What I’ve Learned From My Failures – Lesson #1

“Succeeding is not really a life experience that does that much good. Failing is a much more sobering and enlightening experience.”

Michael Eisner

Lesson#1 – You Can’t Be Everyone

This first lesson actually changes, depending on the business you’re working in. If you ever read The E-Myth, the author talks about the 3 roles that an entrepreneur plays in the beginning; The Entrepreneur, The Manager, and The Technician. As the business grows, the roles of the manager and the technician slowly get filled by new employees, so that the entrepreneur can focus on growing the business.

My Mistake: I recently left a position as a general manager for a retail store. I held that position for just over a year. It was easily the most difficult job I’ve ever had. On more mornings than I’d like to admit, I tried to find any excuse to stay home and avoid it completely. I never did, and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding years of my life. To clarify, the job itself was a disaster, and it ended horribly. However, I learned more about myself and about small business in general than any school could have taught me. Unfortunately, most of the lessons I learned were from the mistakes I made.

I started out as the bookkeeper at this business. About 3 months before I took over as general manager, I also took over another management role, which included a fair share of “technician” work. By the end of my 3rd year, I was working as all 3 E-Myth roles. At the time, I thought it made the most sense. Times were tough, and hiring more staff didn’t make sense. I was now doing the jobs that were previously done by 3 full time employees. The bookkeeper in me saw the Profit-Loss benefits of losing 2 full time salaries from the Expenses column.

The Lesson: What I have come to learn since then is that this was the worst thing I could have done. I was perfectly competent in each of the jobs I was performing, but I was never able to devote 100% to any one of them. I would show up to work with a stack of paperwork, and would end up in meetings all day. Other days I’d get a call from a vendor, and the information they needed was buried in that stack of paperwork. This wasn’t from a lack of trying. I was in my office at 8:30 every morning, and would still be answering emails or entering invoices on the couch at 9:00 every night.

The business was struggling, and it needed help. I had a lot of great ideas, a couple of them I even implemented along the way. If I had bitten the bullet and hired some extra help, or even delegated some of my jobs to others, it would have made a huge difference. I would have had the time to be The Entrepreneur, the dreamer who thinks up creative ways to get out of a mess. If someone was spending 100% of their time being The Manager, the finances would have been in better shape, and we would have known about upcoming problems well in advance. Finally, if a technician was given the time to get the ground work done, customers would have been better cared for. In reality, by trying to do everything, I ended up accomplishing very little.

The Bottom Line: As a small business owner, you have to know your limits. Maybe you can handle 10 clients on your own, and 15 are asking for your services. Maybe you want to focus on growth, but the paperwork is keeping you too busy. Whatever the reason, you will have an important decision to make. You can either say no to those 5 clients, and just stay small. Or, you can get some help, and start growing the business. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking you can have both. You’ll get burned out, and risk losing all 15 clients, not just the 5 you couldn’t really handle.


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