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Growing pains

  • Mike Rorie
- Posted: June 15, 2017

The idea of becoming “just” the president and CEO is but a faraway dream for most small business owners. The vision and effort it takes to be able to move from owner-operator to manager and leader is a difficult journey, to say the least.

Consider your job description. At some point as a business owner you’ve likely been president, head of sales, vice president of operations, administration head, HR manager, purchaser and policymaker - all at the same time. You wonder how many of us would’ve agreed to all this responsibility when we thought it would be fun to start our small businesses.

However, if it is your desire to work “on” your business and not “in it,” my advice is to first determine whether you have the vision and conviction to identify the variables that need to come into play for you to make this quantum leap.

Needed: People and a plan
One of these variables will be people. A difficult concept for many small business owners to buy into is that someone else will be in charge of some of the most important components of the business.

But without dedicated department heads, the ability for you to be the leader and run the business through your management team isn’t achievable. The only way for you to make it to this next level is to find people with the proper amount of competency and commitment who you can trust to help you run the business.

Identifying the key positions you would need to fill to free up your time and focus is a good place to start. Head of sales, head of operations and head of administration are three of the most important areas.

Your next step would be to get a formalized business plan in place that spells out where these positions fit into the picture. Your plan should prove your understanding of what you need to achieve in your overhead structure to support these key positions.

You need to know how much revenue it’s going to take and how large your margins need to be to recover your overhead with some profitability; then you’ll have your first target.

Write it down
Planning and finding the right people is usually the most time-consuming part of building a company for 99% of all startups and entrepreneurs. Typically we don’t have a business plan in place; we have a dream, we have a passion, we like to do what we’re doing, so we start a business.

But taking the time to put your vision on paper and creating a plan will make the opportunity to staff up and solely focus on leading the company much more tangible for you.

Once you’ve done some planning and figured out what it’s going to take to support your plan in your overhead structure, you can determine whether you want to put your plan in action. Just going through this drill should provide a good basis as to how much work it will actually take to transition out of operations.

One of the concepts I have always shared in my 35+-year journey is that once we grew our business to the point where we created a branching structure, it was much easier to have separation between working in the business and working on the business.

The branch model provided direction, control and accountability for the continuation of the responsibilities the business had to its customers, employees and vendors.

Separating a small team that worked on the business from a team that operated the business was a very clear, effective operating structure.

Making your plan a reality
Think about what your organizational chart needs to look like for the business you’d like to build. It should become clear that the larger or more complex the structure becomes, the more revenue and competencies the business must have to support it. Taking this time should prove to be very valuable, since without it you may never understand or discover what your organizational chart needs to look like.

And if you plan it out and decide the price is too much to pay, that’s OK. Shift your focus back to building a great lifestyle business for you and your key people. Either way, think hard about your goals and your vision to achieve them. It’s up to you to articulate and test your plans, and to endure the sacrifice it will take to make your ultimate dream come true.

Jump start solutions
  • Don’t try to grow without a written plan.
  • Evaluate whether the resources are available to bring your vision into focus.
  • If you can’t move forward, don’t view it as a failure. Step back and revisit it after you’ve removed the roadblocks you identified.

Mike Rorie has been a participant in the snow and ice industry for nearly four decades. He is now the owner of GroundSystems, as well as the CEO of GIS Dynamics, parent company to Go iLawn and Go iPave. Contact him at

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