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For the past 20 years, I’ve coached tens of thousands of small business owners on how to grow their companies.  During that time, I have personally observed the common patterns that keep business owners stuck in the “work until you drop” model. 

Here are four common barriers that hold small business owners back from scaling their fledgling companies. 

As you read this list, take a hard look at your own company, and see which of these barriers is costing you.

Barrier #1: “The Stacked Deck”

Most business owners have to work the way they’ve structured their business.  They charge too little, relative to their real costs.  Since in most cases they are their company’s primary sales person, customers expect them to personally be involved in fulfilling their product or service or, at the very least, actively overseeing its production or fulfillment.

Their businesses have become a treadmill. What’s worse is that the more you work, the more your business comes to rely on your personal production.  And with increased sales, you take on more overhead, which in turns locks you in to needing to personally produce more.  Is it any wonder that it’s so hard to imagine scaling your company?  After all, you say, you simply don’t have more hours to work. 

Barrier #2: “The Competency Trap”

I get it – you are very good at what you do, perhaps even the most competent person in your company.  But now, that very competency works against you in the context of scaling your business.  You’re so darn competent that it’s hard to let other people handle tasks that you know you can perform better. You may very well find it excruciating to watch a member of your staff complete something subpar to your expectations. You may feel constantly compelled to step in and handle any and every little job in order to make sure it’s executed properly. But the more you do, the more you have to keep doing. This leads directly into the next barrier…

Barrier #3:  “Controlitis”

Controlitis is the inflammation of your control gland—and I understand this one.  I’m a control freak myself who runs two active companies with millions in sales.  But I’ve trained myself to laugh when I hear myself say, “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.” Recognize that these just might be the most expensive words that any business owner can say.

You’re good at what you do, I get it.  But recognize the high price you are paying for your urge to control every detail of your business. I’m not going to tell you to just abdicate responsibility, but rather, to build on a stable base of sound business systems, a talented and well-trained team, and a culture that helps ensure proper handling of any situation. This base is critical if you want to scale, and scaling requires you to grow your ability to intelligently delegate functional responsibility (not just handing off tasks to be done.)

Barrier #4: “Lack of Business Training”

This is another way that the deck is stacked against you. In all your years of running your company, you’ve likely had very little formal training on the skills to run a business.  You’ve had to pick things up on the fly.  You learned to read your financials, sell your product or service, hire and manage employees, budget and plan, all based on painful trial and error.

So if these are the barriers that hold you back, what can you do about them? 

Here are three simple suggestions to help move past these barriers.

  1. Intentionally choose one or two functional responsibilities to delegate, and train an employee to “own” for your company.  This could be training Sarah to be responsible to onboard new employees; Raul to handle the crew scheduling; or Tim to handle all purchasing under $10,000 a month. 
  2. Monitor your own language and behavior.  Whenever you hear yourself saying, whether out loud or just in your own head, “No one can do this as well as me so I have to do it myself.”  Or, “It’s too much hassle to get someone else to do this, I’ll just knock it out myself.”  Be aware that you are firmly rooting yourself in having to work harder and harder for your business, which stunts its ability to grow and scale.
  3. Read one business book each quarter.  If you don’t like to read, then get the audio book, and listen to it!  No excuses; one book a quarter.  This is you investing in your business education.