Updated: Jul 19
Owning a business should significantly enhance the owners' life.
But the unfortunate truth is that most businesses have a negative impact on the lives of owners and employees.
Both Neil (Better Happy co-founder) and I know this because we've directly experienced it ourselves, and we've heard it from thousands of other business owners and employees.
So an important question is why.
Why does something (owning a business) that seems like it should have an overwhelmingly positive impact on peoples lives (owners, employees, customers and their families) become the source of so much stress and pain?
Imagine that you're driving your car. It's been performing excellently for the last two years but as you notice something's not right. The car starts making unusual noises, and it's not driving the same. The issues persist, and the performance of the car continues to decline.
What do you do?
I hope you thought 'take it to a mechanic'. Obviously, we take it to a mechanic. We know something isn't right. We know there's a problem. And we know that if we don't address this problem, it's going to get worse.
We're also aware that we don't know how to diagnose and fix this problem, but a mechanic can.
What does that have to do with business?
The small business journey is the same as the story I've just shared with you.
The business owner starts the business full of passion and drive. They get a kick from the successes they achieve. They do a great job. Business demand grows past what the owner is capable of, so they grow a team. The car is running smoothly.
Then anywhere between the 2-8 year mark, the car stops running smoothly.
The energy, passion and drive the owner is used to isn't the same as it once was, and it's slowly getting worse. The team are stressed, the owner is stressed.
It's here where the story differs from the car example. Instead of getting help identifying and fixing the problem, the owner feels bad/embarrassed about these problems and ignores them. They tell themselves they're just having a bad week, and they're a bit overwhelmed. It'll sort itself out next week.
I can tell you from direct experience; it's the same as the car. It won't get better by itself. The fault will remain, and the problems will worsen until it reaches a point where the business, the owner or the team grind to a halt.
So in this post, we're going to run the diagnostics machine. We're going to identify the fault so we can start doing something about it. To do that, we're going to use the four steps in the small business owner team/journey map. We'll identify at what stage and why most business owners get stuck!
Each of the following summaries is an average based on a service-based business start-up without significant capital investment, i.e. self-funded.
Stage one - Start-up
The start-up phase usually lasts between 6 and 18 months by one single person, maybe with some support from family or friends.
Although the workload is crazy, the owner is highly motivated and passionate. They're excited to be their own boss and to create their own future, and rightly so.
Assuming that the owner has a good product or service, the business owner doesn't need to get too great at business processes here. They start to get a good reputation and create a lot of business via word of mouth.
For most people shifting from being in employment to being their own boss is intimidating. The parts of our brains that crave safety and security (alongside the messaging of society) tell us it's not going to work. So every single success achieved in this stage is liberating, the owner is motivated, and they're hungry for more!
The car is running smoothly!
Stage two - Success
The Success phase can typically last anywhere between 12-24 months. This stage starts when the business owner has generated enough business (usually surpassed the UK £85k VAT threshold) to clear the start-up phase and is growing a team.
The owners family are still supportive of the business and energised by the owners' passion and enthusiasm.
The owner is energised and motivated by the growth and also excited to be adding a team. They know having a team means more business and soon more business/life balance.
The team draw a lot of motivation from the owner's presence and energy. The owner has time for everyone and is involved in all aspects of the business. The owner keeps everyone and the business on track; it's a team effort, and it feels great. The owner and team are excited about the future!
The car is going faster and still running smoothly.
Stage Three - Struggle
The struggle phase tends to kick in between 2-4 years into business and can last 1-3 years or longer. Businesses in this stage can have teams ranging anywhere from 8-30 people (in some cases, more or less dependent upon industry).
At this stage, although the business and team have grown, the owner starts to lose their spark. The energy, passion and enthusiasm combined with a crazy work ethic they have been relying on to grow the business begin to wain. Not only is the owner starting to tire, but they are also starting to crave, and rightly so, more time for their health and their families.
But here's the catch 22.
They've built the business to where it is by being there and driving it every day.
The clients rely on them.
The employees rely on them.
The business relies on them.
If they let this tiredness take over and lower their daily output, the business is doomed.
If they spend less time at work and more time at home with their families, the business is doomed.
Then a couple of employees leave here and there. Maybe a few customers complain they aren't getting the service they used to. This reinforces the owner's internal dialogue that they need to be there, every day, on their A-game, or it's all going to implode.
Back to the car analogy.
Up until this point, the car (the business) has been running great for a couple of years at least. It has now developed a few issues. If this were a car, the owner would get it to a mechanic as soon as possible. They would deem it irresponsible to carry on driving it without diagnosing and addressing the problem. They accept that they cannot identify the specifics of the problem, so they get it over to a mechanic.
But in business (the thing they have created that will have a far more significant impact on their life than their car), many business owners do the opposite of this.
It becomes evident to them something isn't right and that they aren't sure of what that thing is, so they ignore it and try to just 'work through it'. They blame it on themselves and tell themselves that if they just keep going, they'll get their energy back, figure out what's causing these problems and fix them. But as we've discussed, this won't work. They'll get more tired, more burnt out, and the issues will get worse.
What is the fault? And is it fixable?
The fault is the owner (not the negatvie employees or the demanding customers), and yes, it is fixable.
The owner is beginning to experience burnout. Not because they've done something wrong but because they've been working super hard, driven by passion, for years.
A monk once taught me about the benefits of pain. He taught me that physical pain often isn't a bad thing, that it's a prompt from the body that enables us to address something before it becomes a severe problem. Owners beginning to feel burnt out, employees and clients complaining... these are the prompts being sent to business owners to make changes.
A business can't reach the satisfaction stage if it's reliant on the owner. If the owner carries on making the business reliant on themselves, it becomes a serious negative for them, their families, their employees and inevitably their customers.
Business owners can capitalise on all the great work they have done so far and move their business into the satisfaction stage by shifting from being the business to on the business. The satisfaction stage doesn't mean it's just more satisfying for them; it means the business is more satisfying for the employees and customers.
Fault detected - Owner telling themselves the employees and customers need them.
Fix - Employees like their business owners, but they also want to feel autonomous in their roles.
Customers like the business owners, but they want the benefits of the service or product as fast and effective as possible.
Both of these require the owners' guidance but not the owners direct presence.
Business owners have two choices here.
1 - Ignore the problem, keep the business reliant on them, keep working too hard, inadvertently upsetting their team and family, and limit the service their customers and potential customers can receive.
2 - Identify and address the problem, give themselves a break, start to focus on becoming a strategic leader. Put work into empowering their team and business to function and grow without them. Maybe enjoy a holiday and having a personal life at the same time.
When a business owner chooses option 2, they still have work to do, but they can move their business into the next stage.
Stage four - Satisfaction
This stage is dictated by the fact that the business can function and grow without the owner's presence through a healthy, happy team. It's called the satisfaction stage because all people involved in the business feel satisfied.
The owner and their family have a business they are proud of. A business that creates great jobs and an excellent service without consuming the owner. The owner gets to lead the business and work when they want to. They have clarity, energy and a great business life balance.
The employees enjoy their jobs. They feel valued and appreciated in the business (highlighted by the fact the owner trusts them enough not to be there watching them). They understand the big picture and how what they do supports the growth of the business. They enjoy a great work-life balance, good health and knowing that they deliver a service that positively impacts others.
The customers get an excellent service. They are looked after and listened to. Their experience with the company is great, and they feel they get more than their money's worth. They refer the business to friends and are happy to sing praises about the business.
This might sound like an unachievable utopia, but it's not. It's perfectly achievable and achieved by thousands of business owners across the world every year.
What's the key to achieving this?
Accepting that there is a fault, recognising that you are the fault and moving out of the struggle zone.
You don't have all the answers to get from the struggle zone to the satisfaction zone. Chances are, either do we. But you do have access to people with all the answers you need to get there.
We specialise in helping business owners get themselves out of the way, accepting they need help from others and empowering their teams.
We specialise in helping business owners identify what the satisfaction stage looks like for them, what's holding them back and what help they need to get there.
If you've got your business to the struggle zone, you've got a service or product that people need. This is something to be proud of and something that should be positive in your life. Don't let being burnt out and refusing to change limit the world of your vision. Give yourself a break, shift your focus and get your mojo back.
How well is your business currently set up to allow you and your people to thrive?
Find out in less than five minutes by taking the FREE Better Happy Owner Scorecard. Click the image below.
About Mike: Mike believes that a structured pathway to health and happiness is the solution to individual, business and global challenges. Mike was never made to feel good in the schooling system, experienced poor management in military and burn out in his first business. Seeing these problems were widespread Mike Co-Founded Better Happy to help other business owners and employees achieve their visions faster with health and happines.