I’ve had a bad business venture before. It eventually failed. But as we know in the entrepreneurial world, failing is an inevitable part of the journey—it’s what you do with your failure that really counts. And as they say, the lesson we learn in defeat is greater than the lesson we learn in victory. Sad but true.
One of the lessons I’ve learned was that founders should not be inseparable from their project. Although it may sound the natural thing to do, in reality, this is not as obvious as it should be.
There should be a clear distinction; otherwise, we become irreplaceable, and that’s not necessarily good. It’s safe to say the only good way to be irreplaceable is metaphorical: it’s when you’re so good and motivated, and your ideas are so fresh, that your presence makes a big difference. That’s something to aim for.
Now the bad way is literal: you actually cannot be replaced. It’s not great at all when you’re so special to that business that you are always at the center. And I am certainly not saying you should make yourself redundant or be an absent leader, what I am saying is that you should take care that work doesn’t depend entirely on you. When that happens, both suffer.
Your business won’t be able to scale
There is a limit to what you, as a human being, can do. I soon learned mine. I worked hard to grow my project, but once I reached the top of what I, as an individual, could do, scaling beyond that point became harder and harder. Having branches where I couldn’t be present would be impossible for example. We can even overwork because deep down we know a short break during the day will slow processes down. That’s not healthy.
A business that doesn’t work outside of you is always going to have your weak points. When you’re at the center, your limitations become the business’s limitations.
Whatever happens to you affects everything
Hurting your foot becomes a problem when you’re one with work. Being sick for a few days is a terrible moment. And good things such as traveling with family or friends become almost impossible. Everything that’s not working impacts results and brings negative consequences to your business and its reputation.
It should be obvious, but we don’t realize it until it’s too late. It’s only when I felt unwell or wanted some leisure time that I saw the truth: “If I go on vacation, what is going to happen?”, or “The doctor told me I need to stay away from work this week. Now what?”
Forget selling or stepping down
A “bonus” one: you can’t quit without losing. Imagine a cook that is central to her/his restaurant. If that person ever wants to pass the baton and move on with her/his life, that’s not going to be possible because they are essential to the operations. If your business relies too heavily on you, the only way out is to shut everything down.
Please replace me
But there’s hope! With the right mindset, you can establish your business as an independent organism that you are part of—and not the heart of. Some of the lessons I’ve learned might help you. Here they are:
Teach the processes
Like in any small business, I began at the center of it because necessity makes the owner provide the service herself/himself. But that doesn’t mean we should be the only ones to do it. More importantly: it doesn’t mean we have to be the only ones who are able to do it.
Part of a healthy leader mindset is teaching processes and skills to others, so the operation doesn’t depend too much on you. That is good for everyone in fact since your partners/employees will grow with you.
Imagine a baker who excels at making cakes. She starts small, making them in her own kitchen alone and selling them to acquaintances. Her reputation spreads because of the high quality of her cakes (combined with decent marketing) and her quick turnaround. Soon she has a small business delivering cakes and sweets to all sorts of parties and events.
She has two options: train a few helpers to be with her and share the growing workload or stress under the weight of everything. And the sooner she finds and trains helpers the better. The foundation outside of the founder has to come as early as possible.
Surround yourself with capable people
It’s not like you wouldn’t do it anyway. We all need reliable helpers that make our life easier and add value to the group, which involves being able to run the business well enough in case the boss is out.
But surrounding yourself with talented and hard-working staff isn’t going to help if you still want to be in control of everything and oversee every move they make. Trusting is a necessary part of delegating tasks and responsibilities.
Trusting is a key concept because it means more than simply training. You need to teach the processes and empower your helpers to deal with and please customers, even if they ask for the boss. Plus, people like being trusted and grow as a result.
Remember the baker? She is on the right track because she empowered her subordinates to keep going without her. That way business can flow while she goes on a trip to a different country to take skydiving lessons. Her absence might be felt by the customers who knew her personally, but there’ll be no panic because everyone knows what to do and feels capable of doing it.
Don’t forget to outsource
There are multiple benefits to outsourcing, from making sure the elements of the job will be well done by professionals to having more time to focus on your strong points. Another one is the fact that when you outsource an important part of the process, that part will keep going regardless of what happens to you. It’ll no longer be in your hands, after all.
To find out what can be outsourced, you will need to register the work in all of its steps. Then identify which of those steps are important but you are not so good at or that doesn’t demand any particular skill you have. The baker from our story can easily outsource delivery of the final product for most customers and her marketing campaign.
Giant companies such as General Motors have that well figured out. If their CEO spends a week in the hospital because she’s sick, no customer’s vehicle will be prevented from being delivered. That part is not in their control at all.
Applying that logic to small businesses is not that complicated. If it fits in your budget, make sure at least some of the necessary parts of the job that don’t require your skill are someone else’s responsibility.
Are you still in doubt? Test it. Step back while everything is perfectly fine so you can see how things go without your interference. Ideally, businessperson and business should complement one another, but not be one.