- Ellen Marie Bennett was a line cook in 2012 when she started her apron business with $500.
- Hedley & Bennett is now a multi-million dollar company outfitting chefs like Martha Stewart and Matt Horn.
- Five takeaways from Bennet’s new book can help leaders avoid micromanaging as their businesses grow.
- This article is part of a series called “Secrets of Success,” which examines specific leadership tips from prominent business leaders.
Ellen Marie Bennett was a line cook at Bäco Mercat in Los Angeles when she plunged into entrepreneurship on a whim. She’d excitedly promised her boss, Chef Josef Centeno, she’d make 40 aprons for his staff in four weeks. The only problem was that she’d never designed or made an apron before.
The aprons she delivered a month later weren’t perfect – she would have to take them back to make improvements – but she met the deadline. And it was just what she needed to jumpstart her dream and turn $500 in savings into an apron company that’s outfitted celebrity chefs like Martha Stewart, Chrissy Teigen, and Matt Horn.
In her new book “Dream First, Details Later,” Bennett details her entrepreneurial journey, from developing her first apron to growing her company, Hedley & Bennett, which currently has 30 employees. (The company declined to share revenue figures, but the book describes it as a multi-million dollar company.)
Bennet gives five tips for leaders to avoid micromanaging as they scale and trust their teams to make things happen.
Trust your team and let them do what they’re good at
After working tirelessly to build their business, a founder may be tempted to continue taking on every responsibility and decision. But as teams and operations expand, a leader must let go. A big step for Bennett’s growth as a leader was to stop worrying about the things she no longer needed to take care of. Instead of jumping in to fix a problem herself, she delegates it to the right person who can fix it.
“Trying to do everything, or be involved in everything, will only keep the focus away from the areas that I do best and that really matter for me to tackle,” she says, “and it would also prevent the other members of my team from growing into their roles.”
Your role as the company’s leader is less about the day-to-day decisions and more about supporting and empowering your employees. You lead the vision; they execute it through their talent and perspective.
“Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve come to realize that all of the upgrades you make in a company only work if you trust the people doing the work on the ground,” she says.
Bennett recalls a busy Black Friday in 2019 when the company doubled orders from the previous year. Despite everyone in the headquarters scrambling around, most employees didn’t need her help when she offered it. Her team often told her, “No, we’ve got it,” or “We’re good on this.” She hovered around, waiting to be needed, until she realized she could trust them – they had it covered.
Spend less time trying to fix things
Stepping back helped Bennett see where she could be more valuable to her team. Once she let go that Black Friday, she was able to zoom out. “I could see more things because I wasn’t so fixated on fixing things all the time,” she wrote.
She turned her focus to the things she’s good at, like telling the story of her product, designing the product, and motivating others.
Train employees to problem solve on their own
Hedley & Bennett uses a few strategies when building its staff, starting with an onboarding deck that explains what they do and the deeper “why” behind the company. Each employee is given a 90-day plan for their role so they know how their work affects the business. Managers meet with their reports in weekly one-on-ones to ensure everyone is on track and clearly communicate expectations.
Training employees gives them the understanding and practice to put out fires themselves so they don’t need to rely on you. “Rather than maintaining a hand in every department or possible position, I accepted that we’d taught the team the ropes, so they could be brilliant problem solvers on their own,” Bennett writes.
Help employees improve when they aren’t hitting the mark
Bennett writes that stepping back from task management helped her understand her role to support and believe in her employees. When hiring and building her team, she designated “swim lanes” so that everyone’s expectations for their roles are clear. And if an employee seems to be struggling to meet those expectations, then it’s an opportunity for her to help them in another direction.
“When someone isn’t able to handle their role, either help them to improve, or give them the support to transition into something they’d be happier doing, and find the person who’s cherry-picked for the job,” she writes.
Continue learning and improving
Once you’ve reached a high level of success in your business, it may feel like you’ve learned everything you can, but Bennett found her entrepreneurial journey would continue to evolve and challenge her.
“This can be an uneasy endeavor when you realize that some of the things that got you from Point A to Point B aren’t going to get you the rest of the way,” she writes. “Each day, the adventure presents fresh sinkholes.”