I’ve met hundreds of small business owners, but I’ve yet to meet one who set out to become ‘The Boss’. And very few who positively enjoy the role they’ve found themselves playing. And surprisingly often, the experience of being ‘The Boss’ is so painful that business owners go back to being the one-man-band they started out as.
Why is that?
It’s not that small business owners are lazy, or afraid, or unambitious or unrealistic. We embrace the challenges of starting a business – the hard graft, the long hours, and the uncertainty of income. We relish the responsibility to clients and the need to exceed expectations. We knew this was part of starting a business, it’s what we wanted – the possibility to get more out of work than the means to live. To have autonomy over our decisions, to be our own boss.
What is it then?
When you first start your small business that autonomy is there. You are in total control. You make all the promises. You keep them. You’re able to do the job you want to do, the way you think it should be done, the way you know is better for clients. And by doing that well, you get to take your fair share of the rewards that result.
At some point you realise you’re doing a great job, because clients come back again and again, and refer their friends. If you want to keep them happy, you need to add more capacity.
At first, this is relatively straightforward to do, because you can offload jobs or functions that are self-contained and easily defined such as bookkeeping or accounting, or telephone answering and diary management. Once they’ve been offloaded, you can pretty much forget about them.
There comes a point though, where this approach no longer works. It’s no longer possible to simply hand-off the things you shouldn’t be doing, you need to get more people doing the things you should be doing. You need people to stand in for you. To behave towards prospects or clients as if they were you.
And unless you’re lucky enough to have friends or family who share your values, your purpose and your philosophy, finding people to do this turns out to be really hard to achieve.
It’s hard enough to find the ‘right’ people in the beginning, even harder to find more of them as you grow. And when you think you have found them, they turn out to have completely different ideas about the promises the business makes and how to keep them. They just don’t do things the way you think they should be done. They need watching, correcting, controlling until they get it right. And just when you think you’ve cracked it, one of them leaves and you have to start again.
It’s exhausting, frustrating and all-consuming, because although you can now share the physical or mental technical work involved in delivery, you’ve also at least doubled the emotional labour – the part that really matters to the client, the part they pay extra for.
The upshot of all this is that you spend far too much of your time ‘managing’ – monitoring what other people are doing and how they’re doing it, instead of working on your business. I’ve even known business owners actually do (or re-do) their teams’ jobs for them, as well as their own.
This isn’t why you started your business. You wanted to take control of your own destiny, to make your own unique dent in the universe. The last thing you wanted was to become the kind of micro-managing, control-freak Boss you hated, in a business that is running you.
There is a way to escape from this trap you’ve made, without killing yourself or your business in the process – to make ‘the Boss’ part of you disappear.
My aim with this monthly newsletter is to show you how.