When we start our business, we want the freedom to run things our way. To decide what we do, when we do it, and how. But as your business grows, you may fall into the “owner’s trap,” and here’s how it happens:
You have lots of energy (and lots on the line) initially, so you do most of the selling. But that’s ok because you enjoy the sales – you like your clients, and they like you. In fact, they like you so much, they often ask if you can do extra things for them, and you say “yes” because you want to keep them happy. And besides – revenue is revenue!
The problem comes when you turn this new work over to your team to execute. In most cases, they don’t have the same level of expertise as you and don’t have all the context because they weren’t present when you said “yes” to the client. So they’re not exactly sure about the details.
Your team wants to do a good job, and they try their best, but when they ask you questions about the deliverables, your answers often leave out important information that you don’t even realize you need to explain.
Then when your employees interact with your clients, they’re less confident than you, and your client doesn’t feel as secure with them. So the client wants to talk to YOU – the owner. Especially when things go wrong. This makes it hard to extract yourself from the day-to-day, which you need to do to think about strategy.
Signs You’re in the Owner’s Trap
If this sounds familiar, there’s nothing wrong with you. Entrepreneurs are high achievers by nature. We’re wired to do what it takes to succeed. But this same trait also leads us to believe there’s always something else we should be doing. Then we overpromise and overwork.
We forget the purpose of owning a business is not for us to do everything. It’s to add value to the world and create an asset that works for us. But when we are in the “owner’s trap,” what we really have is a job. And the worst kind of job, because we can’t leave it.
How do you know if you’re in the “owner’s trap?”
- Your vacations: If you spend your vacations connected to your business by phone, it’s time to break that habit. Begin to build systems and solutions that can run without you.
- Your customers: Do you know most customers by first name? This could be a sign that the customer buys because of your personal relationship with them rather than your company’s solutions. Since we can’t clone ourselves, this is part of the trap. Create a plan to replace yourself by hiring a sales team, and have a trusted employee shadow you when you meet customers so, over time, your customers get used to dealing with someone else.
- Your emails: Employees, clients, and suppliers frequently CC you on emails signaling they want your approval or involvement. It can become overwhelming. Start by asking your employees to stop including you. If they need your input, ask them to add you to the “to” line – and specify what they need.
- Your sales: Your business doesn’t have a robust sales pipeline or a process for prospects that a sales team can manage, so when you’re away, new business dries up. Begin to streamline and standardize what you offer, then hire salespeople to sell your solutions. If you can’t teach a good salesperson how to sell your solutions, then chances are the solutions are too complex or customized and will be difficult to scale, keeping you stuck in the owner’s trap.
Another critical aspect of the owner’s trap is that we work so hard we grow to resent our business. When this happens, we may start treating our business like an ATM instead of an asset. We take money out to fund our lifestyle, thinking we deserve it. Or we try to escape the business by “buffering” with food, alcohol, Netflix, etc.
How to Escape
So how do you get out of the owner’s trap? Begin by treating your business as an investment and turning it into an asset. Investing in your business is the best investment you can make because you control its value, unlike the stock market or real estate.
When your business is an asset, you’ll never feel trapped by it again. You can scale it, sell it, pass it down or take on the chairman role and become an investor removed from the day-to-day. Owning an asset like that is a magnificent feeling because it gives you options. You’re confident, secure, and free.
Escaping the trap doesn’t have to be hard, and it’s not about using willpower and grit. These are the areas to focus on:
- Mindset: Decide to love your business and manage your mind
- Focus: Narrow your niche, add more value, and differentiate yourself in the market
- Strategy: Turn services into solutions that scale and simplify your systems
- Money: Generate recurring revenue and get paid in advance
- Numbers: Set written goals, know your numbers, and monitor key metrics
- Freedom: Replace yourself, reduce dependencies, and hire a sales team
Implementing these steps is the fastest way out of the “owner’s trap” and will give you what you want most of all as a business owner: time, money, and freedom.
Best of all, you already have everything it takes to succeed: your business and your brain.