Liz Peterson is the founder of Ops Designed, where she helps companies scale by leveraging sales process design, documentation, and automation. I had the opportunity to collaborate on a project with Liz and was immediately impressed with her efficiency, straightforward working style, and ability to organize chaos—traits that are recognized and praised again and again by everyone who works with Ops Designed!
Although there are often similarities, every business origin story is unique—from starting a nights-and-weekends side hustle that grows slowly but surely, to the diving-in-full-time-with-both-feet startup approach. What is the origin story for Ops Designed?
LIZ PETERSON: Ops Designed definitely had a dive-in-full-time-with-both-feet kind of start.
Flash back to 2019. I’d been working in the San Francisco startup scene for a number of years and was burnt out, so I decided to take a few months off. While walking the Camino de Santiago, I realized that I absolutely LOVED the work I'd been doing, but needed to do it on my own terms for companies I was passionate about helping.
I came home and started freelancing, found my niche, and have been helping SMB business owners create, automate, and integrate their sales systems ever since.
You help clients with sales process design, documentation, and automation to help small & mid-size companies scale using the Pipedrive CRM. How did you go about establishing your company's focus? Has this focus changed or refined over time?
LIZ PETERSON: How’d you know the focus has changed?!
My background is in Ops and I’ve always loved solving hard problems. When I started freelancing, I would take on everything from Sales to Project Management and even Customer Onboarding engagements. I soon realized, however, that specialization creates the best outcomes. If you need bypass surgery, you wouldn’t hire any old surgeon, you’d go out and find the best available cardiologist. It’s the same in business, it’s far better for business owners to work with a diverse team of specialists than one or two jack- or jane-of-all-trades.
After 6 months in business I looked back on the projects I’d completed and scored them based on client outcomes and my own enjoyment of the work. The highest scoring projects all included Pipedrive and Zapier, so I decided to focus my efforts on projects involving those two tools.
Pipedrive is a fully customizable CRM that transforms sales teams into sales powerhouses! Want to know who's selling the most? Who's getting the most done, day in and day out? What about knowing who are your biggest customers? Who's referring you new business?
The right Pipedrive setup can tell you all that and more. Learn more »
Did you receive any notable advice (good or bad!) when you were just starting out? If so, what was it? And if not, what advice would you give to your past self, knowing what you know now?
LIZ PETERSON: If I could go back, I would write these two things on a wall I was forced to look at every day:
- Just do it
- Find your people
Starting any business can be overwhelming and, as cliche as it sounds, I’ve watched countless entrepreneurs fail before they got started because they failed to start. For anyone dipping their toes into a business, I’d say:
Onboard your first client before you know exactly how to price your services. Sell a physical product before you’ve nailed down your packaging. Say yes to a project that may be a stretch because you know you can figure it out (or if all else fails, you can subcontract the work and still deliver!). Use a stock contract. Use your LinkedIn before your website is 100% up and running. It’s okay, you can change it all later.
The second thing I’d say is, find a community. I was starting my business during the start of the pandemic and that was challenging for a hundred reasons. Since then I’ve found a tremendous community through my co-working space Hera Hub. I’m constantly learning from, challenged, and validated by this community and that is invaluable for any small business owner at any stage of their business.
Onboard your first client before you know exactly how to price your services. Sell a physical product before you’ve nailed down your packaging. Say yes to a project that may be a stretch because you know you can figure it out.
What do you think sets your business or your approach apart from others in your space?
LIZ PETERSON: Two things:
Most business owners come to me with very specific asks, for example:
- I need my contracts to be automated
- I need to know where my sales reps are spending their time
- Or, worst of all, I worked with someone previously to set up Pipedrive, but it was a disaster
Rather than dive right in and fix the supposed biggest pain points, I start all of my clients off with a Sales Process Mapping exercise. We zoom out to look at the overall sales process. We also zoom in and define each step, person, and tool that’s needed to take a prospect from “new lead” to “won deal.” This gives us a comprehensive picture of what’s working and what’s not as well as an honest evaluation of the actual biggest pain points in the sales system.
Once I have that picture, only then do my teammate Olena and I start building solutions. As we build, we create demo videos and descriptions galore for ease of onboarding the existing team as well as new hires for years to come. We also do live training with the team and are available to answer questions. Our goal is that the system isn’t a black box, but rather a living process that makes closing sales more efficient and improves the customer experience, as well.
If you don't have a customer database (CRM), you may have your own business, but you're not building your business. A CRM is crucial to your ability to grow and, if ever desired, sell your business. No matter how busy your business is today, tracking your leads and sales now will enable your business to thrive into the future. It's never too soon or too late to start building your business, so if now is the time for you to set up your CRM check out Pipedrive or schedule a time to chat!
I'd love to learn more about what it looks like when you start work with a new client. I imagine part of your work is simultaneously understanding client goals, while quickly coming up to speed on present day processes (which may or may not be chaotic, depending on the situation!) Can you give me an idea of how on-boarding works—is there a system, or is it totally unique each time? Any must-have tools or critical steps that make it work?
LIZ PETERSON: If the client is looking for a specific Pipedrive support or quick way to get started with Pipedrive, they may opt for a Strategy Session. For this service they’ll start by completing a pre-session questionnaire through which they’ll share their biggest pain points, goals for the session, and even call out specific features on which we should focus our attention. I use those answers to plan our 90-minute working session which is essentially a crash course in Pipedrive setup and process improvement.
If we’re doing a mapping and implementation engagement, I use Lucidchart to guide our mapping conversations and document each and every step of a client’s sales process. We’ll go back to their initial statements, such as “I need my contracts to be automated” and I’ll drill down to the level of detail required to systematize by asking questions like:
- How are contracts created now?
- How many unique contracts do you have?
- How do your sales reps determine which contract template to use?
Based on their answers, we determine the best way to streamline their existing process whether it be through introducing new tools, creating SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), automation or most likely, a combination of all three.
What is a skill you have that you don't consider a typical "resume skill," but which has contributed to your success in a meaningful way?
LIZ PETERSON: When I worked at Dropbox one of the qualities we would attempt to interview for was grit and “GSD,” which is the ability to Get Shit Done. When I’m met with a wall, if I don’t want to turn back, I figure out a way to go under, go around, or climb over.
My first job was working as a Campaign Manager at a non-profit. One day our Executive Director came to the Campaign Managers and said that in addition to our normal work, we needed to make 100 donor calls/day for the next two weeks. While others dutifully made their calls, I spent the first call day setting up a (rudimentary) system to send text messages to potential donors. I got through my “calls” in a fraction of the time and had the highest response rate and donation dollars on the team. (And yes, I also got a bit of a slap on the wrist b/c we didn’t technically have SMS permission).
Inefficiency is my nemesis and I’m always searching for ways to do things quicker while also improving outcomes.
When I’m met with a wall, if I don’t want to turn back, I figure out a way to go under, go around, or climb over.
Who is someone you admire or look up to (in or outside of your industry), and why?
LP: Oh gosh, so many people. I admire people for their qualities and actions more than anything else. I look up to my brother who is the most selfless human I know and puts his family above everything else in his life. I’m also incredibly grateful to the people in my network who freely share their time and ideas with me - Olga Narvskaia, Terry Hicks, Paul Jester.
How do you decide when to bring on support (employees, subcontractors, etc.)? Are there any notable lessons you've learned through that process?
LP: This is the million dollar question. I’m a perfectionist with trust issues.
If there’s a small part of a project I know can be done better by someone else, I’m happy to outsource to an expert, but generally I micromanage each client engagement to ensure the promised timelines and outcomes are met.
I am beyond fortunate to have Olena Maslonkina on my team. I’d worked with her at a previous company, so when I found out she was looking for her next opportunity, it was the easiest hiring decision I’ve ever made. Week over week we continue to document our own internal processes so that when the time is right, we’re ready to onboard our next teammate, but for now we’re keeping the team tight.
How often do you get new ideas?
coming up with new ideas is a challenge
my brain is always overflowing with new ideas
How hard is it for you to follow through on your ideas and make them happen?
I have to force myself to follow through on things
I love carrying out tasks and completing things
What does your work-life balance look like right now?
I live at work!
I NEVER WORK
I struggle to sit down and get work done.
What’s the #1 thing you recommend outsourcing so that you can focus on the parts of your business that really light you up?
This goes back to what I was talking about regarding specialization. We outsource business functions like bookkeeping, content creation, and web development. This allows us to focus on what we’re best at - helping companies scale their businesses - while expert freelancers can keep our business running.
What’s your favorite non-work thing right now?
I’m late to the party here, but I’m currently plowing through Schitt’s Creek and I gobble up the podcast Maintenance Phase as soon as a new episode drops.
You can also often find me way-too-engaged with my favorite Peloton coach Jess Sims.
CLOSING: Any other thoughts or tips you’d like to share with fellow business owners & entrepreneurs?
I’ll just reiterate a few things I said earlier:
- Just do it
- Find a community
- When in doubt, hire an expert
I’m so grateful to all of my official and unofficial mentors who have challenged, pushed, and encouraged me and I feel the only way I can thank them is to pay-it-forward. If I can be of any help to you starting your business, please get in touch!
Thank you, Liz, for generously sharing about your processes and perspective!
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