Starting a business from scratch requires that an entrepreneur wear many hats. The trouble is, most people start businesses because they're particularly skilled at something for which they see a market opportunity. Or they have a product idea or invention that they're passionate about.
Whether it's a better mousetrap, a smartphone app or a skilled trade, not all business owners get their MBA prior to launching. And that's not a bad thing, but it means that they'd better be willing to have split personalities.
Michael Gerber is the author of The E-Myth, an eye-opening read for anyone in small business. In it, he describes the three main personalities of small business owners: the Entrepreneur, the Manager and the Technician.
Most businesses, he says, are started by technicians; electricians, mechanics, inventors or software programmers. All of these skills are valuable, but they have nothing in particular to do with running a business successfully. They are mostly focused on just doing the day-to-day work. So when a technician starts a business, the administration of that business is overwhelming and chaotic. Technicians tend to complain about all aspects of their business except the technical work. But as the business grows, they need to get good at working on the business, not just in the business.
That's where the second personality – the Manager – comes into play. The manager wants to build repeatable systems, policies and procedures. She worries about forms and guidelines and training and communications. The manager wants organization so that delegation of responsibilities can be done with confidence and with regularity. She's all over the bookkeeping, human resource responsibilities and data collection and management, and also wants to know the details of the work of the technicians so that standards can be created and successes and failures within the business can be measured and built upon.
The third personality required by every small business owner is the Entrepreneur. Strategic and creative, the entrepreneur believes anything is possible and is regularly swinging for home runs. The entrepreneur dreams big, is addicted to growth and isn't afraid to take big risks. He's the ultimate cheerleader for the business and his optimism is infectious. He works hard and plays hard and never gives up, even when the mountain ahead of them seems impossible to move.
In a perfect world, every small business owner is one-third Technician, one-third Manager and one-third Entrepreneur. That way, you have skilled work and innovative products, delivered in a business with repeatable systems that can be easily replicated and delegated, owned by a strategic dreamer who never gives up.
The problem is, however, the world is not perfect and while I have seen many business owners with a great balance between these different personality types, most businesses I encounter have too much of one and not enough of the other two.
When you consider these different personalities, which one are you? What can you do to compensate?
First, if you are not exercising all three personalities, you need to recognize the limitations inherent your business. If your business is very small, you will have to find a way to compensate for your weaknesses, even if it means paying more attention and investing more time into aspects of your business that don't come naturally to you or are of little interest. Your business needs leadership and action from all three personalities; you don't get to sit any of them out.
Second, you can hire those personality types to deliver the results you struggle to achieve. If the financial resources aren't there for hiring, maybe a partner could fill that role, although partnerships have their own risks and pitfalls.
Whatever your approach, you need to build a business that runs for you, not one that runs you. It takes thoughtful consideration on your part to know what personality is dominating the business and balancing it with the parts that are being left behind. The results will be tangible and you will grow as an owner and a person as well.
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 exited seven businesses.