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Emma Learns to Empower: Hiring People and Streamlining Production

May 09, 2018

Emma had always been a creative person. 

In elementary school she always looked forward to art class. It didn't matter what the assignment was, Emma took it a completely different direction.

She remembers when she was in second grade all the students were supposed to create a windmill with a drinking straw and a folded paper propeller. Emma's windmill ended up being an animated work of art. When the wind blew, Emma's windmill showed an animated cat swatting at a ball of yarn. It had twice the propeller blades as other kids and the artwork was impeccable.

It was no wonder that Emma ended up being a high-end cookie designer. At first, she wanted to make a little extra money on the side as a stay-at-home mom. When her friends referred her to their friends and those friends referred her to their friends; she suddenly got buried. As she still felt faithful to being a mom who was present for her kids, she started turning away orders.

When her kids started school full-time, she began making designer cookies full-time. After a year of growing her micro-business, she was miserable. 

Once upon a time, the artwork was fun; and she was excited with the oohs and aahs she got from her friends; but now, it seemed like she was doing a lot of work trying to fill order after order after order. She had an assistant who would ship all of her orders. She had completely outsourced her website so that she didn't have to deal with order taking. She even hired a full time book keeper. In total, she had four employees in addition to herself. The problem was that she still had to design and frost all the cookies.

It was a Monday evening at the dinner table. Emma had received  the list of orders she would have to fill for the week earlier that day. It was overwhelming.

Emma decided to vent, "Jim, I'm going to quit the cookie business."

Jim was Emma's husband. They didn't really need the extra income; but it seemed nice to think that he could retire from his sales career early, if Emma made it big.

Jim responded, "What has brought this on?"

"There's no way I can keep up this pace. I'm the only one who is decorating cookies. We continue to get more and more orders; and I can't work any harder than I am."

"I'm going to support you in whatever you decide, honey. I'm wondering if there was a way you could get help, wouldn't that allow you to stop working so hard?"

"Jim, I appreciate your support. I don't think you understand. If I hire someone else, what could I have them do? Few people have my talent for cookie decorating; and the ones that do have their own style. It wouldn't be the same."

"My boss was struggling at work a while back. He was working super hard. Then he hired this business coach, and now he hardly comes into work."

"With all due respect, Jim. Your boss is not a creative person. I'm guessing he could find hundreds of people that did what he did."

"Like I said. I'll support you in whatever you decide. Let me know if you want this business coach's contact information."

"Thanks, honey."

That evening, Emma felt committed to filling the rest of her orders and letting her staff know she was going to quit. Then it struck her, "I'll have to fire people." The notion of quitting seemed appealing until she considered what it would do with the rest of her staff. She decided to get the contact information for the business coach, Jim had, and see if he had some way she could continue her business and not work so hard.

That Saturday, Emma called the business coach. He called himself Coach Russ. Emma felt this guy must have an ego problem if he has to create some pseudo name. Why couldn't he just be called by his first name?

After the pleasantries, Russ started the conversation, "So, what brings you to me?"

Emma got right to the point, "I have a cookie business. I do all of my cookie designs and I am burned out. I can't do it anymore."

Russ responded, "What's preventing you from quitting?"

Emma was a little surprised. If this, Coach Russ, wanted a client, it seemed like he should be convincing her to stay in business. Otherwise, she wouldn't need him.

Emma responded, "I guess I don't want to let my staff down. They are such hard workers and good people, I don't want to fire them."

"Got it. Letting people go is quite difficult. But you can't do something you don't want to do just to make the lives of others easier."

Emma was quiet, so Russ added, "I want you to give this next answer plenty of thought. Tell me, what motivation do you personally have to keep your business going?"

After a brief pause, Emma answered, "I suppose it wouldn't be so bad, if I didn't work so much."

"Rather, than simply making your life not so bad; what would it take to make your business highly fulfilling to you?"

Russ could hear a slight jitter in Emma's voice as she answered, "I always wanted my cookies to be world-famous. I thought I could make a lot of money so that Jim didn't need to work so hard. I even thought, I could make so much money that I could help some worthy charities."

"I'm hearing some emotion in your voice. Tell me where that's coming from?"

"I'm a failure! Don't you understand! There's no way I can work harder; and I'm not really making that much money now. I was stupid to think my cookie designing business could be anything more than a hobby."

"Emma, it's perfectly understandable that you are disappointed that things are not going the way you want right now. What if things went exactly the way you wanted?  Tell me what your life would be like? And what would your business be like?"

"What's the point? It can't happen."

"We have several more minutes left on this call. I want you to tell me, what your life would look like if it COULD happen."

"I suppose that I would have time to spend with my family; and my cookie business would be cranking out thousands of custom designer cookies."

"Awesome! Tell me, how will you get to this ideal place in your life?"

"You're cruel, Russ. You know that's impossible."

"I know no such thing. I've seen hundreds of business owners accomplish the very thing you just said that you wanted."

"Yeah, but how many of those business owners designed their own cookies?"

"None. However, many were in your same situation. They felt like no one could do what they could do; and so they convinced themselves they couldn't find skilled help to help them create their product for their customers. They were limited by themselves."

"How can I get someone to copy my designs? I do something different every time based on the order I get."

"My sense is that you won't find someone who can copy your designs; but you may find someone who can do your cookie designs better than you."

Emma felt insulted now, "What? I'm pretty good at what I do."

"I'm sure that you are, Emma. There's a point in every business owners tenure where they need to decide whether they will continue to do the work of their business; or grow their business. The vision that you described to me was that of a successful business owner; not a successful cookie designer."

There was a pause in the conversation. Emma thought, "He's right. The vision I described did not have me doing cookie design at all. A machine or another person was doing all of the work."

Russ asked, "So, what do you want to be? A hobby cookie designer who does cookies every now and then for her friends; or an entrepreneur who takes her business to the level described in her vision?"

Emma felt confident in her answer, "I want to be an entrepreneur. I want my cookies to be known throughout the world."

"Great!  Then we have a lot of work to do. Are you ready?"

"I am."

Emma had a phone call with Russ each Sunday evening. Each evening, Russ would ask Emma what she wanted to work on. During their call, Emma would battle with her old way of doing things; and at the end of the call, Emma would get homework to work on the following week.

It was hard at first, but Emma hired another cookie designer. She was an art student who had a similar passion for doing creative designs. 

As ordered increased on their web site, Emma hired two more cookie designers. Russ had convinced Emma that she didn't need to do any cookie designs at all. It was her job to make sure the cookie designs were acceptable.

Russ taught Emma how to empower her artists to be creative with their designs. Her designers created a system where they would share their ideas and develop distinct styles that were unmistakably Emma's.

When their capacity was getting strained, Emma hired a business manager who managed their entire operation. She gave the business manager the charge to open up multiple locations to streamline production and reduce shipping costs to major urban centers.

The remarkable thing was that as her cookie design company grew, Emma was getting more and more time to spend with her family. Jim, was excited to tell his boss that he wanted to transition from a full time salesman to a part-time sales consultant. When his boss expressed concern about Jim's healthcare benefits and income; Jim responded, "Hey, boss. I really don't need to work at all. Emma's cookie business is giving us plenty of income."


About Jeff Schuster

As a business coach and 30-year business veteran, I help my business owner clients change their mindset in a way that allows them the freedom and profitability they’ve always hoped for, but never thought possible. If you’d like to develop a successful business mindset, I offer online training along with individual and group coaching sessions.


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