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Being self-employed runs in my family, and many of my friends are self-employed. Not to mention the many mentors I have connected with throughout the years.
But none of them who are still in the game could jet off to Spain at a moment’s notice. Nor could they spend a week volunteering at an elephant sanctuary or an oil spill cleanup if the spirit moved them. If they decided to dip out, their businesses would fail.
Part of it is generational. Most of them are older than me. I think long hours and wide waistlines were a virtue in the eras before me. Those older generations like knowing that everything would go to hell in their businesses if they didn’t show up. So they grind it out, powered by fast food and headed to an adrenaline-and-fructose-fueled heart attack.
What kind of business truly makes you free?
Millennials like myself, as well as the younger Generation Z, take a different approach. We value our time and our health above all else. Sure, we have the drive but we certainly aren’t willing to kill ourselves for a dollar.
When we think of building a business, we think of building something that wouldn’t fall apart if we took a week, two weeks or even a month off.
We want to come back from the beach, the mountain, or the jungle and discover that our business is chugging along just fine, generating cash flow and value for our clients and customers.
Believe it or not, this isn’t some concept that millennials made up to avoid putting on a tie and showing up for work. Savvy entrepreneurs have always done it this way. Did Rockefeller know what was going on at every oil derrick and refinery at the height of Standard Oil? Does the owner of 12 McDonalds franchises go to every store and deep-fry every order of fries?
Of course not. They have systems and employees to do it for them. So if they show up to work every day, it’s just for one of two reasons:
- To feel important, like they still have a job. This is a much more powerful motivator than you could imagine.
- To brainstorm ways to expand the business empire. Not because they have to — adjusted for inflation, Rockefeller was richer than Bezos several times over. He had enough money; his grandchildren’s grandchildren have enough money. No, expanding the empire is just part of the robber-baron playbook. Horses eat oats; monkeys eat bananas; Rockefellers expand the empire.
The truth is, smart entrepreneurs have always built businesses that they could walk away from because that’s the only way to scale and expand.
You are only one person. You can’t conjure more than 24 hours in a day for you to work and provide value, and you have to sleep at some point. How big would Tesla have become if every part of the business depended on work personally done by Elon Musk? If he said, “None of you know how to build an electric car properly! I have to do everything myself!”
If you want your business to grow exponentially, generate wealth and make an impact, you can’t do everything yourself. You have to let your business be bigger than you — even if it still belongs to you.
Do you own a business, or do you own a job?
Many people think they own businesses, but they actually own jobs.
Think of the chef who opens a restaurant and finds that no one can make the soup quite like she does unless she supervises. Likewise, a designer, writer, or craftsman whose work is so unique, she can’t hire employees and produce the same level of quality.
While they may not report to a boss, these “entrepreneurs” are less free than their employee counterparts in many ways. Imagine if you had a job but could never take a vacation or the entire business would fail. If you have ever taken off work and had a job to come back to, it’s because someone built the company so that your job wasn’t the single point of failure.
Self-employed people don’t have that luxury. If they leave for a week, they lose a week’s worth of money. This is because they essentially own a job — one with no vacation time.
How to build a “freedom business”
Don’t be the single point of contact
You will never be free if you and only you can handle customer inquiries and client communication. So plan early for a situation where someone else handles as much communication as possible.
You might automate the client intake process through web funnels that net prospects and encourage them to book a call with you or to close the sale right then and there. If you close deals on the phone or by chat, eventually you can hire someone to follow a script and do that for you.
Early on, it could be as simple as having your first assistant act as a receptionist, responding to email inquiries. He may be hesitant at first and escalate nearly every query to your attention. Over time, however, he will become more confident and be able to handle more and more scenarios himself. Even if he gets it wrong occasionally, the time it saves you will be invaluable. This was the biggest game-changer for me. My clients would previously only talk to me; now, they speak to an account manager.
Over time, you can build an entire customer support architecture, with if/then scenarios your expanding team can follow to solve problems without your input.
Don’t be the single point of failure
“No one does it as well as me. I have to do it myself.” If this is true about any portion of your business, especially low-level operational tasks, you aren’t free yet.
Maybe clients need to see your face before they will close a big deal, but the process can’t depend on you further down the chain.
In the early going, you probably will do everything. Still, you should start preparing for your escape by documenting everything. What are the nuts and bolts of what you do? What are Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, and so on? Where are the repeatable processes? Can you write them down as a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) or make a training video with an app like Loom? Could you automate the process? Outsource it? Hire an employee to do it?
Once you start outsourcing and hiring instead of doing tasks yourself, your business can truly expand. For example, if your team of five can serve 15 clients, serving 30 clients is as easy as increasing your team to 10; serving 60 clients is as easy as expanding your team to 20.
Maybe no one will do the task as well as you, but even if they do it 80% as well, that’s still a great hire. You could build an empire with an army of 80 percenters. A little insider secret though — you may be surprised to find out that even though you are great, you aren’t the best at everything and you may end up with a team that does it better than you.
Be careful about building your business around a personal brand, whereby customers and clients come to expect that they will get your personal attention. However, this can work if you expand the business to have an ecosystem of introductory products and become more selective with your time as the brand grows.
Test your business by isolating yourself
If you think you have a business that can stand on its own two feet without your personal attention, it’s time to test it. The only way to test it is by isolating yourself.
Leave your phone and your computer at home; book a week at a beach resort, a lodge in the jungle, or a yurt on a mountain. Make yourself unreachable.
Start with one week, maybe two. Most businesses can recover from a week or two without a key player.
If that goes well, try three weeks. If you can be away for three weeks and don’t come back to a business on fire, you did it!
Personally, I started by jumping right in with three weeks completely disconnected. Why? I was forced to build out systems and processes in preparation. I knew that if I didn’t have things in place, the business wouldn’t recover.
Calm down, though; it doesn’t have to be that extreme. I’m a bit of a daredevil, I guess! So maybe bring your phone or leave your team with a way they can reach you in an emergency. But make it clear that you only want to hear from them if the world is on fire.
For the sake of your health, wealth and sanity, don’t become a slave to your own business! Instead, build it with an escape hatch.