Our company is going through the biggest change of any growing business. I know there are many ways of phrasing it but I am calling it the “Business Owner Role Transition” and to me, it is the pivotal point for any small business owner that is growing. Many will feel caught in a trap right before or during this part. Many will sell their business when the end reward is just in front of them. They aren’t quitters but quit anyway as they don’t feel they can do it and they really can with that extra needed “push”. Many will not talk to others in the same spot and lock themselves into silos rather than reaching out and talking with those people – not friends, other businesses that you may consider competitors. I also see it as the hardest point in my 30 years of working.
In business, we make some serious decisions that define who we are, who we are not, and define our companies that we are building. I thought it was hard, adding our first employee was hard, and even our first (and last) price increase was hard. So why is this transition I believe harder than all of these when in the end my “workload” will be easier (yet harder – yeah that makes sense!).
A great place to start is looking at ten major milestones in the company’s history:
- Starting out – Opting to leave the corporate world took over a year of planning preparation, and budget cuts so that I could afford to take the leap.
- Buying out my friend – As the business added it’s the fifth client we had a differing opinion on what direction to go. One would make a ton of money and the other would but take 10-times longer. I wanted the longer path while he wanted the quicker path. I agree the quicker path would allow the shorter path but was a role that I had previously done and one I no longer wanted to do. We tried it for a few months and it wasn’t feeling right. Perfect business partner, yes. Perfect direction for the company, no.
- Moving to an office (co-working space) – When we started because our model is capable of being 100% virtual I said we would never (worst word ever!) get a physical building. Clients wanted to meet and although coffee shops worked (they still do and where I am typing this) there are many times you need to meet in private. There were problems (beyond space pains) that forced us to move.
- First price increase – While in the co-working space our prices went from virtually none (laptops) to a ton and we needed to increase our prices. I knew we were undervalued in price (and still feel we should charge more today but know our model is to help those just getting started so I am fine with that).
- Adding our first employee – When you are barely paying yourself hiring someone and taking a pay cut to bring on this helper was tough. Figuring out “who” and what role to fill out what equally hard. Do I have someone that compliments me or someone that fills a void? I chose the void part.
- Not hiring key people – We all have morals and beliefs that define us. I had several people come and want a job with me. The problem was they were working at the company’s we were also working with. I told them if they were with a company we worked with we wouldn’t even talk. Months passed and many of those people quit their job not even knowing if I would hire them or if they would have a paycheck anytime soon. Some we did hire while others we didn’t. Those business owners (multiple businesses) though were very unwise business owners. They severed business relationships that benefited them and now hurt them, helped other businesses grow (as we aligned with other businesses), and have no clue where their system was, and still is, broke as we still get resumes from all of those.
- Firing clients – One of the hardest things to do was fire clients. Some, thankfully, left before we could sit down with them. They were not our type of client. They either wanted us to run their business and handoff (e.g. they already wanted the Business Owner Role Transition), hired us to be an expert but dismissed every suggestion we offered, or just didn’t fit our model of who our ideal customer is (which took some time [couple of years] to truly define).
- Putting the offer in and purchasing our permanent office – There were many reasons we needed a dedicated space for ourselves, but we will cover the we were adding team members and the space we had couldn’t handle what we needed. This gave us 10X more space while only increasing our monthly expenses by about 18%.
- Adding our first developer – You could say this was the start of the role transition. Being I have been the primary developer hiring a developer started this process. If that’s the case, then this article isn’t about four months to transition but several years (heed that information business owners as it is critical and the key to remember this transition).
- Adding our first project manager – This I feel was the final step needed to be able to make this transition. The role is important as it is designed to keep me out of the day-to-day meetings. Some weeks I still have more than 30 hours of meetings, but we are working on getting that to five hours per week and soon 0 hours per week. I had hoped this would’ve already happened after several months but seems as far away today as it did a few months ago.
You will see from above I left off this Business Owner Role Transition as it is just starting (even though I said it started years earlier – I just didn’t realize it), and I feel it will take more than four months to just get started to reach the manageable place it needs to be for it truly to be considered a “transition”.
The next good place to start is what is this transition and how do I see it (today) evolving:
- Less meetings with clients and being out in public more:
- Business events – Outside of what is below will involve more business events and meetings which will involve becoming more involved with my local community.
- Chamber events – We are members of some of the best chamber of commerce in the nation yet every day I have a chamber event planned I have to evaluate on not meeting with a client to attend the chamber event. Sadly (for the chamber) is the client will always win.
- Speaking events – I already do free, and paid, speaking events throughout the year. Talking on all topics from business, search engine optimization (SEO), social media, digital marketing, and more. I just turned down one that I wanted to go to extremely badly but prior commitments won out. I am sure I will go to that event in a year but maybe or maybe not as a speaker.
- More visionary – This is where I see the majority of my time evolving to. This is where I take the current vision and evolve it into the national footprint I foresee the company going. We already do some business nationally (and internationally) but not to the degree I know we can.
- More team training – Our team is truly awesome in the areas they are in. They need to understand the bigger picture that is currently involved and helping each of them grow will be a huge shift and growth for the company.
With any change, there are hurdles in business. These changes by themselves are simple yet complex from a business standpoint. To me, this is where a company will either make a wise decision or an unwise one and opt to quit, sell or stop taking on clients. Selling, quitting, or stopping our growth is nowhere in our sites and we are making steps to make this happen. Here is what we are doing to achieve this:
- Project Manager – Her role is to cut out my meetings allowing me to
- Figure out who our customers are.
- Are they only going to work with me or are they willing to work with an entire team?
- Those that will only work with me and refuse to work with the team we are helping them find new company’s that are smaller and they can get that direct owner touch they want.
- Redefining Company Roles – The next step is we are looking at every role in the company and what roles we are missing. We have even started to be more transparent and clear on what roles we are adding. Rather than hiring established experts in the field are looking at the unsung talent and bringing team members in as interns first to help cultivate their knowledge and use their talents to fill the spots we want to grow in. This does keep costs lower but more importantly, you get access to talent that many businesses ignore as they might not have as much real-world experience that is needed. Will they leave us, possibly, but we know we are awesome and have more benefits than most companies double our size.
- Adding Company Roles – Where team members are currently doing two roles we are putting them into the role they want and bringing in others for the newly created roles under the person that was already doing that role to make certain that it is done the right way.
You can see from the above this isn’t a “lot” of stuff to do but takes as much preparation and planning as any other change in a company. This transition I keep calling the “fire the owner” and “replace the owner” roles so that the company is less reliant on the owner which I feel, and know from talking with other business owners, is the right thing to do. Many business owners won’t see that and why we will lose them. Those that do will appreciate it more as they know that this not only will help us serve them better but also they will get even more value from us as rather than relying on a single person you will have an entire team that will help their business grow and allow them to transition into the Business Owner Role Transition that we are going through ourselves.
In fact, I can see talking with many of those business owners and those that might see us as competitors to help them grow. There is enough work on this planet for countless businesses and the only one’s any of us should see as true competitors are the multi-billion dollar companies that raise their prices to make their stock/share holders happy. I am not saying there is nothing wrong with big business just that we solely focus on small business and as such you should always set your sites big while going at a manageable pace that doesn’t break or shutdown your company.
I would love to hear from you on this as I know to me this is a “big deal” and one I am looking forward to while also being scared of. Transitions, new chapters, and the unknown is always a scary place. This though is what I feel makes you stronger, better, and able to truly change the world in a good and positive way.