Businesswoman Lisa Firestone is a meticulous planner. When she approached her partners at an employee benefits consulting firm 15 years ago with a buyout offer in hand, she had a resignation letter in the other hand and four months of legal and financial strategizing behind her.
When her buyout offer was rebuffed, she quit and launched her own firm within two weeks. She put her house up as collateral for a bank loan, two key colleagues and almost all of her clients followed her, and her workers' compensation and disability management consultancy, Managed Care Advisors, shot out of the gate.
“One of the best things I did was have a good business plan that I could put in front of a bank and customers,” says Firestone. “I normally think things out pretty thoroughly.”
That cautious planning created a stable company that grew steadily for several years. But Firestone eventually came to see that her extreme caution wasn’t always a positive.
As owner, CEO, and “chief motivational officer,” Firestone says she had been 100 percent hands-on. “I was paying the bills, writing the checks.” When, at the five year mark, Managed Care Advisors started winning government contracts and things really took off “the financial management of the company was getting beyond my level of comfort,” she says.
An advisor recommend that she delegate those tasks in order to focus on clients and business development. But she admits she had a tough time letting go. At first Firestone contracted with a controller, but says, “I wouldn’t even let him work on our real accounting system for a year.”
Eventually, she says, she realized that “there comes a time when an entrepreneur has to dig deep down inside and find those things that you can do that are going to be the most valuable to the company and let some things go.”
What catalyzed her “aha!” moment? “Seeing that potentially I was missing opportunities because I was spending time doing things that were not my expertise,” Firestone says. “Once I was able to do that my company took off.” She also credits “incredible advisors who really pointed me in the right direction and explained to me what this person could do that would have the payoff.”
She brought the controller on full-time and hired a part-time CFO. Now, she says, “they give me the reports I need and my business has never been larger, more profitable, or stronger. We are a very financially strong company because I was able to find people to support me that I could trust to do what they do best.”
For the last several years, Firestone says revenues have jumped at a rate of 30–40 percent per year, and her workforce has grown 400 percent in three years; she now employs 40 people.
Among the other rewards of delegating to a team: Managed Care Advisors was recently named among the Top 50 Women-Owned Businesses in Maryland by DiversityBusiness.com, and in 2011, American Express OPEN named Firestone the 2011 “Teaming Government Contractor of the Year."
Have an Aha moment that pushed your company to a new level? Share it with fellow small business owners in the comments.