We recently asked you to send small business questions to OPEN Forum's expert, Henry Blodget, to help launch his new column. Today, he kicks off his first Ask Henry Anything column about the challenges of building a your business. You can send your questions to Henry here.
Q: What's the hardest thing about building a business?
A: Well, lots of things are hard, but here's one that has been particularly hard for me: Letting go.
If your company is producing a product you care about, you're probably good at making that product, and it's probably your skill at making that product that got your business off the ground in the first place. Maybe you perfected a way to make cookies, or maybe you learned how to provide exceptional customer service. And in the early days, maybe it was your special touch that made your product stand out from all the rest and made your customers willing to pay you for it.
Well, if your goal is to build a business bigger than yourself, at some point you're going to have to let someone else make the product. Or, alternatively, you're going to have to hire someone else to run the business. Because you can't do everything. And if you try to do everything, the business and the product will suffer, and you'll also probably drop dead from exhaustion.
So that means you have to let go. And letting go, in most cases, means letting someone else do a job that they'll do differently than you would do it—and, probably, worse. Especially at the beginning, when they're learning how to do it.
There are few things as painful as watching an employee botch a job that you would have done well, especially when the mistake results in an unhappy customer. But if you want to build a business bigger than yourself, you have to allow your employees to make mistakes and learn as they go. And you can't just jump in every time they screw up and do it the right way, or your team will never learn how to do it themselves (and you'll also find that there are so many problems that need attention that you'll be working yourself to death again).
But here's the good news: If you get good at another essential skill in building a business—hiring great people—you'll soon have a company filled with talented folks who care as much as you do about the quality of the product and the happiness of your customers. And with your talented employees worrying about those things all day, the way you used to, you can focus on the next steps for the business. And then, at some point, you'll have to let go of those new things, and do it all over again.
For me, one tough thing to let go of was the writing and analysis we publish at Business Insider. I've been working as a writer and analyst for more than 20 years, so I've gotten pretty good at it. But to build a publication, and then to build a business around the publication, I had to trust other people to do most of the writing and analysis.
In the beginning, this was tough: We occasionally published some things that I thought were careless, or stupid, or just plain wrong. And, at first, I used to rush to correct the logic and sentences and make the articles more like the way I would have written them. Eventually, however, I realized that I had to let go and let others handle most of the writing and editing, or we'd never be able to build the business.
Now, happily, there are many excellent writers at Business Insider, and we're developing more all the time. We have not hired established talent, because what we do is different than what traditional newspaper reporters or analysts do. Instead, we've developed writers internally, and let them learn as they go. And we've also taken the best ones and made them editors.
We still occasionally publish things that I, personally, would have improved, but, overall, the quality of our product is excellent. And it's getting better all the time.
Meanwhile, the business is also growing. And we're launching lots of new products that we would never have even thought of if I had been writing and editing all the time. And the business is vastly larger than it ever would have been if I hadn't learned to let go.
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