From "Solopreneur" to Multi-Person Business: A Fort Collins Startup Week Panel

From "Solopreneur" to Multi-Person Business: A Fort Collins Startup Week Panel

Posted on March 03, 2017 Mary Merritt

One of the best parts about getting older is that, at some point, you start gaining more perspective on the importance of TIME. It's the one thing that you can't save, and even the richest, most powerful people in the world can't cheat it. This idea drives home the importance of utilizing time wisely, and staying focused on what it is we are actually trying to accomplish in this short, yet amazing lifetime. So when I was asked to be on a discussion panel for Fort Collins Startup Week, I pondered: "Will I be able to offer ACTUAL value to the attendees?"

The answer in my head quickly shifted into the "YES" category. Sure, my time is important, but these folks are going to come to a panel expecting to walk away with newly-gained knowledge. I surely didn't want to waste anyone else's time - as I am starting to understand it's the most expensive currency in the universe. So as it went, I decided to participate in the panel with 4 other amazing business owners in the community that I call home.

The panel was titled: "Solopreneur to Multi-Person Business." This event was essentially a platform for us (the panelists) to describe our journey from running a solo business by ourselves, and the transition to hiring employees and allowing our businesses to grow. Understanding how to sustain a business with employees takes a lot of grit and gumption, and I was very excited to be able to tell an educational tale.

During my speaking time frame, I hit on the following topics:

1. Why are you even in your business?

Since life is indeed very SHORT, this is an important question. What do you want in this lifetime? What are you trying to accomplish? I explained to the audience that there is a higher platform I am trying to achieve in life, and starting NerdyMind was the first step in reaching that platform. In business, sports, relationships, school,'s always a great thing when you can understand your goals and where you are trying to go. It makes your road map easier to draw. So essentially I wanted to impart the importance of the WHY. When you are trying to grow your business and expand with additional employees, that decision should be directly related to your larger life goals. One person said to me: "So you started a business so you could work less? That doesn't make any sense." Silly rabbit, if you build a business that runs itself, then you've achieved pure entrepreneurial mastery. It doesn't happen right away, but that's the investment that I am making. Sure, it's a gamble, but we're entrepreneurs. We gamble.

2. Let's move past the mushy stuff: Your organizational design...what does it look like?

So once I got past all of my "hippy-dippy" stuff - I started talking brass tax. The importance of thinking through your organizational design can't be overstated. You don't want to get too far into the weeds with this stuff when you're just hiring your first employee, but doing some simple organizational modeling is a seriously helpful exercise. Are you going to have a core team in-house and then expand and reduce with contractors to match the ebb and flow of your business? Or are you going to build an in-house staff? What does the departmental model look like? This was fun to talk about because my strange, logical, engineering side was coming out for everyone to see. While I do confuse people with my bizarre split personality, I explained that you NEED to strengthen the engineering side of your brain if you are going to run a business with multiple people and many moving parts.

3. What does your financial literacy look like?

Boy, this is a scary question. When I first started NerdyMind, I had NO IDEA how to read a profit & loss statement. I had no idea how to read an income statement. Of course, I quickly learned all of these things because I am extremely blessed to have the best business mentors in the world (not an over exaggeration by any means). However, not everyone is so lucky. During my speaking opportunity, I made sure that everyone understood how important it is to understand your business' financials. I discussed the importance of building up the company's cash reserves FIRST, and how profitability will come naturally if you focus first and foremost on cash. Someone did ask: "How much cash?" I am a bit conservative, but I answered by stating that 3 months of operating expenses always makes me feel warm and cozy. Of course there was a joke or two in there about not buying a Porsche when you make your first $200,000 in gross revenue. It's an easy trap to fall into if you don't have someone keeping you in line.

4. Delegation - you're probably not good at it yet.

The most important thing to remember when you are starting to hire people is delegation. If you have always worked by yourself, then you might not be great at this...YET. During the event, I was able to speak about how hard it was for me to truly trust and believe that someone else could do the job better than me. Admittedly, there was some EGO getting in my way when I first started the business. However, as I matured and was coached through a few tough lessons, I realized that delegation is quite the blessing. The panel group was surprised to hear that I got addicted to delegation, especially once I discovered that it's highly connected to my personal goals.

5. Your business processes are incredibly important.

If you've decided to hire employees on, then you've decided to grow your business. Process should run the business and people should run the processes. If you don't have a documented, disciplined process for your different base business operations...then you're not going to be able to scale. These are living, breathing documents that need to change regularly - consistently auditing and updating your business processes will set you on the right path. During the panel, I didn't touch on this as much - but only because another panelist was hitting on the importance of process already (and they did a great job of explaining why it is important, too).

6. "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."

One of the other brilliant panelists mentioned this quote, and it will stick with me for a while. I did talk about the importance of having a "high voltage culture" during my speaking opportunity. In the end, you need motivated, smart, responsible, confident, authentic, nice people in your business. You can have the most solid business strategy in the world, but your TEAM is what brings the strategy to fruition. So if you don't have a great team, then your business strategy will start to unravel. The statement: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast" simply means that business owners should take a closer look at the health indicators of the company's culture. During the event, one other panelist told a story about how he had terminated someone who was acting as a 'cancer' of sorts within his culture. After he removed this person, his business saw a mysterious lift in revenue.

After all of the speakers were done, we opened the session up for questions. We had amazing questions from a wide variety of local business owners in Fort Collins and beyond. It was SUCH an amazing time - and I ended up learning a few really great lessons from the other panelists (and some of the audience members as well). So going back to the concept of TIME and how precious it is, I thought this was a grand use of my time during Fort Collins Startup Week, and I really hope that the audience walked away with great ideas.