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Your business will never fly if you never let it leave your nest


Starting your own company is no easy task and requires you to wear many hats and play many different roles. Many SME owners are their own HRM, PRO and everything in between all in one. However, believe it or not, one of the most valuable things you can do is to make the change from handling the day-to-day operations to driving the strategy behind your business.

Let me share my story with you real quickly. I started Chieftain Communications, specialising in experiential marketing and event management, roughly five years ago. The first four years, I was thoroughly immersed in the nitty-gritty of the operational side of things at Chieftain.

It’s only been 12 months that I have been able to move almost exclusively into a strategic role. And guess what, this week, I’m feeling well rested. It’s not often you hear an SME company director say that – in fact, I couldn’t for years. But, I just got back from a six-week holiday, trekking through Asia, and I am really proud to have returned to find Chieftain Communications in great shape.

Why do many SME owners fear to let go of their business?

Now, back to the main point.

Many company directors fear taking themselves out of the business and into the strategic role because of the initial cost. Adding a layer of management to run the day-to-day operations is often seen as a cost centre, rather than a potential to increase a company’s profit margin.

The reality is that with the right staff, I actually started saving about 70 per cent of my time! This time can be reinvested into client acquisition, retention, and strategic direction of the company. In the fast-paced business, you really do need someone to be watching the horizon, and not only when the P&L dictates an unprofitable month, quarter or year.

Also, for years you hope to ‘remove’ yourself, and when you finally do, you can feel a little lost. You have become so accustomed to being operational every day, that you are not really sure what you are meant to do strategically. You can also feel you are not giving your team the support they need, as you are no longer in the ‘trenches’ with them.

How can SME owners adjust into strategic roles from operational ones?

Here are a few all-important tips that helped me get out of the daily grind and got me thinking about how to move the business forward strategically. They will very likely come in handy for you too.

  • You need an accountant you can trust. Chieftain’s Financial Controller provides an updated cash flow every Friday, as well as a monthly P&L. This kind of regular visibility allows me to make the right decisions, or change direction with as much notice as possible.
  • You need a 2IC you can rely on. It’s easy to hire a ‘yes man/woman’ but, you need someone strong enough to give you honesty and direction from the operations team. You should be able to hand something to them, and consider it done.
  • Find a new right hand. Three months ago, for the first time, I hired a PA. Their main role is to streamline the work that hits my desk. It took some looking, but I was able to find a rock star. This is what I mentally call my ‘first line of defence’. Her instincts are great, and she is able to ensure I don’t get bogged down in mountains of paperwork.
  • Create processes. Even when Chieftain was one bloke (me!) in a coffee shop, I started writing processes for everything. People thought I was crazy at the time – now it saves me valuable time, and is also used as a training handbook for all new staff.
  • Start relying on technology. Even though I’m a fairly young fella, I can at times be a luddite. I really have put trust in the younger staff who are able to deliver us technology solutions that are able to save time and money.
  • Work on yourself. Lastly, while this has nothing to do with structure, it has changed my life. The fact I now have a little more time in my life, I am able to start looking after my health. The additional time gave me the opportunity to start seeing a personal trainer, as well as cooking better – let’s face it, an entrepreneur/company owner can live on crappy takeaway food for far too long!

I have lost 10kgs, and my cholesterol is down, which means I probably won’t drop off of the earth tomorrow. I feel great, and this added energy has also contributed to my increased focus on my business.

Steve Fontanot is an experiential marketing innovator, and founder of Chieftain Communications, working with the world’s biggest brands. He has a passion for non-traditional and youth marketing and an uncanny knack for finding new and exciting ways for brands to communicate with consumers.