How to make your business run without you

Written by Joel Gerschman

Let me be controversial for a moment.

If you’ve already built a reasonable customer base, you should probably stop trying to grow your business.

Say what?!?

Okay, before you lynch me, let me explain.

You see, if you try to grow your business without the infrastructure in place to support your growth, it can all fall apart too easily. You need the infrastructure necessary to grow sustainably into the future.

And there’s another reason, too. Even if customers are coming through the door, there’s real chance your business isn’t giving you the kind of life you’d hoped for: perhaps it’s largely dependent on you and sapping all your time or maybe it’s creating constant stress and frustration as you continually put out fires. Either way, more growth layered on top of an already-pressured system won’t actually help you.

Break free

That’s why you’ll need a different approach. You’ll need to do something quite radical: you’ll have to ‘break free’ of your business before you can grow it. Let me explain.

Do you ever find yourself saying: “If I’m not doing it, watching it, making it happen… it just doesn’t happen – at least not properly!” It’s common. But it’s also debilitating. As my own mentor, Michael Gerber, often says: “If your business can’t run without you – if you can’t safely leave your business for a few weeks – you don’t really have a business; you have a job – with overheads!”

A business that truly serves your life, on the other hand, is a business that gives you the freedom to choose how much or how little you want to be involved. That’s what breaking ‘free’ means. It doesn’t necessarily mean getting ‘out’ of your business. It’s about choice.

But choice doesn’t just occur on its own. You need to create it. And the way to do that is to intentionally design your business to run smoothly and profitably – with or without you. You design it to run on-time, as promised, every-time, seamlessly, like a well-oiled machine, even if you’re not there – so it no longer depends on you.

That kind of business – the kind that just works, almost by itself – is called a turn-key operation. It’s the kind of business that builds a true, saleable asset that others would actually buy. It’s the kind of business that entrepreneurs seek to create. And, if you want to choose how to live your life, it’s the kind of business that you need to create too.

How do you create this turn-key operation?

Abdication, delegation & ownership

First let’s explore how not to do it.

If you’re like many business owners, your approach to managing your business often falls into one of two styles: it’s either largely ‘hands off’ or seriously ‘hands on.’

Put differently, you’ve either employed people, given them some tasks (with a small amount of training, if they’re lucky) and then sent them on their way, trusting (hoping) they’ll be successful. (Think of your bookkeeper, for instance.) Or, alternatively: you’re micro-managing their every move, frequently stepping in to ‘handle things’ in the fear that they’ll get it wrong.

Both approaches are understandable. But they’re also dangerous. Here’s why…

Take the ‘hands off’ approach, for example. Leaders sometimes call it ‘delegation’. But it’s not; it’s actually abdication. Abdication is handing over responsibility and then hoping for the best. And abdication rarely works. Indeed, why should it? Without the appropriate training, without a clear role definition and expectations, without clear, documented systems for how to do what needs to be done, very few people will succeed. Sure, you might be able to point to a few committed, motivated, self-starters. But they’re exceptions – not the rule. And they’re extremely hard to find (and keep).

And what about the ‘hands on’ approach? Unfortunately, it’s no better. When you ‘step in’ to deal with the tasks that others are supposed to do, two counterproductive things happen:

  1. Your staff begin to expect you to handle things and begin to feel disempowered; you create a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy as your continued lack of trust only reinforces the message that you’re not (really) relying on them to do it right; and
  2. You end up doing most of the work. And it’s usually technical, operational work – rather than the kind of entrepreneurial work that actually builds your business. The result is that you continue to be trapped in the vicious cycle of fighting fires and not having enough time to work ON your business (let alone to live your life).

So what’s the answer?

Thankfully, there’s a very clear, proven, step-by-step management strategy for empowering your people to deliver the results you desire… even when you’re not there.

It’s not abdication and it’s not micro-management. It’s what I call ‘taking ownership’.

Four kinds of clarity

Taking ownership for the way your business runs means that you need to create clarity for your staff around what they need to do, how they need to do it and track that it’s actually happening. When you do that, you’ll empower them to deliver the results you desire.

Let’s be more specific. Taking ownership means you’ll need to introduce 4 kinds of clarity into your business:

(1) Structural clarity, which is about killing role confusion, so everyone’s clear on what jobs need to get done and who’s responsible for each job.

(2) Job clarity, which is about clarifying the tasks and expectations for each job, so your staff know exactly what’s expected of them and can perform to their potential.

(3) Task clarity, so everyone knows how to perform the key tasks within each job. You’ll need to create production and delivery systems that work seamlessly every time, no matter who’s operating them, delighting customers and freeing up your time.

(4) Performance clarity, so you know whether you’re achieving the intended results.  That requires you to set up a management and reporting system to create staff accountability and ensure your finger is always on the pulse, even when you’re not there.

Of course, once you’ve done that, there’s one more step: you’ll also need to enroll your staff in the process. Don’t assume they’ll simply comply. You need to motivate them to help you achieve your goals.

Sound daunting? It’s actually quite straight-forward once you get the hang of it. If you’d like more guidance on how to apply this process to your business, you can try our Growth System program for free right here.

In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions or if there’s anything I can do to help.

All the best,


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