Based in Phoenix, Oregon, Susan Alderson offers top-end business consulting which takes the guesswork out of business management. With a laser focus on the numbers, Susan gets to the root of business health and vitality.
And while most small to medium size businesses have been too consumed with day to day operations to have developed such things as a disaster recovery plan, standard operating procedures, and hiring and firing processes, Susan helps to create and implement these systems. Her work has connected her with medium to large-sized businesses around the country, taking on challenges as complex as document management to replacing the Board of Directors.
I met with Susan to learn more about the challenges and rewards that her work has to offer.
Susan, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. I am very curious to hear how you first became involved in your line of work?
I’ve always been organized – I was one of those kids who had the homework assignment done before it was due! The funny thing about being organized is that it’s really the hallmark of a lazy person. When you’ve got your work done well, and on time, you have more time to do the fun things!
I see a lot of similarities between big businesses and small ones. There are employees in the wrong roles, traffic patterns that encourage theft, time wasted in meetings, processes that exist because ‘we’ve always done it that way.’ Very few companies have the full infrastructure in place, even the very large corporations. It’s always the little things that make the most difference, like having everyone using the same document types, or having your wait staff wear nametags.
Being a numbers based person you like to count and measure and then correlate these metrics up against the health and prosperity of a company. I am curious what role chance and luck have to play in the success of business?
That reminds me of the quote, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Sure, sometimes serendipity happens – but you can’t depend on that for your business. Sometimes, the timing is just right – but that’s usually because the owner is a trend watcher. It’s better to have a plan in place, and then make micro-adjustments as more data comes in. I worked with a company that was originally marketed to high net worth individuals. They had to suddenly pivot their entire business model when those customers wanted the software for their entire companies. Okay, that was a big modification, but they were open to it. Some companies would have just folded rather than change.
Susan, working both here in the Valley and around the country you have had some very interesting work opportunities. What would you say has been one of your most challenging, yet fulfilling projects for you?
One of the first businesses I worked with was with a company that manufactures commercial hydroponic greenhouses (www.gotproduce.com). They had just received their second round of funding, and there were some pretty heavy roadblocks to get them to the next level. It was marvelous to see how much easier some of their work became by shifting some of the priorities and realigning the process management. It’s an amazing product, and they’re driving a lot of resources into drought areas. I would absolutely love for someone here to work with them to have a test site in the Rogue Valley.
On average how long are you engaged in any one project you might work with?
I’ve done presentations that only took a day, and long-term projects of up to 6 months. It’s interesting, because all of the components of a business are interconnected. Having me create a disaster recovery plan is one thing; how it fits in with your business mission and culture is another. I vastly prefer working with owners who see the need for a more holistic approach.
How would you describe the bottom line goal of the service that you provide?
The goal of Sensible Analytics is to show business improvements in tangible, measurable results. I look at things like return on investment, increased profit, and increased time, processes that involve fewer steps. I help create algorithms to streamline business, too, for things like qualifying customers, or determining large purchases.
Who are you usually working with in your work environments?
Well, I work with business owners, CEOs and COOs. My usual customer doesn’t fit a clear demographic yet – I’ve worked with people from their mid-20s to over 70, split pretty evenly between men and women. What they have in common, though, is a willingness to share their business decisions with a consultant, and a certain amount of technical savvy.
Locally speaking who might be most qualified to benefit from your services and what might be some key challenges they could be facing?
The Rogue Valley has wonderful businesses! As the Valley grows, and the customer needs change, the businesses are faced with different demands. For example, there’s a manufacturing company in Medford that has increasing foot traffic past their shop. I suggested that they make a 6-week trial of opening their shop up to the public 3 days a week. They did, and we tracked enough new customers to justify putting a part-time worker on the front desk.
Sure thing – it’s the 1% solution. If you improve your business’ productivity by 1% each day for 70 days, you’ll double your output. Imagine if every company in the Valley did this. The economic results would be extreme! I’m a scientist, so making little changes to see what happens next is pretty exciting. There was this one nervous receptionist… all we did was move the ficus tree out of the way so she could see people coming off the elevator. She was about to quit! Now she’s calmer and happier – sometimes it just takes an outside view.
It’s like this: You told me a funny story about a rock band and brown M&Ms in their music contract. Would you please retell that and relate it to today’s interview.
Oh, yeah, Article 148! That’s a great one. Van Halen had this clause in their contract that all the brown M&Ms would be removed from the backstage buffet. It’s ridiculous. But it served a real purpose. It was their failsafe – if the brown M&Ms were there, it indicated that the contract hadn’t been followed in their technical contract as well, which included things like available voltage and girder strength. In my work, I’m Article 148, making sure that the process flows smoothly.
Let’s talk a little bit about relationships that exist within companies and how you might work with these.
A lot of times, even in the Rogue Valley, business owners keep an unnecessary buffer between ‘management’ and service workers. But your company depends on the face you present to the customer. Transparency is key; if the employees know that the company is going to be sold, more options can be honestly discussed. By having a more trusting relationship with your employees, they feel a greater responsibility to the company. I can help build a process so that everyone feels ownership of the business.
Susan, at the end of the day what constitutes success when you are working with your clients?
Success is simple for my clients – they can measure it! Did they get a more robust infrastructure? Do they have documents at hand? Did they use the algorithm, and did their profit go up? That’s one way to measure success. The other way is that I give them a level of satisfaction in knowing that their business is doing fine. Now they’ve got these backend processes that really support what’s important to them.
In conclusion can you give us an overview of the services you are currently providing local clients?
We start with a free consultation, and then do a general audit. There are three levels of consulting: advisory, consulting (where I am materially engaged), and collaborative (which is the most involved; this includes hiring/firing and predictive analytics). I occasionally do single tasks, like creating an exit strategy or doing a custom sales presentation. It’s much more cost-effective for me to do the full company review.
What would be the best way for a local business owner to make connection with you?
The best way is to send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The second best way is to call me, 541-941-8873. I’m frequently at either the Ashland or Medford Chamber of Commerce Greeters too.
Do you ever offer any lectures or talks about the work you are doing?
I do! I am in the process of building a series on Best Practices in Business with a business coach and an HR expert. That will start in October or November – keep your eyes out for it. I’m also available to talk to any group – just get in touch!