Dave Luehr, a Nashville, Tennessee-based writer, international keynote speaker, and founder of The Limitless Entrepreneur, a company dedicated to helping small businesses discover their own limitless potential through leadership education, delves into the challenges and solutions for achieving entrepreneurial freedom. In this article, he highlights the three fundamental entrepreneurial freedoms: service, schedule, and security. He also explores the factors that keep business owners stuck. By addressing these issues and implementing effective strategies, Luehr emphasizes that it is never too late to transform one’s business and forge a path towards entrepreneurial freedom.
By the time I was 27 years old, I was running a million-dollar-a-year automotive repair business that was losing money, my wife wanted a divorce, and I was usually working seven days a week. My life and business were a disaster, but I kept telling myself that if I just kept working harder, I could dig myself out of the mess. I had a lot to learn about being a business owner.
Five years earlier, I was a painter at Salem Auto Body and Paint Works in Salem, Oregon. Frustrated with the poor quality of the work being performed at this shop, I decided I could do better running my own business. I was very excited by the idea of being an entrepreneur, and, in the beginning, every day was exciting and fun. Work didn’t feel like work because I had the freedom to express myself through my craftsmanship and didn’t have to answer to anyone else.
The purpose of this article is how I went from entrepreneurial freedom to being imprisoned by my own business. Helping business owners avoid these same pitfalls and find the freedoms they seek has become my life’s work.
The Three Entrepreneurial Freedoms
Before I discuss the factors keeping business owners and managers stuck, I find it helpful to explain what exactly we are being held captive from. Usually, the answer is freedom. Far too many of us are being held captive from the very freedoms we crave the most as entrepreneurs – the reason we became entrepreneurs in the first place—the freedom of service, schedule, and stability.
The freedom of service is one of the strongest drives known to man. I believe we all were created to share our God-given talents through service to others. Entrepreneurship is a powerful way to conduct this mission. It allows us to create our products and services freely because working for someone else does not limit our talents.
The freedom of schedule allows us to spend our days as we choose. Time is the most precious thing we have: once you spend a moment of time, it is gone forever. Entrepreneurship potentially gives you control of your schedule instead of someone else. Some entrepreneurs want to spend their days performing the work they love, while others may wish to spend more time with family. Either way, as a business owner, you can choose your schedule.
The freedom of security means that you and your family’s livelihood is under your control, not someone else, such as a boss or large corporation. Many would-be entrepreneurs never make the jump to self-employment because they believe their financial destiny is at risk. This is true, so the choice is made to play it safe and potentially place limitations on your prosperity working for someone else rather than bet on yourself and your dream. We have a deep need to provide for ourselves and our families, and this freedom can provide for not just our immediate families but also the families of those who work for us.
What Keeps Us Stuck?
If the desire for the three freedoms is why so many people are bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, why do most business owners never experience freedom? My company has worked with hundreds of small businesses and has discovered many symptoms keeping entrepreneurs from their freedoms. However, when studied further, only a handful of root causes are behind most of the captivity.
Most small businesses are founded by the technician who is performing the work, and as demand grows for the product or service, other business needs arise. We then need to manage systems and lead employees. We need to provide a vision and strategy for the growth of the business. But if you are anything like I was back in the day, you might be saying to yourself, “Hey, I’m a car painter; I didn’t sign up for all this stuff!”
In nearly all successful mature businesses, you will find not only a technician who can expertly perform the work but you will also find a manager who understands systems and people, along with an entrepreneur who leads the organization on its mission. In some cases, a single person can wear the hats of the technician, the manager, and the entrepreneur; however, many companies must hire people to fill these critical roles.
Out of these three roles, a lack in two of them causes most of the problems I see in small businesses today: the manager and the entrepreneur. Most business owners do okay technically, but it is the manager that puts the systems in place, allowing the technicians to perform effectively. It is the entrepreneurs’ and managers’ role to ensure effective leadership and a culture where great people can perform the work with excellence.
Herein lies the crux of most small business failures – why businesses can’t enjoy the freedoms they so desperately want.
- Lack of good systems
- Lack of good people
These factors should be placed at the very top of every business leader’s list of priorities. Building a stable operating system that allows the business owner freedom is, after all, what we are after. A solid, mature business never relies on the owner’s constant presence because entrepreneurial freedom is literally created through great people using great systems!
Where To Start
If you are struggling to find entrepreneurial freedom, the best place to start is an honest assessment of where you stand in the three roles of technician, manager, and entrepreneur. Then either begin learning new skills or hire others who possess the skills.
Next, build an operating system that allows your people to run the business independently of the owner.
Lastly, continually search for great people to run your system. Inspire and lead them, and they will be the driving force behind you finding the entrepreneurial freedom you have always dreamed of.
Like many things in life, businesses also go through stages. Prior to reaching maturity, a business must go through infancy and adolescence. And, as I discovered many years ago, most of the problems keeping us stuck when a business reaches maturity could have been solved in the earlier stages by building a business structure with proactive intention. I learned the hard way that entrepreneurial freedom is not found by working harder but by working intently on the right things.
No matter what stage your business is currently in, it is not too late to change your path towards freedom!