Self-Employed or Business Owner?

BusinesOwnderRecently during a business owners’ seminar, the speaker asked the CEOs in the room a profound question. “Are you self-employed or a business owner?”

We all puffed up our chests just a little and said, “We’re business owners.” He then went on to opine that, if your business wouldn’t continue to grow and succeed without you to run it, then you are self-employed. Faced with that distinction, many in the room admitted to being self-employed.

It could be argued that Apple has the same problem with Steve Jobs at the helm. The recent concern over Jobs’ health, which intensified when he didn’t give his traditional speech at the Macworld conference, illustrates the risk of placing too much value on the strength of the leader versus the strength of the organization. Many people worry that if Jobs was to leave the company, Apple could suffer irreparably. Read here for more information.

Most small to medium size companies suffer from having a dominant leader. So do a few large ones. Microsoft, Dell, General Electric, Rogers, and Westons have all had those legendary leaders who seem to become a significant part of the brand and good will. Finding a successor who can fill big shoes is a daunting, yet necessary, task if the business is to survive and thrive in the future.

If you are that a dominant leader, the one who holds it all together, makes the decisions and is the public persona when your company’s name is spoken, then you have to let go and enable others to take on more and more responsibility.

Getting your business ready to sell is like getting your home ready for sale. It drives you to complete the improvements you planned over the years but didn’t implement. The windows you meant to replace, the carpeting in the living room, the leak in the basement, the new kitchen – all the upgrades you wanted to do on your house, but often complete only when it’s time to sell. All your good intentions to make your business more successful now need to be completed in preparation for creating the maximum wealth in your business. Except now it’s an accelerated timeline – a sprint to the finish. If you want to make the transition in five years, you only have five years left to make it happen and you know from experience how fast five years can go by.

Here’s a quick list of the steps most business owners need to take to turn their self-employed practice into a business that is ready to sell:

  1. Take stock of where you are now, and where you would like to be in the future. Assess the gap.
  2. Develop a strategic plan that bridges the gap. Put it in writing in a way that you can visualize, get excited about and can communicate to others.
  3. Form your advisory group – the professionals who can help make you money, preserve your money, and save you grief.
  4. Work on the business, not in the business.
  5. Get the right people in the right roles doing the right things to advance your strategic growth plan.
  6. Show a positive upward trend in your sales revenue, margins and profitability.
  7. Develop and train your people. When you increase their capabilities, build teamwork, and enhance their loyalty to your firm they become even more valuable. Their loyalty and sustainable performance becomes an asset you can sell as part of your business.
  8. Become more of a visionary leader and less of a ‘doer’.
  9. Delegate, delegate, delegate! You can’t sell the business if you’re doing all the interesting, complicated and fun projects. Let people learn by doing, by making mistakes and then provide them with coaching to help them succeed.
  10. Take more vacations and see how people manage when you’re not there. Provide feedback and coach as required.
  11. Get your ego out of the way. Celebrate when your people do as good as or better job than you.

If you want to sell your business for top dollar, you need to first make it run successfully even when you aren’t there. Being the hero-type leader of the business feeds your ego, but doesn’t build value that can be sold if you aren’t part of the package.

January 1, 2009

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