When you run a business, your name is on the door. You are responsible. Things have to get done right, and that means you have to do everything—correct? Even if it means staying up all night four nights in a row. Even if it means missing every family function. Even if it means driving your spouse crazy because he never sees you and you feel guilty about the time you spend (or don’t) with the kids.
You can’t let go.
You know something’s not quite right with this. But you also know what I’m talking about, because you do it, don’t you? It’s hard to let go.
In the beginning of your business, this sounded exciting. Whatever it takes, right? I’m an entrepreneur! I’m running my own show, I get to decide!
And it WAS exciting, damn it. But after a few months—or a few years—you can wear yourself out. You can burn yourself out. And pretty soon, it doesn’t feel so exciting anymore. It feels difficult and draining, and you know something’s going to burst at the seams pretty soon, and you sure hope it’s not you.
Maybe you’ve tried delegating. Maybe to contractors, freelancers, or maybe to staff—maybe you have many amazing people you can hand things off to. But whether you work by yourself or have a whole slew of employees, it still comes back to the same thing—no one is in your brain.
No one is in your brain
No one can do what you do. No one will be able to satisfy your clients, and your own demanding self, the way you can, so you still end up doing monumental parts of projects yourself, and tying yourself in knots along the way. There’s no time for planning or working “on” the business because you’re constantly working “in” the business, and whether you’re scraping nickels together or whether you’re wildly successful, the problem just keeps getting worse. Uh huh.
You’re overwhelmed and overworked. You wish you could just let go, and that things would still miraculously get done in wondrous ways that clients love and
you’d still make lots of money. You know, like you thought it would be when you started out.
It’s possible. And it’s not as hard as you think.
You just have to learn how to let go.
You do have control over this. It’s all within your power.
You probably don’t want to hear this, but most of this problem is with you, in the way you’re thinking. It’s not with other people, or with your clients. It’s not because no one is out there who can do things right, it’s not because you always have the wrong demanding clients.
It’s because you have a stranglehold on your business, and it might be time to let things breathe a bit.
You might be strangling the goose that lays the golden egg
Ouch! Strangle—really, Marcia? That sounds a bit harsh.
Let me tell you something a favorite old accountant used to tell me: Don’t strangle the goose that lays the golden egg.
Your goose has to breathe. You need to nurture it.
Let’s face it—you’re a bit compulsive, right? You wouldn’t be a business owner if you weren’t, so it’s okay to say yes.
You want things done right, and you know if you do them, they will be. But you are only one person, and you can only do so much. And if you don’t want to die under the weight of your strangled goose (now there’s a picture), listen up.
I learned the hard way
Oh, yeah, I did. I tried to strangle my goose.
When I started my graphic design firm 30 years ago, I couldn’t let go. My name was on the door, and even though we were growing quickly, I felt I had to have my stamp on everything. We started way before computers were used by small businesses, and every evening after the others had gone home, I’d go around to everyone’s drawing tables and redo their layouts. I’d stay late writing sticky notes and fiddling with their work, making it my own.
You can imagine how that went over in the morning.
I was strangling my staff. I was strangling their creativity and ideas. I was strangling the business potential and assistance they could offer. I’m sure they wondered why I even hired them. And at the same time I was spreading myself way too thin, strangling myself.
I was strangling the goose that laid the golden egg.
How did I learn to let go? It wasn’t pretty.
I wish I could tell you I smartened up. Or that I saw the writing on the wall and made a plan. But hey, if you’ve been around here before, you know I learned by the School of Hard Knocks. I learned by doing, and by what I was doing wrong. And this was one of those times.
It went something like this: we got really busy. Things started going out to clients without my stamp on them, by necessity. I was a nervous wreck, while my staff was elated—no Marcia fiddling!
The huge blow to my ego = a huge boost to my business
And guess what happened? Wonderful things! (Well, mostly wonderful things!)
Benefit #1. The clients weren’t upset or disappointed and they didn’t feel shortchanged; in fact, they loved what they got. In all cases clients were happy, and in some cases, the feedback was fabulous—where had we been hiding this creativity? For certain projects, they liked this new work BETTER than what we had been giving them . . . which of course was the Marcia-fiddled work.
OUCH! My ego took a huge hit, but . . .
Benefit #2. the business took a huge upswing. Now we no longer had just the Marcia way of doing things, now we had the Linda way of doing things and the Debi way of doing things, and our opportunities expanded exponentially.
This was a huge lesson for me. And a humbling one.
But it shouldn’t have been. I knew I had hired fantastic designers, fantastic people persons. I should have been able to delegate and let go long before, instead of insisting things get done “right,” which was just another way of saying “my way.”
Benefit #3. I got to go home earlier at night. No more late night fiddling rounds. Sure, I took peeks. Sure, I still made suggestions. But I learned that my way was not the only way, and it was a huge weight off of my shoulders.
Benefit #4. I learned to appreciate other ways of approaching client problems and solutions. And the people who came up with them. This made me a better manager, boss, and sales person—because I could discuss our different problem-solving approaches as value to our clients.
Benefit #5. I learned my true strengths. Let’s face it—I’m an adequate designer. I’m okay at following a project through and managing details. But some of the people on my team were fantastic designers, and dynamite at managing projects; they designed and managed rings around me, when I let go and let them do it.
With these elements mostly off my plate (after I patched up my battered ego), I could focus on what I was really good at: Bringing in the work. Strategic planning with clients. Thinking big ideas. Making client presentations. Breaking complex client problems down into understandable, approachable ideas and applications. Guiding, marketing, and planning for the future. Installing workable, repeatable systems to make us more stable and efficient. Honing our specialties. I found the building of the business and supporting my team in what they did best to be the most creative work I could do.
“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” – Erich Fromm
When you let go, doors open, opportunities appear. Amazing things happen.
So how exactly do you let go without scaring the hell out of yourself, or failing miserably?
You may not have a team like I did. Or if you do, you may not have circumstances force your hand like I did. So how do you learn to let go in a way that won’t throw you into a tailspin and will stick in the long run?
1. You decide to. Deciding is half the battle. Is letting go something you want to do? Good. Get moving.
2. You change your mind about what’s “right.” You realize that someone else may not do it exactly like you do it, but that may really be okay, or even better.
3. You find great people to delegate to. Yes, you may have to kiss some frogs. I’ve made my own share of hiring and delegating mistakes, including the woman who lasted less than one day before I had to fire her—don’t get me started.
4. Once you find great people, you actually delegate to them! Not just the piddly stuff, but some good stuff, too.
5. You don’t try to dump everything all at once. Do it in baby steps. Try just one project. Or just one person. Don’t revamp your entire business model overnight and expect to be happy with it.
6. You give people a second chance. It may not work 100% the first time. You may only get 50% of what you want, and you may have to fine-tune it. Tell them what you’re thinking. Give them a chance to try it again.
7. You keep communication open. Find out what people are really good at, and let them know what you really need. Most employees, freelancers, and subcontractors really want to do a good job—but they can’t read your mind.
8. You let your ego take the hit. It’s okay. You’ll get over it.
9. You trust your clients. They’re not stupid, if you’ve picked the right ones. It’s okay if they like what someone else did (as long as that someone else is working for you).
10. You keep trying. If one thing doesn’t work, you try something else. You don’t give up and go back to doing everything by yourself again. You trudge on, experimenting with letting go. That’s what entrepreneurs do—we keep trying things. We don’t give up.
11. You relish the reward. Because you’ve let go, suddenly you have more time. Maybe it’s just a bit at first, but notice it, relish it, revel in it—and it will grow. Spend the extra time with your kid, go to the park, or clear the decks for planning and the work on your business you don’t ordinarily have time to do. And realize you wouldn’t have this opportunity if you didn’t let go. You did this—yay!
Taking the time to recognize what you get out of it will encourage you to keep it up.
And then there’s Richard Branson . . .
I can’t find any evidence to support this as being true, but it’s said that Richard Branson gave this advice to a young entrepreneur who was proudly showing Branson the control he had over his business: “You’ll never be a billionaire, because you try to do too much yourself.”