The skills you’ll be required to use over the lifespan of your company aren’t going to remain static. The challenges faced as a start-up can be very different from those of a full-sized business. Here we’ll look at how your role as the business’s leader will change over the years.
Start-up life is characterised by you making things happen. During this phase, entrepreneurs must be incredibly versatile. Keeping an eye on finances, registering the company with all of the relevant regulatory authorities, making sales, hiring staff, even the occasional bit of cleaning: if you, as a leader, don’t do it, no-one else will.
Those first months are about getting things off the ground. You may be establishing some basic systems of accounting, customer management and shoestring marketing campaigns. You’ll be watching the pennies closely to ensure you have enough money to pay a basic wage whilst retaining some to enable growth. You may choose to hire one or two people to pitch in, but for the most part you’re on your own.
In the early stages you’ll be doing everything, but you’ll also be in full control of your business’s growth. Expect long days and little time off, but it’s all worth it because it builds towards your leader vision.
Post start-up SME (5 – 49 staff)
The blurred lines between you and the business will start to separate as you become two distinct entities. From your point of view, one of the biggest challenges will be the recruitment of staff. This means getting good at judging prospective hires, training staff and, most importantly, learning to let other people handle some of the crucial jobs.
One of your big leader challenges will lie in outsourcing: what can you afford to offload to contractors and what has to be done in-house? Cash flow limitations might mean that you have to be selective, so think carefully about each decision.
Likewise, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your internal workforce. Delegating tasks, motivating staff, carefully planning your days and inculcating a strong workplace culture will all be of the utmost importance. Again, the theme is going to be one of gradually stepping back to allow your staff to take care of the day-to-day so you can focus on the big picture as the leader. Who knows, there might even be room for a little time off here and there.
Established business (50+ staff)
In the third stage of growth you’ll keep moving further away from the day to day operations of the business into a role more geared towards leader and growth strategy. Days previously spent on the shop floor will be replaced by meetings in the board room with potential clients and other stakeholders.
By this stage, you should have a highly diversified management structure with high-level skills in finance, human resources, marketing and operations to help guide your decision making. It’s with their assistance that you’ll make the big decisions and let them convey those decisions to the rest of the staff.
It’s here that the rewards really start to come in. With an effective structure in place, you can finally take your hands off the wheel and stick to the major issues. You’ll find that you have the ability to take time away to recuperate and that the razor-thin profit margins of start-up life are becoming a memory.
Business ownership is a non-stop journey of learning and growth, both professionally and personally. The skill set will certainly evolve over time and, for many CEOs, the culture of the company will reflect the journey they’ve been on. Although the shop floor may seem a distant memory, your capability as the leader of a large business will be founded on the challenges you faced from the very start.
Visit our small business resources hub for more help getting to grips with life as a business leader.