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Energy, Enthusiasm And An Empty In-Tray

Twelve months after Bob’s phone call he rang us again. This time it was a very different Bob at the other end of the phone. Bob and Sophie had done it. They’d taken 3 months off. And they were back.

“I’m not really sure why I’m calling,” said Bob. “We had a great time, it was so worthwhile. It really did give us the break we needed. Sophie couldn’t be happier and the business … well, the business is doing great.”

“Did you expect that it wouldn’t?” asked William.

“I knew we did a lot of work to prepare for our break, but…” Bob’s voice trailed off.

“But what?” said William.

“Well, I didn’t expect the sales figures to increase or the margins to widen,” Bob said with a hint of disbelief. “And, don’t get me wrong, I do think it’s great. I mean the team are managing the business, there are no spot fires to put out and we’ve only been back three weeks. But not one single client has rung me even though I’ve emailed everyone that I’m back.”

“You make it sound like this is a problem?” said William.

Nothing To Do And No Backlog

“There’s nothing in my in-tray, William. I haven’t had an empty in-tray in 30 years of doing business. You don’t understand – I‘ve never seen the bottom of the tray. I feel like I’ve structured myself out of a job,” Bob confessed.

“That’s exactly what you’ve done,” said William.

The phone went dead silent. “Bob remember what we said from the very start of this journey,” William continued. “This is all about choice. It’s your business. You can do what you want with it. You can choose how much you want to get involved in it again. Or you can choose to opt out, oversee it and let it run like the profitable machine you’ve set it up to be.”

Bob’s expectations about what would be waiting for him on his return are typical of many of the small business entrepreneurs with whom we work. You’ve probably experienced it yourself. You go away for a few days and your in-tray overflows. If you go away for a couple of weeks, your list of things to do grows so long that you can sometimes take a couple of months to get back on top of your workload.

But here was Bob, returning after a three-month break…and no backlog! He couldn’t believe it. He was expecting his team to crave his return. He assumed they couldn’t wait to pass the responsibility back to him for running the company.

He was used to being involved in everything. If an angry client were promised delivery when there was no stock available, he would use his charm to get them back on side. If another client were sent the wrong sample, Bob would go into damage control. With 30 people on the team, Bob was used to being trouble-shooter, boss and rainmaker. After all, he had always been the closer, the one that seals the deal. That’s how he grew the business into one turning over $3.2 million a year.

By the end of their three-month break Sophie was keen to return home – she missed her friends, family and, especially, the kids. Bob was also itching to get back. “I loved the time off,” he said. “I got to experience places I’ve always wanted to go to. But I was ready to come back. It’s not that I missed work. It’s just that I was over living out of a suitcase for three months.”

Nevertheless, we knew that Bob is the sort of person who expected his return would be a triumphant reunion with his grateful troops. But that wasn’t quite the welcome he received. “It’s great being back,” Bob told William. “The team welcomed us back with a cake; they even decorated the office with balloons.”

“So why do you sound like you think there’s something wrong?” asked William.

“Well, it’s my old office,” said Bob. “But it feels like a new place. We had our weekly production meeting yesterday. Usually, we’d go through everything that’s going on, and I’d tell everyone what needed to be done. Yesterday, the department heads turned up prepared with their weekly schedule, what they planned to do and a clear list of things they needed help on from other parts of the business. They outlined potential problems and worked out what they had to do to avoid bottlenecks. The meeting was over in 25 minutes – these things usually take an hour!”

“That’s great news. Your plan worked,” William reminded him. “You should be proud of your team.”

“I guess I am,” said Bob.

“You should be proud of yourself, too. You and Sophie made this happen.”

Bob knew the truth. Sure, he and Sophie worked hard to get the business into shape. But Bob knew that if it weren’t for Sophie’s insistence, they never would have started this journey. They would still be working 70 hours a week, running on the treadmill and running themselves into the ground.

It was more than good business planning on Sophie’s part. She had already tried to convince Bob using every business argument she could think of. Systems. Efficiency. Streamlining operations. Empowering the team.

In the end, she laid it on the line. This wasn’t the life she wanted. “Either we get our business in order,” she said, “or I’m leaving.”

Bob knew she wasn’t talking about just leaving the business. She was ready to leave the marriage, too. Even though he couldn’t imagine his life without his business, the idea of life without his family – without his Sophie – was inconceivable. And with that possibility looming ominously over his head, he finally made the decision that would change their lives and transform their business.

Your personal Everest

You might relate to what Bob and Sophie had been going through. Maybe you’re sick of the constant grind. Or maybe your business hasn’t reached that stage yet – but you’re already starting to feel hemmed-in, and the writing is on the wall. Or perhaps you just want a blueprint for a business that will give you freedom and flexibility.

We know the person who knows your business best…is you. We’ve worked with many small business entrepreneurs who are immersed in their businesses and who are experts in their industries. This journey isn’t about adding more information to that depth of knowledge; it’s about allowing you to reclaim you and if necessary redefine you, because you are the only one who can transform your life. And, that’s going to take some hard work, a little bit of soul-searching and an open mind to new ways of doing business.

And that’s what the Take 3 Months program is all about, the precursor to becoming the Invisible Entrepreneur – a new way of doing business.

We’re going to be up front with you right now. The program is not a breeze. But as many entrepreneurs can attest, the results are worth it. It’s not like you’ll read this book over the weekend, note down a list of points and implement them all on Monday morning.

This journey could even be your personal Everest – your very own mountain to conquer. Right now, while you’re reading this page, you might not know exactly how you’re going to get there. But just as mountaineer Sir Edmond Hillary got to the summit, you will, too.

When Sir Edmond Hillary set out to get to the peak, he knew three things. First, he had an understanding of the scope of the challenge he was about to undertake. It was one fraught with danger and could even cost him his life. Likewise, you may feel like you’re navigating a dangerous course by transforming your business.

Secondly, Sir Edmond Hillary knew that there was a lot he didn’t know. But he knew he had to find the answers. No matter how experienced you are, no one has all the answers. Understanding your limitations doesn’t make you less competent or less capable. The opposite is true. Smart entrepreneurs recognise their limitations and work out how to supplement any gaps in their skill or knowledge.

Thirdly, beyond seeking out answers from his own resources, Sir Edmond Hillary also knew it was possible that another world of solutions could exist – solutions that he hadn’t even considered yet, solutions and strategies that were beyond his current reality.

We all have blind spots. The trouble is we don’t always know what they are. But we encourage you to remember that these blind spots exist, and the way to reveal and eliminate them is to open your mind to new solutions and new ideas. Or find a guide who can help you.

Sir Edmond Hillary recruited an experienced Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, to assist him. Norgay knew the landscape intimately. Where inexperienced eyes would see a mountain of difficulty, he saw a clear path. He could identify the dangers and manage the risks. Finally, he could guide a mountaineer to the summit and then negotiate a safe return.

You’re about to enter uncharted territory – but you are not alone. Your guide is right here in your hands. It will take you out of your comfort zone and into unexplored areas of your life. But it will steer you in the right direction.

You Are Not Indispensable

One of the biggest hurdles for a small business entrepreneur to overcome is the idea that their business can function without them. Many entrepreneurs are unconvinced that this is possible. They believe their business is different. They sincerely believe – from the core of their hearts – that they are the linchpin of the business, and it would just not be possible for it to operate without them.

That’s exactly what Bob thought. He absolutely believed that their business could not operate, let alone succeed, without him. And he was absolutely right. The way his business was structured depended on his involvement, his decisions and his ideas.

Everything needed Bob’s approval to go ahead. Even small advertisements couldn’t appear in the local paper without Bob checking them first. A quote on supplying office furniture to a client couldn’t leave the office without Bob’s signature. And Bob insisted that copies of all booking slips for deliveries would be sent to his in-tray, so he could see the order had been processed.

It wasn’t that he didn’t trust his team. He did. Many of them had been with the company for many years. It was just that Bob liked to know what was going on. He wanted to have a finger in every pie, because that helped him to pick up on things that otherwise might have fallen through the cracks.

Bob insisted that he had a flat organisational structure with different departmental heads responsible for specific areas of the business. But when we mapped it out, together with Bob, his organisational structure looked more like an octopus. Bob’s tentacles touched and influenced every part of the business.

It was time to change things.

What Are You Afraid Of?

Bob was scared. He feared losing Sophie. He feared that his business would never recover if he took three months off. He even feared he wouldn’t be able to make the necessary changes to his business for it happen.

Sophie had her own fears. She feared that Bob wouldn’t do it. She feared the consequences of staying on the treadmill. She feared their relationship would fall apart. She feared she would resent Bob if he didn’t take action.

What are you afraid of? Some people prefer running along the treadmill – no matter how tough it is – because it’s familiar. They are in their comfort zone. They fear change because it means learning something new and, more importantly, letting go of something they understand and can perform with a decent level of competence.

While some entrepreneurs fear change, Bob wasn’t one of them. He’s never shied away from new products, innovative software or new staff. But Bob feared failure. And the concept of setting up his business in order to take three months off meant the risk of failure was huge. Without him around to save the day if anything went wrong in the business, failure could happen at every turn.

“I know I told Sophie that we’d do this,” Bob confided in William. “But I honestly don’t know if it’s possible.”

Bob’s fears are real. If the right team and plans aren’t in place, your business could fail. But before you even discover how this can be done, you need to make a decision about whether you really want it.

Are you still telling yourself that it can’t be done? Do you think that it simply can’t happen because your business is different?

The reality is that you will either take action or you won’t. It’s not a matter of whether your business can or can’t succeed using the Take 3 Months program. It’s about whether you will or won’t choose to make it happen.

So, will you or won’t you implement what you read in this book? Will you or won’t you allow yourself the opportunity of a lifetime? That is, the opportunity to set up your business to run without you for three months or, perhaps, for life. The opportunity to become the investor in your own business – the Invisible Entrepreneur.

We know it’s a big risk to Take 3 Months off from your business. We’re not trying to convince you that it isn’t. Every entrepreneur responds to risk in different ways. You might be a risk taker at heart, or you could be very conservative with every decision you make.

Regardless of what level of risk you are comfortable with, you can manage those risks and minimise them. But first you need to identify what they are – it’s time to do the Take 3 Months Litmus Test.

Key Thoughts

  • Taking 3 months off forces you to re-structure your business in a way that can only favour the business’ growth.
  • Everyone has blind spots – it’s about acknowledging that they exist.
  • No one has all the answers. Smart entrepreneurs find others to fill in their gaps in skill or knowledge.
  • Solutions we never would of thought of can exist in another person’s reality.
  • The biggest fear of small business people is that their business can function without them.
  • Tackling fear of failure means finding the right team to run your business and setting the right plan in place.
  • The choice is yours – whether you will or won’t choose to make it happen.

Read the Foreword and Chapter 1 of The Invisible Entrepreneur.

Learn more about The Invisible Partnership and The Invisible Branson books.

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