There are three reasons you might want your business to be able to run without you.
You Could Become Incapacitated
Surprisingly few owners have procedures in place for this eventuality or for any other calamity that might strike their businesses unexpectedly.
You Want Your Business to Grow
As a one-person operation, there is a limit to how much business you can handle. When you have reached that limit, you stop growing. Your experience may begin to resemble that of an employee.
You Want to Sell Your Business
Some day you will want to retire and transfer ownership to someone else. If your business depends on your presence, there is not much of value you can transfer to anyone.
Become a Business Owner not an Operator
To free yourself from being bogged down by the day-to-day tasks of serving customers or producing products, you will be the one who decides how things are done, by whom and when. There are three kinds of tasks:
Every task can be broken down into a series of steps. Write down every single step in so much detail that anyone can do it exactly the same way. Do not rely on common sense. What is obvious to you, may not be so obvious to someone else. Not only can the task now be done whether you are there or not, the outcome will also be consistent.
Taking on your first employee is a really scary proposition and it comes with lots of administrative responsibilities. One alternative is to use temporary employees. Hiring independent contractors comes with its own set of regulatory pitfalls.
Instead, begin with automation. Lots of routine tasks can be done better, faster and more accurately by machines. You may already be doing this without realizing it, but take this exercise to the extreme and you can probably find more.
Day-to-Day Decision Making
Look for routine tasks that require some judgment or discretion. You cannot make step-by-step instructions, but you can make guidelines. Your job is to make sure that everyone not only knows what your overall philosophy is, but also how it manifests itself in their daily activities. Have standards for how the phone is answered, how visitors are greeted, how complaints are handled, etc.
Now that you have allowed the human factor into your business, things might begin to slide. You cannot turn them into machines and you cannot expect them to behave like machines nor would you want to. If you did, you would no doubt be met with resistance. What you can do, is explain why things are done this way or that. When they make small changes to the established standard, it could affect something else in the grand scheme of things. Once they understand this, they will begin to take pride in following the rules to the letter.
On the flip side, you can take advantage of this human capacity to be creative. To do so, you need to have established procedures for changing established procedures. For the employees, the many different functions might seem disjointed or unrelated. As the business owner, it is your job to have the big picture; to know how all the different functions work together. The better you can convey that to them, the easier your job will be.
What you would really want is for them to replace you. You cannot turn them into you, but you can motivate them to think and behave like you. The best way to do this, is to make them actual owners. There are several ways to do this, but that is outside the scope of this article.
Finally, there are the kind of tasks you think no one can do but you. These may include long-term strategic planning, the vision you have for your company. But if your vision is clear enough and you can communicate it to your staff, you may still be able to leave your company for an extended period of time, even leave it altogether. One of the keys to doing that successfully, is that you will need to write it down in great detail and make sure your employees understand it.
Do not expect it to be easy. Changing the work culture of a business is really difficult. It is tempting to hire on skills alone just to ease a short term pain to get the job done. This is what you hire temporary workers for. For long term employees, focus on attitude. Ask yourself, “Could they become good owners some day?” This is what will allow you to step back and let your business grow beyond your own capabilities.
When it comes to selling your business, the greatest value booster for your business is to get out of the way. If it depends on your presence, it really does not have very much value for someone else. Learn to identify systems and processes that will allow it to run without you.