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Interview Highlights: Alicia Butler Pierre on Business Infrastructure for Rapid Growth
In this interview with Alicia Butler Pierre, founder of Equilibria, a boutique operations management firm, we gain valuable insights into the importance of business infrastructure and operational support for small businesses experiencing rapid growth. Alicia emphasizes the misconception that operational systems are only relevant for larger corporations, highlighting Equilibria’s unique focus on providing tailored assistance to small businesses. She discusses the challenges businesses face in accessing the necessary help and the role of awareness in bridging this gap. Alicia shares her inspiration for founding Equilibria, drawing from her background in chemical engineering and the concept of achieving balance and harmony. Throughout the interview, she emphasizes the significance of efficient processes, visual aids, and team alignment in scaling businesses and achieving sustainable growth. The conversation sheds light on Equilibria’s approach, the outcomes clients can expect, and the success stories that exemplify the power of a strong operational foundation.
[Q] What is Equilibria, and who does it serve?
Equilibria is a boutique operations management firm specializing in creating business infrastructure for fast-growing small businesses. We recently celebrated our 18th anniversary in May, and throughout the years, we have remained dedicated to serving the existing small business community. While there are numerous resources available for startups, we recognized the need for ongoing support for established companies as they experience rapid growth.
When these companies seek resources, they often discover that they are either tailored for larger organizations or focused on manufacturing-type businesses, particularly in terms of operational support. At Equilibria, we bridge this gap by integrating processes, tools, and technologies. This not only facilitates growth but also ensures that growth is profitable, repeatable, and sustainable. Our primary focus is scaling as we partner with companies undergoing significant expansion.
[Q] Do you find it challenging to convince small business owners about the need to implement more efficient systems?
Convincing managers, leaders, and owners of fast-growing small businesses about the importance of streamlining back-office operations is typically not challenging because they already grasp the necessity. They understand the need to expand their teams but to do so effectively, they require efficient processes and synchronized systems. Changes in one area will impact others, which is where we step in. We offer a proven framework for constructing the essential business infrastructure that effectively tackles the chaos associated with rapid growth. This enables these companies to scale to the next level successfully.
[Q] What unique benefits and outcomes do clients achieve when working with Equilibria?
One aspect that sets us apart and provides unique benefits to our clients is our utilization of visual aids. Despite the increasing digitization and automation in today’s world, along with the influence of AI in various industries, we still rely on analog tools. Surprisingly, I utilize index cards and laminated stick figures. These two tools play a significant role in helping people quickly grasp the necessary work in their businesses. They aid in organizing and documenting tasks to ensure consistent execution. Consistency is vital when multiple individuals are involved in performing tasks, and our visual aids facilitate achieving that consistency.
Furthermore, we assist our clients in enhancing their profitability. While operations are commonly associated with cost savings, they can also contribute to increasing top-line revenue. By focusing on building effective teams, implementing the right processes, and establishing turnkey and scalable systems, our clients can process more orders and deliver more services. This, in turn, positively impacts their top-line revenue and overall profitability. So, beyond cost savings, our approach supports revenue growth and profitability for our clients as well.
[Q] What prevents small businesses from implementing the necessary systems to scale?
There are several factors that hinder small businesses from putting the required systems in place for scaling. Firstly, a prevalent misconception is that these systems are only relevant for larger companies. Many small business owners believe that operational structures and business infrastructure are unnecessary or inapplicable to their smaller ventures. However, it’s crucial to recognize that even behemoths like Facebook and Amazon began as tiny businesses. A solid operational structure and well-documented processes played a significant role in their successful scaling. I personally know a former Amazon executive who emphasizes the fundamental role of processes in Amazon’s ability to scale during his 20-year tenure. Therefore, it is a misconception that business infrastructure is exclusive to large corporations and irrelevant to small businesses.
Another factor hindering the implementation of scalable systems is an excessive focus on marketing and sales. Operations often take a backseat, sometimes to the detriment of many companies. There’s a common misconception that operational efficiency and productivity hold less value compared to marketing and sales efforts. However, neglecting operational aspects can lead to negative consequences. Numerous examples exist where small businesses experience rapid success but then face a sudden viral moment that overwhelms them. I often advise my clients that they could be just one viral moment away from catastrophe or failure. While sales and marketing activities are undoubtedly crucial for creating awareness and promoting products or services, it’s vital to prepare for the moment when the return on investment leads to a surge in business.
[Q] Can you provide a specific example?
I have an example of an ice cream shop in Brooklyn. The then-CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner, visited the shop and saw its potential to become a vendor at Disney World. The opportunity to expand into Disney World was enticing, but the company wasn’t adequately prepared. They grew too quickly, lacking the necessary business infrastructure. As a result, they failed to handle the demands of the major contract. This serves as a cautionary tale of the consequences when a viral moment occurs and a business is unprepared.
This highlights the importance of evaluating back-office operations, implementing the right systems and technologies, establishing efficient processes, and ensuring the right team members are in place. All these elements are crucial for sustainable growth. It’s essential to take a holistic approach and prioritize the development of a strong operational foundation alongside marketing and sales efforts.
[Q] What are the biggest obstacles keeping businesses from accessing the help needed to scale?
There are a few obstacles that hinder businesses from accessing the help we provide. Firstly, businesses often struggle to search for the specific assistance we offer. While it’s easy to find help for areas like social media presence on platforms like Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, or LinkedIn, identifying operational help can be challenging. Many individuals may experience pain points or challenges in their operations but struggle to articulate and seek the specific assistance they need. Increasing awareness and educating business owners on how to find the right information and resources is crucial in addressing this issue.
The second obstacle arises even if businesses manage to conduct a search and identify the relevant terms. They often encounter a problem: the available help is usually reserved for larger enterprises or manufacturing companies. Many resources and consultants in the operations field primarily focus on production and manufacturing, leading to a misconception that process improvement doesn’t apply to service-based companies. Small businesses may mistakenly believe that operations and process improvement only matter for businesses involved in tangible goods production, like manufacturing widgets. Unfortunately, when small businesses search online or seek out books and resources, they often come across content that caters to manufacturing companies and larger enterprises.
Equilibria stands out in this regard. Our competitive advantage lies in our focus on smaller companies. We specifically cater to small businesses and provide the operational help they need. While this positions us uniquely in the market, it also presents challenges. On the positive side, there isn’t much competition in this space for small businesses. However, it also means there isn’t enough online activity or awareness for operational assistance tailored to small businesses. The problem hasn’t reached a critical point where small business owners and leaders fully recognize the extent of the issue, and when they do, they may struggle to find where they can turn for help.
Small businesses face challenges in accessing operational help because they often struggle to search for it effectively, and the available assistance tends to cater to larger enterprises or manufacturing companies. Equilibria fills this gap by focusing on small businesses, but raising awareness and ensuring small business owners understand the importance of operational support and know where to find the help they need is essential.
[Q] Can you share a recent example of a successful outcome as a direct result of working with Equilibria?
Yes. A payments processing company we started working with a couple of months ago had initially engaged us in 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As part of their succession plan, they brought in an external CEO who recognized the need for improvement. He reached out to discuss their growth goals and strategic plan, and although he didn’t explicitly refer to it as business infrastructure, we were on the same page.
We began working together, and when the pandemic struck, causing a significant shift toward digital payments, this company was prepared. Their business didn’t just double or triple; it quadrupled. Despite being incredibly busy during that period, I received an unexpected thank-you card from them at the end of 2021. They shared that they had processed transactions in the low billions throughout the year, and they attributed their ability to handle such growth to the foundational work we had done on their business infrastructure. They had the right team, processes, and tools in place to facilitate rapid expansion.
Since then, they have engaged our company for another project that began a couple of months ago. Once again, it was the CEO’s foresight and vision that led them to recognize the importance of a solid business infrastructure. This success story demonstrates the significance of not waiting for pain points to arise before taking action. The CEO had a clear vision of their three-year strategic goals and understood that certain steps, including building the right team and establishing a business infrastructure, were necessary to achieve them. This case exemplifies how proactive measures and the right systems and processes
[Q] What inspired you to create Equilibria?
My inspiration for founding Equilibria stems from my background in chemical engineering. In my previous role as a process engineer, I worked on producing Roundup for Monsanto. However, I knew early on that I didn’t want to spend my entire career in a chemical plant or oil refinery. This realization led me to pursue an MBA while working full-time as an engineer in New Orleans.
During that time, I had an intuitive feeling that I needed to leave New Orleans urgently. Trusting my intuition, I relocated to Atlanta just six months before Hurricane Katrina devastated my hometown. Following the move, I envisioned working at Coca-Cola, a company I had studied extensively during my marketing and advertising classes. However, my path took a different turn, and I ended up starting my own business.
Equilibria is deeply connected to my experiences as a chemical engineer. In chemistry, reactions are considered stable when they reach a state of equilibrium. Equilibria, the plural form of equilibrium, represents achieving balance, harmony, and reciprocity not only in business but also in all areas of life. While my business initially focused on professional organizing, it gradually evolved into creating a business infrastructure. I have written a book that outlines the framework I developed for building business infrastructure, and for the past five years, I have been hosting a podcast on the topic.
Equilibria’s purpose is to help businesses attain stability and harmony by establishing efficient systems and processes. To learn more about our company, including the podcast and the book, I invite you to visit our website and explore our online platforms.
[Q] How can people learn more about Equilibria?
To learn more about Equilibria and the services we offer, individuals can visit our company website at EQBsystems.com. Our website provides comprehensive information about our approach, including case studies and valuable resources. Additionally, we have expanded into the online education space and now offer an online course. This course offers a convenient way for people to gain knowledge and insights about building business infrastructure and improving operations. It allows individuals to delve deeper into the concepts and strategies we employ to help businesses scale and achieve sustainable growth.
So, for those who are interested in learning more about Equilibria, they can visit our website @ https://www.eqbsystems.com/ where we offer online courses that are excellent resources to explore and gain a deeper understanding of our approach and how we can assist businesses in optimizing their operations.
Jeremy Baker is an Author and contributor to Small Business Trendsetters and Business Innovators Magazine, covering Influencers, Innovators and Trendsetters in Business, Health, Finance and Personal Development.