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COMMENTARY

Why owners need to break free of their business, one hour at a time Add to ...

As an owner of a small business, you should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to control of your work-life balance. However, my history of business ownership, coupled with the experiences of those I see around me, suggests that a business owners is often the last one to take a break. That’s not only a bad sign for your personal life, it is also a sign that your business may be in danger.

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If your business is too dependent on you, how would it survive your critical illness or death? Would it burden your loved ones or collapse in your absence, leaving your employees out in the cold? It’s nice to be wanted but you wouldn’t want that.

Furthermore, if you ever dreamed of some day selling your business, how could it be deemed valuable to a new owner if everything that makes it work revolves around you? New owners want to imagine taking the reins of someone’s well-oiled machine and using their skill set to bring it to the next level. An acquirer is not going to pay a premium for a fixer-upper business or one where only the original founder can control the chaos.

The good news is, you can train your business to grow without you and you can learn to enjoy that accomplishment as much as your others.

Start with breaking free, one hour at a time. I’m not talking about lunch breaks or leaving early to attend a networking event; you already do that, and the business is just fine. (By the way, the reason the business is just fine is because the parts you missed – a disgruntled customer, a call from a vendor, a staff meeting – have all just been postponed until you come back. That’s not breaking free, that’s delaying the inevitable.)

I’m talking about removing yourself from your business, physically and mentally, for an hour a week. Try a Monday morning, a Friday evening or some other interval where the opening or closing of your business needs to be handled by someone else. Let your team know what you are doing and empower them to make the decisions necessary, in your absence, that are required by the business. That’s why you hired them, right, to do the work that you needed to delegate.

It is imperative that your team understands that this is part of their growth opportunity in your business. Just as important, you need to remind them that you understand that they will make mistakes every now and then, and those are things you can work on with them, together. After all, learning by doing, and sometimes doing incorrectly, is exactly how you figure out how to run your business.

What do you do during that hour? I don’t care but it needs to be non-working time. Turn off the smart phone (yes, it has an off button). When you get back to the office, ask your team if any of them have any questions about issue they needed to handle in your absence and take the time to establish policies and procedures to deal with similar issues, should they reoccur.

Repeat.

Soon, you’ll need to bump your experiment up to an hour a day, then a day a week, then a week a month, and then a month a year.

Once you’ve gotten to that point, make it six weeks – your busiest six weeks. By then, you will have practically graduated. Congratulations.

What have you learned along the way?

Well, you’ve probably learned that breaking free of your business was messy at times. It probably demonstrated weaknesses in your policies and procedures, and forced you to create little systems in places where your executive oversight and seat-of-the-pants strategy would have sufficed. You probably saw some mistakes that could have been avoided. You will definitely have seen weakness in your team members, along with team players who totally took on the challenge and thrived.

Most of all, you would have built a resistance to doing everything yourself. You will be enjoying the feeling of owning a business that is successful in your absence. You will be leveraging your years of above-average hard work and risk to create an above-average work-balanced life.

Just as important, you will own a business that is easier to sell, and more valuable when you do , for it, and the lifestyle it provides, will be worth a lot more to a potential buyer.

Congrats. You are free.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and sold seven businesses.

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