The Entrepreneur's Rut

Posted by Siobhan Hitchmough

Ever wonder why so many small businesses start off with extraordinary energy and growth, but then seem to plateau when they have 2-4 people?  It’s because most people who can start a business from scratch aren’t naturally good at working with other people.  Initially, most are outright terrible.

Here’s why.  Let’s look at the skills you need to start a business.  You need to:
– Think unconventionally (to create new ways to add value and make money)
– Have great confidence in your ideas (to bet on starting a business in the first place)
– Take charge (or nothing gets done)
– Be detail-oriented (or you do things sloppily)

In contrast, what a good employee needs are the freedom and trust to find the best way to do the job – and start doing things you hadn’t thought to ask of her.  As U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it”.  Think about it; doesn’t it drive you crazy when someone hovers over your shoulder and nitpicks?

If you’re not careful, the traits that helped you launch your business can twist into habits that cripple your employees’ ability to contribute.  You’re so used to sticking by your ideas, managing everything yourself, and making sure everything is just how you want it that you might have trouble listening to others, trusting their work, and letting them solve problems another way.  You’ve turned into that nitpicker.

At this point, your employees learn that what you really want is just a mindless drone.  They turn off their brains.  You continue to micromanage everything until the business gets big and complex enough that you can’t really handle it all anymore, and the company stagnates.  This is the Entrepreneur’s Rut.

To get through this rut, you need to change your mindset a little.  Instead of always thinking about how you can improve your business operations, think about how to nurture people so that they can improve the business.  Sometimes, this might mean biting your tongue when someone does things differently from how you would’ve to avoid stifling her.  Adding too much value can take away from an employee’s energy and initiative.

Once you’ve mastered shutting up when appropriate, start thinking about ways to actively help your employees grow and attract more talented people.  People will be more loyal, productive, and capable when they can sense you genuinely care about them.  Make sure they have the best tools for the job, and pay for books or training courses to help them develop.

It might seem counterintuitive that to grow your business, you need to focus on your employees’ growth, but you need more than one person pushing to get through the Entrepreneur’s Rut.

Siobhan Hitchmough

About Siobhan Hitchmough

Siobhan Hitchmough is a customer advocate, community manager and part-time tutorial wrangler. When she's not seeking out new challenges she leads the community and support team at inFlow Inventory.

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