Does The Business Own You?

“Knowing where the trap is — that’s the first step in evading it” – Frank Herbert, Dune


In the previous article we discussed the reasons to develop a business plan under the heading of ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. One of the things we mentioned briefly was the need to keep control as the business grows. But what if you have already lost control of your business, if your business owns you rather than the other way round?

Depending on who you talk to, business is a combination of descriptors such as exciting, boring, addictive, inspiring, demanding, tiring, overwhelming, and intoxicating to name but a few. The impact of owning a business on an individual varies according to factors such as their experience, skill set, support network, management team, staff, personality type, organisational structure and the sector. Some owners thrive on the pressure and take to the life like a duck takes to water. But it is also not uncommon to find business owners complaining about having too much to do in too little time, about the relentless pressure affecting them physically and mentally, and how they feel trapped in the business.

The owner’s trap is not a new phenomenon but its arguably getting ever harder for owners to escape from that trap. With the proliferation of email, mobile phones and social media, the business can infiltrate every aspect of an owner’s personal and family life when allowed to.

With changing attitudes to work, more people are working more flexibly, often from home. In the old days, leaving work behind was simply a matter of driving away from the office, but now the work follows you home. Or worse still, work is your home and the boundaries between your personal and professional lives become blurred.

Have You Created a Growth Plan?

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Does The Business Own You – take the test:

“A trap is only a trap if you don’t know about it. If you know about it, it’s a challenge.” – China Miéville, King Rat

The first step to dealing with the owner’s trap is to recognise the problem so ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you working too many hours?
  • Is work stressing you out?
  • Is the business affecting family life?
  • Do you struggle to take holidays?
  • Are the personal costs outstripping the financial benefits?

And if the answer is ‘yes’ why is that? Do you also find:

  • Your customers ask to deal with you personally?
  • Work is completed more slowly when you are away?
  • You are your company’s best sales person?
  • You know more than anyone else in your company about your industry?

All these things are indicators that things need to change, that you need to step back and really think about the way that you are running the business, to focus on working ON the business and not just IN the business.

Does The Business Own You – Starting to fix the problem

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions” – Albert Einstein

But where should you to start? The areas we looked at the previous two articles should help (see the links below). Understand what you are trying to achieve and develop a detailed plan. But that is easier said than done for a long-suffering owner who has long since stopped being able to see the wood from the trees. We would offer business owners a few simple bits of advice.

Firstly, work out what would make you feel differently about your business. What is important to you? Is it to be able to take more cash out of the business? Is it to have more time to spend with your family? Is it to have less work to do on a day to day basis? Is it to be able to share the pressures of running a business? Is it all of these things?

Secondly, psychologically prepare yourself for change. Doing things differently doesn’t always come naturally to business owners who have been bred to believe that stubbornness is one of the virtues of a good business leader, especially in Yorkshire. Change will not happen unless you make it happen, so mindset is critically important, especially if that ‘change’ will involve an investment of time and money. Change is not about giving in, rather it is simply a matter of you deciding to chart a different course.

Thirdly, develop your growth plan. It might be as simple as identifying a new bookkeeper to sort out your accounts and VAT return; alternately it might involve a complete re-structure of the management of the business. Ensure that you have a clear timescale and budget and then prioritise one task at a time to make sure that you make progress.

Fourth, commit the resource required to make it happen. This might involve just your time, but where there is more complexity it might involve bringing in significant additional resources. If the thought of spending time or money deters you, try to rationalise your decision. If you are currently spending time on routine tasks that could potentially be delegated, can’t you divert a few hours of that effort for business planning? If now is not the time to address it, when will be the time? Closing your eyes and hoping the problem goes away generally doesn’t work in these situations.

Does The Business Own You AND Hold You Back?

 “I do not fix problems. I fix my thinking. Then problems fix themselves” – Louise L. Hay

But if you are struggling with motivation, what are the options? Start by asking yourself ‘is my heart in this fight?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then work out if that is a temporary feeling or something permanent. There is no disgrace in admitting that you’ve reached the point where you’ve simply had enough and that running a business, or perhaps just this business, is not right for you. If it is something permanent then you will have to start planning how to exit, ideally getting out with some of the value intact, though some things in life are not just about the pounds and pence.

If your heart is still in the fight then it’s time to step back and work out what help you might need for you to regain control. A good place to start is by opening up and talking to your family, your accountant, your friends, and other business owners, and trying to understand what it is that needs to change. Many business owners are reluctant to share their problems, but you would be surprised how many owners have been faced with the same set of issues and sharing can be cathartic.

Consider how you interact with the business and identify those areas with problems or aspects that can be improved. Work out which of the following common problems encountered by business owners are relevant to your situation:

  • Cannot delegate
  • Lack of organisation / systems
  • Perfectionism
  • Procrastination
  • Ineffective leadership
  • Escalating business complexity

Solving problems likes these usually takes some time but once you have sorted out your mindset and identified the problems then at least you are halfway down the road to a solution, and after that the owner’s trap will only remain as a trap if you allow it. As George Bernard Shaw once famously commented, “progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Other Articles from this series:

Follow Up Articles – coming soon!

  • Do You Have The Right Business Model?
  • Do You Have A Niche or Differentiation?
  • Do You Have Enough Support?
  • Are You Part Of The Problem?
  • Do You Know Your Business Strengths & Weaknesses?
  • Are Your People The Problem?
  • Do You Struggle To Stay on Track?

Does The Business Own You?  Sometimes it’s genuinely hard and lonely work running a business – seek out expert support and help from a coach or mentor who can help you see the wood for the trees.

Blunt thinking on business growth from Yorkshire Powerhouse
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