E-Commerce secrets to scale

035 - Why You Need Documented Processes To Scale With Rachel Haley

035 – Why You Need Documented Processes To Scale With Rachel Haley

E-Commerce Secrets To Scale is a marketing and entrepreneurship podcast that revolves around hearing the stories and strategies of successful entrepreneurs and e-commerce professionals to uncover scaling secrets that will impact your online store.

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Tanner:

This week on the show, I have Rachel Haley, co-founder of Clarus Designs. Rachel and I talk about why creating processes is so important when it comes to scaling a business. Rachel is really awesome. You’re going to love this episode. Welcome to the show, Rachel. I’m really excited to have you – go ahead and introduce yourself.

Rachel:

Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. My name is Rachel Haley. I am the current co-founder and CEO of Clarus Designs. We are a sales and marketing operations consulting firm. So we really work with small startups, particularly with B2B companies and help them scale their sales and marketing operations.

Tanner:

Well, that sounds really awesome. So how’d you get started in this, what’s your story?

So many obstacles, I would say, to starting your own company.

Rachel:

Sure. So I fell into this business more or less, I was working at Salesforce at the time. This was back in 2015, and I was really interested in how the company was able to grow to the size that it was and maintain the customer loyalty that it had. It had really low customer attrition, which was fantastic. So I took a big interest in how the product worked. At that point I was working in their finance and strategy department. So I was more on the business operation side and I had less understanding of the technical platform that the product operated on. So in my spare time, I taught myself how to build custom applications on the salesforce.com platform and learned a lot about how the company worked from the technical element and a lot of my colleagues and my network at the time started working at smaller startups.

So they were leaving these more established organizations to go and work for smaller companies within the Bay area. And, you know, there was a recurring theme of technical and operational challenges that they would encounter. And so when we would connect, they would say, hey, you know what, the process that we worked well with for one person when we had one account executive, it’s really starting to break now that we’ve hired an additional form. So before we had this manual process where I would come in every day and look into our systems and I would see it, you know, 10 or 20 leads, I would manually route those to the sales rep. He or she would call those people. And then we would follow up on a Google sheet and you track the meetings and see how those are turned into deals and ultimately revenue.

But now that we have five times the volume, I can’t possibly manually grab all of this. So we’re struggling with how to automate this. Do you know how to do that? And I would most often say you want, actually, I just learned this. And one of my classes like, let me try to help you for free. And I started doing that with a variety of small companies and at the same time, my co-founder and good friend from college, Greg, building out a business intelligence team at a company called Ad Roll. And he was entering a different set of questions. So those questions were more strategic and business focused, such as you had a dollar, where would you invest it? Would you invest in marketing or sales and then within marketing, what channel would you invest in? Are you going to hire sales reps? How many do you hire? When do you hire them and where do you put them across the world and what would their quotas be and how do you incentivize them? So in the middle of 2015, we figured we should just start a business and start charging for this. It sounds like this is enough of a big pain point and problem, and similar issues that companies struggle with at different points in time that we figured we could operationalize it on our own and build a business.

Tanner:

Well, that’s really awesome. So you started in 2015, right? What, what are some of the obstacles that you faced while building it up from the ground?

Rachel:

Great question. So many obstacles, I would say starting your own company. It’s very rewarding. It’s not all glamorous and a lot of there’s a lot of blocking and tackling. But it’s less fun that you have to get started and do that sort of takes away from the creativity of the whole building elements. I would say the biggest thing, the biggest obstacles that we ran into was, you know, in the very beginning getting clients, we didn’t have a good online presence or maybe a name at that point. So we had to work, we’d be called within our network to try to pitch ourselves. And oftentimes we would have to really go out on a limb and work really hard to convince a company that was not even that large, to take a chance on us and give us the business when they can hire a more established firm.

So that was a bit of a challenge. And oftentimes we had to really like, you know, research and learn sort of on the job in preparation for the pitch. And so it we were just trying to learn skills as we were pitching ourselves kind of like the Microsoft agent or sell a product that you have. We had a little bit of that. That was one challenge. I would say the second challenge we had too was, was  we were hungry to get people. It was really hard to convince someone to not take a job at a larger firm, like a Facebook or Google and work for a small shop like ours, given that we couldn’t pay the same rate or give them any other great perks. So that was a bit of a challenge.

If it’s me against another person on a treadmill, I’m going to win.

Tanner:

Yeah. Yeah. And that’s something that I feel like most startups struggle with. Right. but you know, what’s funny is back when I started my business, I had the same struggle as you did. You know, why would, why would someone hire someone with little experience? I think ultimately I got some handouts, but like you were saying, you were learning as you were pitching. I was learning as I was delivering. So it was crazy times. I honestly can’t believe that I did some of the things that I did, but Rachel, what would you attribute your success to?

Rachel:

That’s a great question. No one’s ever asked me that question before. That’s great. I would say probably my tenacity. I think that when I am faced with a challenge or an objective, it’s something that I work pretty tirelessly until I achieve. So, you know, I think there’s a phrase that Will Smith says, or there’s a video clip or a pan or something like that. It’s like, well, you know, if it’s me against another person on a treadmill, like I’m going to win, I’m going to be the last one standing. Cause it’s, I’m either going to fall off this treadmill and die or I’m going to keep running. And so it’s sort of like a mentality like that, that I have. So I really kind of put my entire energy and effort into solving that problem for better or worse and I can figure it out.

Tanner:

Yeah. You know, I think, I think we do our best when our backs against the wall and plan is the only option. Right? When you don’t give yourself a plan B and like, well, the Will Smith analogy of running until you die. I feel like that’s what entrepreneurship is.

Rachel:

Has that been your experience as well? Oh yeah. What have been some of the most enduring obstacles that you’ve had to overcome?

Tanner:

I would say starting a business that I had absolutely no experience in. So I was fresh out of college and I started a business, a marketing agency, without knowing that it’d be marketing or any of the services that I offered. So it was more of just, you know, feeling like I was in this box and I didn’t really know what I didn’t know. And I had to just learn everything on my own. I’d say that’s probably been the hardest part. And you know, there’s been times where I felt like I was failing and you know, the ups and downs of entrepreneurship of course. And it really took some tenacity to get to where I wanted to go. And sometimes, sometimes I got lucky and I think other times it just made me stronger. But you know, one, one important game about scaling a business is developing good processes. And I truly believe that. How would you define what a good process is?

Good process is one that is simple, easy to understand and has a useful life.

Rachel:

Define? Good process is one that is simple, easy to understand and has a useful life of at least I would say, you know, like nine to 12 months, if that’s a possibility, it really depends on how quickly your company is growing. But it, most importantly, if it’s simple and it’s easy to understand, that’s simplicity, sales from my perspective. And so if you can have new employees come into the company and they understand it fairly quickly, I think that’s a sign of a good process.

Tanner

Yeah. And I would definitely agree with that. So what’s one piece of advice you could give anyone listening to just getting started in developing their processes for their business?

Rachel:

I would say start by writing everything down. So what I do is a lot of the time there’s not a full-fledged idea or concrete understanding of what happens on a day-to-day basis. And so people get overwhelmed and then it’s really unorganized and then nothing’s documented and then nothing really scales. So I would start off by saying, what is everything that’s happening today? Write that all down. And then in an ideal setting, what should happen? It was like, so today, you know, John or Susan, he or she, they come in and they log into the system. They look at all the leads that have come to the website. Then they write the leads and then the sales rep follows up with them. And then, you know, then they have to email back and forth. Sometimes I go over to the reps, Dallas, sometimes I do this.

These are the manual elements. This is what we do, et cetera. And then in a perfect world, this is how it should work. Leads would get operated. Like these would get automatically routed to sales reps. The reps would follow up. There would be a calendar invite. We could track all this and there’s data, et cetera. And then what, what can we do today? And what can we work towards later? So it’s like, let’s simplify what we have today and make sure that everyone understands what’s happening and then have a goal of how to make it better in the future. Documentation is also very key. The more that you can document and streamline your processes, the easier it is for people that learn that.

Tanner:

Yeah. And I think that’s a good point. Documenting your process is the only way to make sure that it is, you know, followable and consistent, right? I think one important thing to mention when it comes to documenting the process: no one ever wants to sit down and document a process, right? It’s not enjoyable. But one thing that I’ve noticed is anytime they try something new, or maybe I’m doing something different than I normally would, I literally write down every single step that I do. And then it takes the pain out of trying to document everything at once. If you just do a little bit at a time.

Rachel:

That’s a good point. Yes. And it’s less overwhelming.

Tanner:

So from a consulting perspective, what goes into developing processes for your clients?

Rachel:

So at this point we have somewhat of a, I would say boiler plate process that we offer to them in terms of extracting and understanding where they’re at in terms of growth trajectory and overall structure, we do sort of like a high level assessment and health audit as we call. So we diagnose their marketing automation system, their CRM ERP. And then we also understand from an organizational perspective, what they have laid out, who does what, what the career trajectories look like within sales and marketing. And then from there perform an audit or given a high level assessment of what we think is working well, what we don’t think it’s working well based on just, you know, our years of experience in this and what we consider industry best practice. So that’s sort of like where we start. And then from there we try to work with the company to understand as best as possible what their current fiscal year objectives are.

You know, what do they want to achieve from a revenue perspective, customer retention, rate, operating efficiency, et cetera. And then we figure out where in their role, specifically sales and marketing, stack, is there a stack or potentially friction and any of their current modes of operating that would preclude them from reaching any of these goals. And we focus on those and we figure out where their pain points are. And we work with executive leadership to again, see, ideally what should happen. What’s their ideal what’s happening today. And then, you know, build a recommendation from there.

If you can lay that framework and foundation earlier on, it definitely pays dividends down the road.

Tanner:

So here, so here’s the golden question. Do you think that it’s possible to scale without documented processes?

Rachel:

Oh, that’s a good question. Yes. Yes it is. I can’t say that it’s not possible. I mean, I’ve seen that at companies, I’ve worked at companies where there was little documentation on processes and they scaled fine. You know, if you have a really fantastic product, obviously your company will grow as long as you can support that product, selling it and building it and maintaining it. I would say you do reach a breaking point though, at some level, will really be dependent on that company and the product specifically. So I think there’s definitely a ceiling and you’ll have to slow down eventually, but you can still scale to say that you can’t scale, I think would be incorrect. It does slow you down though. I think it significantly increases friction. And so my bias advices, you know, hire someone who can be dedicated to operations as early as you can. It’s definitely an investment, a long-term investment. It’s something that companies I’ve seen are very apprehensive to do because it doesn’t directly tie to revenue. And so in the early days, when budget is tight, it’s hard to justify an operational hire. But I think if you can lay that framework and foundation earlier on, it definitely pays dividends down the road.

Tanner:

Yeah. And not to mention, like, I agree with you that it definitely slows down growth, but you know, if you ever have a lot of turnover and trying to get new employees and training without a process, that’s nearly impossible. So another question I have for you is what is it like being a female entrepreneur in a male dominated industry? Can you shed some light on that and what that’s like?

Rachel:

Yes, I am happy to. It’s a question that I’ve been answering more frequently as of recent. So I think from my perspective, there is an imminent change in terms of the balance within technology in general, I would say there’s being a founder and entrepreneurs and that sort of one sector, but then there’s technology in general, I think within the technology space, it’s definitely imbalanced still. I think there are much more men than women, especially in executive leadership positions. So I do, I do see that slowly changing over time, not fast enough, but it is changing. So that’s a good news from a founder’s perspective. It’s also interesting to be a female. I think we’re a minority there as well. I don’t see as much change happening there, unfortunately. So I would love to see women take more risks and bet on themselves and start companies.

It’s a very daunting process. Absolutely. But I think I would love to continue to encourage that clarity, to have a mission driven business, to help empower women specifically those who are stay at home parents and need flexible working schedules. But in general, I would say it’s really interesting to be a female within a male dominated space. I think it’s a place where I can help highlight the issue and bring awareness to it and hopefully change it. So I feel excited and passionate about that, that I’m bringing awareness to a cause I think that’s really important. I think it’s important for women to continue to work together and rely on each other, support one another and not see this imbalance in gender inequality as competition or a zero sum game, meaning that if there are only a limited spot number of spots for females. And so if you get it, you can’t help out another female colleague and you have to stay competitive. It’s not the case. There’s plenty of opportunity for all women. So I think again, working together and collaborating and helping to support one another is the way that we can continue to change this imbalance and help, but it is nice to kind of be at the forefront of this issue and be part of the change. It’s really exciting.

Clear processes that align and support these objectives is key.

Tanner:

Yeah. I feel like as a society we’re shifting together. I mean, I’ve put a big emphasis on getting female entrepreneurs on the podcast just because I don’t feel like they’re very well represented. And that’s because the majority of the people I knew in business were men. And so like the first 15 episodes, there were only a few female entrepreneurs, but if you keep up with the podcast, we’ll see more and more and more women coming in on. So Rachel, what would you say your secrets to scale are?

Rachel:

So number one is I would say human capital. So your human capital is your number one resource that your company. So I would have put a lot of time, energy and thought into hiring and maintaining talent and your culture. That is a mistake I made early on in my career when I had my own business or working for other companies, not putting in a good framework of how we hire people, how we design job descriptions, what we look for in candidates and having a really well-oiled process there. And then how do we coach, develop, and maintain talent has created a whole world of new problems. I think that is probably the number one thing to focus on is making sure that you have a good process for hiring people and then coaching and developing them as well as maintaining them on your team. When you become a leader, you genuinely get fired by your employees, right?

Versus your customers, you worked for them. And I think most people don’t understand that. So creating a good culture is important. Secondly, I would say it’s good communication and transparency to the extent that it makes sense. So if possible, I would, you know, be very clear on the company’s mission, objectives and goals for the year in general, what they’re trying to achieve and get everyone rallied behind that. I think that’s really important in terms of process execution, you know, having clear processes and that align and support these objectives is really, really key. Being able to communicate them and document them. So everyone understands and everyone’s on the same page is also really important because if you have a bunch of different people running in multiple directions at different paces, you’re going to completely lose your momentum. And so we want everyone to be able to understand this is the goal.

This is your role in it. This is what you’re doing, and let’s not focus on anything else. Focus execution is a good piece of it. And then for me personally, I think that as a leader, one thing that I think has really been helpful is to take away from work and really budget that into my schedule. So I’m not working around the clock, like, you know, going back to our conversation earlier where I’ll work until I figure it out. And sometimes that means pounding my head against the wall for hours on end until I just kind of get that problem to be solved. There are diminishing marginal returns at some point. So actually budgeting in time to go for a long run or do yoga, or just take a walk or read or do something that’s completely unrelated to work. So I can sort of turn off that part of my brain. It allows me to actually be more creative and even give back more to the business.

Tanner:

Yeah. I mean, taking care of yourself is really important and you don’t want to burn yourself out because that’s only going to hurt you in the long run. And I really liked what you talked about with culture and processes. I mean, culture, like you said, people are our greatest asset and building a culture where everyone’s happy and they feel fulfilled and they feel listened to. Is that gives you a competitive advantage? No question. So, Rachel, I really want to appreciate you taking the time to come on the show. Is there anything that I have not asked you that you think might benefit the audience?

Rachel:

Well, that is a great question. I would say no, not necessarily. I really appreciated all the questions that you asked and that they were super interesting. A couple of them I’ve never been asked before. So I appreciate that. The only thing I would leave the audience with is don’t be afraid to bet on yourself and take a risk. You’ll be more disappointed with the chances that you didn’t take, I would say, than the ones that you did. So if you are on the edge about starting a business and I don’t know if you should or not, I would just take that leap, do it now. There’s no better chance. And you might describe yourself.

Tanner:

Yeah. I always say that you’ll always be surprised and what you can do just by betting on yourself and believing in yourself and truly if you believe in it that bad that you’re willing to, you know, work yourself to death. I think the odds of you being successful are pretty solid, right?

Rachel:

Absolutely.

Tanner:

So Rachel, what’s a great way for anyone listening to get in contact with you.

Rachel:

Well, you can find us on LinkedIn. If you go to our company page, Clarus Designs. Also, if you’re interested to see if we may be a good fit for your company, from a consulting perspective, you can go to www.ClarusDesigns.com and go to our contact us page, and someone will get back to you within a few hours, and then we can set up a call to see if there’s a good fit.

Tanner:

Awesome. Well, we’ll make sure to link that up in the show notes and thank you again, Rachel.

Rachel:

Thank you so much for having me. It’s great.

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