Whether you’re a male or female entrepreneur, starting a company feels a lot like giving birth. You went through the planning, the pain, the emotional roller coaster of fear, excitement and anxiety and, months later, you came out of it stronger than ever.
Fast forward a year or two past the launch. Your startup is a teenager, nearly ready to step into adulthood. It has full-time employees, a 1-800 number, maybe even a blog. There’s just one problem: You’re still cutting the crusts off your startup’s sandwiches. That is, you’re still fielding phone calls from clients, working hands-on with the product, probably even writing the blog yourself. You’re babying your startup by working in the business instead of on the business.
More than likely, it’s because you’re too afraid to let go. But if you keep treating your business like a baby, it will keep acting like one — in the form of infantile profits, sophomoric growth rates, underdeveloped vendor relationships, and an overall juvenility that will cripple your ability to accomplish long-term goals.
Fortunately, there’s a solution for this: Cut the cord … as in, the umbilical cord.
But how do you let go of the fear that’s tethering you to your business?
1. Create — and hand off — a systems manual.
The first step is to facilitate the evolution of your company from a clumsy, awkward, pimply-faced teen into a capable, debonnaire young adult. Create systems for each aspect of your business so that new employees can step in and quickly take over those roles. It’s easier than you’d think.
Walk through each process, from start to finish, and write down every step. The number of steps can range from four or five up to 100 or more for each aspect of the business. This should include everything you currently do, from direct client interaction to press releases and everything in between. Just make sure you document every last piece of the puzzle.
Congratulations, you’ve just created a systems manual. Now hand it to someone else and never answer the front office phone again … ever.
2. Hand-pick and personally train your leadership team.
OK, so “handing it to someone else” might be an oversimplification. Once you have your systems documented, the next crucial step is trusting others to undertake those responsibilities. Like a 20-something learns how to do laundry, pay bills, and survive away from mom and dad’s basement, your startup needs to learn how to run itself.
That means you have to let go of the day-to-day operations.
Letting go can cause emotional discomfort and logistical friction, but the end game is well worth it if you have the dedication and focus to continually improve on your systems. To do that, it will help if you train (and possibly hire new) individuals who will be taking over the most key functions of the business, e.g. marketing, client-care, development, etc. This will be your leadership team.
3. Give your leadership team the autonomy to develop their own systems.
Once you have a team in place, they can handle all of the subsequent hiring, training, and creation/implementation of new systems. Over time, they’ll need to bring even more high-quality people into the operation as your systems continue to evolve and expand. These new team members, like the original leadership team, will create and implement systems of their own.
Essentially, it’s an intelligent design/watch-maker scenario. Build a regular wristwatch, and you’ve got a nice timepiece on your wrist. Build a wristwatch that’s smart enough to build more wristwatches, though, and you’ve got a self-sustaining business.
Your leadership team will report directly to you with regular status updates, as well as information regarding important new matters. That should help curb your anxiety over letting go of the day-to-day operations.
4. Test your team by taking a short sabbatical. (Really.)
Once your startup is, to quote the movie Swingers, “all growns up,” you’ll find yourself with a lot more time on your hands. The true test of your systems comes when you can step completely away from the business for a month and come back to a more profitable, more successful company than when you left.
(Note: As a word of hard-earned advice, you might want to start with a week or a single day and then build up to a month-long hiatus.)
5. Congratulations — you can now run your business strategically.
Now you can finally afford to look at the big picture. You can come up with ideas for long-term growth, supplemental revenue streams, new partnerships, and other big-picture ideas that you never would have had time to think through had you still been writing your company’s blog.
You’ll be amazed at what new things you can accomplish when you let go (at least partially) of what you’ve already achieved and focus on what’s next.
And hey, perhaps you’ll even create another little startup to add to the brood!
Nick Friedman is President and Co-founder of College Hunks Hauling Junk and College Hunks Moving, the largest and fastest growing US-based junk removal and moving franchise opportunities. He started the business in college with his best friend in a beat up cargo van, and now has over 40 locations nationwide.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
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