Four Difficult Questions Business Owners Must be Prepared to Answer


If you read my articles regularly, you’ll know I’m keen on evolution. Humans have been doing it for 300,000 years and we’re still not getting it quite right. For many businesses, standing still for just a few months might render them extinct!

Typically, new businesses are shaped around your product or service idea. Building it, marketing it and selling it.  

But once that’s happening, a very different mindset is required to take you from being a start-up to an established business.

Teams need to evolve with your mission. And you start to work towards the future rather than desperately trying to survive in the present.

With so much to think about, there’s one part of the business that can often continue unchallenged and unchanged: You!

When Your Business Grows Bigger Than You

Every growing business reaches a stage that comes as something of a shock to its founder. The stage when it no longer relies on you. Which isn’t to say that you won’t remain as a hugely important (if not the most important) member of the team. But it does mean that you have to ask yourself some very tricky questions.

  1. You are committed to speaking to every member of the team once a quarter.  You listen to their feedback and are honest about their performance. You touch on frustrations and areas for improvement as well as congratulating them on all they do well. These are crucial conversations that help ensure that you are working in tandem for the good of the business. But they leave one major question unanswered: Who appraises you?
  2. The business wouldn’t exist without you. Your idea got things started. Your energy allowed the idea to create an income. That income enabledWhat if you get hit by a bus and your business needs to run without you? you to employ others. At first you ran on instinct. If you made mistakes, you learned your own lessons and ploughed on. But now you are part of a team. You can’t sit apart. Say you have a bad idea? Say you behave in an irrational way? Say you expect too much of others? Who challenges you?
  3. One of the roles you perform is as a mentor. You know every aspect of the business inside and out. You created almost every process. You have recruited every colleague. If they have an issue, they come to you. If they disagree, you can arbitrate. If a client needs a firm word, you can pick up the phone. But who guides you?
  4. Managing a business requires all sorts of contingencies. You need to ensure that there is no over-reliance on any one person. That you are agile enough to push on even if a valued colleague moves on. But there is one lurking question that many of us find it easiest to avoid. Who replaces you? It may not be for a while, and it may not even be forever. At this stage it may just be a case of ensuring the business can cope if you take a well-deserved break. But much of your role will be immeasurable. Your calmness under pressure.  The reassurance you can provide simply by being available. The encouragement you give people to share ideas. The innate knowledge you have that others rely on without knowing it. If you get hit by the proverbial bus, will that all be lost?

Asking yourself these questions will demonstrate the crucial importance of being honest with yourself, coming to terms with your strengths and weaknesses, ensuring that you measure yourself as effectively as your colleagues, and understanding that you must also become replaceable.

Each question is open-ended. None are mission critical in the short-term. In fact, most businesses can survive the boss being absent for a while. Processes will continue to work. Workstreams will continue to push on. If the Captain leaves the deck, a ship will continue to steer its current course. Danger won’t arise until circumstances change. Until the next crisis or surprise. Who will replace you then?

To reach that point, you need honesty and support. Here are some answers… stay tuned for our next article on answering difficult questions about yourself.

Lorne Asks:

  1. How often do you sit back and think about your role?
  2. How far are you able to evaluate your own performance separately from that of your business?
  3. Who is prepared to tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear?

About Lorne Noble

Lorne loves finance so you don’t have to (seriously, he plays with Excel sheets on vacation)! He spent 12 years in corporate London as an investment analyst then made the jump to Boulder, Colorado to act as finance mentor to high impact companies at The Unreasonable Institute, Girl Effect Accelerator and Singularity University. He has an MBA from IE business school in Madrid, Spain.

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