A key book for anyone serious about building a company that will last is Michael Gerber’s foundational E-Myth Revisited. The book shares a number of business lessons through the story of a business owner who goes about setting up her company all wrong and is left frustrated and no longer in love with her business. The lightbulb moment that turns on for so many business owners when they read this book (and see themselves in it) is the realization that repeatable and teachable systems are the bedrock of any real business.
In the same book, Gerber points out that every business owner has three characters vying for attention: the technician, the manager, and the entrepreneur. The technician is the one that builds the product or provides the service. The manager at first manages himself, then the team that develops. The entrepreneur has to continue to think strategically and make sure his manager and technicians are getting along. All these roles are essential and it’s something we’ve matched to three stages of entrepreneurship
For many, this is the exciting part. They’ve escaped 9-5, the terrible boss, or a toxic work environment. They are doing work they enjoy, for clients that are paying their bills, and for now, things are great. The 1000 day rule still matters: it takes at least 3 years to replace a full-time job via freelancing income. But in these early days, the freelancer is honing his/her craft, becoming a dedicated specialist.
For many, that first stage of entrepreneurship, the “owned job,” is a final stopping spot. They do what they want, they work on a schedule satisfactory to themselves and to their clients, and they get remunerated in a way that funds their lifestyle. That’s not just fine, it’s better than what many in the job market can say for themselves. But, like those in the job market, those with an owned job cannot make money if they do not work, and that’s where scaling comes in. All of the time spent, perhaps over those first 1000 days, must now be broken down into repeatable steps.
Those repeatable steps can break down into an 80/20 principle. The 80% could be important tasks that form a key part of what you deliver to a client. The 20% could be the most difficult to learn, and where you add the most value. This matches our advice on delegation: only do what no one else can do — delegate everything else. But at this stage you can no longer just be the specialist. As a manager you have to pass on your specialist skills to other specialists, and help them develop.
A Company, Then
The entrepreneur, having encouraged the specialist and developed his own management skills, realizes that to move from owning a job to owning a business, he has to remove himself from day-to-day operations and be entirely focused on strategy and direction. That can only happen if he hires people who want to grow and scale the company and who have been given a clear vision, niche, and focus.
For example, if we ask someone what his company does and he says, “We do SEO” we know that’s a terrible answer. Not because SEO is bad, but because the immediate questions follow, “SEO for whom?” “What are you solving?” Without a clear niche and focus, the entrepreneurs can follow side projects down unprofitable rabbit holes, and unfortunately, drag employees who don’t know better, down the hole with them.
At this final stage of entrepreneurship, it’s mindset that matters the most. You have spent time honing your craft and becoming great at what you do. You have even duplicated yourself by training others in your specialty. The last step, removing yourself from the equation, is the hardest. But if you can stay focused on doing the things only you should be doing, while teaching your team to do the same, you will be a long way to building a business that not only succeeds when you are there, but also thrives when you are not.