Risks of Being an Owner/Operator
For a business owner, being able to delegate tasks and responsibilities is critical to the ability to sustain and scale the business.
That might seem obvious, but what’s less obvious is the risk a business owner assumes if they choose NOT to delegate responsibilities.
I’ll get to the risks, but first let’s look at a couple different levels of delegation.
The first level of delegation is about efficiency. It’s about freeing you – the owner – to work on things that are important for business growth, while you let your team handle the day-to-day tasks. It’s about getting out of the field and working on your business – putting the tools down and focusing on quotes, meetings, sales, and long-term plans.
For a lot of people, this is easier said than done. And I know some business owners don’t even want to deal with this kind of delegation. Some owners get into a comfort zone – they find it easier to do everything themselves rather than training employees to take on more responsibility.
I can understand that. Letting go of control and trusting your team with a greater level of responsibility takes effort and patience. There are almost always some rough spots along the way while employees learn from their decisions.
If you’re in a comfort zone, it can be frustrating to watch younger employees make mistakes that you wouldn’t (probably because you’ve already learned from mistakes of your own).
But, here’s the simple fact: Nobody can do it alone.
You can’t oversee every detail, and make every decision about every job, AND have your business continue to grow. You can only be in one place at a time, and there are a limited number of hours in the day.
If you aren’t willing to delegate some of the day-to-day tasks and decisions, your business’s potential for growth is limited. Period. There’s no way around that fact.
So, that’s the first level, but what was really on my mind was the next level of delegation.
The second level of delegation goes beyond labor and day-to-day decisions. It’s about having other people help you to actually run your business.
As a business owner, you could someday employ 10, 25, 50 people, or more. But, trust me, you don’t want to directly supervise 10, 25, or 50 people.
You want to supervise 2 or 3 people, and you want those to be intelligent and dependable people who you’ve trained to run your business the way you want.
You want people in your office who can handle all the administrative duties – billing, paying bills, purchasing, advertising, human resources, etc.
And you want field managers who can hand everything related to dealing with your customers and your company’s day-to-day work – quoting jobs, scheduling, hiring, firing, and supervising employees, quality assurance, resolving issues and complaints, etc.
You want to get to a place where there is nothing that could come up in the course of a normal day that would require YOU to take action or even make a decision.
One of the great things about reaching this level of delegation is that, once you get there, then you get to CHOOSE how you want to spend most of your days.
If you truly enjoy leading a crew and working in the fresh air – go for it.
If you like laying bricks and building beautiful hardscapes – it’s all you.
If you like working behind a desk and planning further business expansion – that would be a really good choice as well.
Whatever you choose, here’s the main thing –
Once you’ve reached this point, the business is basically running itself day-to-day, week-to-week, and maybe even month-to-month.
You’re around to make the big decisions about the direction of the company and to make course corrections along the way, but you’ve put together a team of strong employees who can handle anything.
No matter what comes up, you’ve put the systems in place and given your team the tools they need to handle it.
Why is this important?
I’ve heard from a lot of owner/operator-type owners who are very satisfied with the size of their company – one or two crews doing about $200,000 to $300,000 revenue per year.
In fact, some people seem to take offense when I talk about the benefits of growing a company beyond that point.
I assure you, I don’t consider this a competition and I certainly don’t mean to judge anybody’s life choices. I don’t mean offense.
But, there are still a couple reasons I think it’s important to at least consider pushing past the two-crew, $300K point.
Let me share a couple examples…
Running out of gas before retirement
I can’t count the number of stories I’ve heard about owner operators who have been satisfied with their business for 10-20 years, but then things start to change as they get a little older.
I’ve heard over and over about owner/operators getting to their late 40s and 50s. They start to feel like they still need to keep earning money a while longer, but they either can’t or don’t want to keep up the pace.
They’re working in the field and powering through back and knee issues, and other physical ailments. But that’s just the physical stuff!
Twenty years down the road, it’s easy to get tired of personally dealing with every minor and irritating customer and employee issue.
The trouble is, once someone starts wearing down physically, mentally, and/or emotionally – after they’ve spent decades doing things a certain way – it becomes a lot harder to make big changes to the business at that point.
You think finding and training good help is hard when you’re just getting started? It’s not going to get easier later. It takes time and effort, and it’s better done sooner rather than later.
But that’s just one common story I hear.
Here’s the real point of all of this…
Hitting unexpected trouble
As an owner/operator, what would happen to you – your business, your livelihood, your family – if something happened and you couldn’t work for an extended period of time?
If your business depends on you too much, then your business suffers every time you’re away.
Every time you’re away from work, what happens?
Do your handful of modestly trained employees carry on without you?
- Are they able to deal with customer issues?
- Do they quote and schedule new work?
- Do they keep up the quality of work?
- Do they even get the already-scheduled work done?
If you’re one of those people whose business depends on them…
What if you were away for a week?
What if you broke your leg and you couldn’t do anything for a couple weeks and you couldn’t do physical labor for a couple months?
What if you were seriously injured on the job or in a car accident and you weren’t able to do physical labor for a year? Or ever again?
I don’t want this to sound like scare tactics – that’s really not my intention.
But shit happens.
It really does – I’ve seen it.
And every time I hear someone tell me they’re happy being an owner/operator, doing $225K/year, I feel it’s my duty to ask them if they’ve thought about what would happen if ‘shit happened’ to them.
So, what would happen if shit happened to you? Have you got that covered?