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4 Bridges to Entrepreneurial Freedom

I recently posted on the 4 Freedoms Entrepreneurs seek.

  • Freedom from having a boss 
  • Freedom to build a business or a product their way
  • Financial freedom
  • Freedom to spend their time the way they want to

Those courageous enough to launch their own business take huge risks in pursuit of their dreams and this is what makes entrepreneurs the most interesting of all people I meet.

Depending on which freedoms we seek, I believe there are up to 4 bridges we need to cross to achieve our particular vision of freedom through entrepreneurship.

  • Bridge 1 – Viability – will it work?
  • Bridge 2 – Scalability – will it grow?
  • Bridge 3 – Business Autonomy – will it be able to run without me?
  • Bridge 4 – From Organisation to Organism – will it thrive without me?

The basic premise of this blog is that it’s essential to understand what freedoms you seek as an entrepreneur and to be clear on the bridges you need to cross in your pursuit of those freedoms, as early in your journey as possible.

The more of these bridges you can cross, the more freedom you’ll enjoy. Because here’s the single biggest thing I have learned about being an entrepreneur….

Complete freedom comes from owning a business that doesn’t actually need you.

You can choose to sell it (and it’s more valuable if it isn’t reliant on one or two key people) or you can have others run it for you, enjoy the dividends of that success and you can have the time you want in and out of the business with involvement levels you desire.

Fly-September-24Understanding that if you genuinely want freedoms 3 and 4 you will have to cross bridge 3 (Build a business that doesn’t need you) and better still, to safeguard your future, cross bridge 4 (Build a business that can continue to grow without you), is something I found enlightening.

Understanding that this is the goal from the outset changes the decisions you make along the way and makes your decision making clearer. Being transparent about it provides an inspiring opportunity for those who work with you.

Your mission from the outset then is to recruit the team who run this business for you.

If you genuinely approach growing a small business from this perspective you lose the need to own all the shares and be in complete control. As the business grows, as the people themselves grow and accept more responsibility, your freedoms emerge. The growth is now not just down to or about you. Others who are inspired by the same vision as you, propel the business through their drive to see your now shared vision fulfilled too.

Finding the right people and helping them grow is now the mission. Your mission is to find the people who will invest their future in your shared vision and you have to be prepared to reward them for that.

If you expect a decade or more of the best years of a good person’s life to achieve your vision, you had better be prepared to share in the successes because they’ll quickly figure out they have other options…

Bridge 1 – Viability (“Will it work?”)

Wooden-Bridge-September-24This sounds straight-forward. The reality is different; 60% of entrepreneurs will fall off this most rickety and dangerous of bridges within the first 3-5 years.

The rocks below are covered with sweat, tears, financial blood and the wreckage of dreams, yet still brave souls set forth across it every day, in the belief that their goal is big enough or their plan is good enough, to endure the hardships and challenges ahead. They do so in the belief that they will cross, where most fail.

This is bravery. Pure and simple. I salute each and every person that chooses to get off the relatively comfortable motorway of employed life and take this (more dangerous) road less travelled. These are the brave pioneers and adventurers of business.Creating a viable small business can potentially provide you with Freedoms 1 and 2. The freedom that comes from not having a boss and the freedom of building a business, product (or doing work for your customers) the way you want to do it.

That’s because you need to cross the next bridge to get to freedoms 3 and 4 and that usually means employing people. Good people. Preferably exceptional people.

Bridge 2 – Scalability (“Will it grow?”)

Once your new business is viable and can stand on its own financial feet and you can earn enough money to be comfortable, it’s a great moment. It is a great achievement and it deserves respect.

You don’t have a boss and you are free to do everything YOUR way. That’s cool. Really cool. Enjoy it for a moment because soon you’ll see new bridges looming… if you want more freedoms.

Can you grow it? You’ll struggle if it depends on your unique skill set or talent.

If the only person that can make sales is you, if the only person that can deliver the service is you or if you are a sole craftsman, the business growth potential is fundamentally limited. The business will hit a ceiling and plateau, as small businesses so often do.

grow 24thThere are danger signs.

As the boss you often wonder why you bother. Your business grows around you but it seems you’ve just added more mouths to feed. Having more people to manage means that you spend less time doing the very thing that makes you money.

You find yourself doing less of what you’re good at and enjoy and lots of what you don’t. Tiredness, stress and self doubt all follow. It seems you have less holidays than when you were employed and taking time off is really difficult.

Clang! That’s the ceiling. Right there.

It’s time to acknowledge that something has to change if you ever want to find freedoms 3 and 4. Time to grow. Time to take the emphasis off you and instead start the process of making yourself redundant…

Bridge 3 – Business Autonomy (“Will it be able to run without me?”)

To my mind, we have to see ourselves differently as entrepreneurs who want to grow businesses. We have to start to spend time standing apart from the business and working on it, rather than in it. It’s a transformational thing when this happens.

Being a business Manager and being its owner are two entirely separate things.

Great entrepreneurs seem to build companies like the Lego models as children. They dream up the structure, the roles and people they need and then put them together. They paint the picture of an exciting win/win future and inspire those around them to achieve and they’re off…

Some will never manage this. “I must be the boss” is a small business mindset that has to change if the next freedoms are to be achieved.

Entrepreneurs who scale businesses, it seems, build teams that may NOT include them in the medium term and DEFINITELY do not need them in the long term.

Bridge 4 – From Organisation to Organism (“Will it thrive without me?”)

Imagine you have recruited the best possible team with passionate experts in every role. Motivated people with a shared vision who love working together to solve problems. The business doesn’t just run without you, it THRIVES without you.

It has become a living organism, totally self-reliant, able to adapt and respond to market challenges with or without you there.

It grows, it makes profits and it has a clearly defined purpose.

You achieved this because you recruited the people, mentored the people, coached them and supported them. You left your DNA in the organisation but now, it no longer needs you.

How free are you now?

You have crossed the final bridge. You can spend your time however you choose, you may choose to sell the business (maybe to those who now run it) or simply be involved because you want to be there and because you love it and the people you work with.

The key it seems is growth, but growth with a purpose. Building futures for yourself and your loyal team in a way that is truly win/win.

So these are the 4 freedoms I perceive and the 4 bridges I believe we have to cross as entrepreneurs if we want them.

The alternative is to make it all about you. Build a business that needs you, is limited by you and often demands most of your life in return.

Which seems more fun?

Just my thoughts. I’d love to hear yours…

My next blog will look at the 6 pillars of growth with a purpose. I hope you’ll join me for that.

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