“If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business—you have a job. And it’s the worst job in the world because you’re working for a lunatic!” ― Michael E. Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited
I’m back to the blog after a couple weeks away (my thanks to Rob for picking up the slack). My wife and I took a three week trip to visit Scandinavia, where my dad’s family is originally from. We had a great time seeing the fjords in Norway, reconnecting with distant relatives, and snowboarding in some of the best powder I’ve ever experienced. It was a fun trip, but it was also a perfect chance to step away from day-to-day life and think, ponder, and reflect.
At the beginning of our trip, on the 10 hour flight to Oslo, I read the book quoted above, The E-Myth Revisited. The basic premise of the book is that most small business owners start companies because they are highly skilled in some particular discipline. The business may get off to a great start based on the founder’s talent, but eventually the workload becomes too heavy for one person. The obvious thing to do is to hire someone, right? So the founder hires an assistant to take on all of the un-fun parts of running a business (accounting, contracts, etc.) so they can continue to focus on doing what they love (and what they’re great at).
This may temporarily solve the problem, but eventually the workload will again increase to the point where more help is needed. The temptation for the business owner is to hire more and more “assistants” to take over lower level tasks and busywork in order to focus 100% on doing (what they consider) the core work of the business. “After all,” the owner thinks, “customers love my product because *I* do such great work.”
If we were to map out the structure of such a business it would look something like this:
There are a few problems with this structure, though.
- The founder is the linchpin of the whole company. To take on more clients, the founder must work longer and harder. At a certain point the founder can’t take on any more work and he or she becomes a bottleneck to the business’ growth.
- The “assistants” have no clear job responsibility and no real potential for career advancement at the company. Their task is to help the owner with whatever he or she needs on a day to day basis, but there isn’t a sense of ownership of projects or tasks. This makes it very hard to retain talented and ambitious employees.
- Because so much of the founder’s time is taken on doing work for clients, they have very little time or energy to focus on building the business. The business is more than the sum of the jobs finished or clients satisfied. The business is the vision that inspires action, it is the strategy for growth, it is the structure that allow each employee to grow and flourish.
Building a thriving business is the real job of the business owner. As we get busier and busier here at Lux Virtual these insights have hit close to home for me. I think designers have a particularly strong urge to be at the center of every creative decision in a project, and I am no exception. But as we grow I’m committed to building a business that doesn’t need me to make every decision. My goal this year is to build for the long term, to work with Rob to create the structure and the culture that will enable Lux Virtual to grow and thrive for years to come.