In Part 1 and 2 we have been looking at the big reason the vast majority of small businesses fail in their first few years. There are 4 big ideas being introduced through this series, but first we must understand the three ‘people’ that must cohabit inside each business owner. There is a creative tension as each pushes his own interests and needs.

In Part 3 we now look at the three phases every business goes through, at what points the three ‘people’ shine, and where they start holding back and choking the enterprise.  But we are going to leave you hanging at the end for Part 4, which will show there are only three ways forward from that point…


INFANCY – the Technician’s Phase

Most businesses are run by what the owner wants and not what the business needs. The Technician doesn’t want growth or change, but a place to work, free to do what he wants, free from the constraints of The Boss.

Initially the air is full of hope, electric with possibilities, and the freedom is intoxicating. So he works…and works…and works. Long hours.

Now you are not only doing the work you know how, but also the work that you don’t know how. In Infancy, the owner and the business are the same thing. You’re a Master Juggler, keeping all the balls in the air.

And soon – if you’re lucky – it all starts paying off. And you work harder. Everybody wants you. But then, inevitably you start to drop some of the balls: your enthusiasm for working with the customers, wanes; deliveries become late, the product begins to show the wear and tear. Glitches start showing up. So what do you do? Stretch. Work harder. Put in more hours. All of a sudden, you find yourself swamped with all the things that must be done, trying to make some sense out of the mess, and you realize it simply isn’t going to get done. You realize your business has become the Boss you thought you’d left behind.

Infancy ends when the owner realizes the business cannot continue to run like this to survive – it will have to change. It is at this point most business failures occur. Most of the Technicians close the door and walk away. The rest go on to Adolescence.

A Technician-turned-business-owner doesn’t work because his focus is upside down. He has a tactical view rather than a strategic view. While you are working in your business, doing it, doing it – the strategic work that will lead your business forward, is not being done.

If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business – you have a job. The purpose of going into business is to get free of a job so you can create jobs for other people. It is to expand beyond your existing horizons, to invent something that satisfies a need in the market place that has never been done before. So you can live an expanded, stimulating new life.

You must make room for the rest of you and learn to let the other two personalities flourish; and then the game becomes far more rewarding than ever imagined.

Adolescence – Getting Some Help

Adolescence begins when you decide to get some help. Usually technical help; with experience in the things that aren’t getting done. Things get under control again. The problem is, the owner is so relieved with the new freedom of things getting done that he gradually hands over more and more responsibilities to the employee. This is Management by Abdication rather than Delegation.

Then unexpectedly, the owner begins hearing complaints: poor customer service, shabby workmanship. Shocked and outraged, he responds, “Here, give it to me. I’ll do it myself.” When he is around the business again people start asking, “Who the h… is that?!” Your trusted (manager) employee replies, “Oh, that’s just The Boss”.

Management by Abdication begins a process of deterioration when the number of balls in the air not only exceeds your ability to juggle them effectively but your people’s ability as well. In fact, the balls begin falling faster and more often than they ever did when he was doing everything himself. The owner realizes noone cares like he does, and runs back and becomes the Master Juggler again. He is unsatisfied with the others’ standards and takes over from the people he is paying – and the cycle speeds up! And noone is surprised about his dissatisfaction with their work, because he always changes his mind about what needs to be done, and how.

The problem is that the Technician business owner simply does not know how to do it any other way. To behave differently he would need to awaken the Entrepreneur and the Manager (asleep) personalities within him, and then help them to develop the skills only they can add to the business.

But the Technician won’t stop long enough for that to happen. He has to go to work! The Technician in him just has to keep busy. And he has just reached the limits of his comfort zone.

Beyond the Comfort Zone

As a business grows, it invariably exceeds its owner’s ability to control it. The Technician-owner may not realize that he has employed other technicians, who have the same needs – to know why he is doing what he is doing, the result he is accountable for, and the standards against which his work is being evaluated. He needs a Manager! Without this, the business will go into a tailspin.

As the business grows beyond the owner’s Comfort Zone, it can only go either of three ways – return to Infancy, go for broke, or hang on for dear life.

What’s Next…

In Part 4 we pick up the story and describe the only three ways forward from the point of business Adolescence. Once again, you will likely recognize your own business in one of those places. But there is light! There is an alternative, the Mature business which takes an entirely different perspective. And that’s where things get fun!


(Notes originally taken and adapted from ‘The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael E. Gerber)