Susanne Evens | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Susanne Evens

Background:  

Based in Chesterfield, Missouri, AAA Translation provides translation, interpretation, marketing and global consulting services to help businesses and organizations thrive in international markets.

The Mistake:

Trying to do it all as a startup founder.

When I started my company, I did everything myself, from marketing to accounting. It's hard when you're a startup, especially when you start without a lot of money. You want to build this business you're passionate about, so you do everything yourself. I used to work seven days a week.

For years, my husband kept pressing me and pressing me to seek help. He has his own business and he said, “Hey, do you want to talk to my accountant and have her do the books and get you away from completely going crazy and being overloaded?”

When I started this business more than 20 years ago, it was really hard to know when to reach out to experts. But it was just getting to be too much, working seven days a week with no free time. And I had a little one then. I thought, “OK something's got to give.” So I said I would speak with his accountant. She was a freelance accountant, so she could pick her clients. Having worked with my husband’s firm, she was open to taking me on.

At that point, I thought, “Why didn't I do this years ago – before I put myself in a time crunch and in such agony?” Because doing the books is not my favorite thing. What I’m good at and what I'm passionate about is going out there and meeting people and talking about how important it is for companies to have their materials localized, translated and ready to be in a global marketplace.

For a while, sales were kind of stagnant because I didn't have enough time to go out and network and sell my business’ services. I was stuck in the office doing the accounting, the PR, the marketing and everything else I eventually outsourced. But the first step was the accounting. It was such a load off my mind and it opened up my weekends again. And, when you do it yourself, you don't do the detailed work an accountant does for you. So having all that organized by an expert really shows you exactly where you're spending too much and where you're spending too little.

If you outsource the things that bog you down and concentrate on what you're good at, the business moves a lot faster.

The Lesson:

If you outsource the things that bog you down and concentrate on what you're good at, the business moves a lot faster. For myself and my businesses, it helped dramatically.

To look at the numbers the way I used to compared with the way I look at them now is like day and night. I know what we need to adjust and what we need to concentrate on. Before, it was kind of like a mini circus. Now, I get a big picture by outsourcing all the things I was spending too much time on. I have all these professional people around me who are good at what they do – marketing, PR, accounting, and I added a business consultant. Just having these people around me as a support system helped grow the company tremendously.

My advice to other startups would be to always start small. I'm all about not taking on debt, but that's just me. I'm originally from Germany, and I think that’s part of why I'm very frugal with what I do. But you can find the right experts to work with you. It's a big jump when you are a small startup to gather people around you. At first, you're thinking, “How am I going to pay these people?” But, over time, it will pay for itself.

Susanne Evens and her company are on Twitter at @AAATranslation.

Photo courtesy of AAA Translation.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email cberman@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's St. Louis.