Founding partner of CEO Advisory Guru, LLC. Best-selling author of The Private Equity Playbook and The Exit-Strategy Playbook.
If your one-person business brings in a million dollars a year in revenue, congratulations — that’s a huge accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated. Taking a business to that level is no easy feat. It requires you to be an incredibly detail-oriented person who single-handedly controls every part of your business so it performs in the most perfect way possible.
Exerting that level of control — and obsessing over every detail of your business — is what enabled you to accomplish what many founders never achieve: hitting that elusive $1 million per year mark. And it is those same behavioral traits that I believe could enable you to potentially take your business to $30 million and beyond in annual revenue.
How do I know? Over the past 20 years, I’ve bought and sold more than 100 businesses while doing roll-ups for private equity groups. In that time, I’ve worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs, which has given me an extraordinary opportunity to study where they excel and where they falter.
What I’ve seen, time and again, is that the same traits that got these entrepreneurs to the $1 million mark are the same traits that can prevent them from getting any bigger. When leaders need to manage and control every little detail, they create an artificial glass ceiling, and many entrepreneurs don’t know how to break through that barrier and scale their businesses from $1 million to $30 million to $100 million and more.
However, there’s nothing that says you, as an entrepreneur can’t learn how to break through that ceiling. Indeed, with self-reflection and intentional action, I believe you can do just that.
Conduct an honest self-reflection.
It’s time to look in the mirror and ask yourself if you want to grow your business further. Be honest with yourself here; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with deciding you’re happy to stay where you are or even to turn the reins over to someone else and exit.
However, if you decide you want to grow your business, you need to openly and honestly admit to yourself that you will need to make some big changes. Up to this point, perhaps it’s as though you’ve been the first-chair player in every section of the orchestra that is your business. In other words, every single person in your organization has been taught by you and is doing every task how you would do it. You’re part of everything, and everyone is following your lead exactly.
To scale to the next level, you must stop being the first-chair player in every section — and become the conductor instead. If you don’t, you’ll run out of bandwidth attending to the sheer volume of tasks clamoring for your attention. You need to learn to let go. You have to trust your people. Train them and guide them, yes, but empower them to take control of their tasks without your direct micromanagement.
Reach out to your peers.
Of course, learning to let go isn’t easy. One way to make it easier is to join a peer network group. Being able to sit and talk with other founders who have faced similar challenges can be remarkably helpful, and there are a lot of peer networks to choose from. By joining a peer network, you can talk to other business leaders about the problems you’re facing. You can also learn how to implement the changes that will help you scale your business to the heights you want to achieve.
As valuable as peer networks can be, though, you need to make sure you’re in the right group for you. Sometimes, people just tell you what you want to hear. Even worse, you might find yourself in a group where the other members don’t have the knowledge or experience to help you. Bottom line, if you consistently find you’re helping everyone else but you aren’t getting help in return, you’re in the wrong place, and it’s time to join a different group.
Consider working with a coach.
As valuable as peer groups can be, sometimes, the better option is to work with a coach who has experience scaling businesses to the caliber you’re hoping to achieve. As a CEO coach myself, I’ve found that when you do that, you get the benefit of a mentor who can tailor their strategies and coaching to your specific needs.
The right person can help you understand that the magic that led to your current success isn’t gone; it just needs to be retooled. Plus, they can help you put more formalized processes in place and, ultimately, help you overcome your specific limiting factors. In other words, they can help you move from the first chair to the conductor and guide you past potential pitfalls along the way.
Executive CEO coaches come in all shapes and sizes. They might have a Ph.D. and approach their work from an academic perspective, or, like me, they might be an actual practitioner that has built and run multiple enterprises. If you opt to work with a coach, what’s most important is that you feel a connection to them. I like to call it the “click.” When it feels right, the interaction is most beneficial. Don’t be afraid to interview several potential coaches before choosing the person who feels right for you.
Switch into a different gear.
There’s no question that growing a business to a million dollars in annual revenue is a huge accomplishment. However, if you want to grow past that, you have to recognize that the very things that contributed to your success are the things that can hold you back from further growth.
By doing some honest self-reflection and taking steps to get help, you can catapult your business to the next level. You might just become that rarest of entrepreneurs: the unicorn who can take their startup to $100 million (or more).