As a disclaimer to this post, I’ve only really run one business, which never had any employees and failed. With that being said, the ideas in this post have come from more successful entrepreneurs, and when I’ve run it past other people who run their own business they’ve found it intriguing.
“The E-Myth” by Michael E. Gerber presents the idea that most small-business owners are very good at the various tasks running their own business requires, but are very bad at training and managing other people to do those tasks. He suggests that the reason so many new businesses fail is that they grow beyond what the founder can handle, the founder isn’t able to handle the ever increasing demands, and they’re eventually crushed under their own weight. His book talks about how to consider all the processes that are required to run your business, formalize them, and allow them to be delegated to others.
When you talk to business owners, often they’ll complain that they’re so busy meeting the daily demands of their business that they can’t invest in their business growth. Often this is expressed as “trying to build a dock while you’re treading water” (this may be a Canadian expression, we like docks up here).
A common wish from small busienss owners is that they could clone themselves (and have twice as much of their own labour for business needs). This is actually possible.
The first step to accomplish this is to hire someone fresh out of school. Either high school if there’s no special skills required to run the business, or an appropriate program if there is (if you’re developing software, hire someone fresh out of a computer science or computer analyst program, if you’re running a small law office, hire a recently called to the bar lawyer).
People who have worked in the industry or elsewhere themselves will be more resistant to doing everything “your way”. They’ll have had the experience of doing things their own way and will figure some of these techniques are better than your approach. The real advantage to someone fresh out of school is that they’re used to learning to do things a certain way, and they’ll be more receptive to learning your approach.
Over the next 6 months, you work very closely with this new hire. Basically you involve them in your day-to-day tasks, and at first explain what you’re doing to them, then directly supervise them while they perform the tasks, then finally delegate increasingly complex business challenges for them to handle themselves (and monitor the outcome). Through this process you’re giving them intense training on how you operate your business and teaching them to think the way you do.
After the 6 months, they may not do everything exactly the same way you do, and there may still be things that are too complex for them, but chances are you’ll be able to trust them to handle the vast majority of business decisions the way you would. At this point you can either semi-retire or focus on higher level business challenges and let them deal with day-to-day operations.
One fear business owners will have is that at the end of the 6 months the person will quit. That’s definitely a valid concern, as you’re investing MASSIVE amounts of time and energy into this person. I’d minimize this risk by: 1) treat them the way you’d want to be treated, 2) pay them very well, and 3) keep a “carrot” dangling that they’ll keep moving up the ranks and eventually run the business. Some owners will try to just use 3 (since its the easiest – all promise, no delivery). The danger there is if the person ever starts doubting you’re word (perhaps you don’t follow through with something else you promised them), then they’ll probably head for the hills and you’ve lost them.
Some people may try to use a “stick” and get the new employee to sign a contract forbidding them to compete with you, or causing some sort of penalty if they quit before a certain length of time is up. No one likes to be treated this way, so I think its short-sighted to try to legally bind someone to you (if they just become a surly and unproductive employee because they’re sick of you but can’t quit, how is that any better than if they’d left?).
Your clone is going to be very valuable to your business for many years to come, so treat them like the valuable resource they are.
Another concern is that veteran employees may resent the new guy who is being groomed to be the second-in-command. This is valid too, and I’m not sure the best way to handle it.
Has anyone ever created a clone or been a clone themselves? Anyone who is currently running a business with employees, do you think this would work in practice?