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As a small-to-midsize business owner or chief executive, are you working in your business when your business would be much better off if you worked on it? Are you answering emails, paying invoices, and solving internal problems rather than setting goals, servicing customers, and planning your growth strategy?
Many SMB owners get trapped in the weeds and lose the top-down visibility and focus they need to run their organizations successfully over the long haul. They are doing, rather than leading. When owners and top executives get caught up in day-to-day matters that should be delegated, business development and innovation are stifled. When this persists, business can come to a grinding halt.
It’s no wonder that 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. Sadly, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 25% of businesses make it to 15 years or more. To be sure, plenty of reasons account for failure from business plan problems and too little capital to bad location and ineffective marketing but working in the business and losing sight of the big picture is common and correctable.
Correcting this mistake is a matter of putting the right people, programs, and processes into place so that you can turn your attention to being a leader and visionary. We’ve talked with SMB owners in the verticals we serve to provide the best guidance we could find:
Clarify your mission and vision: Your vision is your business’ ultimate objective and understanding it provides the why behind the work of the chief executive and leadership team. You are the visionary and the members of your leadership team are the implementers. Think about what you want your business to become and to signify, and whose expertise and resources you will need to enable these goals. Hint: Utilize all of the great minds you know and think beyond your own employees.
Your mission is what you are focusing on right now in order to arrive at your vision. Knowing your mission keeps you from being distracted by projects and tasks (working in your business) you should delegate or even outsource.
Build training programs and processes so that you do feel comfortable delegating the day-to-day responsibilities of the business to your leadership team and their subordinates. You can’t begin to build a vision and focus on your mission without having hiring and developmental processes in place that will result in a team competent enough to implement your vision and perform routine decision-making.
Delegate and outsource responsibility: Once you’ve got an effective leadership development program and processes in place, trust it. Delegate the daily minutiae to effective leaders so that you can get back to pursuing your vision. In smaller businesses, there should be plenty of functions that can be cost-effectively outsourced, from customer service to SEO marketing. In the first few years of your company’s existence, outsourcing can enable you and your leadership team to focus on the activities that matter most including generating attention, converting attention to sales, and delivering a great customer experience.
When you’re not sure, think like an investor: There will be plenty of times you will need to ask yourself, Is this project or task a priority for me? Is it something that investors would want me to apply my time and resources to, or would they prefer me to delegate? If it isn’t your highest and best use, an investor would know it’s not something you should pursue.
Focus on business outcomes rather than to-do lists: Plan your business quarterly with related outcomes and spend the bulk of your time on activities that will generate those outcomes. Some important considerations for developing meaningful outcomes are business differentiation, correcting significant business problems through usability testing of processes and operations, developing your company’s brand(s), and improving the customer experience.
Don’t think you have to pursue these outcomes on your own; most successful SMB owners have a peer network of four to seven people in similar leadership positions. Spend time collaborating and sharing ideas that help each of you to achieve meaningful business outcomes. Remember, your position affords you access to great minds, so use this to your advantage.
It can be easy to delude yourself as a business owner or chief executive that the minutiae you’re engaging in are a temporary necessity. You may think you’re putting out fires that no one else can, or just building enough business momentum so that you can eventually put on your visionary hat. These practices quickly become habits, and soon you’re working in your business instead of on it. Lean on your peer network as an accountability and support system to break out of this thinking and encourage them to do the same. Fifteen years from now, you’ll be glad you did.
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