Working On Your Business: Getting Off the Truck, Part III

Getting Off The Truck To Work On Your Business, Not In It

Getting Off the Truck, Part III

After a small business owner hires their first employee and successfully gets them launched, they’re typically faced with getting out of daily administrative tasks (the office “truck”). This means hiring someone to manage answering the phone, scheduling work, invoicing jobs, interacting with customers, organizing and filing paperwork, and so forth. From time to time this may also include entry-level bookkeeping, but we’re going to save that “truck” for later in this series.

As it is with hiring someone to deliver the actual services a small business owner has been providing, hiring someone to perform the administrative tasks is just as daunting. After all, who’s going to handle incoming calls from customers better than the owner would?

To complicate matters further, few entrepreneurs understand what all is involved in making a business office run efficiently. All they may know is the way they’ve always done things, which is usually not a model of organizational excellence.

So now the owner is faced with hiring someone to perform tasks they’ve probably never performed well themselves, and they’ll be using skills many owners struggle with recognizing.

While many owners feel that hiring someone to replace them on the front lines is the most important hiring decision they’ll make, our experience has shown otherwise. It’s usually the office manager position that is the most important. Over and over we have seen where an upward tick in the trajectory of a company’s growth and profitability coincides with the arrival of a competent office manager. Coincidence? Perhaps. But the frequency with which we see it says otherwise. This has to do not only with the candidate’s technical skills but, more importantly, with their willingness to provide coaching and guidance to the owner.

For a multitude of reasons, we too often see owners make the mistake of basing their hiring decision solely on trust, familiarity, or how nice the office manager candidate is. While these are certainly admirable traits, characteristics such as the candidate’s organizational skills, competence, and courage—their willingness to speak truth to authority (in this case, the owner)—are even more important. This last quality is vital, especially when it involves an owner with an outsized ego who struggles with accepting input from someone whose paycheck they happen to sign.

The importance of hiring “up” in this position cannot be overstated.

Perhaps the greatest contribution to the company that this first office manager brings is helping the owner to use their time and talents more effectively. Hiring someone who can make the owner better—more effective with decision making, elevated leadership skills, better organization skills, and follow-through—will make all the difference. Most owners basically need an organized and steady personality to offset their own driven, entrepreneurial, and occasionally erratic behaviors.

All of this circles back to an owner’s comfort level with any of these “soft skills,” but also with the long-term goals they want to achieve with their company. An owner wanting to grow a five- or six-person company doesn’t need an experienced administration manager to run their office. On the other hand, an experienced administration manager can prove invaluable in helping a young business owner scale their company into a multimillion-dollar enterprise, if that’s their ultimate goal.

As we wrote about earlier in this series, getting off the truck is essentially an inside game, a mental game. It always starts with the owner’s capacity for change and grows from there. If they only address the technical side of change but ignore the emotional side, then they are setting themselves up for a long, uncomfortable ride.

Owners might be able to muscle their way through these changes when they’re young or when their companies are smaller. But as their company grows and as their challenges become larger, more complex, and require more mental energy to sustain, they inevitably find themselves questioning their decision to grow.

Hiring the right person to manage the office can support an owner as they navigate these challenges and give them the mental bandwidth to have the energy to do so.

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