Evolve From Solopreneur to CEO of Your Business in 5 Steps


According to the SBA over 80 percent of the 29.6 million small businesses are owned and ran by a solopreneur (single person). These businesses are often very successful and the owners are satisfied with the results they are getting. They generally are working very hard, but they’re ok with this. Often, they intend to pass the business on to family members. Solopreneurs think, also, that real economic and personal freedom isn’t possible because they must keep the grind just to stay afloat. Vacations are hardly ever taken. Work is all there is. So, they go on like this for several years until they just can’t physically or mentally do it any more.

This is the basic arrangement, but if you are a solopreneur, think of what could happen if you were able to share your wonderful product or service with more people and make a larger impact on the world.

Solopreneurs or small businesses in general, make up 99.9% of all firms in the U.S. and contribute millions of dollars to the economy each year.( SBA Office of Advocacy) This is a fantastic contribution and you are influencing many lives for the better. You could increase your contribution and influence more people if you change your mindset from that of the solopreneur to the mindset of a CEO.

Your business could grow to serve more people and you could even expand to more locations. All of this could be done in the same amount of time you’re putting into your business every day. It just requires thinking of the business in a different way and, of course, performing different tasks.

Martin Zwilling reported, “Over 25 years ago, Michael E. Gerber wrote a best-selling business book called The E-Myth: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. “The E-Myth (Entrepreneurial Myth) is the mistaken belief that most businesses are started by people with tangible business skills, when in fact most are started by ‘technicians’ who know nothing about running a business. Hence most fail.”

The importance of business management skills isn’t widely appreciated even with the Google Library and You Tube University where all the information you would ever need is available to everybody. Most new business owners don’t realize the need for “tangible business skills”.

Therefore, most businesses are started by professional technicians with great skills and no knowledge of the management skills needed to help the business thrive and multiply.

With the help of Martin Zwilling, contrasting the mindsets of the professional and the business builder will highlight the change in perspective required for building a strong and growing business.

The Professional or Technical Perspective(the Soloprenuer)

  • How much work should I do to get the income I need to stay in business? The owner is concentrating on the volume of work that he/she must personally complete to keep the business running.
  • What should we offer the customer? Concentration is on the size and scope of the service or product and what is required to please the customers.
  • How much should your product/service cost to produce and what should be the cost to the customer? Understanding the financial requirements and results in the business is foremost.
  • How will we get the basic materials we need to supply the product? Supply chain requirements are considered and chosen.
  • How can I get additional funding? Venture capital or loans are considered for operating costs.
  • How can we market this business to get more customers? Marketing options are considered and chosen according to available funding.
  • How will I hire people when I need them and how will I pay them? Hiring workers or getting volunteers are contemplated but often avoided.

The focus is on the present and attempting to keep things as they are now. Seeing what has worked in the past and what seems to be working now is the total consideration of the owner. This perspective often fails.

Of course, these tasks must be completed in any business, but with a different perspective, a good amount of stress is removed because you have business skills to design a Vision and plan for handling the required tasks more efficiently with projected timelines. The motivation and energy you will get from this action will surprise you.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Sun Tzu

The Business Builders’ Perspective

  • How should my business work in today’s environment? This perspective takes into account the changing environment of the business and research is completed to help design how the business will work today and in the future.
  • What are my competitors doing that I should know about? A careful analysis of existing successful, related businesses is completed to determine the state of the art in the chosen discipline. Internet searches make this task easily accomplished.
  • What meaning can we bring to the marketplace? The contribution to society the business will make is taken into consideration and held as guiding principles in the business.
  • What should my business look like in the future? A Vision of the future is carefully described and used as a business target.
  • What strategy should I adopt to get to that Vision? An analysis of where you are in the business building process, what targets you wish to reach and how you are going to reach these targets is thought through, designed and documented. This is your strategy.
  • What Systems should be in place to ensure consistent results that satisfy customers and create the best results? These will be routine ways of running the business that can be easily repeated in all important operations. Examples would be a marketing system, a financial system or a customer service system that works the same every time unless changes are indicated.
  • How can we be better than the rest? Attention to innovation, improvement, excellence and industry leadership are important considerations for this owner.

There are other elements, of course, for each perspective. The listed ones are just a few major differences in the thinking processes of the professional and the business builder. The truth is, the business owner must carry out both roles. Your artistic application of state-of-the-art management skills will help you organize and control all aspects for the sustainability and growth of your business.

The business builder takes the perspective of the CEO who sees the big picture, then plans for business fortification, endurance and expansion. You don’t see yourself as always keeping your head down grinding out the work and hoping you will eventually get help. You believe there is great help out there for building a growing business and you know there are proven ways to get excellent workers as well as proven ways to carry out the role of CEO.

You see yourself as the founder of a great or legacy business that will be a benefit to society and help gain financial and personal freedom for yourself and your employees. So, it’s obvious, if we analyze the questions a CEO asks, the mindset for running the business is entirely different from the mindset of the solopreneur.

If we consider this information, we can conclude that there are 5 steps to moving from the soloprenuer perspective to the CEO perspective.

  1. Clarify your ultimate business Purpose and commit to it. Include a clear description of the contribution you want to make to your customers. Understand the need for every business affiliate to commit to your Purpose.
  2. Design a strong Business Core and embed it deeply into your mindset and the mindset of of all workers. This is the key to your success. You will be the one to control the operations in your business and ensure that the Core is reflected in all Systems. You will also be the first modeler of what is important in your business. Your Core will contain your Purpose, Values, Vision and Strategy.
  3. Become a continuous learner and stay ahead of industry news and innovation. This practice will give you insight for creativity and innovation. Your business survival and growth will depend on your ability to change and adapt your Systems to current and changing requirements.
  4. Design Systems that can be replicated and improved by anyone working in your enterprise. Your Systems will be the standard no matter who is working them. This allows your operations to be consistent across each of your businesses.
  5. Firmly establish your uniqueness to remain relevant in your industry. It’s a lot easier to highlight your uniqueness rather than keeping your eye on winning over the competition. It’s good business to be aware of what the competition is doing, but your energy should be spent on establishing and maintaining your uniqueness.

The specifics of managing from the CEO perspective can be learned easily with the availability of knowledge in our time. It’s worth the time and energy when you consider the financial and personal freedom as well as the fulfillment you will enjoy as you build a great and growing enterprise.

Try a free sample of this book for clear management recipes: “20 Directives for Small Business Success: Do or Die”

9 Ways To Embed Innovation and Creativity Into Your Business Environment

We are living in a unique time for business building and innovation. Every thing we need to build a business is at our fingertips. The money isn’t always available, but the ‘how to’ resources are free for everybody to access. The uniqueness of our times offers the opportunity to build businesses but our dynamic environment is extremely challenging. As you build your business, you must continue to be innovative and creative regardless.

According to Drew Marshall, 

Creativity is about unleashing the potential of the mind to conceive new ideas.” and Innovation is about introducing change into relatively stable systems.”  As you build your business, you’re required to consistently create and innovate. This seems to be an almost impossible task. It just adds to the many things already on your plate.

So it seems logical that you should stabilize whatever you can and contain your business activities within some kind of solid framework not easily shaken. This happens when you clearly define your Mission, Values, Systems and Vision. These elements will remain constant in spite of changes of any kind, creative, innovative or imposed. One or more of your Systems will go through change but the stability of your Mission, Values, Vision and other Systems will keep you grounded. This stability will help you survive and prosper because your business processes will fit into this firmly engrained mold. Without this framework, you can become pulled in all directions and achieve nothing your Vision described.

As your framework is becoming firmly rooted in your business activities, you also embed the principles of innovation and creativity into you everyday activities. In other words, everybody in your business will understand that you intend to keep up with the current trends in your industry as well as create new ones. You’ll need to shape your working environment (culture) to support innovation and creativity in all areas of your enterprise. You will not only stay in the game but you can be proactive and become a leader in your discipline.

“Innovation [and creativity] only happens in the right environment, one where everyone is not only allowed to innovate, but they are actively encouraged to speak up and bring new ideas to the table. This may sound like common sense, but it is far from common practice.” Kotter International

9 Ways to Embed Innovation and Creativity into Your Business Environment

1. Create an environment that supports innovation as well as creativity. How? Build a collaborative environment where people are free to ask questions and make suggestions. They should feel included in most of the important things concerning the business. It also helps to make questioning an important part of your everyday processes.

2. Thoroughly train new affiliates and new hires on the importance of innovation at all levels and across all Systems in your organization.

3. Include innovation and creativity as job responsibilities in your job descriptions across all jobs and positions.

4. Set ground rules, ex. adequate research before presenting an idea or clarify the impact on the other Systems in the proposal. Pilots, prototypes or practice runs could also be a requirement. Make sure that everybody knows and follows the ground rules.

5. Use customer complaints and suggestions for inspiration to create or innovate.

6. Become a model innovator. Share your procedures, questioning, successes and failures. This is a valuable way to train creative process and ground rules to your employees.

7. Understand that failure is a part of the innovation and creativity processes. You can set limits for timelines and resources to help keep control.

8. Develop reward Systems for successes as well as failures. For example, there can be recognition and more authority for successes and some kind of special recognition for failures to show the importance of attempting to innovate. Research the best rewards for employees. A feeling of freedom and purpose is often reward enough for most people.

9. Use change management skills to implement the innovations in your business. This determines how much your organization and others will benefit from the new practice.

Entrepreneurs and start ups are required to use their “super powers” to build a business from the ground up and continually create and innovate while responding to rapid change. Whew! That’s a lot, but it can be accomplished. In fact, it must be accomplished for survival in this “Conceptual Age” as described by Daniel Pink. Building some type of stability is required. If you design and fortify your business framework, you can control and direct your actions or reactions to this rapidly changing environment. Sharpen your management skills and manage well.

Easy to follow Management Skills and Development Guides in “20 Directives for Small Business Success: Do or Die”

5 Ways Your New Hire Can Enjoy Helping You Build Your Business

As you are building your business it’s a good idea to think about the future of your small business with your new hire. How will you integrate and maintain great employees. Thinking about this before you need it will make this part of your business building process easier. A good old fashioned rule is to treat others as you want to be treated. When you’re involved in an intense and fast moving situation, this isn’t that easy to do.

Coffee and Jones in, “Creating the Best Workplace on Earth” wrote“We call this “the organization of your dreams.” In a nutshell, it’s a company where individual differences are nurtured; information is not suppressed or spun; the company adds value to employees, rather than merely extracting it from them; the organization stands for something meaningful; the work itself is intrinsically rewarding; and there are no stupid rules.”

Planning how you want your employees to feel will help you develop a productive culture. Everyone involved can be proud to be a part of your business.

The first thing to establish in the minds of your new hire is the Purpose of your organization. In other words, they will know what you stand for. You must be dedicated to it and promote that dedication throughout your business. It’s really a type of indoctrination that’s essential to business success.

Goffee and Jones reported a statement by Jack Welch.

“There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow. It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.” – Jack Welch, former CEO of GE

Carefully relate why you are organized and what benefit you plan to bring to your customers and the larger society. Your Core Values are the elements that will help you build a strong, sustainable business foundation. Everyone involved in your operation should have a clear understanding of what your Values are and become committed to them as they perform business tasks.

5 Ways your new hire can enjoy helping you build your business

If your new hire shares your original business Purpose and wants to make a contribution to your cause, he will enjoy the work. He will work through challenges and setbacks and continue to move the business forward.

If your new hire has personal Values that match your business Values, she will enjoy helping you build the business. You can test for this fit in your hiring process. It’s important to inform all new hires, early in the process, of the importance of practicing these Values in all of their activities. Of course, you must be the ultimate model of these Values to make your intentions believable. If they know without a doubt what your organization stands for, their pride can begin to build.

If you allow your new employee to be himself with a sense of freedom to participate, he will enjoy his work. If he knows his perspective is valued, he will enjoy helping you build the business. Coffee and Jones

If you tell the truth about your business and business results, employees will enjoy their work. Employees like to know how what they are doing impact the business. They even appreciate knowing about the failures. This helps them adjust their work to what’s needed. In many situations, they can give suggestions to prevent future problems. They will enjoy working because they feel included in everything and they feel trusted.

“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.” – Anne M. Mulcahy

If hiring, training and coaching are done well, your new hire will become proud to work with your growing business because they share the purpose and beliefs driving the business.

Most employees want to see themselves advance in your business. Designing development plans for your workers will take care of this. Just being aware of the plans is motivating to workers. Understanding where they are in relation to the developmental levels will result in a feeling of appreciation and add to the sense of pride.

If your new employees know they are doing worthwhile work, the work matches their values, and they can see themselves advancing, they will have few problems feeling proud to be a part of your business. They will enjoy coming to work.

Consequently, they will regularly tell people where they work with enthusiasm and pride. Your business will prosper.

Additional guidance in: “20 Directives for Small Business Success: Do or Die”

4 Characteristics of Legendary Business Missions

This is a phenomenal time to be in the process of business building. Any information you need is at your fingertips. You can learn to avoid mistakes that other businesses have experienced by checking industry histories and stories. You can also learn what has led to extraordinary success. It’s all here for anyone to find. In this commentary, I will examine the one fundamental reason legendary businesses have survived and prospered. Hopefully, you will be convinced to follow in the footsteps of these great businesses as you begin the process of business building. From Day 1 your intention can be to create a legacy business for service to humanity.

Most of the important business literature points to the importance of designing a strong Mission or Purpose. In this writing, I will use Mission and Purpose interchangeably. I will treat Vision and Values and separate elements of your business foundation. You have more than likely, seen these terms used in various ways. Sometimes Mission and Vision will mean the same thing or Values, Mission and Vision are all the same. Here, they are three different things.

The focus here is on the importance of a sound Mission/Purpose. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book “Built to Last” consistently found that great companies embraced a strong overarching principle or Purpose to guide their business operations. They found these principles lasted through many years of development and formed a solid foundation for continued success. “There is an ‘extra dimension’ in a great company. Enlightened business leaders around the globe intuitively understand the importance of timeless core values and a purpose beyond just making money” Collins and Porras.

Let’s consider some of the Missions of great American businesses of today:

Southwest Airlines has flourished for 38 years. It’s managers have upheld the original Purpose:

The Mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.” “Our Purpose is: To connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” Southwest describes a Mission and a Purpose. Both are principles the company continues to be deeply passionate about. Everyone involved with the company knows that all business actions must be guided by these fundamental principles.

Charles Schwab continues to grow after 30 years. The Mission is “to empower individual investors to take control of their financial lives, free from the high costs and conflicts of traditional brokerage firms.” The focus of this Mission is on the customer and the intent to simplify the investing experience. This Purpose has led to great success.

Amazon was founded in 1994. It has continued to be the leader in its industry. The Mission reads:

“Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” There is no doubt Amazon has fulfilled its Mission for over 23 years. Recently, it has ventured into brick and mortar locations, but continues to dominate their original industry. It’ll be interesting to see how this venture outside of their original purpose will effect their success.

Two of our most successful businesses have made changes to their Purposes even though their original Missions have brought them tremendous success.

Facebook founded in 2004 has enjoyed phenomenal success in just 13 years. The original Mission was:

“Making the world more open and connected.” An excellent, open Mission to encompass many products and services.

The new Mission reads: to “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

This is also an excellent, open Mission to encompass many products and services but it limits the Purpose to two ideals. The current intent highlights the values of community and internationalism. It will be interesting to see the difference the new Vision makes in the operations of Facebook. “Watch this space” (Maddow).

Apple’s Mission has served them well for 37 years.

According to the Economist, Steve Jobs’ mission statement for Apple in 1980 was: “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.” His goal to be the best in the world was evident in the passion he and his affiliates showed for the Mission. They were extremely successful.

Apple’s Mission today is quite different. It reads:

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store.” This Mission moves aways from the broad, overarching principle that has grown a digital empire.

Henry Blodget in “Apple’s ‘Mission Statement’ Is Making People Worry That the Company Has Gone to Hell”, believes “If that really is Apple’s ‘mission statement,’ it is indeed pretty lame. It’s not a mission statement so much as a list of product lines. And it would be hard to imagine a less-inspiring, more prosaic description of what Apple is (or used to be) all about.”

The fundamental difference between the two Missions is: Jobs saw the products as tools to improve the quality of life for mankind. There was no product limitations. This left the door open for many products or services as long as they fit the principle. The passion came from a great purpose. The new Mission focuses on products, not service. What happens in the future remains to be seen. “Watch this space” too!

“People want to do well and do good. They want to understand how they’re making a difference in the world. Things change all the time, but your organization’s purpose transcends any individual product or service.” – Mark Weinberger, EY

We can identify at least 4 characteristics a great Purpose after careful analysis of these legendary Missions.

Collins and Porras reveal many characteristics of a business purpose in “Built to Last”. I highly recommend this book for business building. Four characteristics are highlighted here:

First, the Mission promises to give something to the customer or society at large. The Purpose is larger than the founder and extends to the greater community. Such as Southwest Airline’s promise to “connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

Second, the Purpose is something the founder is deeply passionate about. He or she “walks it and talks it” with zeal. Steve Jobs is known to reiterate the larger principle whenever there were problems to solve. He always kept the overarching principle in mind… “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.” 

Third, the Mission supports a viable business model to achieve economic feasibility. Business is formed to make money. It must have money to support all operations and services so, any Mission must imply financial growth. Amazon’s Mission exhibits this. “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Fourth, the Purpose should be set in an industry where the business can strive to be the best in the world. This intent should be implied in the overarching principle and promoted by the founder. This can only be done if a narrow niche is defined. The Purpose can strive to improve, create, or innovate. Charles Schwab provides an example of niche definition allowing the business to strive to be the best in the world…“to empower individual investors to take control of their financial lives, free from the high costs and conflicts of traditional brokerage firms.” 

One more example of an excellent Mission is Merck’s principle designed by George Merck II in 1935: “We are workers in industry who are genuinely inspired by the ideals of advancement of medical science, and of service to humanity.” Merck was true to these principles in at least two well known incidences. The company supplied the Mectizan drug for “river blindness” to Third World countries free of charge. They also supplied streptomycin to Japan after World War II to eliminate tuberculosis, free of charge. They saw the need and supplied it. The CEO said they had to go forward with the distribution without government funding because if they hadn’t the scientists working for Merck would have become demoralized. They were committed to the Mission. They continue that commitment today.

This brings me to the most important revelation about the Missions or purposes of legendary companies. Dedication to the Mission/Purpose above financial concerns leads a company to greatness. The money usually follows strong dedication to some kind of contribution to mankind. More focus is given to the overarching principle than pleasing investors. It happened in the 18 legendary companies Collins and Porras studied for their landmark research reported in “Built to Last”.

Carefully design your Mission/Purpose as an overarching principle you can become passionate about. A great Mission/Purpose will help you through problems as well as successes. Try to live up to your grand principle and become another legendary business for the world.

More information in: “20 Directives for Small Business Success: Do or Die”

5 Guiding Principles of a 243 year old Business Legend

Management research of the best businesses in the world have highlighted some important practices for business success. If you’re building a business, it will be of great benefit to know and understand these practices at the beginning of your venture. The current Knowledge Age allows us to find these practices and study how to apply them to what we are doing today.

As you analyze these successful and enduring businesses, you will find they share several principles as guides for all of their business activities. The key thing is: they never deviate from their most important principles. Today we are calling them “Core Values”.

The ability to stay with the adopted principles gives these enduring businesses stability in times of change. These principles insure stability and focus in a highly unstable environment. Enduring businesses find comfort in what they know and what they have committed to. This is reassuring to the owners, customers and employees. It shows in the sustainability and growth of their businesses.

One excellent example of a legendary company with sustained principles is Birkenstock founded in the year 1774 in Langen-Bergheim, Germany.

“At Birkenstock, tradition and heritage are important hallmarks of a brand that dates back not years or even decades, but centuries. Birkenstock is deeply rooted in the fine art of crafting premium quality shoes that are good for you. Since 1774, Birkenstock has passed this commitment down from one generation to the next. The result is the absolute best in quality, comfort and support.”

The core of their Mission is: “Birkenstock is deeply rooted in the fine art of crafting premium quality shoes that are good for you.” You immediately know that the shoes are of excellent quality and great for your health. They are committed to providing value and contributing to human welfare. Notice also, that the Mission is focused on one product. They have kept this focus throughout the years.

Johann Adam Birkenstock developed a footbed for shoes that were flexible with arch support. It was called the “blue footbed”. He trained podiatrists on the benefits of the “blue footbed”. The company later designed a sandal with a deep, flexible footbed that is known around the world for comfort.

In 1988, the company introduced environmentally-friendly adhesives to produce his shoes. They set the standard for environmental awareness all over the world. They also modernized production by reducing energy consumption by 90%. This reinforced their focus on the health of their customers and the environment. This was further reinforced with books, better base materials, and machines for footwear production. Birkenstock continues to lead in orthopedic and comfort footwear all over the world.

So, what are the prevailing principles of success for the Birkenstock organization?

-The principle of excellence prevails in all operations. A timeline detailed in the Birkenstock History describes meticulous attention to detail throughout the years. The techniques, materials and production equipment were continually improved and streamlined.

-The principle of customer care is carried through the years. It’s evident in the study and training in the field of podiatry. One example was the hiring of Konrad Birkenstock Sr to manufacture footwear for wounded soldiers in 1915.

-The principle of contribution to society has always been important to the Birkenstock Mission. This was shown when the “Birkenstock classes” were established. 5,000 specialists were trained in 1932. As a result, many doctors supported the Birkenstock system. The company also published a book “Podiatric System Birkenstock” that sold 14,000 copies. It was the most widely read textbook on podiatry at the time.

-The principle of environmental protection was important from the beginning. In1988 environmentally friendly adhesives were introduced. In 1990 energy consumption in shoe production was reduced by 90%. In 1995, they produced sandals without using any adhesives.

-The principle of innovation was engrained into the culture of the business from the beginning also. The environmentally friendly examples and others highlighted above prove this. However, there are a few more examples of innovation to highlight. In 1999, the company designed the world’s first super light weight EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) clog. In 2001, a computerized picking machine to facilitate rapid order fulfillment was developed.

“Birkenstock remains a family company, maintaining these traditions up to this day.”

The traditions of excellence, customer care, societal contribution, environmental protection and innovation continues. These principles show up time and time again in the management research of legendary companies. Many of these companies follow some of the described principles. See the studies of Collins and Porras, Buckingham and Coffman and others.

Consider following in the footsteps of legendary businesses as you build your growing enterprise.

Your questions might be: How do I design principles I can commit to? or How can I make sure people working with me always stick to my principles? Continue reading.

4 characteristics of Legendary Business Missions

9 Ways to Embed Innovation and Creativity into your Business Environment

Lost Customers, Revenue and Employees: Cultural Implications for Business

4 Benefits of Integrity As A Core Value for Profound Business Building

Core Values: Your Competitive Edge

20 Directives for Small Business Success: Do or Die