THE ENTREPRENEURIAL PARADOX™
By Chuck Violand
Cleanfax Magazine – January 2014
If you’ve ever found yourself saying that you’d sell your company if someone offered you twenty bucks, then you’re probably experiencing a condition I refer to as the Entrepreneurial Paradox. This is a state brought on when an entrepreneur grows his company to a point where he’s required to do work he neither wants to do nor anticipated having to do when he started his business. In other words, he grows himself out of the fun job.
This phenomenon can happen at any level of a company’s growth. Sometimes it occurs early on when the owner first has to hire people to do the work he was doing when he started the company: delivering outstanding service, talking with customers, filling orders, and enjoying reasonably flexible hours. It can seem like one minute we’re doing the fun work we wanted to do, then the next thing you know, the people we hired are now doing that really fun work (and enjoying themselves while doing it), and we find ourselves having to manage them. How did this happen?
The Entrepreneurial Paradox can happen when a company grows to where the owner is hiring and managing managers who oversee the people doing the work. This can get frustrating fast when you consider many entrepreneurs aren’t great managers to begin with. We’re used to getting things done, having things our way, hip-shooting decisions. Who has the time to plan, organize, think things through, or get other people’s opinions?
Sometimes it doesn’t happen until later when the company is much larger and the owner finds himself having to deal with issues and understand concepts he may not have even known existed when his company was smaller: recapitalization, glass ceiling disparate impacts, cost performance indexes (CPI), variable resource allocations, and subordinated debt, to name just a few. These terms are hard enough to spell much less understand what they mean! Many entrepreneurs are poorly trained and ill-equipped to deal with issues this size.
But wait, there’s more! The Entrepreneurial Paradox gets even more complicated in the 63% of all companies in North America that are considered family businesses. If you’re the founder of the company and have children working in the business, your frustration might be related to your son or daughter not being capable of, or willing to, run the business the way you did. If you’re running the business with a sibling, your frustration might be driven by the fact that it’s no longer appropriate to settle disagreements the way you did when you were growing up—by wrestling with each other on the floor, calling each other names, or shouting “you’re not the boss of me!” These tactics tend to alarm the staff.
As strange as it might sound, small business owners are frequently blindsided by the Entrepreneurial Paradox. They don’t realize what’s happening until they’re in knee-deep and it seems way too painful to back their way out. But the Entrepreneurial Paradox doesn’t have to be debilitating and doesn’t have to be permanent. Here are a couple suggestions to address the conflict that arises when we grow ourselves out of jobs we enjoy doing.
Grow your business to the size you want it to be. It’s easy to fall into the trap of the Wall Street myth of “grow or die.” If your business is huge and it’s caught up in the world of “eat or be eaten,” this might hold some truth. But for the overwhelming majority of businesses (96%+) that generate less than ten million dollars in annual revenue, this is crazy. There’s a lot of financial value and personal fulfillment that can be gained from our businesses without having maniacal obsessions with revenue growth.
Don’t let your ego overrule your joy, your competence, or your common sense. Too many times we weigh our own success against that of our friends or competitors. If our competitors grow big companies, why can’t we? If our friends who own businesses grow large, successful companies, so should we. Trying to keep up with the corporate Joneses can be exhausting… and lethal if we’re not careful.
Learn to embrace change and enjoy professional growth. We all know the old saying “change is inevitable, but growth is optional.” When we become life-long learners, both of these are sure to become a lot more fun. Often times, we have talents we don’t even know we have until we try new things. The stories of successful companies that were started as a result of their founders being forced into completely foreign and uncomfortable circumstances are many. That just might be you.
When we commit to owning a business, we have to accept the fact that there will be times when we’ll be called on to do jobs and perform tasks we don’t enjoy doing, that we may not be particularly good at doing, or that we don’t even want to do but need to be done anyway. Along with the privilege of business ownership comes the responsibility to do jobs we might find unpleasant.