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It’s okay to love working in it sometimes

Working ON your business is the skill that every business owner needs to build to create a thriving company that doesn’t depend on you to produce results. Turning what you know how to do really well into systems—step-by-step processes—that others can use effectively is something that anyone with the desire can learn how to do relatively easily.

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But what if you love doing tactical work IN your business? Do you need to give that up? No, you don't need to stop doing the work you love—you just need to build the structure in your business so that this work is a choice rather than a requirement.

Some years ago, I called a client of mine (let’s call him “Mark”) who owned a skateboard design and manufacturing company to confirm an in-person coaching session we’d scheduled. When he answered the phone, he was out of breath.

“Are you okay?” I asked him.

“Oh, I’m fine," he said. "I’m just hanging from the ceiling, running some cable.” 

“Mark, your business is worth millions. You have over a hundred employees working for you. Why are you spending your time running cable?”

“Adam," he said, his voice full of joy, "I just really love working with my hands.”

I smiled to myself; as ridiculous as it seemed for this successful business owner to be hanging upside down from a ceiling, running cable—and getting a kick out of it—I know well the specific joy that comes from doing the technical work, solving problems and getting things done right now. I call that “the joy of the Technician.”

the e-myth revisited chapter one

Mark really connected to that joy. He started building skateboards at just 14 years old and realized he loved it, so he launched a skateboard manufacturing business from his bedroom. His passion and skill allowed him to build a multimillion-dollar-a-year empire that now serves as a leader in the industry.

But he’d built this empire on his own ability to do the work, his own commitment to excellence, his own willingness to climb a ladder and hang cable from the ceiling.

That’s fine if you want a business that’s dependent on you, if you don’t want to grow, if you want to take on as much (or more) as you can handle on your own and have no time for a life outside of work.

Because as a Technician, you’re only ever focused on today. You don’t care about the past because you don’t have time. You don’t care about the future because you have problems right now. There’s an order to get out, sales to be made, cable to be hung. So you make decisions that help in the moment, but you don’t think about the long-term impacts. And the root problems you’re not addressing—a faulty order processing system, a lack of Sales Team values, unclear office maintenance roles—get worse and pile on top of each other.

It’s like rolling in a wave, getting stuck in the ocean and not knowing where the bottom is until you’ve hit it. When you’re in that state of mind, you don’t even have time to investigate or breathe.

Most clients, especially those who've read The E-Myth Revisited, come to EMyth understanding that the majority of businesses aren’t started by Entrepreneurs—they’re started by Technicians who know how to do the work of their business, but who have less of an idea about how to be an effective leader or manager. They understand the fallacy, but knowing what to do about it is the struggle.

If you want to grow, you can’t just call yourself an Entrepreneur—you have to become one. You have to step out of the small, day-to-day view and see the bigger picture.

You can't captain your ship while scrubbing the decks and watching for icebergs. When the lookout spots an iceberg ahead, you need to be ready to steer the ship to safety—without the rest of the day-to-day operations falling apart.

So you have to ask yourself in every moment: Is what I’m doing right now getting me closer to or further from fulfilling my vision? If we were ten times bigger, would we still do it this way?

If the answer is “no,” your business is probably too dependent on you as the Technician.

Today, Mark builds about 20% of Technician work into his schedule each week. He carves out this time because he loves doing the work—and that’s okay! You’re allowed to love it. But unless you want to find another captain to run your ship, you’ve got to spend at least 80% of your time keeping watch for the icebergs.

the e-myth revisited chapter one

Adam Traub

Written by Adam Traub

Adam Traub is a senior member of the EMyth Coaching Team and an expert in the EMyth Approach. In his nearly 20 years with the company, his experience has included program development, coach training, customer satisfaction and success, and personally coaching hundreds of business owners through the joys and challenges of redesigning their businesses. Adam’s dedication to helping business owners and leaders comes from his own interest in culture and people dynamics, as well as personal experience working through the EMyth Program as a client, where he saw the possibility for all leaders to transform their companies, create a better culture, and achieve their vision.