Being Your Own CEO

updated with company colors

In the movie The Intern, Anne Hathaway’s character Jules has created a business from the ground up, but her ability to run that business is now being questioned by the board. As she falls into the weeds of packaging details, customer feedback, and hopping on the phone to actually take orders, those looking at the future of her company start searching for someone “capable” of seeing the bigger picture. At the height of the crisis, her comically older “intern” Ben (played by Robery DeNiro) says, “You should feel nothing but great about what you’ve done, and I’d hate to see you let anyone take that away from you.”

The truth is that for many successful entrepreneurs, that transition from scrappy start-up to investment-driven company can swallow founders up and spit them back on the street. After so long being the only employee/leader/staffer/person who cares, it can be difficult to hand off day-to-day operations and start focusing on that bigger picture. In many cases, side hustlers-turned-founders don’t necessarily have the knowledge of why a CEO is essential and what it means to take on that roll.

So let’s get you started on the right path:

  1. How can you prepare to be CEO?
  2. What do you need to focus on now?

How to be your own CEO

Assume from the start that every move you make is either laying a strong foundation or a future pothole. (Yes that sounds daunting… also remember that mistakes can be rectified.)

Consider the general job requirements of a leader:

  • Setting priorities
  • Spotting problems early and delegating solutions
  • Identifying long term goals and making decisions about tactics to achieve them

No one will care about your business as much as you, so it is up to you to plan for its future. If you are mired in daily tasks, you are not devoting time to long term growth or able to see upcoming challenges. Clearing that path is essential.

Play to your strengths

Solo hustlers are used to doing everything themselves or, if they are lucky, with the assistance of a small and often part-time or volunteer crew. But that does not mean they are good at all those tasks. As you grow your business, consider which roles you excel at and which are not your strong point. Those roles should be your first priorities to fill when you reach the point of expansion.

Give employees room

Don’t assume that as founder you know best, or all. It’s common for solo hustlers to fall into the comfort zone of micromanagement when a business begins to expand. If you’ve started your employee expansion with the roles where you are least comfortable, now is the time to step back and trust your hires. You’ll not only improve employee retention, but are likely to learn new skills and techniques, get steam behind new ideas, and inspire others to value the growth of the business because you’re allowing them to become personally invested and challenged.

Set your vision

We’re not talking about mood boards (although if those speak to you, by all means create one!). Much as Jules feared losing what she set out to create if her business shifted into the hands of a new CEO, don’t assume that your business must follow a prescribed corporate path to success. Consider what is important to you, and then hire, create guidelines, and build a culture that meets your vision. Maybe you want a business that offers flexible opportunities to employees who are working parents. Maybe you want to foster greater equity in disadvantaged communities. Maybe you want to balance growth with quality of product, and wish to avoid rapid expansion traps. Whatever you dreamed of when you started your solo hustle needs to be forefront in your planning and expansion. Otherwise, why have started your own business at all?

Consider what job you would apply for at your own company

Before we get into the nitty gritty of what to focus on as CEO, consider this: do you want to be CEO?

Not all founders do. If your real passion is in creation, or service, or some other aspect of your key product, perhaps you want to focus your vision and energy on creating and improving that. Maybe the role where you are least satisfied and least successful is in delegating, setting goals, and identifying the best ways to measure those achievements.

Again, you started a business because you had a dream, an idea, and a picture in your mind of your ideal workplace. Don’t crush your personal goals with the pressure to fall into tasks that stimy your creativity. If your business is in need of serious CEO leadership, it got there through your efforts and output and that must be protected and allowed to thrive.

However, if you do opt to cede top leadership to someone with better experience, consider what level of control you still want in the company and what influence your desired role will have over the direction of your company. Remember McDonalds. When Richard and Maurice McDonald met Ray Kroc, they were running a single hamburger stand that was optimized for maximum food service efficiency. Kroc was so impressed with their vision that he became their franchise agent. But Kroc’s vision of an expansive empire did not match the McDonald brothers’ vision of a small and carefully quality-controlled company. When they parted ways with Kroc, they even neglected to retain the use of their own surname.

Start being CEO now

You’re ready to be your own CEO. That means it’s essential to start acting the part right now. As a solo hustler, your business existed because of the product or service you produced. As a CEO, your business is the product.

That means taking a step back and planning processes and goals that ensure your “product” creates the experience for your customers that you hoped.

One way to start is by taking the time to step back from each of your goals. Let’s break that down.

Your pre-CEO day-to-day probably including goals such as sourcing new customers, creating/supporting your product or service, managing budgets, creating marketing efforts, and handling subcontractors.

As your business has grown, you have likely been disciplined enough to set sales goals, measurement tactics around marketing efforts, identifying new suppliers, expanding your current sales channels, etc.

Now, as CEO, the next steps include:

  • Defining processes for each essential step of your business. For example:
    • How products are created
    • How services are rendered
    • Training new employees in each area
  • Determining which goals and KPIs matter for the continued growth of the business and the process by which these will be tracked moving forward.
  • Setting a company structure. Which departments will ultimately be needed, which in turn will help identify and prioritize roles that need to be filled.
  • Pursuing a comprehensive competitive analysis. You saw a need for your skills that was great enough to start a business. Now you need to understand who else is out there and which untraveled paths are open for you to develop.
  • Understanding long term financial needs and goals. You may be in the black now, but how will you finance long-term goals that may require substantial investment in new employees, equipment, resources, etc.
  • Analyzing your current success. What has made the difference in getting your business this far? Where is the plateau level? How much longer can you grow on those variables and how do you replicate or expand on them?

Making the time to cultivate your company

The more you can free time now—as a solo entrepreneur—to focus on your business and not just be in your business, the more stable your growing company will be. In the absence of employees to delegate tasks, look for tools that can make your work more efficient. Platforms such as Solo Hustle can alleviate many of the time consuming tasks, such as proposal creations, timely invoices and payment collections, etc., that prevent you from focusing on the future. A good CEO finds good help… even if it’s not human. Schedule a demo with Solo Hustle today and see what we can take off your plate.


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