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Linda Phan

Episode 53: How to Develop Systems and Processes for Your Small Business, with Linda Phan

Linda Phan was born in LA, but she grew up in Massachusetts from eight years old onwards. She graduated from UMass Amherst with dual degrees in Accounting and Psychology and worked for two years as a corporate auditor at the 6th largest accounting firm in the US. Linda moved to Austin, TX a year ago and worked as Chief of Staff at Newchip, a financial technology company. She is currently on track of getting her MBA from Acton School of Business.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Linda’s background learning processes as an auditor
  • The most important systems and processes for small businesses
  • How Linda came to Newchip first as an executive assistant and then moved up to Chief of Staff by implementing systems and processes and making the company more efficient
  • The time management skills Linda needed to balance working for Newchip, going to school full time, and helping her boyfriend launch his dental startup
  • Figuring out the steps needed for hiring a great employee and sticking to that system
  • The system Linda developed for communicating with investors and why that communication needs to be constant
  • The methods Linda uses for storing system documentation at Newchip using Lucidchart
  • The five processes Linda built and put in place at Newchip before leaving to focus on her MBA and her boyfriend’s startup
  • Why people in the operations department shouldn’t just stick to operations

Ways to contact Linda:

Podcast eBooks:

The Power of Two

Episodes 1, 2 and 3 collide to bring you summary of lessons learned and systems created around Vision and Key Initiatives that help drive success to companies and businesses.

The Transition to Automation

In Episode 25, Vera talks with Heidi Rasmussen, CEO and Co-Founder of one of Inc 5000’s fastest growing companies in America – freshbenies. This eBook highlights part of the conversation to bring out the best lesson in automation and on-boarding for startups.

Using IT Strategically

In Episode 29, Vera talks with Tom Grooms, Vice President, Information Technology, and Chief Information Officer for CF Industries. This eBook is your guide for seeing IT as more than just a faster way to do your accounting.

The ZFactor Methodology

In Episode 35, Vera talks with Cindy Goldsberry, founder and partner of ZFactor Group. This eBook shows you how to take your business from vendor to value creator.

Transcript:

Welcome to System Execution, the strategy and system behind today’s successful companies. Systems can make or break your company, but here, we’ll solve your physical, technological, and psychological systems issues by connecting you with experts that have succeeded in overcoming those challenges in their own business, and providing you the guidelines and tools you need to implement those same strategies for immediate results. Now here’s your host, Vera Fischer.

Vera Fischer: Today’s episode is sponsored by 97 Degrees West, the brand marketing agency located in Austin, Texas. 97 Degrees West serves regional and national companies in the healthcare, finance, energy, and manufacturing industries. 97 Degrees West believes that an integrated approach to marketing that involves traditional and digital strategies that fit your customer’s buying journey yields the greatest impact on your bottom line. Go to www.97dwest.com to learn more.

Welcome to System Execution, a podcast devoted to using systems and processes to drive to a better outcome for your business. I’m Vera Fischer, your host. Many of you know that business success relies on systems. Systems can be physical, such as a warehouse or a factory, or they can be technological, think software, while other systems are psychological, such as checklists or charts or your daily hot list.

My guest today is Linda Phan. Linda is in a huge transition in her career, and I’m excited to talk to her about this transition, but before we get to that, let me tell you a little bit about Linda. She graduated from UMass Amherst with dual degrees in accounting and psychology. She worked for two years as a corporate auditor at the sixth largest accounting firm in the United States. Not feeling that that was the great fit for her, she ended up moving to Austin, Texas, where, as you know listeners, is where I’m based. She moved here about a year ago, and she’s working as chief of staff at a new fintech company called Newchip. She’s also on track to get her MBA from the Acton School of Business. Welcome to System Execution, Linda.

Linda Phan: Hi, Vera. Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
 

More on Linda’s Background

Vera Fischer: On the show. One of the things that … We’re going to talk about several things, but more exciting for me is we’re really going to understand how you walked into a startup where there were absolutely no systems or processes and you were able to harness all of the things that needed to be put together and put a process to developing processes. Before we get to that, if you don’t mind, my listeners would love to hear more about you. Please speak about this great transition that you’re in.

Linda Phan: Awesome. Again, thank you for having me. I was born in California, but moved to Boston when I was pretty young and that’s pretty much where I grew up most of my life, as you mentioned in my introduction. I went to school, got my accounting and psychology degree, and worked as an auditor, which was fun. I learned a lot, especially about systems and processes for small businesses.

Auditors have processes in place on how they implement and audit a company, so I learned a lot through that and figured that auditing wasn’t right for me and moved to Austin, Texas, where I met Newchip. Newchip was a great opportunity because I was one of the first employee that they hired. I came into it with executives, working very closely with them in terms of figuring out what’s the most efficient way to run the business. I started as an executive assistant, and within a year frame, I became the chief of staff. It’s through learning, implementing processes and just making the company more efficient in terms of operations and how to run the company.

During my time there, I was also trying to figure out what’s the next step in my life. I always wanted to go back to get my MBA, further my knowledge in terms of what skill sets and what tools do you need to better manage a company. I learned as being in Newchip that operations and just management in terms of figuring out how to implement processes and being more efficient was something of my interest. It really was an exciting time just being challenged on how can I better this company as a whole, and so I decided to go to Acton School of Business, which has been a great experience so far. They definitely challenge me in terms of learning the fundamentals of business and what is my life of meaning, what do I want in terms of my own life.

From that, I’m also helping my boyfriend, Andy Tran, open his dental startup in Hutto, which is the neighboring town of Austin, Texas. Helping him do that, being a full-time at Newchip, and being a part-time at the MBA program, it was a fun time, hectic, lots of hours, lots of time management, which I learned is super important when you have multiple things happening in your life. I’m excited for my transition of being a full-time student to finish my MBA next year.

Vera Fischer: Linda, I love talking with folks who are in a big transition because it really is a great demonstration that you can move from one chapter to the next chapter with a little bit of intention and planning and time management, etc.

Linda Phan: Yeah.
 

How to Implement Systems and Processes for Small Businesses

Vera Fischer: What I’m really wanting to get into your brain is when you walked into the startup Newchip, which is obviously here in Austin … Listeners, we have a lot of people out there that are wanting to start their own small business. Linda, your boyfriend is an example of that as well. When you walked in and there’s nothing, there’s no system, there’s no, “How do we hire someone? How do we do this?” … You came in and you had to figure it out. How did you figure it out?

Linda Phan: It definitely wasn’t easy given my background wasn’t in operations of any means. I was an auditor. I focused on accounting for the most part of my undergraduate and post-graduate career, but I think it’s about understanding what do I need to do to reach the end goal. If it’s hiring, what are the steps necessary to reach and put in place that I could hire a very good employee? How can I do it in a systematic way where every time that a new hire comes in, there’s a system in place? It’s not going to be perfect, especially the first time around, but it’s writing it down, implementing it, and then from there, adjusting as necessary, which we’ve learned sometimes …

For instance, we just recently hired a couple of new employees because we were scaling up at Newchip. It’s knowing that following that system and that process is super important because if you were to, I guess, shy away from the system, it makes it feel like, I guess, not … I guess it ruins the purpose of the processes. For us, it was very important to write it down and follow it step by step and, if necessary, adjust if it made it more efficient. That definitely took time. That took meetings. That took, “Okay. What are our end goal? What do we need to do? How do we implement it?”, so a lot of discussions in terms of as a team when putting these processes in place.

Vera Fischer: Linda, who’s in the meetings? Who do you … When you were trying to put all of these operations, processes in place, was there a core group that you always met with?

Linda Phan: Yeah. It would be our executives because at the end of the day, they are the ones who would finalize the hiring. They also were the ones who had the big visions for the company. If it was hiring for someone in operations, it was important to have the COO in these meetings. If it was for technology, having a developer, it was crucial to have the chief technology officer in the meetings. It really depend on what departments we were trying to hire for, but ultimately, for our company, it was about hiring someone that definitely had the skill set, but also had the cultural fit for what our company’s environment was.

That’s something you have to interact with the candidates for. It was important for our executives to meet these candidates. However, there was also times where hundreds of candidates would apply, so being able to have myself vet, figure out which candidates were a best fit in terms of what we were looking for and then narrowing down those lists so that the executives could … Instead of having a hundred resumes to view, they were just looking at 10. That was also crucial in terms of time management.
 

The Processes Startups Need to Put into Place

Vera Fischer: Linda, what other processes did you have to put into place when you arrived?

Linda Phan: As a startup, an important role of mine was to help in terms of fundraising. That would be scheduling meetings with potential investors. It would be making sure that I reminded the investors of the meeting because investors are busy people. When it comes down to it, we are looking to ask them for help. Being very on top of that, being able to, if the meeting was scheduled for next week on Monday, remind them, “Hey. Just wanted to confirm that we have this meeting”, and then even the day of sending out another email saying, “Hey. We’re looking forward to this meeting. Just wanted to confirm that it’s still happening.” That took me a while to figure out. At first, it was just sending an email scheduling it and just forgetting about it, I guess you could say, until the day of.

After a while, I realized that without these reminders or without having a process in place to remind these investors, sometimes the investors forget and they book another meeting. Then it’s like, “Well, we booked another meeting, so we’re going to have to reschedule.” Time-wise with the funding, it was very crucial for us to be very diligent in terms of getting these investors in, so I made a process in place in terms of if I were to reach out to an investor and they didn’t respond, for instance, what are the next steps? It would be reaching out again in two days.

Then if they still don’t respond, it’d be, “Okay. Should I reach out one more time?” I realized that yes, because these investors, like I said before, were very busy. Even after that, it was like, “Okay. If they still didn’t respond, then it’s telling the CEO to reach out.” Having these processes in place so that each time I reached out to an investor, I knew the next step, and therefore we didn’t drop the ball. We were very on top of it, and it just made it super easy to be like, “Well, at least we know what to do every time an investor comes.”

Vera Fischer: Right.

Linda Phan: I guess just writing it down so that if someone had to take my place if I wasn’t there or if I was on vacation, it was very easy for them to follow because it was written out. “These are the steps we need to take. Just follow it from beginning to end. That’s the process we have made.”

Vera Fischer: Linda, whenever you were writing all of these down, this may be a very elementary question, but when you write it all down, where do you write it all down? Do you write it in a spiral notebook? Do you write it in, put it on Google Docs? Where does it go?

Linda Phan: We implemented Google Docs or just the Google Drive for a lot of our things. In terms of these systems and processes for small business, we actually drew flow charts. We use lucidchart.com, and from there, you can create these flow charts, diagrams that shows what are the steps. You can draw a chart that shows, “If this happens, if it was a yes, if the investor answered, then yes, what is the next step? If the investor didn’t answer, then no, what is the next step?” Really drawing it out in that way was a lot easier than writing word for word exactly what you’re doing. I’m a visual learner, so flow charts are like super efficient way of expressing what the process is. I use that a lot in terms of documentation.

Vera Fischer: That’s really cool. I have not heard of that. It’s called lucidchart.com?

Linda Phan: Yeah. Lucidchart.
 

The Other Types of Processes Linda Uses

Vera Fischer: Okay. That’s really cool. That’s very exciting. How many overall, before you had left Newchip, because you are in this transition and will be doing your full time studies as well as partnering up with your boyfriend to open up his dental practice, but how many processes did you put into place?

Linda Phan: I would say, in terms of operations, which is my expertise in Newchip, it would be roughly like five or so. One would be how do we contact investors, how do we hire, how do we terminate, how do we keep the office organized in terms of having food in the office. I was in charge of making sure that there was always snacks in the office so that all of our employees could have a snack if they were hungry instead of always leaving to get lunch, for instance. That was another process that I had in place. Meetings, in terms of meetings, like how do you schedule meetings so that it doesn’t conflict another department, and making it so it flows really well was another part of my job. Whatever the CEO needed me to do, I was there ready to learn, ready to just take on the challenge.

Vera Fischer: Linda, I have to tell you, from my own personal experience in my company, the whole idea of people coming to me saying, “The toner is out in the copier. Where do we order it?”, I don’t know the answer to that question. It’s those things that can get so frustrating. One would think that I would have something on the Google Drive that would tell me, but I don’t. I’m going to take some of your pointers and I’m definitely going to go check out lucidchart.com and see how that works because that could actually help me in my day to day life.

Linda Phan: Oh yeah. I’m glad. I’m glad you got some use out of Lucidchart. We implement it. Especially as a financial technology company that does development, that was super helpful in terms of explaining how it all works with the app and our website. Especially someone who doesn’t understand technology in that sense, just looking at that flow chart, I would be like, “Oh. That totally makes sense on how a user starts and end in terms of using our application.”

Vera Fischer: Right, right. You are no longer at Newchip. Is that correct?

Linda Phan: Yeah. I sadly had to leave because of my MBA. I left roughly about a couple weeks ago.
 

Final Advice from Linda

Vera Fischer: Awesome. I know it’s an exciting transition, and the information that you’ve shared with us around how to start the documentation of processes and implementation of them has been just really educational. We know that you’re going to be spending the next, I don’t know, few months finishing up that MBA of yours, and then soon after getting that new business launched. That’s exciting. Before we go, let’s close out today’s discussion with any final advice you want to share about those processes in startups and anything we may have missed, and then tell us the best way we can connect with you.

Linda Phan: Yeah. I guess the biggest tip I have is challenge yourself. If you’re placed in a position where you’re only doing operations, don’t limit yourself to just operations. If you could help the development team in any way or form, reach out to them. Let them know that you’re here to help. I think that’s a big reason why I gained so much at Newchip because I had to wear multiple hats and I was always reaching for more challenges in terms of, “I’ve completed all my tasks for the day. How can I help the company as a whole?” I think that’s definitely a reason why I was promoted so quickly within the company because it’s all about letting them know that you’re here to better the company and you’re always willing to help, so definitely have that in place.

In terms of systems and processes for small businesses, always have a process in place. If you think that you could make a process more efficient, don’t be scared to speak up. There’s so many ways to see how a process could be implemented, and one way isn’t better than another until you actually implement it and see what the result is. It’s definitely important to be active in terms of implementing your processes and fixing it as needed.

Just systems and processes are super important for a company, especially for small businesses. If there’s no systems in place, the company will be a little chaotic and wouldn’t run as efficiently and smoothly as they should. Definitely learn about systems and how to implement processes.

Vera Fischer: The best way we can connect with you?

Linda Phan: Yeah. The best way is you could reach out to me at my email, lindaphan90@gmail.com. I guess yeah, that’d be the best way.

Vera Fischer: System Execution fans, no matter how many notes you took or how often you re-listen to this episode, remember every successful business uses systems to drive to a better outcome. Linda, thank you so much for sharing your insight. It’s been great to have you on the show.

We hope you found this episode of System Execution enlightening. For free examples, case studies, ebooks, and more, be sure to visit systemexecution.com/resources. Contribute to the conversation by reaching out to Vera directly on email at vera@systemexecution.com. Until our next episode, thank you for the privilege of your time.

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