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On letting go: an entrepreneurial perspective

This is the third post in our series, Work On It, Not Just In It. You can read the first post here and the second here.

If you sent your team a text today telling them you were never coming back, what would happen? Would your business be able to operate just as well without you?

If the answer is “no”, it’s safe to say that you’ve built your business around your own ability to get things done. If that’s true, your business may be giving you the satisfaction of being “the one” everyone depends on—but at what cost?

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Maybe you’re frequently frustrated that your people can’t seem to do things like you do.

Maybe you’re spending a lot of time working without feeling like you’re getting anywhere.

Maybe things are just too chaotic and unpredictable.

These are big prices to pay—far too big for the investment you’ve made to make your dreams come true.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Your business can actually give you what most business owners long for: time to do the things you really care about, income that reflects your efforts, consistent results, continuous growth, a team that shares your values, customers that keep coming back and a legacy that means something. It just takes hard work—which you already know a lot about—and a willingness to change the way you think about your business.

Technicians see their business as a place to go to work every day, to make, sell and deliver a product they believe in. They spend their time working in their business and the business ends up operating because of them.

Entrepreneurs think differently: They start with a vision of a business that works and view the business process as their product. They spend ample time working on their business—shaping and molding it into a company that can operate without them.

Changing the way you think and becoming more entrepreneurial in your approach to your business can be a challenge. Sometimes, it’s just easier to lean into the familiar than to enter the unknown, even when the cost is significant. But it’s a challenge worth meeting. It’s the path to building a business you love leading and a life you love living.

Twenty years ago, when I was 45, I realized I wanted to free myself from the day-to-day operations at EMyth. (Talk about entering the unknown.) At the time, I had spent 16 years in a range of positions at the company, including the last three as EMyth’s President. I knew I needed to slow down. I had two young children who needed more of me. I had questions about where my life was going that I couldn’t answer while leading the company.

During all those years at EMyth, I’d lived and learned and taught EMyth business principles. I can’t say I ever made this critical shift from Technician’s thinking to Entrepreneurial thinking that most business owners need to make because,from the moment I joined EMyth as a salesperson in 1982, I was immersed daily in EMyth’s Entrepreneurial Perspective. I had to understand it thoroughly and communicate it passionately to successfully engage business owners in EMyth Coaching. None of that was difficult—EMyth’s Approach to building a business that works from the start resonated deeply with me.

It wasn’t until I came face to face with my decision to replace myself 16 years later—a decision I might not have given myself permission to even consider without this orientation) that I realized how little of the Entrepreneurial Perspective I’d internalized... emotionally. I had a vision for EMyth then; I had no doubt that our product was our Coaching System, our Sales System, our People Development System, and so forth. But at this very critical moment in my life, it was as if I was finding this Entrepreneurial Perspective for the first time.

I wanted to let go, but I couldn’t.

I felt guilty and conflicted that I was letting down my business partner, who was also my husband. I felt like I was quitting a marathon in the 26th mile. I was worried that the business wouldn’t survive without my drive, clarity and attention to detail. I was afraid that my identity was so wrapped up in being the leader of my company that I wouldn’t be able to find a new one. I spent months in inner turmoil before I could muster the courage to share what I was thinking with my partner. His support eventually helped me to move forward.

Over the next eight months, my fear continued to melt as my confidence in my decision grew. I developed and executed a plan to replace myself. I updated our Org Chart, and hired, promoted and trained people to fill the positions I’d established within it. My team and I thoroughly reviewed our Leadership, Marketing, Finance, Management, Lead Generation, Lead Conversion, and Client Fulfillment Systems and Standards to make sure they could perform well without me there to lead. We improved some systems and created others. We continued to work on EMyth, not just in it, so that the company could continue to achieve its vision—without me.

EMyth didn’t just survive my departure; it thrived. And in the process, I’ve come to appreciate my company as something that exists apart from me: a set of processes, systems, and standards powered by a wonderful team of people that serves the needs of our clients. My company is a reflection of myself and my values, but it exists separately from me because I took the time to build it that way.

I’ve also come to realize how my fears and beliefs would have held me back if I’d let them. Changing my thinking changed my life. My company has made it possible for me to live a life I could only imagine 20 years ago. I love serving as EMyth’s Board Chair and discovering how I can best contribute to the company’s vision (like writing this blog post). And I love getting to travel and spend work-free time with my family. I’m beyond grateful to EMyth for all of this.

Whatever your dreams are for your life, your business can become the vehicle for making them happen. You just have to be willing to change your perspective on what it means to run a business—and of course, to work on it, not just in it.

What’s stopping you from letting go and creating a business that can operate without you? Tell me in the comments below.

Ilene Frahm

Written by Ilene Frahm

Ilene joined EMyth in 1982 and partnered with Michael Gerber in building the company during their 17-year marriage. Over that time, she collaborated with Michael on The E-Myth Revisited as his editor and publishing agent, as well as on a number of his other books. Ilene worked ON EMyth not just IN it, making it possible for her to retire as EMyth’s President in 1999 while continuing to serve as the company’s board chair, a position she still holds. In 2020, Ilene returned to company operations as its CEO to support a new executive team, and everyone in the company at every level, in their leadership. Since her return, Ilene has created an original, customer-centered approach to sales and coaching, Uncommonly Genuine™ Engagement, which is designed to help small business owners open to their blindspots so they can grow in their leadership. She lives in Gig Harbor, Washington with her husband, Gerrit.