Creating More Efficient SOPs with Say Gabriel

We’re back with another episode of DBO with Keith Perhac. This week, Keith chats with Anansi’s Say Gabriel. Say’s main goal in life is to create cohesive systems that support strong communities.

Frustrated by watching stressed-out digital leaders get mired in constantly shoring up shoddy systems, Say set her focus to the digital world a decade ago, just as it was rising in impact on everyday life. Today, Say helps agency leaders troubleshoot and build strong marketing, operations, and admin systems.

In this interview, Keith and Say discuss:

  • The importance of modifying your typical checklist SOP
  • The differences and the benefits of both a top-down system and a bottom-up system
  •  How she reduced her team’s revision process from 2-3 week to just 45 minutes

Say’s motto for her team is, “Done is the new perfect.” She believes failure is just the first step to success and she wants to get you just as excited as she is about effective processes and how they can not only help you, but they can help your team, your clients, your marketing, your sales, and so much more.

Find Say at:

Transcript:

Keith Perhac:

All right, here we go. Hello again, this is Keith Perhac from SegMetrics and Data Beats Opinion. I am here again with Say Gabriel, a master or mistress of Standard Operating Procedures, of getting people together, and just keeping people to do what they’re supposed to be doing. Say, it’s so great to have you here. I’ve totally flubbed that introduction. Why don’t you give a better introduction of what it is that you do?

Say Gabriel:

Okay. Well, I’m super happy to be here anyway. I am stoked to talk about processes and SOPs, all that kind of stuff. Who am I? Say Gabriel, leader of the company Anansi Content. We basically help agency owners take conversion copy fully off their plate. Really, our focus is using the power of marketing and strong systems to build strong communities.

Say Gabriel:

So, my own background, I come from writing, communications, systems, all that kinds of stuff. But over the years, I’ve come to realize that a lot of people can write, a lot of people can produce, a lot of people can create, but few people can organize all of that cohesively, in a way that makes things simple, fun even. I would go so far as to say that, processes and systems can be very fun, not just if you’re a super nerd me.

Say Gabriel:

Started out just me on my own, now I run a team of nine, basically super-humans, marketing consultants, copywriters. We basically, as I said, use the power of communication and marketing, to build strong communities, usually on a white label basis, for other agencies.

Keith Perhac:

Interesting.

Say Gabriel:

A little bit of a mouthful, hopefully that [crosstalk 00:05:21].

Keith Perhac:

No wonder I flubbed it. I’m just going to put that all off to the side. Not my fault, not my fault. It’s interesting because, you said you focus a lot on copywriters, people who create content for a living. Even with that communication, inward to outward, so sales copy, or marketing copy, or anything like that, that is such a different process than creating communication within your organization, and to get people on the same page.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah.

Keith Perhac:

It’s really funny because, you would think copywriting, especially sales copywriting, is all about communicating. It’s all about getting the customer on the same page, but it’s so different when it’s not a product, when it’s not a singular goal, when you have 800 different goals, that you need to get everyone on the same page, and you can’t spend a month writing each document to get someone on the same page.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah. I love the fact that you actually juxtapose those two things, because what I found is that, at least the people on our team and stuff, if given the training to either create that structure or given the structure to follow, they take to it very, very well. Now, of course the people that we work with are not just copywriters, they’re content strategists as well. So, they have that kind of higher level, strategic mindset. But really, communication is so key, but it varies so wildly.

Say Gabriel:

Part of effective copywriting is like parts of communication, even all types of system building, is understanding what the goal, what the context, what the people are involved, and there’s different approaches for each kind of content. So, if you’re writing copy, if you’re writing a landing page, yeah, there can be a certain process or structure to that. But, if you contrast that to how you’re delegating to your team internally, that’s going to have a totally different kind of process and approach, and need different resources and et cetera, to make it successful. Then on… Oh, sorry.

Keith Perhac:

No, no, go ahead, go ahead.

Say Gabriel:

I was going to say, on top of that, because we work on a subcontracting white label basis, most of the time, we actually work with dozens of other digital agencies all the time. So, we also get to see what’s going on behind the scenes for them, and the means in which industry to industry, and situation to situation, they communicate with their team. That’s really just created an opportunity for us to grab the best of both worlds, and share that information back out again.

Keith Perhac:

Yeah, definitely. It’s interesting because, I think there’s a lot of the blinders issue, right? Because, when it’s in your own product, your own company, you have a lot of blinders like, “Oh, how am I going to do this?” Where, if you were to do this for a client, it’s very obvious. It’s like, two seconds you’re in there, you’re like, “This is exactly what we’re going to do,” there’s no hesitation, just go for it. There’s a very clear goal in mind. But, when it’s your own thing, and especially with internal processes, I think it’s just much harder. What is that one thing? Because, everyone has a different view of it. Even yourself, looking at something in different ways, you’re going to have different views on how you can approach it.

Keith Perhac:

There’s this great comic I saw, it said that, “The best way to just paralyze me, is to give me two decisions with no obvious benefits, and no obvious detriments either way.” It’s like-

Say Gabriel:

Are you in my mind? That’s my worst nightmare.

Keith Perhac:

Which of these two-

Say Gabriel:

It happens every day.

Keith Perhac:

Would you like the Fuji Apple, or would you like the granny Smith Apple? I know nothing about apples, because I’m allergic. But, it’s like, “I don’t know.” I’ll waste a month on that. So, internal processes for me, I know, are really hard because of that, because there’s 800 ways to skin that cat, and where do we even start?

Say Gabriel:

Where do we even start? Okay. There’s two different answers to this question, that come up in my mind right away. Now, I get that this can be a really overwhelming world, especially when you haven’t gotten a lot of things documented already, or maybe you just have critical things documented. Then, there’s also the consideration of, who is doing the task and how. On my team, we have tasks that different people might be doing, depending on the context, and you have to figure out what scoring to… How you can make sure that that is being covered as well. So anyway, let me back up and make this simpler.

Say Gabriel:

The first thing to remember is that, done is the new perfect. Like the very, very first thing, the absolute thing, the umbrella over everything is, done is the new perfect. Because, if you’re like me, and you like details, and maybe perfection a little bit, then you can really, really get paralyzed in what is the absolute best way to do this thing. You can think that, when you’re going in to write an SOP or something, you need to know everything perfectly, because someone else is maybe going to follow it, or you’re going to follow it, and if it doesn’t work, then why bother?

Say Gabriel:

So, let’s just calm that down right away. Say done is the new perfect. I will even go so far as to say, let’s take done is the new perfect one step further and say, fail fast. So, it’s better for you to just put something down, use it, and troubleshoot it from there, basically adapt it or improve it, than to wait on having the perfect thing. Failure is not the end of the journey. It’s never the end country. In fact, it’s usually the first step on the path to success. So, that’s maybe not a step by step, but that’s just the thing, everything we talk about today. And I would go so far as to say that, whatever system you’re building, whatever you’re doing in your business, done is the new perfect, if you tend towards perfection, is a really, really valuable place to start. Because otherwise you’ll never get anything done.

Keith Perhac:

That’s a great way to review it because, I fall into that a lot. I would rather rebuild something for the 800th time, than create something new and get it out the door, just because I have that perfectionist about me. It’s interesting because, I’ve seen something similar with our SOPs where, I think I’ve got it just dialed in, and it’s perfect. Then, someone else reads it and is like, “I have no idea what you’re saying, Keith.” It’s like, “Well, there went all that.”

Keith Perhac:

So, you’re exactly right that, fail fast, get it out there, get other people in on it, do it 20, 30 times and see, “Okay, is it working?” I’m sure you were going to go into this headfirst, but revisit. Revisit it because, if you just leave it and leave it broken, it’s never going to get better. But revisit, is it working? Is it not working?

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, yeah, exactly. That’s what by done as well. Like, for a process of some kind, we’re talking SOPs right now, once I get into the practical steps, I actually want to kind of challenge people’s perceptions around SOPs a little bit. When I say done, I mean in practice. I don’t mean written. I mean actually people are using it. Of course, when we’re looking at processes, as a leader of your agency, or your business, or whatever it is, quite often, the way and the reason that we’re documenting processes is, we are documenting processes to delegate them, and get them off our plate.

Say Gabriel:

But, sometimes you also have other people delegating processes that maybe you haven’t touched, so that if you’re hiring or something, someone else can come in and do that, or maybe you’re just moving things around in terms of what plate people are on, or whose plate things are on. All of this is really important, but I actually want to back us up a moment or two because, putting it in practice is really, really critical, but I think that it’s important to explain my theory of processes a little bit. Is it okay if I take a moment to do that?

Keith Perhac:

Yeah, yeah, definitely. Let’s do it.

Say Gabriel:

Okay. So, done is the new perfect is where we start from a mindset point of view. This is where we start from a practical data point of view. So, when we’re looking about processes, looking at processes, I actually define them in two different buckets, how we can approach processes. One is top-down, and one is bottom-up. Most people think of bottom-up, which is the SOP method, which is a step by step set of instructions, on how to accomplish a certain task, maybe that has a checklist at the end, that you go through, and it can tell you, “Okay, this person did this the right way or hit all the things that we needed them.”

Keith Perhac:

Right.

Say Gabriel:

That’s really important, and yes, you’re going to need those things, and yes, if you wanted to, you can start creating those and putting them into practice today. But, I think people often forget the top-down version of processes, which is much, much simpler, which is starting with your service framework. I think that, I’ll get into this a little bit more in a moment, I think that there’s no best way to do it, in the sense that, you need both top-down and bottom-up, in order to be able to set up these strong systems, that will support your organization, especially if you walk away. That for me is always the gauge. Can you just walk away for a full month, ideally and have things flow the way you want them to?

Say Gabriel:

But, that’s all when we start. That’s where we’re working on, that’s where we get to. If you think about that, it’s just going to be super overwhelming. You’re going to be like, “Wow, it’s never going to happen to me,” 10,000 different things. That’s why the top-down look can really be helpful in simplifying things. top-down is, let’s look at the big buckets of what we do. The top-down format is really just making sure that you understand the five steps or less, that go into anything that you are doing.

Say Gabriel:

So, the most basic, basic version of this, if you are say a marketer or a web design agency or something like that, let’s just say web design, because that’s super, super, super specific. Often, if you’re putting together a website, your high level process, your service framework, looks something like, discovery, maybe content, design, development, launch, and whatever comes after lunch for you. But that was just super simple. That was like four or five steps. A lot of companies, surprisingly enough, don’t even necessarily have this defined in order, one by one.

Say Gabriel:

If you’re starting to work on your SOPs and stuff, and you don’t even know what every project that comes in your door looks like from a five-step or less, basically process, then you’re already going to be overwhelming and confusing yourself, because every time you go into a project, you’re going to be doing it a different way. This also comes into sales and marketing. If you can tell people, “Well, we at Anansi, we follow a three step service framework or a simple three step process. We do a messaging anchors process, which is where we identify your positioning, your audience, your voice and tone, et cetera. We build foundation copy, which is the unique and memorable place that people can find you, and understand what you do online, and take action.”

Say Gabriel:

“Then, we do growth strategy, which is looking at goals, and then in a cyclical way, making action items, working towards those goals, looking at the metrics, comparing our actions to the metrics and continuing over.” So, if you start from this high level, it sounds almost overly simple. Hopefully, most of your listeners can point to this, or just take five minutes. It should come to you right away. But then, within those buckets, you can complexify as you need to. So then, let’s say we take the content process.

Say Gabriel:

Well, the process I just described, those might be the three steps within the content process. When you’re bringing somebody on board, you’re training somebody new, or you’re delegating, being able to very, very simply explain what these very simple high level processes are, creates so much clarity, so much clarity. If you stuck there, and make sure that you have those things outlined, and then use the SOPs more for specific small things, and you start with that top level, that can just reduce so much overwhelm.

Keith Perhac:

I think you just blew my mind, honestly. It’s funny because, this is how I think about design, this is how I think about development. This is how I think about everything in my business, except for the SOPs. In the company, we build out task engines. So, we have things like our integration marketing strategy, and we have thing one, thing two, thing three, these are the steps go through, and then each of those steps has a number of sub process. We have that for the doing, for the tracking of tasks that we do. But, at no point do we have them for the SOP of like, “Hey, this is how we do stuff.”

Say Gabriel:

Yeah.

Keith Perhac:

Because we always start at that bottom-up. I don’t know if it’s because it’s been ingrained in me that an SOP is a very specific checklist that you do. I love the Checklist Manifesto, but for some reason, it just got into me that, that bottom-up is the only way to do it, and you just-

Say Gabriel:

I think that’s pretty common, yeah.

Keith Perhac:

… 100% flipped it in my mind. It’s like, “Okay, no, no. We need to structure this just I would structure a development project or even a website project. I need the site map. I need the things we do, and then each thing that we do has they’re their own little sub items.”

Say Gabriel:

Yeah. If we look at… Absolutely. If we look at, let’s take Anansi, my company, let’s look at our systems and our processes. Within our project management system teamwork, we have those very specific checklists and things. If you’re completing a specific thing on a project, you’re installing Google analytics on a website or something like that, that’s going to have those very, very specific checks. But, we govern the high level frameworks in things that we call playbooks more so. We really, like if you’re starting a super, super easy bucketing system, every business basically has sales and marketing, admin, operations. Really, those are, let’s say admin and finance, and operations and projects, let’s say those three big buckets.

Say Gabriel:

Now, as your company starts to complexify, as you have more people on your team, maybe sales and marketing become two different buckets, maybe admin and finance become two different buckets. But understanding, like you were talking about the site map, understanding what those buckets are at a high level as well, is really, really good for organizing your SOPs. Then, we use these documents called playbooks, to govern really the less technical, but still very, very important elements of what we do.

Say Gabriel:

For example, we have our agreements of content strategy, or we have our 10 commandments of sales. Those are things that they’re not a checklist like, every time you do this, you go through and check it through. But they are things that are really, really, really critical, for anyone who’s coming into the role, to understand that, “Yeah, these 10 things will apply to literally everything you do.” Like, booking a call at the end of… This is a very specific example, but one of our agreements or commandments for our account manager is that, you always book a call at the end of the last call, if you want to follow up with that person.

Say Gabriel:

Now, that’s a really weird, specific thing. But, understanding our framework of, what are the things that happen every single time we do sales, every single time we do account management, is just so, so, so important to inform the context of those particular SOPs. Does that make sense?

Keith Perhac:

It does. It’s interesting because, that’s not something that you could put on a checklist.

Say Gabriel:

No. We’ve tried.

Keith Perhac:

You couldn’t have that on a checklist of like, “Oh, I’m meeting with Bob. Checklist, schedule next call.” Because, you get off the call and you’re like, “Oh crap.” So, you need to have, I like how you phrased this, the 10 commandments, but those rules. This is how we think about things. These are the things that are must, that every time we go into a situation, we want to keep these things in mind.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, yeah. That’s maybe slightly different from the top, the initial top-down service. Remember what I was telling you? But, it’s the same idea of top-down. Like, what things are really universal, that we do over, and over, and over, again and simple. I think that’s what makes top-down so powerful, is that it’s simple. You don’t need a giant checklist, because if it’s five items or less. The example I gave, I said 10 commandment, I think we have 8. It’s not quite the exact same thing.

Keith Perhac:

You dropped one of the tablets.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, but oops. But, knowing that there’s information you can keep in your head. I’m guessing, from your love of data, and our previous conversations, that you have a brain that tends towards hierarchy in some degree or another, in the sense that-

Keith Perhac:

Oh yeah.

Say Gabriel:

… You break things down into facets. I’m the same way. It’s easy to think that this is something that everybody has, but it’s not. That’s where the top-down model comes from is, understanding the power of, if you can make a short list and nest it, basically, you can hold that information in your head. One of the most powerful things about this is that, other people can hold it in their head too. Not just people on your team, but clients, other people, contractors. Like, explaining a three step process, and then I can say, “Within messaging anchors, we have two key meetings, and this is how you prep for one, and this is how you prep for the other,” that’s much more understandable to someone, than if I were to say, “Well in our process, we start with this meeting, and we go to this meeting.”

Keith Perhac:

Yeah, and here’s our 12 checklist for if it’s this type of meeting.

Say Gabriel:

Exactly, yeah. Then are like, “Oh.”

Keith Perhac:

If you have this type of meeting, if it’s with a C level executive, then you’re doing these checklists. Right, exactly. I’m trying to remember what my question was. I had a really good question, and it’s totally left. I got so excited about what you were talking about. I guess my main question is, how do you then get people on… How do you get this information out to people? Because, I talk with a lot of people, myself as well, that we have SOPs, we have structure, we think we have structure, but getting it out to the people on the team, how do we do that? How do we get everyone on that same page?

Say Gabriel:

So, this is really the crux of it because, if you can create all the most amazing stuff in the world, but if the people on your team aren’t using it, then well-

Keith Perhac:

It might as well not exist. Exactly.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, exactly. So, this is where done is the new perfect, and start simple, and complexify later. So, I think this is where the strongest power in the top-down approach really comes in, but you still have to get people to follow the bottom-up. Again, I’m going to tackle this kind of two different approaches. One is more of the mindset engagement piece, and one is more of the practical, like this is what you literally can do, tips and tricks.

Say Gabriel:

From a mindset piece, including other people in the process of creating them, is really, really important. I would say basically three things, one lead by example. If you’re asking other people to follow processes, but you are, and I can be this leader too, the person who’s like, “Well, you do it this way, but I’m just going to breeze in and get really excited about something, and basically do a whole bunch of stuff.”

Keith Perhac:

And just throw everything against the wall. Everything you’ve been working on is gone.

Say Gabriel:

Totally. “The team can just kind of work around me, they can figure it out. I’m helping.” Yeah. I help a lot, and then I get in trouble from the team. So, lead by example, in the sense that, that doesn’t mean that you should be doing all of the processes for someone else to follow, or that your team should be doing all of the processes, and you’re outside of that process. But, also just make sure that whatever you’re getting the team to do, you’re participating in it yourself. So, maybe you start by writing out a process, and following it. Making sure that, if you’re going in to do something, you’re checking and asking where that process is first, just making sure.

Say Gabriel:

Again, this is a mindset thing. I’m not going to tell you specifically what to do, but just lead by example. Know that, that is the best way to get your team on board with things, is to check-in with yourself, be self-aware and say, “How am I showing this, instead of just telling it?”

Keith Perhac:

Right.

Say Gabriel:

That’s easier said than done because, it does require a lot of self-work, and self-awareness, and checking yourself and all that kind of stuff. The other part… Yeah?

Keith Perhac:

Go ahead.

Say Gabriel:

I was just going to say, the next part of the engagement mindset piece is, really getting them involved in the sense that, maybe it’s like a game or something, where this week is process week, we’re all going to do one, not a million, not 10. We’re not going to do like… I’ve seen people, I’ve actually coached and worked with people who are like, “Okay, I’m going to create a new process every week, and we’re going to start implementing it. That way, in a year we’ll have 52 processes and stuff lined up.” I don’t recommend that. Just because, better to focus on a key process, like one key process. Don’t pick something random. Pick something that you guys either mess up all the time. Hopefully you don’t have something in your business that you mess up literally all the time. But, that process that people keep… Like, everybody does it differently or isn’t really getting it done, or et cetera.

Say Gabriel:

We really follow this in the sense of, we go where the need is. We don’t just sit down. Well, right now we’re prepping for my second in command to go on mat leave, and also to bring in a new strategist at the same time. Even when I say that out loud I’m like-

Keith Perhac:

You like to live dangerously.

Say Gabriel:

I’m like, “Why didn’t I say that out loud six weeks ago?” Even saying it out loud, it sounds kind of crazy. But, now we’re in it. So, I have actually been going through and systematically looking through some of our stuff. But, we hadn’t looked through some of this stuff in years. Not because we don’t use processes, but because we work on the thing that is the most needed at that time. We don’t work on the process that seems easy, but it’s going to go sit in a drawer.

Say Gabriel:

Your key things, I’m getting so excited, I’m starting to spit at the mic. So again, I don’t want to keep… Well, I do want to keep going back to this top-down service level framework, but that’s why I make that suggestion to potentially start there, is because every project you do, is going to follow somewhat of a pattern. If you’re doing it on the stuff that you do all the time, even if it’s just a simple little process, then that is going to make things so much easier, because you’re going to be using it all the time. So, really what all this is boiling down to is, work on ones you will use, actually use them, and don’t just expect the team to do them. But, I also have some specific tips and tricks, if you’d like me to get into that.

Keith Perhac:

I would, I would. I want to mention one thing that I had a mentor recommend to me recently, and this was all about getting it out of my head. Just getting stuff… It doesn’t have to be a full SOP, but just something, so that there is documentation, that tribal knowledge. He said, “Don’t respond to any email in the email. Create a document in Notion, and then link to that.” Not things like, “Hey, what are you doing this weekend,” kind of thing.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, yeah.

Keith Perhac:

But like, “Hey, how do this?” So, instead of, “How do we refund a person’s charge?” I wouldn’t respond in email, because now someone has to take that email, and either lose it or put it in, or it’s gone. It’s in the ether. But, if I create it in the correct place in an SOP doc, it’s just, “Here’s how we deal with cancellations,” and then link that instead, now we have a record of that.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah. That’s great. That’s taking it one step further, because we definitely might respond to the email and then be like, “Hey, copy, paste that out. Let’s spruce that up a little bit.” What I’m really hearing, what you’re pointing to in this is, the concept of asking questions, and that questions are spotlights. What I want to reflect back at you is that, questions are spotlights onto processes or SOPs that you need.

Keith Perhac:

Yes.

Say Gabriel:

Whether they’re internal or external, if someone is coming back to you, but especially internal, someone on your team is coming back to you and being like, “How do I do this? Or what’s the next step,” or something like that, that is almost always a sign that you need some sort of documentation, right?

Keith Perhac:

Yeah.

Say Gabriel:

So, whether you go and you create that right away and link to it, which I love as a process, I think that’s great, or whether you do respond to them and then pause and be like, “Okay, can I take this, and can I turn it into evergreen content basically?” We even do this. We do this internal with SOPs, but frankly, we also do this with clients and stuff. Where, if somebody asks us a question a bunch of times, we’ll put it into a blog post, right? We won’t just respond with like, “Well, we could respond to them,” or we could just write an article about it, or something and really help a lot of people gain that value.

Keith Perhac:

I had a business coach who did that. Anytime one of his clients asked him a question, he would write an entire blog post about it. It was interesting because, I started working with him a few years into his career, and for any question I had, he’d send an email afterwards like, “Here are some blog posts about the questions that you had.” It increased the value proposition of working with him because, it was not, “Oh, this guy’s just kind of throwing it out there.” It’s like, “He thought about this enough to put together content, and there’s a download, and there’s an entire content bundle about this question that I had. So, he’s obviously the pro.”

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. That I think speaks to… I think I’ve been fairly clear about the fact that, processes don’t just help you. They actually help you, help your clients, they help your marketing, they help your sales, et cetera. And this is partially why. When people come to me and they’re like, “Oh well, what about this situation? Or what about this?” I’m like, “Oh, well actually we hear about that so often that we’ve written something about it. Or, even I have a process for that.” We say that all the time. I’m like, “Oh, when this happens, this is what our process is.”

Say Gabriel:

For instance, writing. As part of our revisions, one of the biggest challenges we used to always have, so this is a good spotlight onto an SOP or a process that needed to happen is, we were finding that we were getting stuck in revisions. We were going back and forth in emails, and we were trying to explain and write all these revisions and stuff. So, we shifted the process to revolve around what we call a live feedback session process. This is, again, this is a top-down form. This is not… We do not have an SOP with a checklist of how to do this. Or if we did, that’s not where we started. We just started with the concept, but we’re like, “What’s the problem here?” Back and forth.

Say Gabriel:

We realized that, when we’re on a call with someone, and we can give context and walk them through it, et cetera, revisions reduced significantly. So, what we started doing is, sending out the drafts, and then basically sending them a video that says, “Here’s how to give good copy.” They give us back the feedback, we clean it up, and then we hop on a call with them and we say, “Look, we’re going to go through… We’re going to give you the big issues. We’re going to talk about them on the call.”

Say Gabriel:

Now this change very, very simple. Very, very simple. We basically implemented this from one week to the next. It took our revision process down from an average of 2-3 weeks to 45 minutes. Literally 45 minutes.

Keith Perhac:

Wow.

Say Gabriel:

95% of the time, it’s approved at the end of the call, and the other, let’s say 4.5% of the time, it’s approved or the rest of the edits were made within 24 to 48 hours and approved. So, this is how powerful this is. That’s a simple change.

Keith Perhac:

It’s interesting because, we’ve had similar experiences, not to that degree, that’s amazing. But we had one where, we always felt awkward about telling the client, “This is the way we do things.” We’re very awkward about saying, “Hey, you have to follow our process,” because I’m a people pleaser, unfortunately, and it’s just, I want to work within their confines. What happened every time I did that, was that the client stopped valuing our work, and the quality of our work went down. But, for the clients that we had a very specific process and we said, “This is the process you will follow if you want to work with us,” those clients valued our help so much more.

Say Gabriel:

So much more, yeah.

Keith Perhac:

It was so much less work for us.

Say Gabriel:

That brings you full circle. Yeah, totally. That brings us full circle to why processes are valuable. Not just because they make your life easier, but the client respects you more. I remember now, that’s why I brought up the revision thing. It’s not just because that’s an amazing success story, although it is. We’ve been doing this now, I think three years we’ve been doing that live feedback session process. But, because now when people ask, why, or they’re like, “What about revisions? Or, this can be a challenge or something.” We’re like, “Well, actually we have a process for that, and we use this process because it works.” That certainty that comes from, “No, no, we do it this way because we’ve had this problem, and we thought about it, people really respect you.”

Say Gabriel:

There’s this tendency, I think this goes as part of the mindset thing, and more in applying processes, because I think like you, like me, so many of us, it’s like, we want to serve in the sense that, we want to make our client happy, we want to deliver them value, we want to do what we can, we want to put our resources at their disposal. Clients say that they want that, and that they want to be the boss. Often, if you let them, they’ll take control of the project, but that’s not actually what they want. That’s not actually what they want.

Say Gabriel:

They then, or quite often what I see is that, these are people who lead their companies quite often, or are a leader within their company, so they’re used to being in charge and making the decisions, and they almost feel like they have to, in order to get a result or in order to fulfill their end.

Say Gabriel:

But, if you come and you say, “Hey, we have this step by step,” I find that number one, it’s easier to stand your ground because you’re not saying, “This is what I think you need,” although sometimes as a consultant and a strategist, you do need to say that. But you can say, “The process works, trust the process,” which I find, if you’re struggling with impostor syndrome or that confidence, can really help you, because you’re like, “Right, we have this structure. If it doesn’t work out, we can change the structure.”

Say Gabriel:

I don’t have to necessarily change me. We don’t have to change the entire project. We just need to change the structure where that works. Because, I think that constraints breed not just creativity, not just innovation, but greater value. Basically, creating these processes is a way of creating purposeful constraints, that get you towards the value and results that you want. But, people will thank you. People will ultimately thank you. People have thanked us, and we’ve had much better success just by saying, “This is how we do things. We’re going to follow it this way. If you have a compelling reason why you think we should move out of it, let us know, but we’re not just going to do that.”

Keith Perhac:

Right. There was a client we were working with, who I highly, highly, highly respect. We started off with a very strict process. These are the things we’re doing, this is the way we flow. Again, going back to wanting to please the client and go above and beyond, they started asking, “Well, we’re also thinking about doing this. Can you help out?” It’s like, “Oh yeah, sure.” “We’re thinking about doing this. Can you…” “Sure.” But, we don’t have processes for those. So, those started overtaking the main thing that they had hired us for, and we started to focus on these because these were more urgent and things like that, and this fell by the wayside. We finally stopped working with the client, and we were doing feedback, and I said, “This didn’t really end how I wanted it to end, and I’d love to hear your feedback.” He said, “I wanted you to say no.” He said-

Say Gabriel:

He told you?

Keith Perhac:

Yeah, no, he did. This is why I respect him so much. But he said, “I hired you because you were the expert. You obviously are, you know your stuff. But, the project went in this direction where there was no more leadership, and there was no more structure and focus. So you were at that point, and this is me paraphrasing, you’re no different than a $20 an hour coder,” right?

Say Gabriel:

Yeah. Who’s kind of the hands.

Keith Perhac:

“Because you’re just doing…” Right, I’m just the hands. He’s moving my mouse hand, and that’s what it became. I no longer had the structure, and I was no longer the trusted expert. It really hit home to me that, I’m not going to move out of those processes again. I’m not going to… If we decide we’re going to do something new, then we have to have a process for it, and we have to think about, how do we flow through this, so we are not just an extension of someone’s mouse hand.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I think that’s so important. I think this is something that comes up often when I have these kinds of conversations, whether it’s with leaders or on some sort of interview, some conversation like this, where it’s easy to fall into being the hands, especially because as the expert, you are so used to your own expertise, that sometimes you forget that that’s really where the value is. When we’re screening, like right now, one of the questions we ask it, I think more than once is, “Tell us about a time you said no,” when we’re bringing someone on that’s maybe leading a project. “Tell us what that looked like.” Because, we don’t just want to know that you can say, no, we want to understand.

Say Gabriel:

Part of expertise is understanding where to push, where not to push, where to push back, where not to push back, and where to just be like, “Uh-uh (negative). We can do this, but it is against my better judgment, and I don’t think it’s going to get you to your goals.”

Keith Perhac:

I think this ties into a bigger conversation of, successful agencies are the ones who say no, not just within the process, but to clients as well.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, agreed.

Keith Perhac:

Like, if a client is not a good fit, you do not work with them. If the task that the client wants you to do, if you don’t have a process for that, if that’s not a good fit, you don’t do it.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah. I’m nodding so confidently and stuff-

Keith Perhac:

Setting boundaries. It’s all about setting boundaries.

Say Gabriel:

Setting boundaries, yeah, setting boundaries. Saying no is huge. I find that having the process allows us to say no with more confidence. Because, I start to think about, what would it be like to create a process around this new thing? If I immediately I’m like, “Oh gosh, man, that’s going to take us in a totally different direction. Oh, I don’t know.” Then, it’s a lot easier to be like, “No.” Other than just asking, “Do you have a problem we can solve?” Because it used to be, if a client had a problem we could solve, then the answer is yes. But, it’s not just about that. It’s not just about that.

Keith Perhac:

I found a similar thing back when we were doing agency. One of the problems that we had originally is that, we could do anything, right? We’re marketing and development and copyrighting. It’s like literally, we could do anything. So, we talked to clients and they’re like, “Well, what can you do for me?” And we’re like, “What you got?”

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, what you got?

Keith Perhac:

That doesn’t sell very well, right?

Say Gabriel:

Yeah.

Keith Perhac:

When we decided to focus in on a process of, “Okay, we focus on improving the conversion rate of evergreen funnels, evergreen marketing funnels,” we had more clients than we could ask for because, everyone knew exactly what we wanted, or what we provided, we had the constraints, and we had a process that led through it. When we tried to branch away from that, that’s when we had problems.

Say Gabriel:

Yep, yep. Then that process, you can tweak it as you go. You can be like, “Oh,” as you learn more about your craft, because now you have an end goal in mind. That’s the thing. If you can get specific in that way, that constraint gives you something to innovate against.

Keith Perhac:

It makes you not seem like an A hole when you say no too. It’s like, “Hey, can you do this?” “We don’t have a process for that.” [crosstalk 00:41:51]. “We just don’t have any tooling for that.” It’s not, “No, no, we don’t do that, or we’re not going to do it for you. We just totally hate working with you.” But, it’s for people like me who don’t like conflict as much, it’s a very good way to set that up, to have that barrier, that’s not your fault. It’s not a judgment call, right?

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, exactly.

Keith Perhac:

The reason you’re saying no is not a judgment call, it’s a business process.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, yeah. I would say that, this has helped us a lot internally, operationally as well, for similar reasons in the sense that, we sometimes struggle with conflict and confrontation as a leadership team, myself and team, and my second in command. What we found is that, having a set of basically, it’s also a process, but in this case, it’s a flagging system. So we have like, these are yellow flags and red flags. What that is, and we have it for clients and stuff, but this is actually internally, this is behavior that, if you act this way, you’ll get a yellow flag, you’ll get a red flag. A yellow flag, if you get three within a month, then that’s basically grounds for dismissal. A red flag, if you get three within three months, that’s grounds for dismissal. Basically, we’ll talk to you after each time.

Say Gabriel:

Now, our team is freaking amazing, and they very, very rarely do anything that could get them a yellow or a red flag, and this makes it a lot more challenging for us, when somebody does do something that isn’t appropriate for the team, or when we have a new person in, that we’ve just hired, that we really or something, it’s been difficult for us in the past. We’ve basically shot ourselves in the back by not giving enough time and energy to early stage discipline, where it’s like, “Hey, this is an issue,” or et cetera. Where basically, it’s gotten to the point where a staff member, where we were ready to let them go, but we hadn’t had any like-

Keith Perhac:

Conversations.

Say Gabriel:

… discipline along the way, or conversations along the way. And we’re like, “Well, this isn’t fair. It doesn’t feel good for us, et cetera.” So, having that process can operate similarly operationally. Where it’s like, well now it’s not just a judgment call for us. Like was that appropriate, was that inappropriate, et cetera? It’s like, “No, we made a list while we were in a non-emotional state of mind, about what is okay or what is not okay, and what that severity looks like.” While that conversation might look different… Like, if somebody gets a yellow flag, for example, let’s say somebody is more than five minutes late, let’s say. I’m not sure if this is exactly it, but let’s say someone’s more than five minutes late to a meeting without any warning or something. That’s a yellow flag. But, that’s not really going to do anything or go anywhere, unless they’re consistently making it an issue.

Keith Perhac:

Right.

Say Gabriel:

So, by creating those constraints when we were not in a charged or emotional situation, now all of a sudden, when we have somebody who acts or maybe does something that we don’t agree with or et cetera, and we sit down as a leadership team and we’re like, “Okay, well, was this okay? Does the context makes it okay?” et cetera, we just actually look at our list of flags, and we’re like, “Oh, we’ve actually already written down what this is, why it’s important, et cetera.” Then, it’s a simple conversation. Because, they all already have access to those files.

Keith Perhac:

Right. You know what’s expected of you.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah.

Keith Perhac:

Getting people on the same page with expectations is always very tough as well. There’s a podcaster that I know that… Anyway, long story short, I’m working with someone who used to work for this person, and he had a rule. He said, “You are in the affiliate acquisitions role. We need 20 affiliates per month. 20 affiliates per month or you’re let go. You can do more, and that’s awesome, but you have to get 20.” Hearing that at first, I was like, “Oh, that’s really cruel. That’s me.” But at the same time, I know exactly what I’m supposed to do. If I can’t do that, I know the job’s not for me. It’s almost freeing to have that list of like, “Hey, these are the things that are expected of me. These are the things I can’t do. I can’t show up on calls late.”

Keith Perhac:

Because, you phrased this so well, it’s not a judgment call. You don’t have to get together with the board and say, “Well, Sarah was late, and what do we do? She’s great other than that.” But, you have a list and it’s like, you can always change the list.

Say Gabriel:

Exactly, yeah.

Keith Perhac:

Or you’re like, “Man, everyone’s being late. Maybe five minutes is just way too strict. Let’s look at 10.” You can definitely change those. But, having the very specific like, this is the rule, is almost a freeing thing.

Say Gabriel:

It is. It is, Keith. Actually, I would go so far as to say that, that’s one of the biggest, biggest benefits of taking the time and energy, to put together processes or SOPs or et cetera, is that, you are no longer storing everything inside your head, or expecting the people on your team to store everything inside their own head. These constraints, once again, actually create freedom. Because it’s like, “Wow, I don’t need to keep track of the million different things I could potentially mess up or do wrong, or et cetera. I don’t need to keep track of the expectations that are going into every project. The expectations for my role, the outcomes for my role, because they’re all there.” You can reference them, you can go in and check them.

Keith Perhac:

So, this may be something that I’m having blinders on, and you may have already discussed. We had mentioned earlier about, how do we get people on the same page of these things. So, when someone comes into the company, or someone comes into a new role within the company, how do you get them to understand this? Do you have like, “Hey, read these seven documents?” What is the flow of getting people to read the documents that they need to read to understand? In a very specific way, how do you get people on board with those things?

Say Gabriel:

If we’re talking about the context of a new hire, which I can speak to right now, because I’m in the middle of revising all of this, also, we’ve hired two roles in the last year, so it’s still fresh on my mind. I would say that, it starts at the very, very beginning, before the person is even hired, with the kind of living by example. In the sense that, this ties into the culture and expectations, and the mindset around the team and the company in general. So, if you are talking about this stuff from day one, and making sure that this stuff is kind of reflected in your screening process, that’s important.

Say Gabriel:

But, that brings us to more of a value conversation. Not value, sorry, but values conversation. Because, I think that if your values are aligned with your higher level processes, and you can communicate your values from the beginning, you’ll just have a much easier time of all of this. But, if we’re getting just super specific and super practical, then we basically have two documents. Like, anyone coming in has two documents that they have to read. So, those are our team playbook, which was previously the internal policies handbook, but we aligned it to team playbook.

Keith Perhac:

I like team playbook a lot better.

Say Gabriel:

Right? And that matches… We’re very conversational, we’re very friendly, we’re very informal, so that fits us as well. That basically has the core things that are company-wide. So, that’s the kind of nitty gritty around, what to do if you’re sick, the flagging system we talked about. It does have our values in there. It has a whole bunch of more logistical stuff around when do we get paid, all that kind of stuff. Those are the top-down high level processes, that people need to know coming into the company, and everybody has to read that coming in. It’s spaced out too, but it’s maybe like a 10 page document or something, but it’s not 10 single spaced. It’s a book.

Say Gabriel:

Anyway, moving on. I just want to get too deep into this. Then, we have one that is aligned with their role, so their buckets, so to speak. So, we have a leadership playbook, an admin playbook, an account management playbook, and a content strategy. But, they don’t all read each other’s playbooks.

Keith Perhac:

Yeah, you don’t need to know all of them.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, you don’t need to know all of them. So, the content strategy person, let’s say a new content strategist comes in, well, they would read the team handbook, the team playbook, and then they would read the content strategy playbook. But, we’re not going to have them come in and just sit down and read everything. Basically, we find when somebody first joins our team, we like to give them stuff to chew on at first. So, before their first call with us, they will have read the team playbook, and we’ll have a conversation about that and stuff.

Say Gabriel:

But, the playbook that is specific to their role, is something that requires a lot longer to sink into their head and absorb. So, we organize it so that the most critical stuff is at the beginning, and then it’s more a reference guide. I don’t want to forget also about the specific SOPs and specific checklists that they need to move through. So those, we do less training on, but we have videos and stuff, that they can reference, and we put those checklists into our project management system. So, they don’t need to absorb all of this at once, but the higher level stuff that is contextual, is how do you do your job? What to expect from your job, what are our high level processes, stuff like that, is going to be in the playbook.

Say Gabriel:

But, it’s also important that, when they’re going to do a task, that there is a video and a step by step guide that they can kind of follow. So again, I’m talking to someone who’s mature in this. We’ve been working on this for many years. So, we do have both sides of it and stuff. Between the two, I would say that having your high level playbook, and even just making videos that people can follow, can be very valuable. But, it does depend on what that person’s learning style is, and you don’t just want to have videos. Videos can be a good starting place, because somebody else, let’s say you’re not someone who likes to write out detailed SOPs and stuff, making a video, having the other person that you’re training maybe write out the steps to the video, if that’s the position that they’re good at, or having your admin person writing out, having somebody else involved to look at it and revise it and et cetera, is going to make the strongest process, because you’re forcing somebody else to interpret what it is that you’re trying to teach.

Keith Perhac:

Yeah.

Say Gabriel:

That by nature, again, that’s where we come back to done is the new perfect. You throw some steps down, et cetera, and then it’s really about doing. It’s really about doing. Every time somebody comes to you or to their lead with a question, that is a sign that the process needs to be updated. My recommendation is to go in, literally right then when the question happens, and change it literally right away. This 5 or 10 or even 15 minutes, probably just 5 or 10 minutes you take, will be the difference between you updating it, and it just never happened. Again, someone needs to be doing this for it to be effective though.

Keith Perhac:

One thing that I’ve found with video, that I really like, is that, I tend to not do video and I tend to write out stuff, and I always miss things. Because, even if I’m doing it in another window or I’m going through the process, I always miss something. So, when I’m doing it in a video, I can’t miss it, because it’s right there. I’ll skip over things in my mind as I’m writing down the steps. But if I’m in a video, it’s impossible to skip over those steps.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, yeah, likewise. That’s why I like having the steps in your project management system, ultimately as well because, it’s similar, once you’ve identified the steps effectively.

Keith Perhac:

You can copy that template in. Create a new task, the template comes in, yep.

Say Gabriel:

Exactly, yeah. Then, you’re going to have to check it off. They have to check it off, in order for it to be done. That’s where the power of the checklist come in. I just don’t want to forget one really, really critical part, because we just went through this with someone on our team is, don’t assume because they’ve read it, they understand it and are applying. So, we do create constraints, and I know that you and I, Keith, have talked about this quite a bit already, around outcomes and KPIs, and those things that are going to help you understand that the person is doing their job. But, it’s also really important to come back in the process, and have them go through the playbook again, or do kind of a checklist.

Say Gabriel:

We’re doing this. Our account manager has been with us, I think she’s going into her fifth month now. It was a few weeks ago, she came to me and she was like, “Hey, I’m having this challenge. I’m not really sure where I’m going wrong. What does it look like? Do you have any ideas?” I was like, “Oh, this is very, very, obviously one of the things in the sales playbook that’s at the beginning.” It made total sense that she had forgotten it, because she had so much stuff going on. But, what we really identified was that, we wish she hadn’t… We wish we’d caught it not three or four months in, but maybe three or four weeks in. Because, there’s a period of overwhelm when a new person is coming in-

Keith Perhac:

Oh yeah.

Say Gabriel:

… And learning everything. So, we’d like to give them the playbook upfront to read, because it gives all that context and all that cool stuff. But, something that we’re starting to roll out now, is a certain way into the process of them training, going back through it, and either creating a bit of a checklist… What she’s been doing is, she’s been going through… Basically, there’s two ways you can do this. The way I like to do it is a rating. Like high level sections, on a scale of 1-10, how confident do you feel with this? Or, if you’re doing it with yourself, if you’re assigning it to someone to do it themselves, then you can do something similar basically, and have them go in, and basically list out the sections that they’re super confident in, the sections that they’re not, the sections they need more work in, stuff like that.

Say Gabriel:

Basically, make sure that you’re checking back against those kind of higher level, contextual things, long enough into it, that they have time to settle and they understand things better, but soon enough, that you’re not potentially missing opportunity.

Keith Perhac:

Right. The goals and the KPIs… Because, I remember when I started my old jobs, they give you that whole packet, and you read it, and then you never look at it again. Of course, to have… We redo our onboarding every three months or we revisit our onboarding process every three months, to make sure, is it still providing value? Are we still communicating what we want to communicate? You need to do that with your onboarding docs as well. Not necessarily rewrite them, but when someone comes on, just like you’re saying, how well do you understand it? Are there places that maybe when you reread it, you’re like, “Oh, I totally forgot that that was a thing.” There’s always going to be stuff like that.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah, yeah. That’s of just documenting things, and the power of done is the new perfect. Is, when you notice something’s missing, you can write it down. Often, you don’t know what you’re missing or you don’t know what you’ve forgotten, but if you haven’t written down, then there’s always the possibility of clarifying that, or shifting that, or coming back to that, as long as it’s being used.

Keith Perhac:

Excellent.

Say Gabriel:

I want to keep coming back to that.

Keith Perhac:

Making sure it’s used. You can have the best SOPs, the best documentation, the best everything, if no one’s looking at it, then it’s meaningless. Same with KPI, same with everything.

Say Gabriel:

Yeah. That’s why I say, start with the things that you actually do the most often, or that there’s confusion around, that you also do fairly often. Because, it’s way better to have five really killer… Maybe like three high level service frameworks, and like three or four, really, really good SOPs, can totally change your business. But, having 100 that nobody ever looks at [inaudible 00:58:24].

Keith Perhac:

I mentioned that we’re doing all these integrations, and this integration marketing. You’ve made me really want to go in and just record me doing one, just live coding, record the whole thing, talking through it as I’m building it, and then having that as the SOP. Because, that’s what all the developer tutorials, all the marketing tutorials, all these sites do. They have a video that shows how they go through the process. That’s how I learned a bunch of technologies that I’m using. On the train home, I’d watch them on my phone, and understand how they’re built. But, I never did that for myself. I never did that for my own business. It’s like, “Wait a minute. Why the heck am I not doing that?”

Keith Perhac:

Say, this has been absolutely wonderful. Is there anything else that you want to make sure that people are keeping in mind, that they’re remembering once they turn off this podcast?

Say Gabriel:

Just go easy on yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I say this to you, Keith, I say this to all the other listeners, all the other leaders out there is, if done as the new perfect didn’t quite sink in, or fail fast and quite sink in, just don’t be too hard on yourself. We are living in crazy, freaking times, and life is really intense right now. Running a business is always intense, and it’s okay. I’m just going to tell you that right now. It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay. It’s not going to be perfect. You’re not going to get everything done that you want to get done, but it’s going to be okay, and you can still excel.

Keith Perhac:

I don’t know about other people, but I need to hear that. So, thank you.

Say Gabriel:

I need to hear this often, so I just wanted to share that as well.

Keith Perhac:

There’s just so much pressure. There’s always just so much pressure. Say, this has been absolutely wonderful. Where can people find you online?

Say Gabriel:

You can find me at my company website. I’ll say it, then I’ll spell it. It’s www.anansicontent.com. That’s A-N-A-N-S-I, that’s N as in Nancy, C-O-N-T-E-N-T.com. Anansi, in case you’re wondering, is the spider god who gave the world stories, and used his web to show people how to knit together, and form communities, and a web of connections. You can find out about what we do, you can get more information about me personally, you can reach out to us. It’s not just me, my entire team is full of super cool people, who love to talk to other like-minded leaders and individuals, and would love to hear from you.

Keith Perhac:

Excellent. Well Say, thank you so much for joining me.

Say Gabriel:

My pleasure. Honestly, this is great. I love being able to share and pay it forward.

Keith Perhac:

This is so much fun. All right. Take care. Thank you so much.

Say Gabriel:

Take care guys.



Rylee Mathis

Rylee Mathis is a Virtual Personal Assistant based out of Portland, Oregon.