Gini Dietrich

The American Dream: Growing a Business

By: Gini Dietrich | September 20, 2010 | 

This was first published on Mark Schaefer’s blog, Businesses Grow. So if you’ve already read it there, it won’t hurt my feelings if you ignore me today.

Ah…the American dream. We all want to work for ourselves, in some fashion. If we work for The Man, it’s to have autonomy to do what we think best for the company. If we work for ourselves, it’s to have work/life balance and the flexibility to come and go as we please. But the ultimate American dream is to grow a business so we can make a gazillion dollars and have all of the joys of balance, doing what we think is best, and flexibility. Right?  Wrong.

Growing a business is hard work. It’s the hardest work you’ll ever do. A lot of us start businesses because we’re really good at our trade and because we see value in doing things differently, but can’t affect change working for The Man. What we don’t realize is that, once you decide to grow a business, you no longer are good at your trade – you must become good at being a company grower. You don’t realize that you now work for many people – employees, clients, partners, and vendors. You don’t work for yourself. And figuring out how to grow a business is not an easy thing, unless you have some crack idea (Facebook) that catches on despite your lack of business acumen.

For the rest of us, however, designing business growth is just that – a carefully calculated plan. And, if you’re a typical entrepreneur, calculation, attention to detail, and planning are not in your vocabulary.  You’re great at the big picture, innovative ideas, and leading people toward the vision, but you’re terrible at process, procedures, managing, and standards.

Which brings me to a growing pain I am experiencing right now at Arment Dietrich: Creating process and holding people accountable to the bigger picture. It’s very uncomfortable and completely out of my capability…which means it’s hard work. Really hard work.

Deep down I know that I’ve gotten the business to the size I can get it alone. I also know that to create sustainable growth that isn’t totally reliant on me, there have to be some standards of work that create consistency. And I know people just need to know what the expectations are so they can reach (or, ideally, exceed) them.

So why is this so darn hard?

Sure, it’s easier for me to fix a situation when a client is upset. Sure, it’s easier for me to write a strategy brief than to spend time coaching my team. Sure, it’s easier for me to find a new client to make up for the gap in our budget forecast. So, then, why do we have staff? Why am I growing a business that is sustainable and not reliant on me? Oh yeah…because easier doesn’t mean better.

So here I go. I’m holding people accountable. I’m following a carefully designed process for our staff meetings, for individual meetings, and for client meetings. I’m communicating over and over and over and over and over again our vision. I’m realizing this isn’t about Gini Dietrich, but is about the business. I’m empowering people to follow their ideas through to the end. I’m being totally transparent about our financials so everyone has a stake in the game. And, together, we’re going to grow this thing into a force to be reckoned with…no matter how hard or uncomfortable it makes me. The comfort will come as I continue on my journey of turning from a great communicator to a better company grower.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • You’re an inspiration Gini. Your words convey the depth of your personal investment in Arment Dietrich.

    • Samantha, I get to see you next week! Over a glass of wine I’ll tell you what it’s REALLY like!

  • I did read it on the other site – but I still red every word again… great post! 🙂

    • Shelly, no wonder I beat you at Words. I know how to spell “read.”

      • But RED is still a word!! (but 🙁 you are right …. lol

  • Whoa, now! I think you skipped over one step here – maybe you didn’t recognize it because you’re so good at it.

    Just *starting* your own biz is a big challenge! My clients do not in any way want to hear about how shy I am and how I stutter on the phone unless I’m well scripted and all that other nonsense.

    I can do the work, oh yes. But having the skills to sell myself is another problem altogether. And if, [Lord, help me!] I get to the stage where I have a business to grow I’ll be having all the same issues you are right now!

    Can we just say that running your own business is all about constantly learninng, growing, and doing things even when you’re really bad at them (at first)? 🙂

    • Erik, starting a business isn’t hard. Sorry.

      HA! Just kidding! I always say the hardest part about starting your own business is making the decision to do it. And you’re right…it’s constantly learning, experimenting, and hoping people have patience with you when you fail multiple times a day.

  • I would NEVER ignore you.

    I have read this post before, but it’s valuable to read again. I have gone through most of The issues you mention and, although, I didn’t handle them well the first go around, if I take the step into running my own business again, I have wealth of knowledge and experience on what not to do next time.

    Thanks, again, for the words of wisdom.

    You went third person on us, “it isn’t about Gini Dietrich” Nice!

    • Kev, we should write a book. And you should let me buy a case of wine already.

      • Kevin

        Yes, I’m still up for that, and OK…soon.

  • I think you hit a lot of good points here Gini. I’m now in my 13th year of business (wow, that just makes me feel really old) and I certainly struggled with delegating for a LONG time. It’s easier now for me to delegate, the problem I have today is letting my employees fail. You view their failure as a failure of your company. But let’s be honest, the best CEO’s are the ones that have some failures under their belts. They have hopefully learned from their mistakes and they become better leaders because of it. It’s the same thing with your staff. For them to become better employees, they need to fail, they need to feel your wrath, and then, hopefully, they will become better employees. Of course, when your business is larger it’s easier to do that, but I realize for a small organization one mistake can be a death blow. So, the challenge is finding the balance I suppose.

    As always, excellent blog post! 😉

    • Dallas, isn’t it nice you started a business when you were 15? I wish all of us were that lucky!

      You’re absolutely right about letting employees fail. It’s so hard because you really want to jump in and save them, but you have to let them do it themselves.

      When I was 25 years old (last year), I made a really bad mistake. It was the first time we’d printed URLs on client materials and the printer transposed some letters and I didn’t notice it during the print check. We printed the collateral. $60,000 worth. And it was all wrong. We had to have it re-printed at our cost. Instead of firing me, my boss said, “Bet you won’t make that mistake again, will you?” I never did. And I like to think I give my team the same opportunity to fail…to never make the same mistake twice.

  • Gini,
    As always, you’re an inspiration to all small business owners. Bravo, and thanks for your candor.

  • It really is a shame we didn’t meet a few years ago–I would have loved to work for an agency like yours when life was different for me.

    And remember, if it’s hard, it usually means *you’re* growing.


  • Sarah

    Hi Gini,

    Great post! I’m actually part of a integrated agency staff that is doing the same thing… implementing process, better accountability, etc. in order to grow. The beginning was a bit painful/choppy, but it’s already obvious that as we get a hang of it, it’s going to make a big difference. Good luck!

    • Sarah – I meant to respond to this the other day, but your comment really resonated with me. Thank you! We’re in the painful/choppy part, but I keep telling myself that Sarah said it’s going to make a big difference. 🙂

  • I know we’ve had this conversation before, but yes–it’s hard adjusting from the vision and the strategy to the nitty gritty. I find that all I’m doing no is creating procedures and processes–totally not my favorite activities, but very valuable ones. Since I can’t clone myself, I have to make things replicable. And everything is a teachable moment.

    I’m growing very quickly, and I’m struggling with how people can get the same experience and service, even if they’re not dealing directly with me 100% of the time. Growing pains, I call it.

    Nice to have friends and mentors like you to chat with about the ups and downs of this business!

  • Big difference isn’t there Gini between starting a business, growing that business and then sustaining that growth over time to develop a great agency. Each phase requires different leadership skills and, frankly a different attitude towards leadership.

    What I often see in my work with agency leaders is a failure to successfully sustain growth. Sustaining growth and creating a great agency is perhaps the most difficult and often requires leaders to do some real hard work on themselves. And, change from within is often the hardest part of building a great firm.

    • George, HUGE difference! I was just talking to our COO yesterday about how hard it is holding people accountable, not making decisions for them, and empowering them to fail. It’s a pretty big shift in how we’ve done business and people are really fighting me. It would be much easier to just give in, but I am keeping my eye on the vision and telling myself that this won’t last long. Soon everyone will be happy with how quickly we’re moving forward because of this change. And you’re right…the hardest part is the change within me.

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