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You CAN Build a Self-Sustaining Business

If you’re fortunate enough to have taken your company on a journey through all of its highs and lows for 5, 10, even 20 years or more, chances are you’ve had those moments when you wished your business weren’t so damn dependent on you. No matter what you’ve achieved, most business owners know in their heart that if they walked away—whether for six months or two weeks—they probably wouldn’t have a business when they got back.

Changing that and creating a self-sustaining business that’s thriving, whether you’re there or not, is the subject of this four-week blog series.

Most people think of EMyth and the E-Myth books by Michael Gerber as a set of blueprints for building systems which free business owners from tactical work so they can focus their attention on strategic work. It’s a process that creates growth for the company and personal freedom for the owner. So it shouldn’t surprise you that I was able to free myself from the day-to-day operations of EMyth in 1999 when I retired as the company’s President at age 46. I had spent 17 years working to build our coaching company and the EMyth brand with Michael, my then husband and still co-owner.

In the years since, I’ve been the company’s Board Chair, mentoring our Leadership Team and advising them on strategy. I’ve also been able to do the Technician’s and Manager’s work I love to do: training salespeople and continuously innovating our Sales System.

At the same time, I’ve had the luxury of owning a company where I don’t have an office, and the freedom to spend two months a year with my husband, Gerrit, at our cottage on the north coast of Spain. There, we walk endless stretches of pristine beaches; hike beautiful nature trails; hang out in local bars with friends and listen to Spanish music; explore the Galicia region in my husband’s beloved 1982, 2-cylinder, Citroen 2cv; and eat seafood fresh from the Atlantic Ocean. I’m very grateful for my life, and to my company for making this possible.

These last two decades have taught me a lot about how to create a business that doesn’t depend on its owner. The theory is great—but doing it is a whole other thing. Before I could pass the baton in 1999, I had to struggle with competing priorities within myself until I realized what I wanted most for my life. I had to face my resistance to letting go of my position as EMyth’s leader, and confront how much my identity—my sense of myself—was tied to it. That was a really hard one. I had to ask myself difficult questions about what the company and our people really needed to be successful from day to day without me.

And I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way: I’ve underestimated the knowledge transfer that has to occur between an owner and an incoming CEO; I’ve trusted people to lead who weren’t prepared; I’ve let go of functions before the systems were sufficiently in place to support the people taking them over. To name a few.

This has all been a journey for me that’s about to take a new turn. Earlier this year I turned 65, a milestone for just about anyone who’s fortunate enough to reach it. While I’m more excited than ever about EMyth’s movement toward our Strategic Objective—not to mention the quality of our Leadership Team, our employees, and our Coach Network—it’s time for me to begin a new chapter of my life.

Over the next year I’m committed to replacing myself in the tactical functions I’ve performed for over 35 years and limiting my involvement in the company to my role as EMyth’s Board Chair. As I’m writing this to you, I feel all the fears and doubts that I’ve felt at every stage of letting go. I can’t see all the details of how it’s going to work yet. Life has no guarantees for me about the long-term consequences. But I have my commitment to myself and my husband, my past experience, and my trust in the EMyth approach.

That’s what this blog series is about: what it really takes—emotionally and practically—to create a robust, growing, customer-centric business that doesn’t depend on you. One where you have the option (or not) to involve yourself in areas of your business where you can make a real difference. One where you can leave the rest to capable, competent, systems-oriented leaders who are committed to your vision and your values, so you have time to pursue other dreams.

If this subject speaks to you—if you’re frustrated by how dependent on you your business is now and you aren’t sure how to change it—then I invite you to join me over the next three weeks for this exploration. In the meantime, you might find these questions meaningful to think about:

What’s the reality of your situation?

  • What would happen to your business and to your people if you left it for two weeks? A month? Six months? A year?
  • When you look at your business, what’s missing that makes it hard, or even impossible, to leave it?

What do you really want?

  • Do you find yourself wishing that your business could operate without you?
  • What are the benefits of having a business that works because of you?
  • What price are you paying for your company’s dependency on you? 

If you’d like to share your thoughts with me, I’d love to hear them. You can reach me by commenting below or by emailing me at support@emyth.com. Talk to you then (and through the blog next week)!

Topics: Leadership, Values, Systemization

Ilene Frahm

Written by Ilene Frahm

Ilene joined EMyth in 1982. During her 17 year marriage to Michael Gerber, she collaborated with Michael on The EMyth Revisited and served as his editor and publishing agent on it, as well as on a number of his other books. Ilene spent more than a decade working on EMyth not just in it to build a company that didn’t depend on her. Except for one short stint, she hasn’t held a position in the day-to-day operations of EMyth since she retired as its President in 1999. Ilene and her husband, Gerrit, spend two months a year at their cottage on the north coast of Spain. The rest of the time, she does what she loves: mentoring staff, training salespeople, and supporting everyone in the company, at every level, in their leadership.

See all of Ilene's posts.