Many consultants build teams but find that they can’t quite separate from their business. We all know that we’re supposed to work “on the business” instead of “in the business” a la Michael Gerber’s E-Myth, but for some reason you can’t quite get all the way out.

You can’t trust someone to manage client accounts. Or, you can’t trust another developer to develop the application in line with your vision and standards.

Maybe, you have tried to hire somebody and you wasted months and thousands of dollars before determining that it just wouldn’t work.  So now you’re stuck.

You have to take care of it because only you can get it right.

The challenge of getting out of the business is the largest obstacle you face. Every hour you spend in your business, you’re essentially idling because no one else can move it forward.  It’s a huge tax on your momentum, like dragging an anchor behind you as you trudge towards your goals.

If you’re like a lot of people I’ve talked to, you think the solution is somewhere outside of the business. If you could just get your SaaS product on its feet it would replace some of the revenue you need for overhead. If you had better clients or were in a better market you would have more money to hire an “A” player who could take on the work that you currently do.

This is all true. If your situation was better, things would be easier. However, you are where you are. This isn’t a platitude, this is just acknowledging the reality of your situation. If you want to level up as an entrepreneur, you’re going to have to figure out how to make things work with the tools at hand.

I had this conversation with some small consultancy owners this week over lunch. I can sympathize- I’ve had all these thoughts. However, I’ve also had a lot of success in meeting this challenge. Though my background is as a developer, I haven’t opened up my IDE to code since I can’t remember when (a year and a half maybe?)  My client interaction is limited to a couple of emails a week and the occasional sales call. I’m in the office 3 days (and I’m working to lower it to 2.)  If I wanted to, I could take two weeks off without notice and nothing would change.

My friends felt like they could not hire for various positions.  I asked them what they felt like they did best in the business, what they enjoyed the most, and where they provided the most value. It turns out that these are the same positions that they felt like they couldn’t hire for. They had bookkeepers, developers, designers, and project managers but one position where they were still doing much of the work.

These are the positions that are essential to hire for. They’re also the hardest to hire for because of your attachment to the work.

So what do you do?

  1. Decide whether you want to be an entrepreneur more or a consultant more. You know best what is going to make you happy, but if the answer is consultant, than you will never get out of the business. By definition, a consultant is essential to the value being provided. The most important obstacle for a consultant is not getting out of the business, but figuring out the market and problem domain that provides maximum value to them. If you “own” a small consultancy that requires you to participate in it, whatever team you build simply provides you greater leverage- which is still very valuable.
  2. If the answer is entrepreneur, hire someone to fill the position you currently spend most of your time doing.  (It’s fine if you own a consultancy, just as long as you aim to really own it and not work in it as a consultant.)

I know what you’re thinking: “But, but…” Insert excuse. But you can’t afford someone good. But how do you hire for x? But what if it doesn’t work out? But you don’t have a revenue to support x. But someone would have to know this extremely hard to understand domain.

They’re not going to do as good as a job as you do.  They’ll be a host of other problems that come with it.

I have an answer for you: But so what? What’s the alternative? Are you going to get you where you want to go by building your client’s businesses instead of your own?

Boo! Answering questions with questions.

Let me tell you how I ended up hiring our first employee:  I was sick of how things were going and decided that either I was going to find someone to take over development or go out of business trying to make it work. A few years later, I came to the same decision with hiring a project manager when I was overloaded with emails and communication. Why did I have this mentality? I knew I was an entrepreneur and entrepreneurs don’t work in businesses, they build assets. If I couldn’t replace myself, I didn’t have and never had a business, just a very demanding job. It was better to crash and burn in that scenario than to limp along in purgatory.

If you never overcome this obstacle it will slow you down with every step.  No new tool, marketing tactic, or client will make a meaningful difference.  If you want progress, let go of the anchor and find a way to hire yourself out of the business.