Most days, running a business can take up all your time, leaving nothing for other activities or your family. This can all change when processes are set up and you start to systemise your business. Founder of Productivity Hub, Debbie Eglin, joins Paul Higgins in this episode to share her expertise in helping business owners get their time back and start appreciating and enjoying the freedom they deserve. Using her twenty years of experience in corporate administration, Debbie provides productivity tips and the best practices that she implements in her own team, proving that it’s effective and can boost both your profitability and quality of life.
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How To Systemise Your Business Without Creating Complexity with Debbie Eglin
Our guest is someone who is an accidental immigrant to Australia. She had an amazing opportunity to start working for a startup that was a huge global US brand and she talks about how they adapted that brand to be successful in Australia. She left that because she had no family here to support her and she wanted the flexibility to look after her son and help him through school. She helps people to build systems to improve both their profitability but also allows them to run their business without them being there, taking some time off, as she says, maybe sailing into the sunset for a while. What I’ll do is hand you over to Debbie Eglin from Productivity Hub.
Welcome, Debbie Eglin from Productivity Hub to the show brought to you by Build Live Give. Debbie, we’re going to get to know a lot about you. Why don’t we start with something that your family or friends would know about you that our readers wouldn’t?
Thank you very much for having me. I guess something that not a lot of people realize is that I’m pretty much an accidental immigrant to Australia. I spent my late teens and early twenties traveling around Europe being a little British girl and came backpacking here years ago with my brand-new boyfriend. We’ve been going out maybe a month or something, we decided to do this trip and then, years later here we are. I wouldn’t have it any other way. A lot of people assume that I am Australian, and get a bit of a shock when they realize I’m not.
Your accent is fantastic. I’d call it a beautiful Australian accent. English accent that’s turned Australian. I’m assuming the backpacker that you came out with is your husband.
Yes, he is. We’ve lived our whole life here and we often say, “If we had stayed in the UK, would we have survived? Was it Australia or the environment that made us so strong?” Who knows? We are very happy with our adopted country.
Tell us a bit about your corporate escapee story.
The first few years I was here I was bouncing around a few roles. My corporate training is C-Suite Executive Assistant/Administration Manager. My big corporate escapee story was, I was part of the key management team who bought Krispy Kreme into Australia. That was quite an amazing experience. I was involved with the company for around ten years and was involved in the company from pre-store growth. At the embryonic planning stages through to having multiple stores setting up wholesale streams and multiple revenue avenues.
It was an amazing experience. I learned a huge amount in terms of practical skills across lots of different divisions of the company. My biggest learning from it was how to lead people. How to get the most out of the team, which is massively important even if you have a very small team, which I do. The working environment was definitely very hard. We were working some solid hours, but we were very much greatly rewarded and appreciated. That’s a great thing. Coming out the other end of it for me when having a family was on the cards, I realized that I wanted greater flexibility to be able to be around for my family and do what was needed. We don’t have a direct family here. We’re very much a siloed unit aside from our greater community. I wanted that greater flexibility, so I headed out on my own into that great world and here we are.
Most people know that Krispy Kreme is one of the world’s best doughnut experiences you’ll ever have. When you first started, did you know the success that it had in Australia, was that on expectations, above, or below? Give us a bit of insight into that.
It was definitely on expectation. The owners and the team around bringing Krispy Kreme to Australia, I don’t think had any doubt that it would succeed. We did things quite differently in the Australian market versus the US market. That was a little bit of a test of measure. Obviously, there is a solid history as to how they do things in the US, but it doesn’t always directly translate into success in Australia. The initial success was built around not advertising or not doing any above the line advertising, allowing the product to speak for itself. That’s where all of the media, buzz, and excitement came from.
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I remember the queues of people when there’s only one store in Sydney and you need to get it to fly home to Melbourne. You talked about the differences between Australia and the US. What would you say a couple of key things you did differently in Australia than the US?
Looking at the product range to a certain extent. The coffee is a big thing. We’re drinking espresso coffee here whereas in the US, it’s drip coffee. There were fundamental product differences like that. Even in terms of positioning. In the US, a doughnut is a breakfast item, but in Australia, you can’t promote it as a breakfast item because it’s more of a treat.
Unless you replace them.
There were some fundamental differences like that. Some slight differences in terms of the language used around marketing that you need to translate in different markets.
Working for Coca-Cola for all those years. I saw that we have to localize that. That was a great thing with around the franchisee relationship that you get those uniqueness in. When you look at the time when you left and you made that decision, what are some of the key fears you had at that time?
Probably all the usual ones that everyone experiences at some time or another. “Does anyone even want what I’ve got to offer?” “Is it going to succeed?” “Will I succeed?” “Am I even good enough?” All of those normal fears that you have. I still ask the question sometimes even many years later in business. It’s what most business owners go through, questioning your ability and what you have to offer.
As far as help, what help did you get along the way, whether it be mentors, books or podcasts? Who’s helped you along the way?
I had engaged a few different mentors over the years. I’ve had some mentors which are focusing on the wholesale side of things. From a personal perspective, a mentor is very important to me to the way that I work and the way that I can strategize in the business. My pattern has been that I take a mentor for an area that I need to work on or I feel that an area of my business is weak. I will get a mentor who has good experience in the area that can help bring that up in line with the rest of the business.
Other than that, I do try and get out to different learning events and things like that. I’m willing to take some self-learning, which is generally around new technology that we’re looking at using or recommending to clients. That is ongoing in the background. I do love to grab a book when I have a moment, but those moments seem to be a little bit few and far between. I’m staying on top of the latest books that are creating a buzz around the business community.
What are the key things that you’d look for when choosing a mentor? What’s the process you go through?
The number one thing that will make or break that relationship for me is whether we are connecting. Can you quantify that? It’s a gut feel as to whether you like that person. Whether you feel that your values are aligned. Whether you’re on the same wavelength. That was make or break. The initial stages of looking for the right person will be down to skillset. When I feel there are gaps in the business, I will look for someone with that particular skillset. Generally, I will ask around my trusted community as to anyone who they’ve worked within the past that they would recommend. The third is, are our values aligned? Is my gut saying, “This person is right?” Is there a niggling feeling there that maybe they’re not perfect for me?
The next section is the build section. When someone says, “Debbie, what do you do?” How do you answer that?
That question gets me every time. Everyone is like, “What’s your elevator pitch?” My elevator pitch changes every time and I’m not sure why. We systemize businesses so that the owner is able to thrive in their area of expertise and do more of what they love, and they’re good at.
What type of businesses do you systemize?
Our sweet spot is service-based business owners generally between 1 and 10 employees. That is our ideal client. We have worked with others a little bit out of that target, but I do always prefer to go back to that type of business owner.
What are some of the common gaps you see when you go in to systemize someone’s business?
There’re two main gaps. One is the technology piece. Generally, it will be they’re missing a CRM or more often than not, a task or project management platform. Those will be the two key pieces of technology that we find people are missing. The other one is not defining how they work. They might have it in their head, but they haven’t got it written down in a workflow or anything else. Anyone they try and bring into the business, they’re recreating the wheel every single time in terms of training. Sometimes things are missed and everything like that. It’s getting the info out of the head and down somewhere.
When you talk to some of our community members, and you mention the words like standard operating procedures or systems, they start to quiver. The flayed corporate to break free of that. Unfortunately, it normally gets them in a bit of a mess because they don’t have it. How do you help people overcome the fact that some SOPs and systems are good for your business and not going to be a hindrance are going to help you?
People get it through working with me or even just through our initial conversations that we’re having. I have a pretty well-oiled machine happening. Through the conversations, interactions, and the touchpoints that they have with me, they naturally see that. A frequent comment I get is, “I want something that works like the interactions that I’ve had with you.” From the online booking system, and then it’s all nice, smooth and they get a questionnaire. It just floats.
That is one way that I easily overcome the hurdle of people going, “This is all so boring. Do I absolutely need this stuff? No one’s got time to create.” The other way that we help clients overcome it is, we’ll actually do the work for them. In terms of documenting their workflows, their client life cycle or standard operating procedures, all of those things. We’ll do it during an online session where it can be engaging. I inject some fun and humor into the process as well, but we’re doing all the work in terms of capturing what they’re saying. We make suggestions as to how systems and processes can be improved. We identify where technology could help in terms of automation. It’s a bit of a working discussion that allows us to pull the information out of their head while also adding our flair and our magic into the process. They’ll have documented workflows that come out the end of that and they can then use as the project templates for clients, etc.
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How does the business model work?
We’ve got three key stages that we take our clients through. The first one is productivity audit. When a client approaches us and says, “I know I need help, but I’m not sure where.” They haven’t identified where the roadblocks or their issues are. What we’ll do is take them through our productivity audit. That looks at their client’s life cycle. It looks at what they want to be working on in the future so that we can align any recommendations that we have to their future needs as well. We also look at the foundations that they’ve got in place in the business. That is some admin 101 stuff, but it uncovers some very interesting situations and some easy, quick wins for clients as well in terms of saving time and getting their business into the right shape so that they can scale quite easily. That’s looking at where they’re at where they want to be and providing recommendations.
We will then be able to implement those recommendations through a project. That might be technology implementation. It could be the development of the documentation, recording of the operating procedures, creating videos, etc. Once we’ve got all that in place, then the client is ready to delegate or outsource. That’s where the true systemization comes into place. We’re pulling everything together so that they can go and sail their boat for six months while everything just happens within the business because we’ve put that well-oiled machine together.
Is that productivity audit paid?
Yes, it is. It’s quite an intensive audit. It’s a two-hour audit online with myself, where I’m asking a lot of questions and recording a lot of information and recommendations. We also start the systemization process at that early stage as well, in terms of documenting one of your client life cycles. If you have a certain service, then we’re actually documenting that whole workflow so you can see how that works. We’re providing recommendations. I wrap that all up into a roadmap report, which gives you very detailed information in terms of what we recommend. “Here are some links on how to do it.” “This is your how you do it.”
I’m a great believer that small business owners, in particular, shouldn’t be 100% reliant on any service providers. I like to give enough information so that they can go off and do it themselves if they choose to or if they have the time. I always like to make sure that there is enough information there for the business owner to go, “Thank you. I’ve paid my money for the audit. This is amazing,” and they can go off and do it themselves if they choose to. It’s a pretty intense outcome that they get.
Other than what you’ve already mentioned, what’s unique about what you guys do? What do you do differently than others?
The key thing, Paul, is that we are very practical and hands-on. I do consult to a certain extent, but I don’t like to leave the clients with, “Here are my recommendations. Off you go and find someone to do it.” We will implement on the client’s behalf because one of the key things that we found with our clients is they are very time-poor. They do want to employ a consultant to understand what recommendations are out there and what solutions are out there for them. Generally, they haven’t got time to implement. We make it as easy as possible for them to make these changes within the business and have everything happen.
How do you normally measure the results of what you do?
One of the conversations that we have at the beginning of the process with clients is to understand what they want to achieve through working with us. That can be quite different for each client. Sometimes it’s, “I need to gain at least half a day back a week,” or “I need to gain a week or a quarter back.” One of the issues is that they feel like they’re chasing their tail and that they’re not organized in terms of clients. They’re not sure what’s happening when and things are like that. In their case, that is the solution that we need to come up with them. For others, it might be, “In two years’ time I do want to be on my yacht, and I want to be sailing around falling up Far North Queensland for two months of the year.” If that’s the goal, then that’s what we’ll work towards in terms of offering a solution to them. It does depend on what they’ve identified, and then what we’ve agreed in terms of the project pathway for them.
I know a lot of people say, “If I’ve got money to spend, I’d rather spend it on revenue-generating than reducing some of my costs or time.” “I’d rather spend on Facebook ads,” or whatever. How do you handle that objection if it ever comes up?
It does come up because when people are struggling, they look at the budget they have available and one of the first things they think of is marketing, advertising, etc. In that case, obviously, I share the benefits of what we do. At the end of the day, I’m not here to persuade someone. If people don’t see the value, or if they’re not ready to understand the value, then that’s okay. I’m not going to push someone into working with me if they don’t get what I do. Because I need the client to be on board to make the changes and to implement the new habits that we’re sharing with them. If they don’t, then they’re not going to get the results and therefore, I’m going to fail in what I’m doing with them. I need them to be 110% on board and see the value in not only the money spent but also the new learning and the new habits that we’ll share with them. If they’re not then we’re doomed to fail, and nobody wants that situation.
What have you done to improve the profitability of your own business?
The profitability was something I struggled with for a while because a lot of the work in the early years was very project-based. I’ve worked hard to work on my funnel in terms of the journey that I work with my clients. One of the key things that we’ve done with that is put together a virtual assistant program. We don’t just provide VAs to people, there are plenty of suppliers doing that, but what we do is work very closely with the client to get them ready in working with a VA. Making sure we’ve got all of the processes done but also make sure that they are comfortable and understand what it means to work with someone offshore as well.
I hold their hand while we walk through the process. Once they’ve finished the program, then they will generally continue working with one of our team. Having that program in place meant that we do have that recurring revenue coming in through the door. It’s not a huge focus for us, but it is something that certainly helped with that profitability. The other thing that I’ve done is make sure that I’ve got the right sales pipeline. Previously, it would very much be sell, deliver, “I now need to sell again, and then I need to deliver.” I have worked on that over the months to make sure that the sales cycle is bubbling along and we’ve got enough in there to make sure that we’re selling to new clients coming through.
If you’re reading this and you’re wondering, “I’ve got that exact problem that Debbie mentioned.” Debbie, what is some advice that you’ve done previously to turn that around?
The key thing is that I’ve been working closely with a sales training organization and also a sales mentor. That was my focus. I’ve worked hard to structure and systemize my sales process. It was interesting when I looked at it because even though the delivery of my business is heavily systemized, my sales side of things was all over the place. I was like, “This is crazy. This isn’t how I work.” I’ve worked hard with the sales training company and the mentor, to systemize that whole process. It’s been massively helpful. It’s also getting clear on what I offer, who I work with, and the journey that I take my clients on. Since having that clarity, sales have actually become a lot easier. It’s more of a conversation. It’s more of me just sharing what I do. If it fits with the client then great. Sales aren’t scary anymore, which is a lovely thing.
I’ve always been a firm believer that sales are about working out where someone wants to go and seeing if you can help them get there quicker than if they do themselves.
That is a great description.
Someone once told me in Danish that it’s something like that. That’s where sales came from. That’s what it is. If anyone reading this is Danish, certainly send me an email and confirm that. Tell us a little bit about your team. What’s the size of the team? Where are they located?
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It’s myself and two full-timers. They’re located out in the Philippines. We’ll be building another one or two out in the Philippines, and then we’ll be able to look at employing someone locally as well. We’re a tight team, but as I’m sure you imagine, we work very effectively together.
As far as your biggest learning of managing people that are in the Philippines, or I suppose anywhere, remote staffing. What’s been your biggest learning versus Krispy Kreme where people are probably all in the office?
I’ve worked myself remotely for a period of time. With the way that I work, I’m very comfortable working remotely. I’ve visited the environment that my team works in. I know the environment and the support and things that they work in. Having that familiarity is good so that I can just talk to them and picture where they are and those things. In terms of working remotely, so much of what we do, or what I asked my team to do, is already defined. I’m creating videos many times a day because it’s the easiest and quickest way to share how I want my team to do something. Pretty much everything that I asked them to do has a reference point of some sort. They don’t need to struggle and try to interpret what I’m asking them to do, because it’s always very clear. From a personal perspective, I speak with them online. I’d say at least every day. Sometimes we’ll be online for a couple of hours if we’re training or talking through clients and things like that. Communication is key.
I treat my staff exactly the same as if they were sat in an office wherever they are in the world. That’s important as well. You don’t just have offshore staff there and forget about them. It’s about that personal connection that you have with them. These guys do so much for my business. I’m so appreciative of what they do and how quickly they’ve learned and being a nice person with your team. I hear some horror stories especially when it comes to offshore stuff. There’s so much can be gained from just being a nice human that’s what I choose to do.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you face in your business?
It’s balancing cashflow and staff growth. Also, knowing when the right time to bring someone new into the business. Making sure you’ve got the cashflow to cover it and you can still pay yourself and all those things. From a personal perspective, that will probably be a big focus for me. Trying to understand the financial side of a business and what the common pitfalls are and learning around the numbers and how it can affect what I’m doing, plan, and all of those things.
The next section is the live section. Debbie, what are some daily habits that you do to help you be successful?
In terms of business, I live through my project platform. Everything is managed through delegation of tasks and delegation of projects. Capturing every single thing that is happening within the business is all managed through that. We’ve also got a proportion of our communications as a team when it’s directly related to tasks or projects, that will also be managed through that. That’s a massive daily habit for me, and if it suddenly went up in smoke, we’d be in pretty big trouble. The other thing is, I make sure that I have balance in my day. I don’t stack meetings. I won’t have a meeting after meeting. Maximum is probably three a day. That’s to make sure that I’ve got time to craft a project plan of what needs to be done following that meeting. Also, implement what I need to implement and delegate what I need to delegate.
Otherwise, if we’re stuck in meetings then physically, we’re burnt out. If you’re trying to do this stuff late at night, that’s no way to live. I’m also very strict about the hours that I work. I’ve got a school-age son. It’s very important to me to be able to drop him off most mornings and then pick him up most afternoons as well. I very much make sure that I’ve got the right balance through my week. That means that I get up early on a Saturday morning to catch up with some admin or have a client call if they’re overseas, then that’s fine. It means that I’ve been able to have real balance during my week, and I’ve been able to spend time with the family. Those are some of my daily habits.
What would you like to say to David when he reads this blog about the support he’s given you through this journey?
You don’t often get to sit back and think about that especially so publicly. It’s a very nice question. I think what I would say to Dave is, his support is and has been absolutely invaluable to me. There have been times over the years when I’ve wavered. We all go through this, “Is it worth it? Is this ever going to really kick-off? Am I ever going to replace my proper salary? Should I give it all up and go back to corporate?” He has coached me through that a couple of times and has been very clear about what this business means to our family and our life, not only from a financial perspective but also from a perspective of me being available for our family. The fact that we can eat together each evening because we’re not coming home at 7:00 from the city for example. It’s the little things that to me are much more important than the financial gain. It is the fact that I can go and help out at the canteen and go and do some reading in class, all of those things because I have that flexibility and I’m the master of my own domain. To Dave, your help is absolutely invaluable. We’re a good team.
The next section is the give section. It leads beautifully into what you said around community. What’s a community or cause that you care about and why?
To me, our immediate community is very important. We don’t have family here. Our friends in our community are our families. It’s important that we contribute in whatever way we can and we are fortunate. We have the flexibility and we have the time where we can do things during the week that other families may not be able to do due to working constraints. We like to get involved in the local community and help out where we can.
The last section is the action section. I’ll ask you some questions and then get some rapid-fire responses. The first one is, what are your top three productivity tips, which I can’t wait for your answer because of what you do.
Honestly, it’s very difficult to keep it to three. When people ask, “What are your tips?” I talk nonstop. My top tip is, don’t over-engineer how you are working. I see this a lot. People are over-engineering, not only the technology and the tools that they’re using but the tasks that they’re performing as well. For a lot of people, they’re completing five steps, when one step will work perfectly. Try and strip everything back as much as you can. In my book, Simple is Always Better, just because a piece of technology can do something, it doesn’t mean that you have to make it do it. Quite often, a manual way of doing it is a lot quicker, easier, simpler and is much more beneficial.
Number two, I would say get structure in your day. Don’t stack your meetings. Make sure that you do have time to breathe, have lunch and implement. Batch tasks where you can. If you’ve got some sales calls to make, do them all at once. If you’ve got some videos to create, create them all at once. It’s a very effective way to work. Make sure that you schedule your focus time as well. If I’m working on a strategy or piece of strategy for the business, or a new plan or even some client work, I will schedule your focus time in my diary. No one is going to book anything. My team knows I’m focused on what I’m working on. I’ll give myself a good 50, 60 minutes just head down, bum up and get on with what I need to do.
The other thing that I relate to is I’m very aware of my energy throughout the day and I very much match the tasks I complete to that energy. For me, in the morning, if I can get to my desk at 6:00 or 6:30, I can pump out so much work in the first two hours. It’s highly focused stuff that I’m working on because that’s my top time of the day. I’ll then make sure that I’m doing those repeat recurring tasks towards the end of the day because that’s really when my concentration wanes and I’m done.
The next question, I’m a bit nervous in asking as well, because it’s similar, but what are some technology or platforms that you use and recommend? You spoke about a project management platform before.
I use Asana in the business because it’s a very solid platform that’s been around for many years. It’s also very straightforward to use. If you set it up in the right way, it can also be very effective. Asana for me is a winner. Many new platforms are coming online every day, every week that it can get quite overwhelming. If you do a lot of meetings, then it’s worthwhile investing in an online booking platform. They’re common and a lot of people are using them. If you set it up correctly, make sure you’ve got your automation and things like that in place. It can save you a huge amount of time and it can be a very low cost as well.
Which one do you use?
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I use Acuity Scheduling. I like the platform. I like the integrations that it has. It’s pretty much the same cost as all the others. Similar platforms are very similar in cost. It’s just looking at what you need from a features viewpoint and then also looking at whether the platform integrates with the other bits of technology that you needed to talk to, that will generally allow you to make a decision as to what piece of technology you’re using.
What book or a podcast would you like to recommend and why?
I listen to a few different podcasts. Generally, depending on my mood. If it’s non-business, I’m a big fan of ABCs Richard Fidler, the Conversations. It’s nice to escape from someone else’s story for a while. Business-wise, I dip into The ONE Thing, which is a precursor to the book. They’ve always got some great stuff happening. James Schramko is always entertaining. I like Flying Solo as well depending on the subject. If the subject is something that I’m keen to understand, there are some good stories on that. Obviously, as well as yours, Paul.
What’s some parting advice, Debbie, for someone reading?
If you can systemize your business, it will truly set you free. It sounds like a pretty bold statement, but it reads well. If you invest time, setting up your business correctly, all you need to do is set it up once, do it properly, and you will continuously reap that reward. If the yacht is your thing, then off you go sailing on the big blue sea.
It was great having you on. You can find out more about Debbie and what her team does at Productivity Hub at ProductivityHub.com.au. She’s got a productivity health check there. She does a productivity audit, which I strongly recommend. You can also find her on LinkedIn. Debbie, thanks a lot for coming in. I know that a lot of our valuable readers struggle with this. The key for me is getting someone who’s an expert that can actually do the heavy lifting for you. You don’t have to do it by yourself and if it’s keeping you awake at night, because you’re missing things. You’re not giving the customer experience, the one that they want, Debbie and her team can help me with that.
Thank you, Paul. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I very much appreciate you having me on the show.
I enjoyed this episode with Debbie. The key things that I took out of it are, one, around the flexibility of working for yourself so that you can take your children to school, pick them up. Also, support your family and be a great member of the local community. The second is getting experts and mentors to help you where there are areas in your business that you’re underperforming in. You don’t have to know at all, and you can get experts to help you. The third thing is not to over-engineer things. It’s brilliant coming from someone who is great at productivity, and at systems, but she says, “Just because technology does it, doesn’t mean you have to use it.”
She talks about stripping it back and she’s got some great insights. Those are my top three learnings. What I’d love for you to do is tell me what you learned at this fantastic episode. You can email me at [email protected]. Also, if you know somebody that would get huge value out of what Debbie has shared, please share it with them. One little insight that they take out of this could make a big difference in helping them find both lifestyle and financial freedom.
- Productivity Hub
- Acuity Scheduling
- The ONE Thing
- James Schramko
- Flying Solo
- LinkedIn – Debbie Eglin
- [email protected]
About Debbi Eglin
As the founder of Productivity Hub, I utilise my left brain linear thinking to combine process design and improvement, workflow systemisation and cloud based technologies that guarantee optimal results for my clients. We transform how they work allowing them to work for over 80% of their working week.
in their area of expertise.
I believe that all business owners are great at what they do, they simply work far harder than they need to on the day to day management of the business. Its my mission to address this in balance and get business owners back working on what they truly love.
We’d love to chat about how we can help you become an Efficient Expert simply visit http://www.productivityhub.com.au/book-a-call/ to book a call.