Elizabeth Eichhorn launched Mary Lee Kitchen to “bring all people to the table, regardless of their food allergy or dietary restrictions,” she told us in her 1,000+ Stories profile. And since 2012, her Pasadena, Calif., business has been serving up allergen-free delights to both individual and corporate clients.
Eichhorn says running the business was a scramble early on, and, in hindsight, she micromanaged it to the point of hindering growth. Once she decided to step back and hire a small team of helpers (while she worked in real estate on the side to supplement her income), Mary Lee Kitchen began to flourish, she says. Also, Eichhorn opted to forego large catering jobs in favor of selling cookies and hosting more intimate dinners, a shift that helped her get Mary Lee’s Kitchen into the black. “It’s been a challenge, but I’ve become a better leader” because of those growing pains, she says.
As Eichhorn learned (the hard way), micromanaging is a common problem for entrepreneurs. Some studies show that women tend to delegate less than men, even feeling guilt about handing off work. Here are a few ways business owners can learn to delegate:
- Realize your situation has changed. In the early days of a startup, most owners by necessity must manage every aspect of the business. That hyperattention to detail can lead to control-freak tendencies. As you start to grow, understand that your leadership is needed for big-picture ideas, such as setting your company’s direction and landing bigger and better projects, whereas your staff can handle the nitty gritty.
- Develop policies and procedures. Feel your business will fall apart if you take a day off? Then it’s time to develop an operations manual — essentially, written documents that outline business processes so that employees will understand how, exactly, you want things run. If you are worried about stepping back, clear instructions like these will help ensure that employees will perform the job in a manner similar to how you currently do it. For example, you might outline in your operations manual exactly how you handle customer complaints or how you issue refunds or how to close the store at night.
- Hire people who will take ownership of their job. Remember, a goal here is to make yourself replaceable. Look for employees who have an entrepreneurial attitude about work, who are willing to take change of their area of responsibility. That will help you delegate more with ease, as you can trust that employee to propel the company forward.
Looking ahead, Eichhorn aims to sell her company’s baked goods in stores throughout the Los Angeles area as well as get a membership program up and running. But no matter what it takes to achieve those goals, she says owning a business and learning leadership skills like delegation has already transformed her life.
“If you told me 7 years ago that I would be an entrepreneur, I probably would have laughed at you, because there was always this idea that I had to have a boss,” she says, and people who owned companies or held titles like CEO intimidated her. But today, Eichhorn sees the world — and herself — differently. “Being my own boss has allowed me to step into rooms I never would have thought imaginable.”
This post has been updated.