Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The long drawn-out agony of giving up control

One of the big problems facing entrepreneurs is control.

When they found their business, entrepreneurs are in complete control. They have to be: they can't allow a free-thinking employee or supplier to undermine thier vision or the standards they are trying to create.

Some people dismiss entrepreneurs as “control freaks,” but they are this way for good reason. Just as a watchful she-bear will fight for her cubs, entrepreneur will take few chances that would endanger their business. When you take your eye off the business, danger is always close by.

(Recall 15 years ago when Magna founder Frank Stronach started dabbling in restaurants and politics -- his auto-parts company started to crumble. It was only when Frank returned to put his personal stamp on the business again that it recovered.)

Over time, then, entrepreneurs must battle hard to find systems that allow them to give up control without sacrificing quality, standards or culture.

In an article written a few years ago for PROFIT Magazine’s website, Markham, Ont. entrepreneur Aaron Moscoe, co-founder of a corporate-giftware firm called The Promotional Specialists, described his efforts to let go. Here are a few excerpts that speak to the difficulty of letting go – and the incredible opportunity that creates for suppliers and other potential partners who can win an entrepreneur’s trust.

"Having built this business personally, [my partner and I] like to have things done our way - and who better to do it exactly that way than ourselves? The problem is that there are too many accounts to manage to allow us the time to plan and manage our business properly. Like many small business entrepreneurs we have tried to just work harder. After a while you learn that there is not too much of this or that, but too few of you.

"Hiring others to do jobs that you handled previously is tough because it means relinquishing some control. (Rick’s note: the suggestion here is that relinquishing control is bad. I am sure Aaron has gotten over that notion now, and recognized that delegating is an essential skill – but it’s a hard concept for many to accept]. While you can train employees, you also need to trust them and to realize the various ways they can add value to your business, even if it is by doing things differently.

"Perhaps the most important way to grow is to realize that you must inevitably rely on others. Whether employees, suppliers, couriers, financiers, or key clients, it is dramatically important to choose those strategic partners carefully.”

You can read the rest of the story here, but here's the main point: When you sell services to entrepreneurs, they may be cautious, skeptical, even hostile, because they are being asked to entrust their business to your systems, your standards.

Once you recognize that pitching your product is much like asking new parents to entrust your baby to their care, you will better understand that your primary job is not to sell your services to entrepreneurs, but to win their trust. If you can do that, the rest gets much easier.

There are no quick wins in this market. As Moscoe concludes, “Partnerships must be mutually beneficial in the long run if they are to last. Accordingly, it is crucial to work with partners who value the contribution that your partnership brings to them.”

If you're listening, that's the sound of an entrepreneur demanding respect.

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