Moving from solo-preneur to successful business leader requires a mindset shift before actual growth can happen. Key factors to consider are your strengths as a successful entrepreneur and how you can leverage these as you move forward. At the other end of the spectrum, those skills, behaviours and approaches which might have worked for you so far, but which no longer serve you and should be left behind.
Beyond this, here are three key shifts that every solo-preneur needs to work through on their journey to growing a strong sustainable company:
1. From improvisation to strategy
Let’s be honest, at the start, most of us found ourselves making it up as we went along – trying a few things, taking a few chances, risking a few punts. We improvised, we adapted, we made it work somehow. At some stage in your business journey though, improvising and making it up as you go along is no longer a viable approach. A more stable strategy is required as a platform for sustainable growth.
To the solo-preneur who is used to thinking on their feet and making decisions in-the-moment, this can be a challenge. However, it becomes particularly important once you have a growing team in place, because they’ll need clarity around their direction and purpose.
And that’s a key thing: clarity. More specifically, clarity around your purpose and direction.
What IS your long term vision, and can it be expressed in a sentence or two that everyone understands? What are your mid-term 3-5 year goals? What are you doing in the next 12-18 months to align with those 3-5 years goals?
From here on, your team becomes more actively involved in defining how the strategy turns into an actionable plan: How does this break down into quarterly goals for each area of your business? How do these quarterly goals translate into monthly actionable goals and tasks at an individual level?
At every stage, those involved should be aware of how their day to day work aligns with the overall strategic goals of the business. Get this right, and individuals are motivated and engaged because they can see where they are adding value and making a difference, and crucially where they are going. Get it wrong, and people lose sight of their purpose and direction. They’re more likely to become inward looking, task focused and fall into the trap of working in silos.
“You either control your mind or it controls you.” – Napoleon Hill
2. From holding on to letting go
At the start of your entrepreneurial journey, you had to be a jack of all trades: marketing – yep, that’s me. Finance? Me too. Sales? Yes…that’ll be me. Service delivery and operations? Hmmm….yeah. Me. The irony is that whilst many entrepreneurs aspire to be able to step back from their business, most find it incredibly difficult to let go. It’s their ‘baby’, after all.
Whatever the size of business, a key factor in growth is for the founder to move from doer to delegator. But whilst in principle that’s easy enough, emotionally it can be hard. The stark fact is that other people won’t do things in the same way that you do but that doesn’t make it wrong.
One of the most useful things that an entrepreneur moving to business leader can do is be brutally honest with themselves as to why they struggle to let go. Are you worried that people won’t do the task as well as you can? Is it quicker to do it yourself? Do you simply not know who you could delegate to? Or do you just not want to let go of something you enjoy doing?
The practicalities of delegation and working through others are pretty straightforward – it’s the mindset shift of letting go that needs to happen first.
Ask yourself: What must you let go of in order to deliver results through others, practically and emotionally? How are you communicating your expectations of what you want others to deliver? (and would they agree with you?!) What does letting go free you up to do?
This last point is often the clincher that allows entrepreneurs to break out of the ‘gotta do it all myself’ rut – the realisation that you simply cannot become a business leader and grow your company if you stay stuck on purely operational tasks.
3. From working IN your business to working ON your business
The whole ‘letting go’ factor is moving towards one thing: the ability to focus on growing your business and moving it forward. The CEO role is fundamentally about building the skills to achieve through others so that you can fully embrace that senior leadership role, and focusing on what really matters.
However, at the outset of business growth, you’ll probably find yourself dragged back into the day-to-day fairly often. It’s vital at that stage to schedule in time to work on your business rather than in it – put it in your diary and stick to it. Yes it will be a juggling act to start with, but without a concerted effort to focus on getting things in place for your business’ next steps, they just won’t happen.
Your focus must shift from the day to day to the big picture, steering your business forward by providing the leadership and direction, identifying and removing barriers to growth and putting in place the things that your business needs in order to move forward; the right people, the right processes and systems, the right culture and day to day practices.
“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” – Peter F. Drucker
A word of caution, taking the long term, big picture view of the business leader doesn’t mean losing sight of the day to day. It’s important that communications within any business are two way, and that you’re gathering information from the ‘coal face’ (especially where customers are concerned) as well as clearly communicating aspirations goals and targets.
So is it time for you to shift? Is it time for you to move from solo-preneur / entrepreneur to business leader? Has the time come for you to no longer roll up your sleeves to swab the deck, splice the mainbrace or clean the bilge pump – but to become Captain of the ship? Work on your mindset first – the rest will follow.