A lot of people think that if you’re good at what you do, becoming a successful entrepreneur is easy. Yet the statistics show that 80% of small businesses fail during the first five years, if not the first three.
Have you ever wondered what it is that keeps a business going? When I struck out on my own I thought it was enough to be good at my profession.
Come on, it’s not such a stupid thing to think, right? Maybe you’ve even found yourself saying to a friend who’s an excellent baker, ‘Wow, with your talent you could do this professionally!’
Or perhaps she’s already doing it professionally, but for someone else, so you said to her, ‘You’re so good at what you do – why not go into business yourself?’ This is where things start to go wrong!
I don’t want to be negative. It’s true that technical skills are necessary. However, alone they are not enough, and it would be a fatal error to think that they are. Avoid this error right from the start.
Technical skills and the skills you need to make a business work are two completely separate things.
As explained in the superb book The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, every business goes through three phases: infancy, adolescence and maturity. Just like a human being.
Unfortunately, though, many businesses don’t get any further than the adolescent phase.
THE INFANT BUSINESS
During the initial phase, you and your business are a single entity. You’re one being. This is the stage when you’re in love, overcome with passion. At this point everything that happens within the business is done by you.
For example, let’s suppose that you’ve gone into business as a patissier. During this stage you prepare the dough, decorate the pastries, work the till, do publicity, and so on.
If things go well, you’ll find yourself spending most of your time constantly running back and forth, taking care of clients, production, the till, marketing and everything else.
At a certain point, things start to get out of hand: the shop window is dirty, the pastries are often burned, you make mistakes giving clients their change, and marketing is eating up all your available time. You’re always busy and you feel trapped by your business.
THE ADOLESCENT BUSINESS
You can’t go on like this, so you decide to take on someone to help you out. Finally, you start to see a glimmer of light again and you get back some of the time that had begun to seem nothing but a far-off dream.
You teach your assistant to shape the dough, decorate the pastries, and run the till. She’s even able to do your marketing for you. You’re over the moon.
After a while, you get carried away. Instead of delegating some things, you start to delegate as much as possible.
Little by little you hand everything over to your assistant. EVERYTHING. And in doing so you lose control of your business.
Customers start to complain. The quality of your products is no longer what it was. Everything is a mess.
What happens at this point? You could decide to fire your assistant and go back to doing everything yourself. And back to feeling overloaded and pressed for time, like before.
Alternatively, you could take on other people to manage the things you’re unable to keep track of. If you do this, though, you’ll lose control of your business even further.
Or, you could avoid all this right from the outset.
THE MATURE BUSINESS
If you’re able to plan your business from the very beginning, you can skip over the adolescent phase and go straight to maturity.
To do this, from the outset you have to imagine a business that can function even without your presence.
Yes, I know, the very thought of it is painful. But this is the real secret: if you’re able to create a business that can function well without you, without your time, without your contribution, then you’re home and dry.
Actually, it’s not as simple as that. It takes time and foresight. I’m also working on this aspect of things and I want to see to it that I can gradually become less and less involved in my business.
So here’s the secret to becoming a successful businesswoman:
Instead of wondering, ‘What can I do for my business today?’, ask yourself, ‘How can I make the business function as a whole?’
Let’s go back to the pastries example. Other than the skills needed to create excellent baked goods, what distinguishes you from your competitors? How do you attract customers? Who are your ideal customers? And why do they choose you?
EXECUTOR, ENTREPRENEUR OR MANAGER?
To find an effective answer to the questions above, you need to stop being ‘only’ an excellent executor, an excellent doer.
You may be a superb worker, a superb patissier, a superb life coach, a superb web designer or anything else. But this isn’t enough.
You also need to be able to put on your entrepreneurial hat and your managerial hat from time to time.
The executor in you is the doer, the person who does the actual work every day. This may involve baking pastries, coaching a client or building a website.
The entrepreneur in you is the one who innovates, the visionary. She’s your creative side. The entrepreneur sees opportunities and seizes them, takes the plunge.
The manager in you is the one who keeps order, organises things, and looks at everything from a practical point of view. The manager has her feet firmly on the ground. She spots problems and solves them.
Unless you can be an entrepreneur, your business won’t be able to innovate. It won’t be able to stay a step ahead, or to offer new products and services that can constantly pique your customers’ interest.
Unless you can be a manager, you’ll easily lose control of your business, which will soon become chaotic.
Mind you, being an executor is necessary, especially at first. But, for your business to function as well as possible, you have to be able to successfully manage and balance these three personalities.
How? By creating a system – in other words, a business model that can function even without your input. And which, potentially, you can sell one day.
OVER TO YOU
In next week’s article, I’ll explain how to create a system for yourself. I’ve already touched on some of the merits of having one when I explained how to make sure your business doesn’t tire you out.
But first, I’d like to know from you:
• Which stage is your business at (infancy, adolescence or maturity)?
• Thinking about the time you put into your business, what percentage of it do you spend as an executor, as an entrepreneur, and as a manager?
Read more soon!
This article has been first published on ThreeSixtySkills
You can read the article in Italian on Il Mondo di Anh