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Why Control Is a Trap that Will Slow Your Business Growth (and what to do about it)

David Finkel

May 24, 2015

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Why Control Is a Trap that Will Slow Your Business Growth (and what to do about it)

Tom owned a successful computer equipment wholesale company. To the outside world he had "made it". His business enjoyed sales of $5 million per year and Tom was earning over a million of profit per year.

But he was burning out fast. The 80 hour weeks he was working was impacting his health, his marriage, and his role as a father. He just felt stuck. 

He knew he needed to find a way out from the crushing pressures of running his business day-to-day, but he didn't want to step back because he feared his business would suffer.

Have you ever felt that way? Like you're trapped by your business? Either you continue to put in the hours and make all the key decisions, or you step back and the business might falter?

This is a false dilemma. You don't have to choose between having your life while your business suffers or having your business grow but sacrificing your life.

In fact, the long term solution lies in making a clear decision to grow your business to be independent of you.

Let's get real here - most business owners (myself included) started our companies because we wanted to be in control of our own business lives. Either we were tired of working for someone else or we had an idea that we wanted to build a business around.

So we set out and build a company that revolves around us. Sure we have staff who work for us, but they are there to leverage us, to execute our ideas and implement our decisions. We think we're supposed to stay in control.

What most business owners don't realize is that control comes with a hefty price tag, both for the business and for the business owner. For the business it means you'll be the critical constraint that limits growth and the key vulnerability that could cause the business to fail if you get hurt or just plain burn out. For you the business owner, the price is that you must be there daily to exercise that control. If you're not there, the business suffers.

This is so prevalent in the business world that I have a name for this. I call it the "Self Employment Trap". This is when the business owner is so essential for the business that they haven't built a company, they've built a self-employed job for themselves.

So what's the way out? To build a business, not a job. This requires that each quarter you take simple steps to lesson your business's reliance on you. You incrementally replace yourself from the key functions in your business with sound systems, strong team, and intelligent internal controls. Notice that I'm not suggesting that you just "hire your replacement" to manage your business. This is a losing strategy that merely moves the critical dependency from your shoulders to those of your single key manager.

By systematizing the core functions of your business and having simple internal controls that help your team self-manage and your managers more effectively oversee, what you're doing is you're increasing the odds that your staff will be able to take on more and more of the key roles inside your company. Rather than being reliant just on a person, you're building multiple people. And rather than just throwing multiple people in as the solution, you're empowering them with the systems and controls (i.e. structure) that will help them succeed and help your business make sure that the right things get done at the right times.

Let's return back to Tom and hear the end of the story.

Tom took this advice to heart. Initially he (and later he enlisted his management team) started to systematize the core functions of the business. Tom cataloged where his business was currently reliant on him, and each quarter he consciously chose the top ways that quarter he could incrementally reduce the company's reliance on him in a scalable way.

After 18 months he had grown his company to $8 million per year in sales and reduced his working hours in half (down to 40 hours a week.)

After 4 years he had grown his company to $23 million per year and had reduced his working hours to under 10 hours per week.

All of this starts with a simple decision that you the business owner must make - the decision to build a business, not a job.

Next you have to follow up this decision by asking yourself, "What 3 things can I do in the next 90 days that would do the most to reduce the business's reliance on me in a critical area?"

Finally you need to execute on the ideas you come up with, enlisting your team to do this with you.

Quarter by quarter you'll reduce your company's reliance on you, and in so doing realize that the real goal of a business is not to have the business owner stay in control, but rather, to build a business that can profitably create value in the market in a scalable way.

About the Author:
David Finkel is co-author of, SCALE: 7 Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back (written with co-founder Jeff Hoffman), and one of the nation's most respected business thinkers. A Wall Street Journal and Business Week bestselling author of 11 business books, David's weekly business owner e-letter is read by 100,000 business owners around the world. David is the CEO of Maui Mastermind®, one of the nation's premier business coaching companies. Over the past 20 years, David and the other Maui coaches have personally scaled and sold over $2 billion of businesses.

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