure appreciate you coming on and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last oh thank you so much devon i really appreciate it