From day one, growth is a primary objective for startups. It’s okay to start small, but entrepreneurs and founding teams don’t want to remain small for long.
Small means lower revenue and less earning potential.
Small also means a lack of marketplace validation, which can weigh heavy on an ego.
No, small isn’t the goal. The objective is to grow into a larger business – not for the sake of growth itself, but for what it means. Entrepreneurs want to scale in order to generate more revenue, increase income, validate the underlying idea, etc.
But scaling isn’t easy.
And most entrepreneurs and founding teams do themselves a disservice by letting their own hubris get in the way. More specifically, they refuse to give up any control. They just grip tighter and tighter until every opportunity for growth is choked out of the business and the company eventually withers away into obsolescence.
If you want to scale your business over time and enjoy real organic growth, you need to loosen up the reins in a calculated manner and create space for good things to happen. And while this can be a scary proposition, it’s almost always necessary.
The Issue of Control
Control is one of the most appealing factors of entrepreneurship. People either get burned out or turned off by the idea of “working for the man.” So rather than succumb to a career of 9-to-5 cubicle-sitting where survival is the operative word and living for the weekend is the only motivating factor, people jump at the opportunity to do something on their own.
Entrepreneurship allows people to control their goals and vision. It lets people set their own hours – and rules. Perhaps most appealing is the fact that entrepreneurs can control their own incomes. No more waiting for year-end professional evaluations to see if you can get a measly 3 percent raise. If you make more, you can take more.
In the early days of building a business, it’s imperative that you’re hands-on.
A failure to make calculated decisions in each area of the new venture could lead to fatal cracks and flaws in the foundation of the business. You’re the only one calling the shots. If you don’t say or do something, nobody will.
So you grip tighter and tighter.
Over time, you grow accustomed to making every decision – big or small.
Time to develop a new product? It’s your call.
Need to shift the tone of your marketing message? That’s on you.
Want to repaint the office building? You’re the one flipping through color swatches.
Literally every decision lands on your desk.
But then your one-man business doubles in size. You hire a second person. Then a third. One thing leads to the next and you’re no longer a startup venture – you’re a full-fledged small business.
It’s at this point that a lot of business owners have an identity crisis. If you’re like most, you’re happy with how much you’ve grown, but you aren’t satisfied with where you are.
You want to keep scaling up – so you grip even tighter. You remove all of the slack from the line and hover over your team.
Unfortunately, this no longer works.
While you might have been able to tighten up control when your business consisted of five people in a small office space, gripping harder in the midst of significant scaling has the inverse effect. Rather than keeping your business on the path, it effectively constructs large speed bumps and roadblocks in the middle of the road.
Too much control inhibits growth and brings everything to a screeching halt.
Parenthood is a perfect metaphor for this challenge.
When you have a newborn in the home, constant oversight is important. You do everything for the baby. From changing diapers and feeding to bathing and putting to sleep, you call all of the shots.
Then your baby quickly progresses into a toddler. She can start to do a few things on her own, but you’re still in total control. The preschool and grade school years come and your child no longer spends all of her time under your watchful eye. And before you know it, she’s a teenager preparing to go out into the world and live on her own.
Total control and oversight work when your child is an infant. But can you imagine if you tried implementing the same parenting techniques when she’s 18 and moving into her first apartment?
You still have a responsibility to parent. Some level of authority remains. However, your little girl can’t mature into an independent and successful young woman if you don’t relax your grip and let her fly the nest.
Are you getting the picture?
Control is a good, healthy thing. Whether you’re a parent or a business owner, you have to stay on top of what’s happening and make important leadership decisions. But as your business scales, you have to step back and loosen that grip. Otherwise, you’ll stunt the growth and experience diminishing returns.
Signs You’re Gripping Too Tightly
Some business owners know when they’re gripping too tightly. Others are so deeply entrenched in the operations of their companies that they’ve never paused long enough to consider that they could be pressing too hard. Here are some of the telltale signs:
- Micromanagement. Another good term for a micromanager is a “helicopter” manager. In other words, you hover above everyone and constantly interject, overstep, and make decisions that other people are fully capable of making on their own.
- Autonomous decision-making. You don’t let anyone else make decisions. Whether it’s the types of snacks to stock the break room with or how to address a key marketing challenge, everyone else’s ideas take a backseat to your own.
- Overworking. You work from sunrise to sunset and rarely take weekends off. And even when you are home, you’re only physically present. Your emotional energy is spent worrying about the business.
If you see signs of micromanagement, autonomous decision-making, and overworking in your approach to leadership and management, you could be limiting your growth potential in a major way.
5 Ways to Responsibly Release Your Control
If you’re going to release control, you have to do so in a responsible manner. (Otherwise, you could end up losing control and leave you in an even tougher spot.) Here are a few proven tactics to help you push forward with a purpose:
1. OUTSOURCE NON-CORE TASKS
We operate in a business world where connectivity and accessibility are ubiquitous. The gig economy is on the rise and there are more freelancers and skilled contract workers than ever before. Furthermore, the low overhead of internet business models means more companies are able to offer cost-effective B2B services.
The opportunity to outsource – which is essentially an act of releasing control – is huge.
Willing to give it a try?
Then the key to outsourcing is to only offload non-core business functions and tasks.
Core business functions and tasks include anything that directly impacts your company’s value proposition and/or is a key competency that underpins the reason for your company’s existence.
A non-core business function is something that can be handled by someone outside of the company in a more cost-effective/time-efficient manner without causing a significant drop-off in output or quality.
You wouldn’t want to outsource product innovation or sales (both core tasks). However, you may consider outsourcing activities like bookkeeping, payroll, copywriting, telephone answering, market research, social media management, or technical support.
2. HIRE PEOPLE YOU TRUST
Trust plays an essential role in a business owner or manager’s ability to relinquish control to other people. Thus if you want to establish a culture in which employees and team members have the ability to make wise decisions, you have to hire people you can trust.
Hiring trustworthy people is a major challenge in small businesses and large organizations alike. But if you can perfect the art of finding, vetting, and onboarding the right people, everything else will fall into place.
As a general rule of thumb, character matters more than competence.
Skills can be taught. It’s much harder to shape someone’s character.
Hire people you’d be comfortable letting into your home while you’re away. These are the sorts of people you can trust to accept responsibility and do the right thing.
3. LEARN TO DELEGATE
A lot of business owners are fearful of delegating. They know they need to do it, but the thought of giving up control makes them nauseous.
But if you hire the right people, suddenly it doesn’t seem so scary.
When people can be trusted to do what they say they’re going to do, delegation transitions from emotional to pragmatic. It now goes from a question of “should we delegate?” to “how do we delegate”?
The key to delegating is to choose the right person and clearly communicate your expectations. Check in frequently, but don’t be overbearing.
Patience and understanding go a long way. You want people to know that you’re partnering with them – not waiting for the opportunity to crack the whip.
Finally, you should set an early precedent of giving people credit for their work. While it might have originally been your responsibility, you should recognize the people who helped you out. Doing so makes them more likely to embrace future assignments with zeal.
4. FORM STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS
You aren’t the only entrepreneur who wants to scale up operations in an efficient manner. Almost every business owner inside and outside of your industry wants the same thing.
So why not leverage this mutual interest?
Why not form strategic partnerships with like-minded business leaders?
A strategic partner is basically another business that you enter into a relationship with in an effort to create mutually beneficial outcomes. Essentially your business provides something to the other company and, in return, they offer you something of equal value.
The beauty of strategic partnerships is that they don’t typically cost you very much. Whether you’re supplying a physical good, service, or component of your supply chain, the cost is minimal.
The challenge is that you have to give up a little bit of control and trust that your strategic partner will follow through on their half of the bargain.
Careful vetting is the key to this entire process. Much like hiring trustworthy employees eases the burden on internal delegation, extensive due diligence on strategic partners makes it easier to accept outside assistance.
5. GATHER FEEDBACK
As humans, we crave safety and protection.
In your personal life, this leads us to purchase a home in a safe neighborhood and secure it with locks, cameras, and alarms.
In your business, this convinces you to create a bubble and block out noise and criticism.
But here’s the deal: Outside noise, criticism, and customer complaints are typically valid. If you ignore them, you’re only doing yourself and your business a disservice.
It’s time to embrace feedback and learn how to apply it in a strategic manner.
At first, it’ll feel like you’re giving up a degree of control. But over time, you’ll discover tremendous freedom in opening up.
Gathering feedback is just the first step. Once you hear the criticism, you have to decide whether it’s valid. And if it’s valid, the only responsible choice is to act upon it.
Sometimes embracing feedback requires you to pivot away from something you want to do and towards someone else’s idea. You must be willing to relinquish this control and trust that your way isn’t the only way.
Grow, Baby, Grow
Your business is your baby.
You owe it to your business to lead and manage well. But don’t let a desire to lead and manage cause you to over-manage.
Too much control is constricting and prevents organic growth from occurring.
There are varying levels of control. You can retain authority and the ability to make final decisions without micromanaging every last detail of your company.
Let the tips and strategies outlined in this article marinate and spend some time in honest reflection.Is there one specific move you can make this week to move in a positive direction?