The Biggest Mistake I've Made During My 5 Years As A Business Owner

17/09/2014, 3 minute read.

I’ve just spent a week in Kefalonia, Greece. I was visiting for a friends wedding. During my stay I read two books that i’d been meaning to read for a few years now. The first was Tim Ferriss’ - The Four Hour Work Week. The second was The E-Myth by Michael Gerber.

Influential Business Books

The Four Hour Work Week (4HWW) has been on my recommended reading lists since shortly after the books release in 2007. But yet, despite the fantastic reviews and sales, I remained skeptical. I don’t know if it was that Tim’s muse was health supplements or if it was because of the scale of the books success, I thought it wouldn’t be relevant to me and my ‘unique’ situation.

I buckled though and my personal reaction whilst reading was surprising. I whittled through the book in a matter of days. I felt enlightened by the early chapters especially. In fact so much so that there was one message that stood out head and shoulders above the rest of the book: remove yourself from the process.

I was able to relate to this and it felt close to home. It wasn’t until I finished The E-Myth a day later though that I realised how big a mistake i’d been making.

Gerber’s The E-Myth (a recommended read in the 4HWW) expanded on Tim’s message with the aid of a cute Pie Shop example. The book rationalises why most (80%) of the 1 million small businesses conceived each year in the US fail. The reason being most are started by technicians: programmers, chefs and accountants for example.

As a technician myself, it made sense to go it alone. I felt I had the necessary skills to serve customers and develop products. The business side of things I had a grasp of but figured I could pick up and master anything else along the way.

But Gerber points out, the problem with technicians running a business is that they are unable to see the bigger picture. From a technicians point of view they simply can’t see their business from an entrepreneurial or managerial point of view. In order for the technician to make more money, they work harder. If the technician stops working (i.e through illness or holiday) they stop earning. So Gerber promotes a balance between the three inner personalities a successful business owner should possess: the technician, the entrepreneur and the manager. Most small business owners aren’t aware of this though and fail to escape the technicians mindset.

This, I feel, has been a bit of a eureka moment for me. The concept seems obvious writing this now, almost to the point of embarrassment. But when you’re working your socks off managing clients or developing products it’s not easy to step back to consider how to improve the situation. How does what i’m doing scale? How do I free up my time to become a business owner rather than an employee of the business? How will working 16 hours a day get me to where I want to be in 5 years time?

When I ran PANDR, I often worked 12, 14, 16 hours a day to fulfil the needs of our clients. How were we ever going to grow beyond just me, as a sole developer?

Spending a week in Greece only highlighted this. Marketing efforts for Sisu and Seamso took a back seat and the numbers showed. Did we miss out on downloads or orders because of this? Probably. The point is, this shouldn’t have been the case. Small tasks such as posting content to social media pages, following interesting people and collecting feedback from our customers and users should have continued without my presence.

Can you guess when I’ve been out of the office or away from my laptop based on the graph below?

Sisu's followers growth graph - Sisu’s Twitter Followers Growth Graph via Good Audience

I cheated a little and found some wifi in Greece, so the slow down wasn’t as bad. I visited Spain on the 7th of August for a week though and you can tell.

Remove Yourself From The Business

4HWW provides some guidance on this. Formalise your processes. Make sure they’re easy to explain (for your own understanding as well as outsiders). Then either try to outsource them or automate them, depending on what’s most appropriate.

As a business owner you’re responsibility is to steer the ship in the right direction, not to be the bottle neck that prevents full steam ahead.

If your selling process relies on you to ship the product, you’re doing it wrong.

If your business relies on you to test each product before it launches, you have a bottle neck.

If you’re not available for whatever reason, you’re business will lose money and worst of all, won’t grow. That’s a problem.

Removing Myself From My Businesses

I’m a technician. I fill my days with work, even if it doesn’t impact the bottom line. That’s a problem. The work I do should positively impact the bottom line. If it’s not, why am I doing it in the first place?

Resources dictate that I am still relied on for a great deal of the production of our products (the development of Sisu and Seamso). But I do a lot of other smaller, but still important, tasks too. It’s this work that should be either automated or outsourced, once optimised.

I’m taking these next couple of weeks to audit what I do on a daily basis; from the emails I send, to social media marketing tasks. I will document processes where possible and look at optimising them.

I think a Virtual Assistant could be on the cards to help me with this. So if you have any recommendations for services to use, please leave a comment, i’d love to hear from you about your experiences…

Fingers crossed my next holiday will be even more relaxing in the knowledge that my business is taking care of itself.