The 3 Levels of Business according to Jenni Walke

The 3 levels of business

Business can be complex – or it can be simple.  The “thing” that decides which, is the business founder.

When I first started a business, I thought, WOW! I am a business owner… what I didn’t really comprehend, was that not only was I the owner, but I was the first employee, manager, and business operator.  I just knew that Elephant in the Room Consulting is what I had to do! 

The reality is, when you start a company, YOU are the business.  But it doesn’t have to remain that way. 

Whether you have a product or service that is able to be scaled, or you want to be the one who serves customers from the day you open the doors until they close again in 10, 20 or 30+ years, YOU can choose how to structure your business, and in fact you have probably been doing it unconsciously since you started. 

Now, when I am talking structure, I am not talking about creating meaningless titles or organisational charts that have no relevance to what you are doing.  What I am talking about is how you run your business.

The Employee.

When you first start your business, whatever it is you’re making or doing you are an employee of the business.  This means you are likely to be required to do something for the business to work, be it make and sell the products, or deliver the services. As the first employee, you are likely to be passionate about what you are doing and called to do it so much so, you want to do it on your own terms (i.e., start a business)… 

Think, coach, consultant, artist, pottery or jewellery maker, PT, or yoga instructor.   

You work regular(ish) hours.  

Connect with customers. 

Fulfill orders. 

Take payment. 

…all the things an employee of The Gap, or Footlocker would also do.   

Like all great employees, your role is not just to deliver the service and make the product, it is also to understand what your customer wants and needs. What products are selling and which are duds? And, finding ways to improve your customer engagement.  

However, as you start thinking about how to maximise the sale, improve productivity or create a customer experience, your role (in addition to being the business founder) shifts… from employee to Operator. 

The Operator (or Manager).

As an Operator, you are thinking about processes and systems, supply chain, and production.  You are looking at the whole system, and all the moving parts, asking:  

How do we get things to work more efficiently?  

Can I reduce costs?   

Do we need more help? 

Can I keep working like this? 

As you move between roles, you may feel some tension as you need to let go of the tasks you have been doing since day one. You may even have someone helping you now (#2 or #3 employee), but you are still worried that they won’t do it like you!? (sound familiar?)  Hot tip: they won’t! But that is ok. 

When starting out, you will likely float between the Manager/Operator and employee on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. Your focus will be split between staying connected with the clients you have built up, and wanting the business to grow.  As things build, your role and focus shift toward growth. 

And this is where things start to get fun. 

The business is growing…sales are coming in; your market is growing and you begin to see Freedom ahead…you start to see yourself as the Owner. BUT you are still wondering how to make things work better.  

The Owner.

When you begin to see the business as bigger than you – this is the time to step up. To hire a new operator or manager, or dedicate time to each role to enable your thinking to shift.  

In the role of the owner, you are wondering about what you want for the business and from the business. You begin to set the direction, the vision and steer the ship… preferably from afar!   

Many say a “true” owner has very little hands on the processes they set up, or the customers the business connects with. Instead, their role becomes about building engagement, and excitement, and promoting the business. Focusing on building partnerships, and looking for ways to grow, scale, expand and sell the business.  

The key differentiator of an owner is that you are no longer dictated by production demands – you have a team for that, or selling to customers – you have automation for that. You are driven by what comes next, and ways to expand the business…and perhaps create a legacy that will outlive you? 

As the owner, operator, and employee of Elephant in the Room Consulting, I shift from being the employee to the manager/operator to the owner on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. The reality of starting any business is that our role is whatever the business needs it to be, but the key is to recognise when the business needs each role to show up.  

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