When I started my online business, I did everything myself. The planning, programming, graphics design, database management, server maintenance, marketing, customer support, billing, accounting, taxes — everything! Most of it I learned as I went along. It was a lot of work and took every spare moment of my time for several years.
As the business grew, I realized that I didn’t have to do it all myself, and in fact, I couldn’t do it all myself, because there was simply too much for one person to do. I started by hiring a programmer to speed up development, then some customer support help. I still did a lot of programming and support myself, even after I had trained my new staff, but less and less as time went on.
However, giving up control of an aspect of my business to someone I didn’t know (and hadn’t spoken with on the phone, even less met in person) was a difficult thing for me. I felt like I knew my business inside and out, and I believed the mantra, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” So I kind of micromanaged. I monitored every piece of code my programmer wrote, and every email my support reps sent to my customers. This was my business — my “baby” — and I wasn’t going to let anyone mess it up.
As I hired more programmers and had more customer support emails coming in, it became too much work for me to check up on what each of them was doing every day, especially with my other responsibilities. But by that time, I had come to trust those I hired, and knew they would deliver quality work. In fact, they were doing their jobs better than I ever did. I still had daily communication with each programmer about what they were working on, and still regularly checked up on support issues, but my teams were free to do their tasks however they thought was best, within a few procedural guidelines.
Last month I hired four new programmers (there are now eight total, across all my sites, plus an iPhone dev team) and two new customer support staff (9 total, across all my sites). Trying to stay in touch with this many people, and being the “go-to” guy for everything quickly became more than I was ready to handle. So a couple weeks ago, I decided to step back even further, and hire a Project Manager (promoted from the Support Team) to help manage the programming team and the new features and fixes we’re working on. I also hired a Customer Relations manager (who is also our Marketing Director) to facilitate the Support Team keeping the customers happy.
I already know this was a good decision. These people are doing an incredible job running the business. So many of the tasks I had hesitated with for so long, they’re taking head on, and are setting up systems and processes to improve the quality and efficiency of the teams and the communication between them. They’re keeping their teams happy and productive, making decisions that will improve many aspects of our product and service, advising when to hire and train additional people as needed, and letting me know what things I need to be aware of. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.
Music Teacher’s Helper has continued to grow well this year. The past three months we’ve had a record number of new signups, and with these management changes, I only see that increasing. It’s exciting to see the growth, and also the enthusiasm of our customers for a product they feel helps them so much in their teaching business.
But where does this put me? Now that I have so much help managing my teams, I no longer feel like the lone entrepreneur running his one man show. I also no longer feel like the micromanaging boss with his fingers into everybody’s business. Instead, I feel like the CEO of a growing company that I’m directing but not necessarily running.
It’s a huge shift for me, making it easier to focus on the big picture; setting the vision, direction, and culture of the company rather than fine tuning the inner details. I’m still interested in the details, but I trust those I’ve hired to take care of them in the way they think is best, and I know they’ll do great. As a CEO, I now have some new skills to learn, and will probably continue making mistakes, as I often have along the way. But I’ll learn, and the business will continue moving forward, not because of me, but because of everyone who works hard to make it happen. Thank you to all who do or have worked at Music Teacher’s Helper!