There comes a time in every entrepreneur’s journey when they need to take a step back or risk burning out. Karen Auster knows this better than most. After founding the Auster Agency, an experiential marketing firm, the CEO spent 20 years being as hands-on as possible. But as her staff celebrated the big anniversary, Auster found herself less than excited about the next 20 years. She was simply worn out.
“As an entrepreneur, you’re always on the forefront, keeping your finger on the pulse and making sure your team is happy,” she explains. “And at some point, I felt tired. I felt stretched.”
From her airy office in the artsy section of Brooklyn called DUMBO (“Down Under The Manhattan Bridge Overpass”), surrounded by an all-female staff that create events, phenomena and happenings often through pure energy on behalf of America’s premiere brands, Auster came to realize that this way of working wasn’t sustainable. During a strategic planning week at Duke University working alongside other entrepreneurs, this former hippie and school teacher committed to taking a long, hard look at her business to see where she was leaking energy the most. The answer, really, was everywhere. She had her fingers in everything.
“I had to let go,” she reflects. “I was controlling too much.”
Micromanaging wasn’t only having a negative impact on Auster’s lifestyle and spirit. It was also costing her financially, preventing her business from growing beyond what she could personally control.
“My life is large and my dreams are big, but my financial projections were very low,” she says. “That really woke me up.”
After her week meditating on the future of her business, Auster came back to Brooklyn with a new commitment to expanding the business. Within four months she blew herself away, hitting impressive financial goals and pulling herself back from the brink of burnout. Here’s how she did it.
Knowing When To Delegate: Empowering Staff To Help Ease The Burden
The wake-up call about Auster’s financial projections snapped her out of bad habits. She knew that her business’s future hinged on her ability to build a team she could truly delegate to. This would start with a second-in-command.
“I really needed to focus on creating someone who could support me so that I’m working on the business and not in it,” Auster says. “My goal became to quickly hire someone in a number two role.”
Auster had never made an executive hire on this level before. But when she started recruiting, she realized that the right candidate was already on her payroll – in another role.
“It was about trust, and my own trust issues,” she admits. “But I’d worked with this person over the years and she’s never given me a reason not to trust her.”
Having that extra layer of confidence in this employee’s abilities helped the CEO overcome her trust issues and embrace the support.
“I can’t be everywhere,” Auster jokes. “What I say to my number two sometimes in meetings is ‘You’re me!’ because, sometimes I need someone else to be me.”
Getting The Most Out Of Every Employee: Providing The Support Staff Needed To Flourish
Creating the second-in-command position was just the start. Auster, who’s as much den mother as head cheerleader, recently noticed that a high-performing producer was struggling to find joy in her work.
“There was something about her. She didn’t get excited,” Auster says. “It wasn’t the quality of her work – she was a great worker, smart, driven. But I knew she wasn’t satisfied.”
Realizing that the problem wasn’t the employee but the role, Auster decided to take a leap of faith and offer her a new position in business development. Instinctively, she knew the employee would be thrilled at the news and would throw herself into the work.
“The great thing about being an entrepreneur is that you’re really good with your instinct,” Auster says. “I listened to to my gut and I knew they would be excited if I moved them, so I sat and talked with them, and then we pivoted.”
This strategic lateral move helped the company to unlock the employee’s full potential.
“It’s been wonderful to watch her transformation,” enthuses Auster. “I used her strength and enthusiasm to drive outreach – and with my number two supporting her in that, it enables us to close more contracts.”
Hiring from within has been a crucial part of Auster’s strategy from the very beginning. As a female business owner, the CEO works hard to hire and promote women.
“It’s very important for me to be a role model and to mentor women in business,” she says. “That’s always been my driving force – to lead by example.”
Some of the women Auster has coached have gone on to lead organizations. But her proactive approach to mentorship also boosts retention at her company.
“I think a lot of them stay with me because I mentor and make sure they’re using their power,” the CEO reflects. “I am really proud of that. Hiring from within and moving these women up enables them to rise to the occasion. It’s been a gift for me and for them.”
Nurturing Excellence: Encouraging Positivity And Collaboration To Get Results
While internal reshuffling can often result in frustration and resentment, Auster says that sitting down with her people and discussing the changes helped to smooth the transition. Her own enthusiasm was also a crucial factor.
“They were excited to hear me excited about changing and shaking things up,” she recalls. “Positivity begets positivity. My excitement was contagious – and that made me even more excited.”
This reshuffling effort paid off almost immediately. Within the first four months alone, the Auster Agency achieved the same financial goals it had taken the entire previous year to hit – and closed just as many contracts.
With her passion reignited and her business entering a new growth stage, Auster has turned her attention to supporting her team’s personal growth and happiness.
“Nurturing my team is really important because I care about them,” the entrepreneur explains. “I offer a lot of perks and a lot of outings. Something I’m focusing on is team building. I find that the happier the team is, the happier the company is, the happier I am.”
Having confidence in her team and being able to relinquish control of the day-to-day running of things has given Auster the spark she needed to fall in love with her business all over again. Now that her fear of burnout has subsided, she’s ready to search for the next adventure that will drive the Auster Agency to greater heights.
“I’m really happy today. But I’m never truly comfortable with just the status quo,” she reveals. “I like always learning, pivoting. I’m launching a few subsidiary businesses right now, and I’ve created new concepts for other people to develop. I love to test the marketplace.”
We’ll be following Auster’s progress to find out where her new ventures take her – and whether she’s able to resist the lure of micromanaging that all business leaders face.
To listen to my full interview with Karen Auster, click here.