The journey from operating in or on your business, to operating above it

Is it time to take a moment to get a new perspective on your business leadership?

There are typically three ways in which you can operate your business – in it, on it, or above it.

Working IN your business

When your business was in the startup stage, you were most likely working in your business, heavily involved in the day-to-day activities of running it. In these early stages of the business life cycle, owners are typically wearing many hats, and play an active role in producing, selling and delivering the services or products provided to customers.

Working ON* your business

As your business begins to mature, like many owners who started by working in their business, you probably transitioned to spending more time operating on your business. With a leadership team in place, many owners are able to operate strategically, driving the success of the business and leading business growth, often as the CEO or managing director. They focus on both the present and the future, planning and organising, and turning the vision into reality.

*This distinction between working in and on your business was popularised by business coach Michael Gerber’s 1986 book The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Do not Work and What to Do About It. But highly successful entrepreneur Roland Frasier has taken the concept one step further, to introduce the idea of working above your business.

Working ABOVE your business

In time, should you choose to, you are then able to transition to operating above your business. In this instance you step away almost entirely, removing yourself from playing any active role (which means you no longer appear anywhere on the organisation chart). Instead, you view the business as an asset in your portfolio, generating an income stream for you. This allows you to focus on other opportunities, possibly becoming a successful serial entrepreneur.

At this stage, you have completely migrated from viewing your business as a place to work, creating products or services, through to regarding your business as a product in itself.

This third option isn’t for everyone. But it unlocks the opportunity to start a new venture, or to purchase further businesses to generate additional income, or to simply enjoy your additional free time.

But if you think you are ready to take this final step, let’s discuss how to go about it.

The 7-stage journey to working above your business

Stage 1 – Getting ready to let go

It takes a substantial shift in mindset to ‘let go’ and trust a new management team with something you have worked so hard to build. This mental transformation can be very challenging, but when you’ve accomplished it, you are ready to move on.

Stage 2 – Connect with a business advisor

Trying to go it alone from here on would be very time-consuming, just when you’ve arrived at a point when you’d really like to get moving. Bringing on board a business advisor, with experience in the kind of transition you are about to make, would be a smart decision. Your advisor can guide you through the remaining steps and provide practical assistance.

Stage 3 – Preparing your business systems and teams

Before you can hand over the reins of your business, you need to make sure that all the management and practical expertise you have accumulated over the years has been firmly embedded in documented procedures.

Each operational part of your organisation will also need a competent leader – and you may be surprised to finally identify just how many hats you had been wearing.

You’ll need to pay particular attention to the sales and marketing functions in order to accelerate business growth. And this growth will also depend on communicating a clear vision and strategy to every existing staff member, building teams, and having a clearly defined EVP – Employee Value Proposition – to attract the best new talent.

Stage 4 – Identify your own continuing role

This is the point at which you decide the level of continued input you would like to have into the business. It could range from operating as chairman of the board or as a board member, to acting merely in an advisory capacity, or being completely hands-off. It’s important that whatever you decide is clearly communicated to the new leader.

Stage 5 – Find a new business leader

Identifying or hiring senior leaders is a vital part of your plan. Specifically, you need to appoint a competent CEO who is aligned with your values and is also emotionally invested in your company’s success.

Stage 6 – Prepare a transition plan

The handover should not be instantaneous. You’ll need to develop a detailed transition plan that enables you to progressively let go of the day-to-day responsibilities of running your business.

Stage 7 – Construct a reporting process

Letting go does not mean being left in the dark. Before you leave you will need to make sure that there is a financial reporting structure in place, to allow you to monitor the ongoing performance of the business you launched into the world.

Benefiting from the transformation

If you choose to go on this journey, the transition can enable you to move from working for the business, to the business working for you. But some business owners love the hustle of being actively involved, while others have the ultimate goal of being hands-off. The first task is to decide which leader you are and which you want to be, set the goal and begin the journey.

How can we help?

Bentleys works with business owners every day. Whatever stage of your business journey you are at, we are here to help. Contact your local Bentleys advisor today to find out how we can support you.

Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and should not be relied on as advice. It does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. You need to consider your financial situation and needs and seek professional advice before making any decisions based on this information.

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