Of all the folklore surrounding the genesis of the most profitable and successful small and large businesses, the last thing you typically hear anyone talk about are things like process, systems, predictability, logic, order, and careful planning as the foundation for making a dream work.
In fact, the opposite is usually true: the hastily scribbled “business plan” on a napkin for a company that just “blew up” overnight, or the highly disorganized and chaotic beginnings of your favorite tech giant in a suburban garage.
For most people, talk of systems and processes and automation is viewed as a wooden stake through the heart of entrepreneurial passion, creativity, and dreams.
But Michael E. Gerber, legendary author of The E-Myth and “the World’s #1 Small Business Guru” according to Inc. magazine, argues (very strongly) that the opposite is actually true. In order to bring the dream and the passion to life, small business owners need to start thinking (and documenting) the what and the why of their purpose and mission well before diving into the actual doing.
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The Evolution of an Enterprise Starts with a Plan
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Benjamin Franklin
In over 40 years of working with small business owners and creators, Michael has found that our most prolific and creative founding father was onto something when it comes to bringing a creative vision – and a business – to life. Forget the current trend of operating on chaos theory to reach the moon; Michael points out that chaos in fact only leads to more chaos.
“There will be no growth or progress until you’re capable of showing someone what you do and how you do it – from the most trivial tasks to the most pivotal. The documentation of process is fundamental to growth. There can be no consistency, effectiveness, or authenticity without documentation of what we do, why we do it, and how we do it – whether it’s online or onsite.”
Deciding when the time is right to start documenting process and to consider systemizing operations is one that entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes and valuations tend to struggle with. Implementing repeatable systems early produces more predictable results, and sets up a foundation that leads to better decision making and a company that will run efficiently without the daily involvement of the owner.
Making a Living vs. Making a Difference
Whether you’re a solopreneur operating a food truck or a SaaS company, your business runs on systems and processes that you repeat every day. Clarifying the vision and purpose behind what a company does and why it does it is the key to deriving joy and realizing a dream as opposed to “doing” a job.
According to Michael, small business owners possess four distinct personality traits:
Dreamer – conceives of the dream
Thinker – plans the vision
Storyteller – articulates the purpose
Leader – executes the mission
Michael and his team have developed what he calls the eightfold path to launching a successful company of one:
- Client acquisition system
- Management system
- Leadership system
The first four are the most important and the perfect place to start. The dream is the critical element and is always step one (pro tip: “to make money” is never really the dream). The vision flows from the dream and represents the form the company will take in order to drive the dream. Think of the vision as the bridge that brings the dream into the real world. The purpose represents your why, and the mission is the core system that underlies the organization and everything it does.
The Importance of Seeing the Path
What if you don’t know what your dream is, or are struggling to put it into a documentable process?
What if you’ve built a successful company, only to realize that you no longer want to be a part of it?
How do you find, keep, or reclaim your joy?
Michael points out that the key to moving forward from wherever you are is to start by letting go of the past. To define your path, consider a few key questions:
- What is your primary aim?
- What is your strategic objective?
- What is your organizational strategy?
- What is your management strategy?
- What is your people development strategy?
- What are your systems?