Growing the Company by Taming My Inner Control Freak

Last Updated Jul 27, 2010 1:29 PM EDT

By Patrick Murphy, Brand Thunder, Dublin, Ohio
I knew I needed help when we started to field calls from prospective clients rather than having to go out, hat in hand, begging for business. We couldn't keep up with new client opportunities. We were losing track of proposals, and our client relationships were starting to suffer because we didn't have the capacity to follow up with a client after we launched a product for them. That meant we missed chances to keep developing those relationships and further promote our brand.

As the founder, I'd always been in charge of business development since the company launched in April 2007. I have a technical team that developed our product but I was the one out beating the bushes for funding, looking for clients, and managing projects. We create custom-branded, downloadable Web browser themes to help sports teams, companies and blogs strengthen their relationships with fans, clients and readers. Often I wore 20 different hats at the same time. But it became clear there wasn't enough of me to go around. If we wanted to grow, I needed to hire another me.

I agonized over the decision for a long time. I couldn't let go. After all, I created this product and built this company. How could anyone tell this story better than I could? Ultimately, though, turning that task over to someone else was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Hiring another me
Hiring technical expertise, whether it's in-house or outsourced, is a relatively straightforward step: The people can either do what you need them to do or they can't. In my case, the technical part of the business was out of my league so I had to find people with the skills necessary to do the job.

But selling the story of our company and product to prospective clients is something that's important to me. What's more, the story has to be told in a fashion that inspires companies to take a chance on this new way to build their brand. The success of our company hinges on that interaction, which is what made hiring someone else to do it both challenging and necessary.

I had to let go
When we finally found Ryan Miller to take over some of the business development tasks I didn't have time for, I spent my time breathing down his neck -- I sat in on client calls, I spoke up in client meetings, and I second-guessed decisions he made. I basically tried to do his job -- my old job -- and it wasn't all that helpful.

I had to tell myself to take a step back and let go of what had been mine for so long. It was tough, but it was worth it. I stopped joining his calls and let him make his own decisions. Two months later, I arrived late to a client meeting in Columbus, Ohio. I walked in and saw that he had everyone in the room eating out of his hand. He was telling the story better than I did, and throughout the whole presentation, no one looked at me. They all looked at him. That's when I knew I'd made the right decision.

We eventually had to hire a third person to handle client management duties. When that happened, Ryan described having the same difficulty letting go of some his previous duties as I felt relinquishing mine.

Taking the business to the next level
Some startups hire a number of people right away, and then work to fill everyone's plate after the fact. I don't believe in that approach. But the trouble with doing it our way -- hiring someone new only once it becomes obvious that there's too much to do -- is that it takes a lot of effort to let go once you've got the new person on board.

We've been lucky that the people we've hired have been such a great fit for our company. We now employ eight people and sales are strong -- we posted $140,000 in revenue in 2009 and we expect to hit $375,000 this year. Our new hires are doing things we never had time to do and coming up with ideas we never would have thought of. Basically they're doing the same job we did before -- but better. And that's why, as tough as it is to hire someone to take over some of your duties, it can be the key to taking your business to the next level.

-- As told to Peter McDougall