Don't let 'chasing the dream' become a nightmare

All business owners have a dream. Something that drives you and motivates you to keep working. The dream comes in many forms: to achieve financial security, spend more time with family, travel, create something to improve the world, provide employment and financial stability to a community, the list goes on.

In the beginning, reaching your goals feels wonderful. But when business starts booming, it’s common to lose sight of your original dream. Do you ever wonder why it often seems like whenever a company grows, the dream shrinks?

I work with a client who oversees his fifteen employees in a 10,000 sq ft warehouse. He recently said to me with a dejected sigh, “I made more money when I was selling from my garage.” His original dream? To be financially independent.

A different client had a similar story: He works non-stop and even sleeps in his office to ensure all operations flow smoothly. Ironically, his dream was to spend more time with his family.

From an objective standpoint, both of these clients have successful businesses. Their sales are in the millions and their profits are high, but they’re miserable. Like so many other entrepreneurs, they are failing to achieve their dreams. Why?

I believe the reason is that the tasks they’re focused on have shifted, therefore their passion has become muddied. Let’s break it down. Most entrepreneurs are sales-oriented people who enjoy what they do. In the beginning stages of business, you manage to spend the least amount of time on finance and operations, and the most on sales as a driving force. When the business picks up, those two important areas become more complex, and require much more attention. You are forced to devote your time and energy to these matters, taking you farther away from your original passion. Ultimately, this makes chasing the dream feel like a chore.

Many entrepreneurs think it’s necessary to attend to finance and operations themselves for the following three reasons:

They believe they’re good at everything.

You might say to yourself, ‘I’ve invented a new product or service,’ or ‘I figured out how to increase my sales by 1,000%. I can figure everything else out, too.’ Well, that’s a great attitude! But rarely the best use of your time.

For example, let’s say your company is an aircraft, and you are the pilot. You learned how to fly on a small plane like a Cessna, and it was small enough that you could fly it, manage the repairs, and troubleshoot problems without much guidance. Now you want to up your game and purchase a Boeing aircraft. Your piloting and maintenance suddenly becomes more complicated and requires serious training and practice. This is a special job, for a big plane, and it takes up a lot of your time. Nonetheless, you are passionate about flying, so you decide to devote your time to pilot courses, learning all you can about maintenance, and… wait, are you going to become a licensed aircraft engineer, too? Who is going to be the pilot of the plane while you’re sitting in class, learning these things you aren’t especially passionate about, and maybe not even very good at? You’re the one with the dream, you should be in the air. Leave calibrating the engine to the mechanic!

Let someone else learn the details of your business. Gain a firm understanding of the basics of finance and operations, but don’t be afraid to delegate the minutiae to a trained specialist or firm. Allow people spend their energy on what they enjoy and what they’re good at, including yourself! This will save you time and money, which brings me to my next point:

They think delegating tasks to others is a waste of money.

This can be true in the early stages of business, when operations are still relatively small. However, as it grows, you don’t want to waste your precious and limited time on small tasks when you have a company to run. Your job as the CEO is crucial to the structure and direction of the business, and it’s not an easy undertaking. You need to invest your time where you will get the highest return. Calculate the value of your time, it’s different for everyone. Allowing someone else to take over certain processes might cost you a penny or two, but end up saving you dollars because of the time you have to focus on everything else.

They fear losing control.

You built this company from the ground up, poured your heart and soul into it, and worked day and night to make it the success that it is today. Who could possibly care about your company as much as you? Who could you trust to work just as hard? What if you hire someone and they take advantage of their position to promote their own goals, instead of yours? These are all very common concerns. Additionally, very few entrepreneurs enjoy managing others or dealing with HR related obligations like planning an employee’s career progression or conducting performance evaluations.

A helpful approach is to start out slow — there’s no need to hand off your whole company at once. Hire contracted staff for a definitive amount of time and create a clear outline of what you want from them. If you aren’t entirely sure what you want, you could start with a status report on finance and operations. Figure out what’s working and what isn’t, and pinpoint where you most urgently need improvement. Hire the contractor to address only that area. If they do a good job, give them the next task. If they don’t, simply terminate the contract. Be sure of a person’s reliability and performance before you hire them as permanent staff. It’s common to have a probation period for new employees — you can treat them as a contractor until they’ve demonstrated their trustworthiness.

Remember that it is very possible to keep control in your business. Define your desired outcomes to contractors clearly, and stick to a firm timeline. Set up meetings and check-ins frequently so you receive regular reports and feedback loops on the contractor’s performance. This ensures that delegated tasks are being completed to your satisfaction, and that you always know what’s going on.

Growth and change can be scary, but don’t forget these important tips. Don’t be afraid to outsource the tasks that are difficult or time consuming to you. Concentrate on your passion for the sale, and use your natural excitement about your company to help it flourish. Most importantly, always remember why you’re doing this! Work hard, but don’t lose sight of your dream — it will be realized before you know it.