How to Avoid Creating an Owner Dependent Business


Making your business less dependent on you has a number of benefits:

  • Scale your company more quickly if you’re not acting as a bottleneck;
  • More time to enjoy life outside of your business; and
  • Less dependency on its owner is much more valuable to an acquirer. 

Pulling yourself out of the day-to-day operations of your business is easier said than done. Here are three specific strategies to avoid creating an owner dependent business.

1. Think Like LEGO

Pre-school children can make a collection of generic looking pieces come together in a complex creation. They do this by following the detailed instruction booklet that comes with every box of LEGO. Your employees need LEGO-like instructions to execute the recurring tasks in your business without your input.

Ian Schoen is the co-founder of Two Tree International. Two Tree International is a design and manufacturing firm that brings products directly from concept to customer. The company was started in 2008 with a $50,000 loan. When the company sold in 2015, it had 15 employees and over $4 million in sales. Schoen credits his operating manual for allowing him to sell his business for a significant premium. “We started creating standard operating procedures in the business and had a set of documents that helped us run the business. Basically, we could plug anyone into any position and have them understand it,” he shared.

2. Imagine Hosting Your Own AMA

Everyone from Barrack Obama to Madonna to Bill Gates has participated in an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) forum. This is a Q&A where participants are encouraged to ask the featured guest anything that is on their mind.

Now imagine you invited your customers to an AMA. What questions would they ask you? What zingers would your most sceptical customers pose? These are the questions you need to document your responses to in a Frequently Asked Questions document. The document should be available to your employees for leverage in your absence.

3. Shine the Media Spotlight on Your Team

It’s tempting to take the call from a local reporter who wants to interview you about your company. Instead, consider inviting an employee to take the interview.

Stephan Spencer founded Netconcepts in 1995 and grew it into a multinational Search Engine Optimization (SEO) agency. He sold it to Covario in 2010. His first attempt to sell his business in the late 1990s failed. The reason is because potential acquirers viewed Netconcepts to be too dependent on Spencer himself. “My personal name and my company name were too intermingled. If I didn’t go with the business, nobody was going to buy it,” he explained.

Spencer set out to reduce his company’s reliance on him personally. One of his strategies was to position his employees as SEO experts. “I encouraged key staff, various executives and top consultants within the company to speak and write articles, and I introduced them to the editors I knew,” he said.

It can be tempting to run your company as your own personal fiefdom. Try to resist. The sooner you get it running without you, the faster it can scale into something irresistible to an acquirer.