Running a business - what, and why

Perhaps you're like me and you were bitten by that so-called "Entrepreneurial bug", as Michael Gerber calls it.  You're sick of doing all the hard work so that somebody else can reap the benefits, and it's time for you to step out and work for yourself!  Congratulations!  Your future is bright, the possibilities are endless, and you can accomplish anything you set your mind do.
However, there are a few things you should really know about what running a business is and what running a business is not. Here are a few things that I wish I had known when I first started my businesses (I currently run two and have run several over the last couple of decades).  I hope you gleam some insight from this so that you can be a bit better prepared at the onset than I was.

Starting out, or starting over

When you're at the beginning, this is a truly exciting time.  Here's a quick list of what it does mean to run a business first, and I'll describe each concept in some detail below.  After that, we'll talk briefly about what running a business isn't.  Even if you've been running a business for many years (as I had been when I first discovered these concepts), this stuff can really help you out. 
Here are a few quick things that running a business is:
  • Setting up the business so that it will run without you
  • Focusing on improvements, your number one job as the owner 
  • Constantly educating yourself

Automation and delegation

Setting up the business so that it will run without you

What does it mean to set up the business so that it will run without you?  In short, the twin titans of automation and delegation are the crux of managing any small business.  Imagine being Bugs Bunny in the famous cartoon where Bugs plays every single position on the baseball team, from the outfield, to the infield, to pitching, to catching.  Bugs manages to pull it off because... well, he's Bugs Bunny.  You're not, and neither am I.  You simply can't do it all by yourself, or maybe you can, but on an extremely small scale, but you'll never be able to do every single job at your business better than every single other employee you have.  Delegation means giving some of these jobs to others to do, and automation means making things run automatically, without you having to do it every single time.

Bugs can play all positions, but you can't.

Focusing on improvements

Focusing on improvements

I met with a project manager last year when we were undergoing a massive expansion at my BJJ gym.  She gave me some fantastic insight that utterly changed my perspective almost immediately.  She told me that the Agile project board we were using (see related photo) should have almost nothing but improvements, not "BAU" stuff.  I asked her what BAU stood for, and she told me:  "Business As Usual."  In a nutshell, all of the BAU stuff should be taken care of at your business so that you can take care of almost exclusively the improvements.  You should be working on getting more customers, or making their experience better, or making your employees happier, not on keeping the ship afloat.  Your system should keep your ship afloat.
Agile project management board - almost all improvements
Credit: Revolution BJJ

Continuing education

Constantly educating yourself

This has been a real game changer for me of late, not only from my business life, but also from my personal life.  I've always been sort of curious, and I enjoyed studying social and political issues in my late teens and early twenties, and physics in my thirties.  One thing I never thought I'd enjoy learning about was running a business, but I was wrong.  Here's how:
Really.  I will sit through a book that I can listen to without hesitation, a book I'd never even consider sitting down to read.  I can be doing a menial, mindless task like washing the dishes, or something kind of fun like walking a dog, or even driving (much safer than texting!).  Either way, I've "read" dozens of business books, including "the E-Myth Revisited", one of the all time best for business owners, and I've assimilated tons of information that I otherwise would never get through.  Continue to educate yourself and always look to learn something new, and your business will always be improving!

What running a business is not

 Okay, now that you have a good understanding of what it might take to run a business, now it's time to take a hard look at what running a business is not.  This may shatter a few misconceptions, but after reading this, you'll have a much, much better idea of what it entails, and the bigger picture. 
Running a business is not:
  • Working for 16 hours a day every day (technical work)
  • Putting out fires every day 
  • A get rich quick scheme 

Working harder on technical work

Working for 16 hours a day every day (technical work)

Okay, so everyone knows that running a business isn't a cake walk.  But what most of us might not understand at the onset (myself included) is that what you're in for isn't necessarily sixteen hour work days every day for the rest of your life as you strive to do more and more of the work of the persona Michael Gerber calls "the technician."  


Being a firefighter

Putting out fires every day

Okay, sure, you're going to have to do a little bit of troubleshooting at first.  Well, maybe an awful lot of it for a while.  But you want to get away from the "keeping the ship from sinking" mentality over time, and gradually spend more and more time making the ship better, or guiding it in the right direction (an even better metaphor- you are, after all, the captain of the ship).  If you visualize an urgent/important matrix, you'll want to spend most of your time in the "important" section, and that includes important things that are not urgent at all.  In fact, this quadrant (the latter) represents where all of your improvements are going to come from.

The Urgent/Important matrix

The urgent/important matrix
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The yellow quadrant (not urgent, but important) represents where nearly all improvements come from.

Quick and easy

A get rich quick scheme

Even though your whole goal is to have to do less and less day to day stuff over time, the reality is that you're going to need to spend a few years building up the automations and delegations that comprise a great system.  If you had to go away for a year, your business should run just as smoothly on the 365th day of that year as it does on the first, but that year can't happen right now!  It has to come much, much later (not that I'd ever want to go away from either of my businesses for a year, or even a month... but I know that I could if I had to). 


You are in for a lot of hard work, to be certain - but there's a light at the end of this tunnel.  The whole idea is to get to the point where you can focus on making those improvements, and then (and only then)... make them!  Make all kinds of crazy improvements.  You're going to have a tremendous edge over most businesses, because most owners either focus 100% on the technical stuff, or they just give up and assume they don't have to pay any attention to their businesses.