Many of us have gone into running our own business for all the freedom and creativity it brings to us. The 9 to 5 regime five days a week is over, we will never have to work for someone whom we don’t respect again and we can play golf or be there for our kids whenever they need us. It was a no brainer decision. Except… except it doesn’t always work out quite like that. Yes. 9 to 5 has gone but it’s now 7 to 9 six days week, we become our own frustrating boss and we have forgotten where the golf course is! The dream has become more like a nightmare.

Hopefully that is not your experience if you are a business owner but does it resonate just a little? Many of us go into business because we are passionate about the work we do and the delivery we can offer our customers. But we can find that as our business grows, so the dream quickly fades under the relentless pressure of having to do so much, nearly all of which seems to end up one way or another on our desk. Running a successful business takes skills which are different from creating the best product in the market. We can’t all be good at everything.

And here is the beginning of the answer for the stressed-out owner manager. Stop trying to do everything but instead ensure everything important gets done. This means working out what is the important stuff and then identifying the easiest way to get it done and by whom. It’s about prioritisation and delegation but it’s the business’s priorities not just your priorities! Your priority may well be to make technically the best product but without a strong marketing strategy your product may remain on the shelf. It requires delegation and it requires trust.

In the same way as a product or service needs to be developed and tested so that it works under all appropriate conditions, so the business itself no less needs to be developed so it works in all conditions. It needs to withstand the vagaries of customer demand, cash flow, regulatory changes (I bought one of the very last 1500w vacuum cleaners before they were outlawed by the EU!) and employee behaviour etc.

One of the secrets is to surround yourself with people who are better than you – those who are insecure will find this almost impossible to do. Richard Branson says the reason he can live on a paradise island is because he employs world class people to work for him. The other thing he does is to get off his island and talk to ordinary customers and staff on the ground. He makes sure he hears the real story of the business.

This becomes the balancing act. Owner managers will often need to be working within the business playing the specific (often technical) role for which they are so good but also working on the business itself. This requires stepping out of the detailed job-specific role and seeing the bigger picture of the business as a whole. The challenge is finding the time to do this important stuff of ‘working on the business’ when so many urgent things ‘in the business’ are pressing in on you.

This is where a trusted business adviser can really help – someone who has been there and run their own business and can stand outside your business and give much needed perspective. They can help you make creative connections within and outside the business to really succeed.

Posted by David Eaton

David is a Chartered Accountant and Director of SME Strategies ( which offers tailored support to ambitious SMEs and gives mentoring to owner managers.