Many startups begin with a “solopreneur”, an entrepreneur performing all of the essential functions of the business. Businesses that provide services to other businesses such as business consulting and information technology support can establish themselves and even thrive, to a point. The time comes when the volume of work overwhelms the entrepreneur, forcing him or her to seek outside help.
In the beginning, overloaded solopreneurs find contractors to fill in the gaps in areas such as bookkeeping, customer support, sales and project management. The entrepreneur manages all key functions of the business personally, from business and product development to service delivery and administrative support. Hiring contractors frees the entrepreneur from several administrative or menial tasks and allows the business to continue serving customers.
Eventually, the business growth meets the bottlenecks of limited capacity. Sales are lost because the workload dictates scheduling new projects several months from now. The entrepreneur works twelve-hour days, seven days per week. Life for the family of the entrepreneur begins to take its own course without his or her involvement or support. The pressure to provide for the family and serve the needs of customers drives the vicious cycle to the breaking point.
The challenge faced by such entrepreneurs is multi-faceted but generally boils down to a key issue. As the creator of the business, the entrepreneur has successfully relied on his or her own expertise and the hard knocks of early customer engagements before the product was polished. The entrepreneur built the business on personal sweat and dedication. The entrepreneur’s personal reputation is as important as the business reputation at this stage and disappointing customers can cause irreparable damage.
Future growth and sustainability requires the addition of key resources in the business. Sometimes, advisers and consultants will offer advice to “Learn to let it go. Compromise is the natural consequence of growth and relying on others to perform in your business.” For the entrepreneur, it certainly feels like letting go of critical functions in the business that, until now, they have personally performed. Relying on someone else risks the reputation of the entrepreneur and the business overall. Anxiety builds as the trap becomes clear. In addition to the challenge of trusting others with their creation, the cost of hiring new employees at this stage appears to be prohibitive. The trap is now complete.
This is a critical ‘make-or-break’ stage for many startup businesses. The business concept has demonstrated its viability and generated several paying customers. Growth to realize the potential of the business requires a new level of planning and the addition of resources to perform the work. The entrepreneur is not “letting go” of anything. Instead, they are recruiting and trusting others to execute the business, preserve the brand and the core value proposition to customers. The business will (and it should) look and feel quite different as the team grows and adopts new operating processes.
The good news is that the model of how the business makes money is already established. This allows for the creation of financial projections to support growth over the next five years. These projections reflect long-term goals and milestones that begin to clarify the resources, internal and external, that will be required to support the business. Success requires taking the leap by trusting in the proven concept already demonstrated, recruiting and inspiring others to help and having a clear plan and executing it relentlessly.