Mark was like a lot of business owners. He worked 12-14 hour days, his days filled with putting out operational fires, and his nights and weekends the only time he had to catch up on invoicing, admin, and other paperwork.
And Mark was stuck. His company, Quality Property Maintenance located in Oceanside CA, had plateaued at $750,000 in annual sales.
Mark’s experience really wasn’t so different than a lot of business owners.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 88.6 percent of U.S. based businesses still require the owner to be there to be the primary person responsible for core functions like producing their product or service, managing the day to day business, and managing the financial aspects of the business.
In fact, according to the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index, the average small business owner works 52 hours a week and 57% of them work six days a week, and more than 20% work seven days a week. (Compare this to the 46.7 hours per week that the average U.S. employee works and it’s no wonder business owners are tired!)
Now you might be saying, “So what David, I know I work a lot. I believe in my business and want to see it flourish. I’m willing to put the hours in.“
Fair enough. I applaud your goal and your commitment to that goal. But pause for moment and consider this–is it possible that your commitment to that goal as expressed in the long hours your working is part of the problem that keeps your company from sustainably growing the way you want it to?
I remember a river raft trip I took 15 years ago where I met Roy, a mega-successful real estate developer in San Francisco, CA. At the time I was halfway through my first successful run at scaling and selling a company. During the week-long trip I kept pestering him with questions about how he had built his company.
I still remember his answer to my question of what was the most important ingredient to his success. He said, “David, it’s this trip.“
What, I asked him, did that mean.
He went one to explain that every year for the past 20 years he had forced himself to take an extended vacation from his company, in later years more than once a year, to get away from the company, and that time away helped him succeed.
I have to say, at the time I was horribly disappointed by his answer.
I was thirty years old, didn’t have kids, and was looking for a “secret” I could sink my teeth into and “do”. His answer didn’t make sense to me at the time.
What I now realize, having scaled several successful companies, and coached hundreds more to do the same, is that his answer was profound.
As business owners we cast big shadows in our respective organizations. Sometimes we need to leave the company for a week or two, or even longer, to give other people room to step up into the sunlight and take on more responsibility. At the very least, when you take a time away from the business it exposes gaps in your team, systems, and internal controls that you can use as signposts as to what areas you still need to develop in your company.
So don’t buy in to the idea that to succeed as an entrepreneur you need to just work hard. Recognize that one of the best things you can do, especially once your business has reached a solid footing, is to step away from your company to let a little tough love encourage it to grow.
Let’s circle back to Mark, what happened to him? Well this I know well as in 2011 he became a business coaching client of my company, Maui Mastermind. Over the past four years he’s grown his revenue to over $1.5 million per year and improved his margins. At the same time he’s reduced his working hours from an average of 70 hours per week down to 35.
Would you think it’s a coincidence that during this time he’s grown his average annual vacation days by over 400 percent?
Now I’m not saying that to grow your business just take a vacation. What I’m saying is that an important ingredient of successfully scaling your company requires that you develop your team, systems, and internal controls to replace you from the business. And one of the best ways you can speed up the pace of this growth is to regularly and intentionally take time away from your company so you give it a chance to get stronger without you there to lean on.
So go ahead, plan that trip into your calendar. Use it as a chance to develop your people and your systems to cover more of what you do. Understand that the first few times you step away from your company you’re likely to find things didn’t go perfect in your absence. Embrace this. Whatever went wrong can not only be fixed, but it will help you hone in on concrete ways to reduce your company’s reliance on you.
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