A business owner as the business linchpin hasn’t really got a business

The itch for business owners to make their small business big.

My client ran his own business from a young age. Having been brought up by grandparents who made do with next to nothing, it made sense to go out and earn young. For years he had dedicated himself to serving his clients and contracts by going the extra mile. His reputation was second to none.

The company had expanded, profits doubled, quadrupled. The team had grown and so had the deals with the suppliers, the sizes of the contracts that he attracted. He had given people increased responsibility and put structures in place as the years had gone by. But my client remained at the centre of it all. He was still after years in business the person people called, the one with all the answers. Being dedicated, he always answered every query, every call. He was synonymous with his company; they were the same thing in the eyes of an outsider.

As time passed he struggled finding that extra mile in him. He was uninspired. Physically he felt the strain. The business did well but needed him firmly at the helm. Wherever he went he carried the business with him in his mind, unable to get a fresh perspective and constantly managing and putting out fires.

Michael Gerber studied the progression of small companies into big ones carefully. In his brilliant book “The E-myth revisited” he states that it’s extremely difficult for company owners to step back from their “baby”. They become so involved that it becomes a personal endeavour instead of growing a lucrative commercial mechanism. It’s also the reason why some small companies never reach their potential.

I asked my client the following questions, which led to tough but honest conversations:

  • How about I suggest you do not have a business at all?

He carried the operation of the organisation with him wherever he went. The business wasn’t a separate entity. It only functioned well with him as owner/entrepreneur at the centre.

  • What is your exit strategy?

I was quite certain he didn’t have one. Linchpin business owners are so caught up in the day to day and the immediate future that they don’t take the time to plan long term. He was offered money for his company, but it made him feel he needed to protect the company from outsiders (I suggested that that was fine, but only after asking “How much?”)

  • What makes your business stand out from the rest?

Any question to do with his business as a “brand” where tough to answer and not really thought about. He was working IN the business, not ON it.

  • What’s your itch?

He genuinely had no idea. The concept that he could be doing something else in his life other than keep the business moving forward was completely alien to him.

Small successful companies set up with passion and hard work have unbelievable potential to become large lucrative companies. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to sell your soul to the devil, get investors in, behave like a grown-up money-making machine and take the heart out of it. Quite the contrary, those small companies have so much potential because they are founded on the love of doing something, of being in one’s element. That is a key success factor. But as long as the owner remains the linchpin, it’s that very love of running that business that cramps its potential.

There is a natural development. In a successful business it’s important to allow new talent, ideas and innovation to breathe fresh oxygen into the venture. In order to allow this new energy in, it’s essential the core business is a tangible thing written up and decided upon by those who want to future proof it. That way the owner becomes separate from the company and free to navigate the next steps for it, as well as investing in his or her next chapter, whatever that may be.

Are you ready to reinvent, re-shape, innovate and transition your life, your career, your business?

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