Thursday, April 25, 2019

Letting Go to Grow

I’m sitting in my little office in the back of my shop, listening to Aleah and Clark have conversations with our clients. I can trust what they’re saying. I can hear their smiles. And I smile.

Over the past year, these two Uncle Marty’s team members have gotten to know our regulars by name. They’ve built relationships and rapports with each, building on the foundation that I had hoped so much would support this business when it got to the point where a team was necessary. And now we’re at that point. The team is being built and, as I sit here listening, they’re doing exactly what I had hoped: forging relationships that keep people coming back again and again.

Sometimes I’ll hear a client ask one of them something and my knee-jerk reaction is to hop off my chair, scurry to the front counter, and take over the conversation. I’m a classic over-explainer, and my ego wants to make sure things are said the way I feel they are best said. But I’m learning to restrain myself and just listen … and what I hear is music to my ears.

Aleah and Clark know what they’re doing; they know what they’re talking about. They answer clients’ questions professionally, with positivity in their voices and always an offer to make things simple. They’ve adopted language that I feel is important, like never saying the arbitrary, overused, and often meaningless “Have a nice day,” but rather inviting the customer to come back at the end of the transaction by saying something like “See you next time!” They always smile before answering the phone, which is an important facet of our culture here at Uncle Marty’s. And they have had enough experience to know how to answer some of the more detailed or tough inquiries; when they encounter something new that hasn’t come up before, or need clarification on something, they push the button on the front counter that rings a doorbell in my office and I come right up to assist as needed. It’s working out so very nicely.

Since the team has been independent enough to cover the front lines, I’ve been able to spend a lot more time working on the business instead of in the business. Yes, I still spend full-time hours (and then some) at the shop helping clients and doing all of the things a small business owner needs to do, but I’m also able to sit at my desk more and work on the books, think about marketing, explore new ideas, and get my head together. I’m able to leave the shop more easily to attend community meetings, travel to workshops to learn and grow, and spend a little bit more time managing some of my other responsibilities outside of the business. There’s still a long way to go and my to-do and idea lists are just as big as ever, but the release I’ve felt in the past few months because of this amazing team has made a huge impact on … well, everything!

We just celebrated Aleah’s one-year workiversary as part of the Uncle Marty’s team. She started last April right after the person I had hired before her quit in a huff (to the benefit of everyone, as he was terribly grumpy and would have soon been fired.) Aleah’s attitude is why I hired her; her aptitude is what has allowed her to grow in this business so fast.

Almost exactly six months after Aleah started, I hired her brother Clark. And just yesterday, a year after Aleah and six months after Clark, I hired another member of the family: their brother Callum. They join me (and my friends and family who so graciously help when I’m in a pinch) to form quite a powerful (even if a bit peculiar) team here at Uncle Marty’s.

Each one of these amazing siblings brings something new to the business. Aleah stands out with her incredible reliability, creative flare, strong work ethic, and even-keeled personality; Clark has a good mind for business and an interest in marketing, and is someone I often use as a sounding board for new ideas; Callum is an engineer through and through, eager and able to fix anything and everything that needs fixing, and I can’t wait to discover what else he’ll bring to the team.

Sara Blakely said, “If somebody can do something 80 percent as good as you think you would have done it yourself, then you’ve got to let it go.” This is excellent advice for anyone who owns or manages a growing business. But letting go means trusting. And trust takes time to build, especially for a micromanaging personality like my own. I’ve found it though. I trust this team, and as a result I’ve felt a mega burden lifted off my shoulders.

I have a 6am flight tomorrow to St. Louis for an industry conference—AMBC’s Basic Training Weekend 2019, at which I’ll be teaching certified training courses in advanced packing techniques and international shipping. Normally when I’m away for things like this, my retired parents would come in to graciously babysit their grandstore. And they’ll still be here this weekend to fill in a few little holes in the schedule, but the rest of team will have things otherwise well covered. My last few trips have been so much more relaxed because of the trust that I’ve found; I check the cameras less and less, and don’t feel like I need to call the shop every half hour “just to make sure everything is OK.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I still spy and I still call, just not as much as I used to. I’m learning to let go, and as a result have become much more able to let the business grow.

I won’t have Aleah, Clark, and Callum forever, nor would I want them to work here forever. It wouldn’t be fair to them. They’re all students—young, full of promise, and on their way to great things. So, while they’re here I’m going to be grateful and do my best to support them, with hopes that this work experience can be a stepping stone for their bright futures. And when it’s time for them to move on to their next chapters, I hope they’ll know that they always have a home here … because, while I hope this business grows into something very big with different locations, managers, and multiple layers and levels of whatever, at this point it’s still very much a family business, and they’re part of the family that has made it awesome.

So, here I sit … listening, with a very grateful, joyful, full full heart. This team is awesome, growing stronger and stronger with each conversation. I’m one lucky dude.

Marty Johnson is an entrepreneur, writer, and business coach. He serves as ex officio Director of Communication for AMBC, Editor of MBC Today, and is the owner of Uncle Marty's Shipping Office in Ithaca, NY, where he's also Co-Founder of the Collegetown Small Business Alliance. Please visit him at #AskUncleMarty

Also published on on April 25, 2019.

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