Daniel Bugeja

Business Doctor


How To Avoid Falling Into The Business Owner's Trap

Monday 16th April 2018

Some view having your own business as liberating and relieving, away from the clutches and monotony of being in a regular job, the ultimate freedom of being your own boss. However, this is rarely ever the case!

For many business owners, the reality is somewhat different; particularly after the first two or three years. By now, things have fallen into a pattern, and you're the first to unlock the business in the morning, the last to get paid, and you generally deal with all the complaints and problems. And you're working longer hours than ever.

 Trap

This Owner's Trap looks like the diagram above.

1. Because you know the business and the market, you're the company's best (or only) salesperson.
2. Because you know so much about your products and services, you offer custom solutions and minor 'tweaks' to your customers
3. Because you have promised a customised solution, you're the only person in the business who can deliver it. (And training someone else would take too much time. After all, it's a custom solution!)
4. Because the customer is aware that only you know about their custom solution, they want to talk only to you about it. No-one else even knows how it was produced.
5. Go to 1.

Other signs that you might have fallen into the Owner’s Trap might be a slowing down of sales whenever you are away. Typically, you'll be the main person that customers come to when they have a problem. These complaints will be waiting on your desk when you get back. Even worse, the company seems to have stalled in its growth during your absence!

This is a stressful way of running a business – I call this syndrome "the genius with a thousand helpers". No-one else is actually taking responsibility, all phone calls seem to be for you and staff are hanging around waiting for your instructions.

Unfortunately, there's never a simple solution to complex business challenges like this one. The main factors for avoiding the Owner's Trap for most businesses are

1. Processes and procedures: Document everything. 

2. Training: Staff need to know they have the skills and full authority to resolve problems.

3. Sales leeway: It's so easy for sales staff to promise everything to get the deal, only for you to find out (possibly months later) that the customer has different expectations. Therefore, clear guidelines for acceptable sales deals is a must.

4. Work on your business: Not in it. This is a vital point. If you can remove yourself from the day-to-day stuff of the business, you can get into your helicopter and see how things look from above.

As much as anything, a business that's totally reliant on its owner is likely to be unsellable, or of little value to a buyer. It's only by separating yourself from the business can you hope to obtain the ultimate freedom.


George Mangion

Senior Partner, PKF Malta


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