The Hardest Part of Building a Business is Dealing With People

Last week I was at a neighborhood event and ended up chatting with the CEO of a major global company headquartered here in little ‘ole Vermont. Naturally, our conversation quickly shifted from the weather to business (okay, who am I kidding, there was no small-talk). The total people count in my organization (between full-time staff and independent contractors) is just over 300. This CEO’s ultimate span of control crosses oceans and encompasses over 1000 people. Despite the differences in our company’s size, the challenges remain remarkably similar and they all revolve around dealing with people.

People. Can’t run a business without them. Yes, even with onslaught of AI and systems of intelligence, we’re still going to need people. We’re never going to be able to get away with automating every aspect of business. Certain tasks and processes? Sure. But that just means new jobs are going to emerge for people to help implement and manage these automated systems.

So, what does that mean for you? We already know that building a business is hard. Let’s say you are building a business based purely on your own entrepreneurial efforts – you’ve built out a website, integrated an ecommerce platform, positioning yourself as a thought leader in your industry of choice, and are cranking out free content daily while developing your sales funnel so that you can eventually convert those raving fans and followers into paying clients. Eventually, you get to a point where your platform is cranking – you are collecting payments for your ebook or webinar series while you sleep. While you’re awake, you continue to streamline your sales cycle, answer every customer, engage on social media and continue to create valuable content. Sales increase. Engagement increases. You begin to get speaking, podcast, and guest blogger requests. Your customers are asking for new products, yet you can no longer innovate because you’re simply responding to current sales. This is the tipping point where you must make the choice to A. Remain self-employed (and likely scale back on your product or service offerings) or B. Dive into building a business (which means hiring people to support your existing business and then eventually scale).

You choose Option B. You thought what you had been doing was difficult before? You thought the hours were long? You were fueled by an internal drive, even fueled by the problems, the challenges, the stress, but thought that hiring a person, or several people, would offer you some relief from the grind? You thought wrong. When you start to add people to your organization and have to succeed through them rather through your own grit and determination, you’ve added a whole other level of “work” to your work. Instead of succeeding through your own sweat and tears, you have to worry about you employees’ sweat and tears (sometimes literally). And not everyone is cut out to deal with those kind of issues or deal with people problems on a daily basis. That’s really the difference between someone who is self-employed or an individual contributor in a business and a business owner or leader within a company, respectively. Can you bring together people to work towards a common goal, influence and inspire action, and cultivate creative problem solving all while creating a strong culture where people want to work? That is a hell of a lot different than creating a website, sales funnel, and developing content.

When you choose Option B, the real work begins. When you decide to build a business through people, it’s easy to just let go of the reigns and allow other people to start doing the work and making decisions on your behalf. Leverage, am I right? That’s why you started this whole thing in the first place. But just know that when your business starts walking, talking, and making decisions without out (i.e. your employees) there are going to be mistakes and problems, sometimes very expensive mistakes. This is where it really gets tough. Will you be able to whether the storm of growing your business through people? At this point it becomes more than just profit. People’s lives are at stake (your family, your employee’s, their families, and ultimately the legacy you are building to leave behind).

Make sure you are really sure about what you are getting yourself into. Often your top sales person, best player, or most highly skilled developers (which could be YOU!) are just not meant to be leaders. Look at professional sports – very few coaches actually ever made it as professional athletes and those top athletes? You got it, not meant to be coaches. So if you find yourself at that crossroads and trying to decide whether or not you really want to take your business to the next level, you have to understand that it will become less about product development and all about people development. And if that is not okay with you, then you are still going to need a person – you’ll just need to hire someone to handle the people side of the business, while you keep doing your thing.

Again, let’s assume you’re all in and are ready to shift from being the player to being the coach. First, you’ll have to wrap your head around a few things:

  1. No one is ever going to want your company to succeed as much as you do.
  2. You must master leverage (i.e. recruiting and hiring).
  3. Your two most important jobs will become personal development and leadership. And you can’t have one without the other.
  4. You will be responsible for every failure and will have to give credit to someone else for each success.
  5. Your business and your “success” will go backwards for a few years and you’ll have to grind even harder than before in order to get back to where you were when you were doing it by yourself. But if you have the grit to stick with it, the pay off will be huge.

Pushing through the grind and coming out on the other side with your head above water will often take 18-36 months. Then it will be another 18-36 months to grow and scale. Yes,  5-7 years total before you hit your geometric growth. During that time you’ll be focused on people, people, and, you guessed it, people. You will add more people to your team, you will be leading those people, solving problems with and through those people, increasing sales through those people. It’s one thing to solve your own challenge with your own knowledge, business acumen, connections, natural sales ability, etc. It’s a whole other thing to solve those challenges through another individual. That’s why you are no longer in the software, content, social media, real estate, fitness, etc. business. You’re in the people business. And with more people comes more problems. Problems that you never thought you were going to face are going to show up – lawsuits, interpersonal drama, people quitting, haters, groupies, and more! For 5-7 years….

Then one day you get the breakthrough you’ve been waiting for and your geometric run has begun. Your income doubles every quarter, momentum is strong, people are knocking down your door to work for you. And then people start to congratulate you for your massive overnight success in the past year. Bullshit. What about the last 7 years? People will forget that you worked your ass off for the better part of a decade, shouldered the challenges of your organization, as well as all the people in your company – daily. It is one of the hardest, yet most rewarding things you can do in your life.

Leaders are not born, they are made (over many years of challenges, sacrifices, hard work, and failing forward). If I haven’t scared you off after this blog and this journey of massive challenge, massive growth and massive reward is still for you, then commit right here, right now, in this moment. If it’s not for you (which is totally fine!), then go find someone who is committed to this journey and figure out a way to get into their life. Either way, buckle up, it’s going to be quite the ride!

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