How to decide if you really want to run your business

When you start a new business you will need to do almost everything. This means you will need to roll up your sleeves and take a very hands-on approach. You will be working IN your business.

However, if you want to grow your business, you will need to pass on the day-to-day work to others and spend more time managing. You will need to work ON your business.

Some business owners find this shift difficult because it means giving up work that they enjoy. You, along with thousands of others, may have started your own business so you could follow a passion. But growing a business means that you can become detached from the work that fulfils you, and the very reason you started your business in the first place.

So how do you decide whether you really want to run your business?

Are you an Attenborough or a Park?

Richard Park is Executive Director at Global Radio (they own Capital, Heart and Smooth); you may remember him as a caustic tongued judge on Fame Academy. But in the 1970s Richard Park was an extremely popular disc jockey at Radio Clyde.

Management opportunities eventually led to a choice: keep doing what he was good at (being an on air personality) or focus on something he was also good at (managing other on air personalities).

We all know what David Attenborough is good at, but you may not be aware that in the 1960s he became Controller of BBC2 and then Director of Programmes, responsible for both BBC television channels.

He was very good at that too, and there was talk of him becoming Director General. Sir David decided he preferred programme-making to budgets and board meetings, and stepped down from his management role.

Both men are hugely successful, but they took different paths. And as the leader of a business, you’re going to have to decide if you’re an Attenborough or a Park.

Your role changes as your business grows

At the start of a venture, a business leader will likely spend 90% of their time on the shop floor – working IN the business: being one of the team, fixing and troubleshooting along with everyone else. But as a company grows, there needs to be a shift; more of the working day needs to be devoted to managing the organisation itself – working ON your business.
Building and leading a brilliant business
A business leader doesn’t have to let go of their expertise (David Attenborough insisted on still making occasional programmes while he was running BBC2), but to be an effective business leader, it’s important to accept that your role must change; that your focus must be working ON the business.

To do this, you’ll need to train yourself to identify things that, at first, may not seem as concrete or tangible as your initial expertise. You will have to develop a fresh set of skills. This is what to look for:

  • How motivated are your people?
  • Is there any gossip or finger-pointing?
  • Do you find yourself spending a lot of time micro-managing?
  • Do you feel uncomfortable with any practices or behaviour you see?
  • Do you struggle to get others to stick by your values and standards?
  • Do you seldom feel like you’re on the front foot?
  • Does it feel like you’ve lost sight of where the business is going?
  • Do you wonder who will be able to lead the business when you leave it?

To grow, you need to stop working IN your business

You’re the leader of your business, and your sense of ownership will be huge. But this must not become an excuse to continue working IN the business – you must stop doing everything yourself. That is no longer your job.

You need to think about the vision for the business, focusing on your values and your standards and learning to communicate with people in a way that will motivate them to buy in.

You may assume people will just naturally copy how you were doing things, but grown-ups don’t work like that. Adult human beings need to understand and buy in to the reasons for things being done in a certain way – and an effective business leader needs to learn how to help their team do that.

As an example, consider the standards of behaviour, service, and quality in your business. As the organisation’s leader, you need to convey these in a way that allows your team to apply those values in their work.

Preparing a checklist and training staff to follow it is a lot of work for you and extremely demotivating and boring for others. If you are not going to have to watch them like a hawk, you need more than your people slavishly following each step that you would take; you need them to understand the essence of what it is you are aiming to achieve so they can find their own way of getting there.

Think of the times you’ve spoken with another company’s customer service team. You’re a total stranger, but they address you by your first name with an opening line asking, “How are you today?”

How many times do you feel like they mean it? Very few. Why? Because at some point, that approach was successful for someone – because they sounded natural when they did it – so a script evolved, and now hundreds of people in call centres slavishly follow a similar script… and sound like robots.

Don’t expect your employees to be clones of you

Don’t expect your team to be clones of you. Speak to them about how they see the best way to perform tasks. Their ideas may not just be better suited to the way they work, they may produce even better results than your method. But even if their way is only as good as your way, your team will have thought about making the tasks more personal to them.

Instead of attempting to train staff in your (or anyone else’s) methods, tell them what it is you want to achieve, and begin a conversation with your team about achieving this outcome. Ask how they see it. And ask how they personally would take steps to accomplish the task.

During this communication, if you hear any ideas that don’t fit or sit well with your values or standards, you’ll be able to clarify and explain these again. By listening to each other, you and the people in your business will arrive at a variety of methods to achieve your goals that are even better than the way you came up with by yourself.

And more importantly, you will find that you have transferred your original vision to your staff. Your team will now have bought in to achieving the same standard of service, and feel empowered to express this facet of the organisation’s values in their own way – and you won’t need to watch them like a hawk.

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by Kate Mercer, author of ‘A Buzz in the Building – how to build and lead a brilliant organisation’ and co-founder of Leaders Lab which specialises in leadership, team and organisation development, as well as delivering executive coaching on a one-to-one level.

More on growing your business

ByteStart is packed with lots of help and great advice on all aspects of running your own business. Here are some of our most popular guides and articles;

Starting Up

Funding your business

Taking on employees

Motivating staff

Wooing with your website

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