Learning to Let Go
Have you ever launched a business with the expectation that it would run itself? It sounds pretty foolish when you see that sentence in print, but a few years ago I believed it. When I launched my online business, ServiceSeeking.com.au, I thought I could take a hands-off approach. No staff, just a website where customers can list their jobs and compare quotes from interested businesses. It seemed so simple— just build the site, sit back and wait for the business to take off!
It all looked so easy. There were no pesky products that needed to be produced, packaged or shipped. Everything was virtual. Sure, it would take some maintenance to get everything off the ground, but after that I thought a healthy server would suffice as fuel and word of mouth would take care of the rest. How wrong I was! As it turns out, the website required a whole lot of love and attention, and the more I gave it, the more it demanded.
In the beginning, I started off as CEO and co-founder, and thought my days would be filled with making important corporate decisions. My role, however, quickly expanded to marketing and SEO manager, SEM analyst, bookkeeper, publicist and everything in between. As a former lawyer, I was used to working hard, but this was something else. What was supposed to be a relatively simple startup venture was taking over my life. Before long, “founder’s syndrome” had me in its grips, and I was working 16-hour days, seven days a week. Ugh.
The funny thing is that when other entrepreneurs asked me about my work philosophy, I’d find myself masking the truth to save face. I would quote Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week, but the reality of my life was much different. Every waking hour was spent on keeping the website running, and I found myself on the verge of burning out. The proverbial “a-ha” moment came one day when I was elbow deep in Google Analytics. I had built a whole system around helping our customers save time, yet I couldn’t apply those principles to my own working life!
The business and my personal life were suffering— something had to give. The solution? A hands-off approach. I decided to invest time in developing processes that would take me out of the business rather than actually doing the work myself. I started by implementing statistical dashboards to stay on top of every aspect of the business without being so personally involved. In order to feel comfortable “letting go,” I needed information from all facets of my business laid out on one screen. I wanted instant access to all data related to membership sales and cancellations, site traffic, goal conversions, etc.
How did we do this? We leveraged a third-party solution— Geckoboard.com. It provided us with a user-friendly dashboard that reported on important business information in real-time. But you can’t rely on systems for everything. I also needed to hire more staff to manage and report on these processes; this presented a whole new challenge. I needed to know what was going on in my business without micromanaging, so I scheduled weekly meetings with my staff, where they would report on their previous week’s work. After these meetings, I check their numbers against my own stats to make sure I have a true picture of my business at any point in time.
It’s important for the health of a company to ensure you know what’s going on, but it’s impossible to do everything. I needed to find a way to delegate but still remain on top of things. Without the right processes in place, this can be daunting and exhausting. I discovered that I could still feel connected to every facet of the business so long as I had the data at my fingertips and the right people to power it. My staff is aware of the metrics against which their responsibilities are assessed, and this gives me the peace of mind to sleep soundly. Well, most nights anyway!
Today, my business is growing rapidly and is set to reach 700,000 users by the end of the year, yet I have the same hours each day to manage it all. With these new processes in place, I’m
confident that as my company continues to thrive, I’ll be able to stay in control.
Jeremy Levitt is joint CEO of ServiceSeeking.com.au, a website where customers compare quotes and prices for services like plumbing, house painting, cleaning and more. Fun fact: Jeremy likes Australian art and enjoys frequent travels to Colombia, his second home.