I was recently reading a book about building a business, not a job. The point the author wanted to make in using those words—business vs. job—is that a lot of businesses are dependent on the owner to be there, which makes the owner a prisoner to their business.
That really struck me because I know so many people that describes. So many people who can’t take time away from their business because it depends on them to make it run smoothly. So many people who aren’t free to pursue their passions outside of their business.
Are you one of those people? Check out these statements and see how many describe you:
I’m stressed out.
I never have enough time in my day to get all my work done.
My business is taking a toll on my marriage, on my relationships and on me.
I’m afraid to take time off because I’m the only one who can keep things running.
I feel alone.
I sometimes think, “Why did I ever think running my own business was a good idea?!”
If you checked even one of those boxes, it’s because you’re not free from your business. It is dependent on you to keep it going; it only functions because you’re there to keep pushing and pulling to make sure it does.
It may be hard to imagine that there can be another way. Believe me, I know. I’m the child of business owners, and I’ve owned businesses most of my adult life. I know how a business can eat you alive. I also know how it can be one of the great joys of life. Instead of looking like that checklist above, it can look like this:
I sleep well, every night.
I spend my workday doing the things I love.
I’m closer to my family and friends than ever, and I have time for my passions.
I have a great team and processes that keep my business running smoothly, even when I’m gone.
I know everyone on my team has my back.
I think, “I never knew running my own business could be this great!”
Getting there is easier than you think. There are five steps that will take your business from being dependent on you to running all on its own, independent of your constant attention:
1. Cast a vision your people can get behind.
2. Develop a strategic plan to guide your team when you’re not there.
3. Define and describe the experience you want your team to deliver to your customers, every time.
4. Develop A players: Bring your best team to the field.
5. Put processes in place so your people can perform at higher levels.
Let’s take those one at a time.
Step 1: Cast a vision your people can get behind.
If you know me at all, you know that my guiding principle is that understanding what drives you is at the heart of success. The two key drivers are your Why—your purpose and passion beyond making money— and your Where—your dreams and aspirations for your life. When you have confidence that your business makes a difference in people’s lives—including yours!—you have the motivation to keep going even when things are tough.
I’ve written and talked about how to uncover your Why and your Where many times before; if you need a refresher or are learning about them for the first time, you’ll want to read the articles The Three Keys to Succeeding in Business and How to Start Dreaming Again.
When we’re talking about how to build a business that runs on its own, though, it’s not enough for you to know and live your Why. Your team needs to know and live it too. That’s because your Why doesn’t just motivate you; it motivates your team. It provides a vision for what you’re all working to accomplish.
Let me give you an example. Mosquito control isn’t very glamorous, and someone could be excused for not brimming over with joy about going around with a tank of pesticides all day long, especially in the summer heat. But my client didn’t think about it like that. For him, his business wasn’t about destroying mosquitos; it was about creating backyards where his clients could spend time with family and friends without being tormented by disease-carrying pests. I don’t know about you, but thinking about it that way would get me out of bed every day so I could bring that to more people.
To really get the full impact of that vision, though, he needs to share that with his team.
That’s your Why. What about your Where? Why would your team care about your dream to travel to Italy for your 25th anniversary? First of all, if you’re cultivating a great culture, your team will care about your personal success, because they see it as part of their success. But each member of your team also has their own Where, and you should know what they want out of life and be as invested in that as they are in your company’s Why.
We all want to believe in what we do. By sharing your vision, you give your team members the confidence that what they do matters, that it changes the lives of your clients. By supporting the goals your team members have for their work and their lives, you show them that they matter and that you’re invested in their success.
Step 2: Develop a strategic plan to guide your team when you’re not there.
A strategic plan sets measurable goals and lays out the steps you need to take to meet those goals. A good strategic plan is like a good roadmap: It provides a clear route, divided into reasonable, achievable milestones, to get you to a specific destination.
If you don’t already have a strategic plan, you need one! I did a whole video series on creating strategic plans, starting with Strategic Planning Month: Are You Ready? You can also check out my Strategic Planning Master Class, which walks you step by step through creating a strategic plan.
(You’ll notice that the first two steps I recommend in creating a strategic plan involve knowing your Why and your Where. If you’ve already done your Why and Where, you’ve got a head start on a great strategic plan. I told you those were the key drivers!)
The benefit of a strategic plan isn’t in the having of it but in the using of it. It won’t do you any good if you stick it in a drawer. It also won’t do your team any good if you use it but keep it to yourself.
The idea of sharing a strategic plan makes some owners and managers nervous; it feels like you’re revealing the intimate details of your business. Why does your team need to know your revenue goals, your appointment goals, and your next steps?
They need to know because they’re the people who will make that plan happen. Your goals are their goals. If you want your salesperson to hit a weekly target for appointments, they can only do that if they know what that target is. If you want to get your bookkeeper an in-house assistant, they’re the best person to know what is really needed in that position.
When your team knows what you want to accomplish, you are no longer alone. You have a support system of people who want to see this happen. That shared purpose creates shared energy and ensures that if you have a bad day or something takes you away from the office, your team keeps working and making it happen.
Step 3: Define and describe the experience you want your team to deliver to your customer, every time.
This statistic always blows people’s mind: Up to 80 percent of your new business can come from current and former clients. That’s more than marketing and advertising combined. The way you achieve that amazing number is by delivering an amazing service to every client. Every. Single. Time. You do that by making sure your team understands what makes an amazing service, by providing them the training, support and empowerment they need to provide it.
Step 4: Develop A players: Bring your best team to the field.
I’m going say something that might be uncomfortable: Some of your team members are not A players. This can be a touchy subject, especially in a family-owned business, but if you’re going to have a business that runs on its own, you need a team ready to run it.
You do that by going for green: identifying team members who are green (rocking it), yellow (performing well but need to make some improvements) and red (have significant performance issues). Then provide each of those employees the support they need to keep being awesome or to improve so they can start being awesome. Sometimes, that will mean letting people go.
The other part of bringing your best team to the field is keeping your best team on the field. That means giving attention to team members who are already A players. If you were ever the kid in school who ended up doing the project while everyone else goofed off, you know what I’m talking about: Too often, we let the achievers keep achieving and focus our attention on the people who are struggling. This goes back to knowing your team’s passions and dreams so you can help them achieve them.
For more on bringing your best team to the field, check out my blog article Creating an Environment for GREAT Things to Happen and my video Coffee with a Coach with Special Guest Kay Congdon.
Step 5: Put processes in place so your people can perform at higher levels.
After all our talk about vision and investment, amazing customer experience and best teams, processes might not sound very sexy. But they are the workhorse that makes everything else possible: They simplify and standardize training; they create a smoother, easier workflow; they provide the predictability and consistency that makes amazing service possible. They also give you the confidence that things will keep running even when you’re not there to make sure they do.
For more on processes, check out video Coffee with a Coach with Jennifer Perrow.