Loosening The Tentacles of Control
The boys of the household were away camping last weekend, which has been a long awaited event by us all. They get to go and have a bonding weekend, swim in the river with their friends and not shower for a whole weekend, whilst I get the house to myself – two and a half days of mooching about on my own – bliss! I can’t remember this happening since our 3 year old appeared!
Although I was hugely looking forward to it (massage booked, website-building binge session scheduled), as I was packing the little one’s things, I found myself going through all the potential safety issues that may occur. Was there really an open river on the campsite? Will he get too cold in the night? What if he rolls off the mattress when asleep – will he end up trapped? This mental rolodex-ing through all potential risks is nothing new for me, but the difference is that I won’t be there to do my full belts and braces safety-check of the area and facilities so that I have a full mental log of all potential hazards and appropriate mitigating actions. (I don’t have a clipboard and hard hat yet, but nothing is ruled out!). I was going to have to trust my husband and my son to keep themselves safe and in one piece. This is not my comfort zone.
The best I could do was to pack them off and have faith that everything was going to be okay (I find the head-in-the-sand approach generally best for these situations). It’s not feasible nor realistic to expect that I can be there to cover every situation. After all, that’s a huge benefit of there being two of us bringing up this child – we can share responsibility for making sure everything goes to plan.
It’s Mine. All Mine!
I realised this behaviour isn’t just related to raising our son, it’s exactly how I have been approaching setting up a business. For whatever reason, I have generally taken the attitude that it has to be me that covers 100% of the business 100% of the time. I have to be across the social media, the marketing, the product development, the finances, the sales, the web design, web updates, etc. It can be overwhelming and frustrating, but when we expect ourselves to do everything, the pressure builds up, particularly when we are learning on-the-go, getting our heads around the unfamiliar aspects of setting up a business.
There is definitely merit in this approach for some areas of the business. Social media, for example, is definitely not my area of expertise, but given it is the actual touch point with the consumers, customers and community, I feel strongly this is something I need to be absolutely comfortable and familiar with before I consider handing over. It’s also one of the most valuable feedback points in any business – interacting with the audience is such a valuable opportunity for understanding issues, that we, as business owners, have to be plugged into, to really get to know our customers and develop a deep understanding of their issues.
But there are other areas of the business where outsourcing or investing in some expertise guidance may give a leap forward in terms of progress. One thing many of us struggle with is knowing which part of the business it would be most beneficial to outsource. Book-keeping and accounting is an easy one – definitely worth engaging a 3rd party. It’s an area I’m hugely interested in, but the hours I would have to invest would be enormous when it’s not too big a cost to get an accountant to do the accounts and payroll. Plus it’s quite clear cut – a very package-able part of the business to hand over. There are so many other areas that are less defined. PR, for example. I would absolutely love to pay someone to take this on but it feels like an expensive luxury at this stage, given there are steps you can take on your own to raise a company, or your, profile that don’t cost the earth.
What Stops Us From Hiring
There are several factors at play when we’re reluctant to engage in services or hiring help:
How to get assurance that it is a valuable investment and the return will be worthwhile. The offers of services and help are endless but it’s often hard to get a grasp of how useful these really will be. Often you simply won’t know until you’ve taken the plunge. There have been a few occasions where I’ve been thankful I reached out to my network and was warned off before handing over £1000’s, and equally, got pointed in the direction of something more worthwhile.
The sense that the business isn’t yet profitable enough
This is classic chicken and egg. Do you wait until you are earning enough to be able to cover the cost of the hiring/ contracted help, or do you invest early to get your business bouncing forward?
A sense that we should or ought to be able to do it all ourselves
There are so many blogs, books, courses, and free information on the web, I often tell myself I’ll Google something rather than pay for a product.
Understanding it ourselves first
There are aspects of our business that we need to understand before we bring someone in or ask them to take on that responsibility. By really understanding what works or doesn’t we can refine until we get it to a point that it can be automated and outsourced.
Not knowing which aspect of the business it’s worthwhile investing in
Is it the marketing, or sales, or product development? Or would it be more worthwhile to bring in a contractor/ member of staff to take on the day-to-day tasks so you can focus on building out the marketing and sales aspects? It can be hard to figure out where the value really sits.
Not knowing how to find the right people
Ideally we want to have a circle of reliable, honest and valuable experts that are fully in support of us and our business but where do we find these brilliant people (that don’t cost too much!).
Building a Trusted Team
But let’s go back to thinking how we raise our kids. In most cases (and I’m aware I’m venturing into a complex issue here), we accept it’s beneficial to have two parents raise our children. We get a partner to assure our decisions, bring fresh perspective, and someone to step in and temper the emotion when needed. Not only that, but a pooling of advice and information that we’ve gathered on our respective journeys. If it was just me, my son would miss out on so much. Our team parenting is richer, more fun and better balanced with two of us at the helm. We are no doubt better parents for it, not least because we can share responsibility and step in to take more on when the other person is in need of a re-charge. When either of us is in doubt, or feeling stuck in a thinking-hole, we have someone who really understands to bounce ideas off, which is invaluable.
If we extend this out to think about just how many people of various services and backgrounds have been involved in my son’s upbringing so far, it’s really quite a wide team. And we have ended up with a circle of “trusted advisors and experts” – some short term and some long term. Everyone from the staff at nursery, to the GP, to the tongue-tie specialist, lactation consultant, swimming instructor and of course relatives who have all pitched in to take on responsibilities at some point or another.
Aside from the practicalities of having help with childcare, etc, there are some of the above where we could have just googled it – how to teach your child to swim, how to administer first aid to a child, how to negotiate with a two-year old. But obviously, as our son is our top priority, we didn’t question getting great training on how treat a burn, or hesitate to pay for swimming lessons. Because he’s worth investing in. And strangely don’t even question how much or little we will use it or whether it will be a “worthwhile” investment.
And although I wouldn’t say I’ve always been entirely happy to hand over certain aspects of my child’s upbringing to others, it’s been something I’ve been willing to do in order to reach the greater objective of the family’s future and wellbeing.
Obviously a business is not the same as a child, but it does raise some questions around approach. All business owners have to be commercially savvy to make sure there is a balancing of the books, but an employee or contractor will bring new ideas, energy, and potentially inject something into the business that might be missing. There are areas of business where our skills and personality will not naturally fit – we may not have the wordy flair for website copy, or the attention to detail for understanding our site analytics to the point where we can get valuable insights to create worthwhile action.
Investment is Essential to Success
The realisation I’ve come to is that investment is essential to the success of the business. I’ve had the mindset switch that if I want to achieve my goals, I will need expertise and assistance. So, on reviewing my strategic goal for the next 12 months, I’ve identified a few key areas where I need to focus on as they are so critical to the goal. In the last few months, I’ve engaged the services of a PR manager, a graphic designer and a VA. I’m not quite sure why crabs come to mind right now (some late night documentary last week), but I’m envisioning the crab needing to break out of it’s shell in order to expand and grow. That shell is a fixed capacity – as am I.
So I am opening the doors and inviting people in. And really enjoying learning from those that have the expertise and have done it before. I’m actively looking for mentoring, partnerships and assistance and am reminding myself of Stephen Covey’s 5th habit – think win/win. Even better than bringing someone into the business, finding some way for them to get something from it also. Almost essential when it’s a new business and not too much money to spare.
Review Your Top Priority Goal
If you and your business are feeling squeezed, have a look at your top priority goal for the next 12 months – what sub-objectives do you need to have in place in order to achieve that, and what people, processes or expertise do you need to get you there? Behind every successful entrepreneur, is a team, as they say. You don’t get a medal for struggling away on your own, particularly when it’s holding back your business. So what’s the one thing your business needs right now, and are you the person to bring that to the table? If not, who would?
And it’s good to remind ourselves that we often set up these businesses to give ourselves the flexibility and freedom to spend more time with our families, so we need to make sure the very thing we created doesn’t end up stealing our time and attention away. Identify the areas of your business to handover and remember to nurture the other areas of your life.