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  • Jeff Schuster

Are You a Bottleneck or Catalyst for Your Small Business?


Most of my business owner clients hire me because they want to grow. After a few coaching sessions it’s obvious that my clients are limiting their company’s growth. How? They have become a bottleneck in their company.


Are You a Bottleneck?

If you bootstrap your small business, it is likely that you did all the work in your company at first. At the very least, you hired low-skilled, and low-paid staff to do tasks for you while you did the skilled work. In either case, you got used to a certain pattern of work. Once your company grew, you felt better about your financial situation, but you continued to do most of the work. You didn’t want to hire or promote others to do your old job(s); and thus, your company stopped growing. It doesn’t matter if your company earns $100,000 per year; or $100,000,000 per year. At some point, your company will stop growing because you have come to the end of your ability to grow as a leader.

Let’s examine some limiting beliefs that may be forming the bottleneck for your company.


Love Your Job

You like doing the skilled work in your company and have no desire to manage people instead of doing the “fun” work. Most entrepreneurs studied to be an expert at something they love. The limiting belief is that your love affair must end if you stop doing the work. Those of us who have lasted in a loving relationship for any length of time, know differently. Love is not about holding onto something tightly. Love is about joy in watching your beloved grow. The bottleneck happens when you try to keep all your creativity and hard work to yourself instead of training up the future innovators in your company.


When you teach five others to be as good as you, you have grown your beloved by five times. I guarantee you that when you see the amazing creativity that others bring to your company with the wisdom you’ve given them, you will feel joy that surpasses any love that you had in your own accomplishments.


Can’t Afford It

You cannot afford to hire skilled employees to do the work only you know how to do. This limiting belief is often a result of poor financial planning. New business owners are focused on earning a living for themselves. They set their prices too low and then have no extra money to hire additional staff. If they do hire others, they tend to hire low-cost staff that cost them more time and effort than if they had hired the right people in the first place.


The solution to this belief is a business plan. I’m not sure why this is the case, but 80% of starting small business owners do not create business plans. The reason a business plan helps is that you can create prices that will work as you scale your business. If your business requires investment, your business plan will show points of investment as negative cash flow that will turn into positive cash flow with that investment.


Growth = More Work

You’re afraid to grow because growth means more work for you, and you’re already working yourself to death.


My business coaching tag line is, “Grow Your Business, Enjoy Your Life”. This idea is so foreign to small business owners. The limiting belief that underlies this belief is “Success = Hard Work”. Yes, initially, you must work harder than the average employee to start your business. However, there’s a point where your work input is stunting the growth of your company. Hard working CEO’s tend to get in the way of their employees more than they help. They will come up with new and more work for their staff that doesn’t contribute to profitability or customer satisfaction. If you insist on micro-managing your staff and doing their work for them, you will limit your company’s growth; and most likely suffer a catastrophic health event.


The solution is to understand how your role as CEO of your business changes as your business grows. Yes, you will still work hard; but the work is different. Instead of beating the streets making cold calls, you will be creating cold call systems for your salespeople. After you hire a sales manager, you will stop doing that and will be investigating new markets. After you hire a marketing director, you will investigate mergers, acquisitions, joint-ventures, and other strategic alliances with other companies. Each step will feel uncomfortable; and you may have to learn new skills. However, you will not be working harder or longer hours. In fact, if you hire the right leaders and delegate, you will work much less than when you started your business.


Fear of the Unknown

You don’t understand what role exists if you stop doing what you’re doing.

Your employees have it easy… they have mentors and bosses to teach and train them. Right? Who do you have? There is a large industry of consultants, trainers, mentors, business coaches, and universities that can teach you various aspects of business. However, you don’t have time to teach yourself while you’re running your business. Plus, you are convinced that most of the advisors in these industries know less than you know about your business. There are elements of truth to both thoughts. However, there is someone out there who can help you understand how to gain the knowledge you need to grow to your next level of leadership. If you’d like help in picking the right advisor for you, I’ve published a free guide called “Finding Affordable Business Help”. I’ve outlined the strengths and weaknesses of each resource and given you a list of questions to ask to find the right advisor for you.


Oblivious

You have no clue how you’re stunting the growth of your company.

You show up to work, you punch your timecard like you’re an employee in your business, and you go home when your workday is done. I know that you don’t do these things as a business owner. However, you can get in a routine that feels comfortable and familiar. You may even say things like, “I want my life to be just like it is right now.” It’s a great trait to appreciate your life as it is. I applaud those who are grateful for the way things are. However, your company will always be changing whether you acknowledge it or not. Your market will change. Your industry will change. Your employees will go through life changes. Your employees will want to get raises and promotions that only come with a growing company.


Yes, enjoy your status. Be aware that it will change, and you can control that change. This change is what excites employees who want growth; and stresses employees who also like things the way they are. Once you believe that change is inevitable, you can be the catalyst instead of the bottleneck.


Hanging on to the Wrong Employees

You wanted to create a close-knit family that gives non-performers grace. You want to be different than the hard cold corporations that treat people like numbers. This is a noble goal. The fact is that a business is NOT a family. If you’re a father and your son is addicted to drugs or runs into some other problem, you’ll stick with your son until he gets better. That’s what healthy families do. If you’re in a rough patch with your spouse, you’ll seek out marriage counselors until you’ve made it through.


A business is constructed on human relationships, and it is right to give your employees understanding and grace. However, many business owners keep an employee in a role that is a poor fit for them thinking that it is somehow helping them. After all, if you fire that employee, how will they support their family? This is dysfunctional behavior in a business, and it will cause you and your failing employee pain.


When you see that an employee is struggling in a role in your company, there are three options: 1) train; 2) discipline; or 3) let them go. Over the years, I’ve learned that #3 is the best option for you and your employee. About half of my fired employees thanked me because I helped them find a better fit for them outside of my company later in their professional career. The other half no longer speaks to me.


Keeping the wrong person in the wrong role will create a drag on your company indefinitely. Other high-performing employees will leave because they want to be part of a winning team. Your struggling employee will continue to struggle waiting to be fired.


Being a Catalyst

How can you be a catalyst for growth? Let’s start with a definition:


cat·a·lyst - a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change.


If you’re a leader, you are this “substance” that increases the rate of change in your department, your business, or your organization. You are NOT the one who is doing the work or forcing your company to grow. For us control freaks, this is very difficult. We learned from a very young age, “if you want something done right, you must do it yourself.”


Most business owners are Type-A personalities. Positive traits of Type A’s include:

  • Self-control

  • Motivation to achieve results

  • Competitiveness

  • Multi-tasking skills

Negative traits that come with a Type A personality are:

  • Chronic competitiveness

  • Impatience

  • Aggression

  • Hostility

None of these traits are conducive to being a catalyst. If you want to be a catalyst for your company and your employees; you must be a servant-leader. This means that you must create an environment that is conducive to growth. If you do this, your employees will happily do the work of running your company; while you do the work of growing your company.

 

I hope that you got a few tips about how you can get out of the way of your company’s growth; and be a catalyst instead of a bottleneck.

 

About me. I have been actively engaged in the energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy conservation industry all my professional career from 1987 until now. I was a licensed Professional Engineering in six states and a Certified Energy Manager (CEM). I worked as a sales executive, energy engineer, sales manager, and entrepreneur. I started, grew, and sold an Energy Service Company (ESCo) called Ennovate Corporation (1997 to 2013). I now coach business owners, engineers, and business development executives in the energy efficiency industry.

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