Kick Your Company Out of the Nest

I've talked about hiring friends & family, pocketing & knowledge retention, deciding whether your organization is a club or a business, generational businesses, and chain of command, all of which are difficult changes for the established, non-business-school-graduate. But the difficulty factor doubles if you're an entrepreneur, because of an added element: The business is your baby.

You started your business in your garage, spare room , or attic, but it really began as a dream. Your spouse and kids probably helped you, at first, and then maybe a friend or a neighbor, because you couldn't afford anyone else. As time went on, your growing infant organization ate up more and more of your time. Eventually, things got to the point that you slept only when you fell over, sweated the books (you're still sweating the books), never took a day off or a vacation, and made every sale yourself because there wasn't anyone else. And finally, after all of that work, you join the ranks of the less than 1 in 10: A start-up business that lasts for more than a year.

Year two, you maybe hire a high school kid or two to work part time. You miss your kids' school plays, concerts, and games because you have to work. You always have to work; you no longer even seriously think about doing anything else. But you start to see a little success, so you reinvest that and go to a trade show or a networking event where word of mouth grows. You eventually have enough money for your very first ad, which does nothing, but that's okay because you learned from it, and your next ad gets some attention and pretty soon, you can actually hire a couple of real employees and learn to sweat over payroll.

Another year or 2 or 3 go by, and you have a full-time work force. Each person wears 10 hats because there are no hat stands. Everyone works late (but never quite as late as you); no one claims overtime. You have shared your dream and these people believe it, fearless because they don't know any better, and clueless enough to do everything wrong over and over again until they eventually find a method that works.

And now, 5 or 6 years in, you can finally afford to hire someone who can actually tell you what you're doing wrong: Your very first consultant. It's almost like a first kiss, what we used to call 1st base, in that it promises bigger and better things to come. And then, day of days, you hire your very first employee who has actually done this before, and maybe even many times before, which is the entrepreneur's equivalent to 2nd base, and then another and another pro join up, 3rd base and now the bases are loaded with people who know what they're doing, and...

... you jump out of the back seat and say, "Take me home!"

I understand. Like any new, extremely emotional experience, letting your company go is like sending your son or daughter off to prom or spring break. You had control, and now a bunch of pencil pushers are trying to tell you how to run your own company. Things used to be so much easier, back when you didn't have to get approval or document or assess readiness. And the thing that sends you over the edge is this: The very first dip in revenue.

Panic! Someone is groping your child! All of these people are going to kill your kid!

Stop. STOP! Take a deep breath. You hired these people because they know what they're doing, right? And they've managed not to destroy previous employers. And you agreed that, to make this whole thing work, you have to get the hell out of the way and let them do their jobs. And you know that - you know it - but you don't feel it.

This is the glass ceiling where the 10% who made it through year 1 fail: They can't let go. And while their business doesn't die right away, they begin to lose people by the truckload, because they see it even if you can't: The company has stopped growing because you are standing in the way. That's right: You have become an obstacle for your company to overcome, and there are only 2 ways that things can go from here: You can fight to regain control over your teenage company and lose its respect, loyalty, and love, or you can do what all good parents do:

Trust that you brought it up right, and finally take that vacation you promised your spouse so long ago that you can't even recall doing it. Tell no one where you go. Take no phone. Watch no news. Stay gone at least a week, but preferably a month. If your business really can't live without you that long, you've already failed. But when it does, it will thrive and blossom into a strong, functional adult, stepping right out of its diapers and into its first acquisition, merger, or IPO.

And isn't that what every corporate parent really dreams of?

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