The power of reflection: Use these 4 steps to grow a sustainable business

Stefanie Roos du Maine’s JBL&G is growing at a steady pace, and it has been for years. When she took over as CEO, it had 5 employees. Now, the headcount is at 45, while Du Maine, simultaneously runs a second company with 45 freelancers and 3 employees. According to 32 year old du Maine, the biggest challenge the company faces isn’t about employees, but about her role als CEO. “There’s nothing wrong with working 60 hours per week,” she shares, “but for how long will you be happy doing so.”

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Du Maine is in a rare and aspirational position these days. When asked what wisdom she has to share from this experience, du Maine offers the following: “You have to be proactive about creating a sustainable business and to maintain a healthy lifestyle. And realise this takes time.”

So whether you’re in that moment near exhaustion right now – or you’re on your way – keep the following four steps in mind. Du Maine suggests to reflect repeatedly – it’s a continuous process, not a one time thing.

Build structure and focus.

When you hit growth, a lot of unprecedented things start to happen, and you’ll feel like your employees have no guidelines to run on your vision. On top of that, working with many new people who were not there when the company started will create new opportunities that can distract you from reaching your goals.

This is why you need to document tasks that you perform repeatedly in a handbook or protocol. Once they’re written down, you need to make sure they are complete and understable by an outsider. Du Maine speaks to a lot of CEO’s who do things as they go. “They constantly reinvent the wheel. Think about every time you have to introduce a new hire. Using a handbook, you can simply cross off everything that needs to be done before and when a new team member starts.”

This also makes them a useful tool for delegation and structuring your company. Do you need to do everything you currently work on? Or are employees able to execute your responsibilities? “By working on tasks together, or having employees write concepts, you can train them to make sure they perform up to your standard.” And when someone’s not a good fit for a certain task, either reclaim it or move it to another team member. “Just realize there are tasks you needed help with, so don’t expect others to do it by themselves. Employees might also do things differently. But different can still be good, even better maybe.”

You should bake your handbooks into day to day operations and get an outsider’s view to evaluate processes and results. “When businesses grow organically, structures that were logical at first, will make no sense at scale. You are responsible to find ways to increase efficiency. Accept that it’s a process and not everything will work out perfectly from the first try.”

You know you’ve done right by your operating principles when your restlessness rather supports than distracts your employees. Two ways of dealing with restlessness from a CEO’s perspective, as du Maine describes them, are:

  • You don’t have to do new things constantly: “My mind is always on. This used to be difficult for employees, because everything I came up with, they had to execute. Now that I’m not at the office as much as I used to, I realize my team is ambitious enough. It’s not a bad thing to have dreams, but you should also be aware of the present.”
  • Set personal rules: “I will always be restless and I will always have new ideas. It helps to write them down for later. Which follows my personal rule that I don’t have to act on new ideas instantly. Finding balance between your creative flow and hyperfocus is a slippery slope, but one you must cross.”
Amsterdam: drs. Stefanie du Maine, CEO | Directeur Eigenaar JBL&G. COPYRIGHT MARCEL JURIAN DE JONG

Think big

Along with structure comes cosiness. But if you want to grow, you need to think big.

“Growth is a mindset,” says du Maine. “You can earn a decent living as a freelancer, but to grow, you need to do daring things. It’s hard work, otherwise someone else would’ve already done it, but the rewards are so much higher. You’ll run into yourself, more than once. But trust me, it’s all worth it. And once you’ve got a taste, you’ll want more.”

This works for du Maine. But every founder or CEO needs to decide on a specific path that fits their specific goals. “Because we run a sustainable business, we see opportunities previously not available to us. Through stepping back. By not feeling guilty when we’re not pushing, we make sure we’re working on the right things. You don’t want to feel like you’ve worked hard, but when looking back, realizing that it hasn’t resulted in any major changes.”

Critical to the right execution is actually taking the steps, when you know the path. “You have to recognize who you are, what you’re good at, and what’s missing. To really grow you’re going to need others, so find partners and team members that complement your skills and priorities. I used to think everything revolved around me. When I started making lists of tasks we performed as management, we realized others could do a lot of those tasks just as well – I can pretty much guarantee that almost every CEO can delegate more than she or he’s doing now.”

Be transparent

Along with thinking big comes daring to make mistakes. Maybe you piloted 50 projects or just 10 – that’s still enough to pattern match what kind of projects work or what doesn’t for your company. “If you are afraid of making mistakes, you’ll never get anywhere. Take the time to get your team up to speed on your plans and you’ll learn even more. Then show them you make mistakes to make sure they will feel free to do so as well. You’ll be surprised about the results when you give them the autonomy to make mistakes.”

Take care of yourself

Du Maine is a big believer in founders and CEOs working on self care. It’s key. You have to take care of yourself. You are way more productive when you sleep, eat, and work out regularly. Especially starters tend to think they will sleep better if they can just quickly finish this one thing, but the opposite is true. “To make sure you stick by this, set rules for yourself as you would for your employees. When you commit to 3 yoga sessions per week, go to 3 yoga sessions per week. When you value things outside of work, plan things outside of work.”

One of du Maine’s favorite quotes comes from the Dalai Lama, which she believes perfectly fits anyone in a management position: “When you’re happy, you’ll take better care of other people. So wanting to be happy yourself is far from selfish.” “Happiness is not a zero-sum game.”