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The Road to Greater Freedom

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Recently a receptionist said to me, “You know, this place just doesn’t run the same when you’re not here.” Wow! What a compliment. I swelled with pride as I thought about it later that day. Then it dawned on me: “Oh no! That means I have to always be here for this place to run optimally!”

One of the things I hear shop owners ask all the time is, “How can my shop be less dependent on me?”

None of us got into this industry to be chained to a job, did we? What we really want, what we hope for, is freedom. We want to be able to lead our businesses to such success that we are able to spend more time on the rest of life—taking a vacation, catching our kids’ big games, being able to leave without constant interruptions from staff asking how to do things. But how can we step back from the everyday operations side of things, the doing side, and focus more on the leadership and overall direction side?

There are two things that make this possible:

1. Staffing. You need a team that you can depend on and trust to run your business. The challenge here is being willing to let go of things that you do and do well. The people you put in place will likely not do them exactly as you would like them done and the temptation is to jump in and just do it for them. The only way to get over this hump is to delegate.

2. Clear job descriptions, systems and processes. Those are all different things, but inter-related. Eventually this work will culminate in an operations manual that codifies your unique culture and way of doing things.

So where do you start?

I recommend starting with something you’re doing right now that you think almost anyone could do if they were trained. Pick something that you see as just part of the job—something that has to get done even though you don’t really love it or have time for it. Now take that and create a process for it. List all of the steps, in order, that you do almost automatically without thinking. Just give yourself about 10 minutes to get the big pieces out and on paper. Try not to labor over getting it all perfect on the first pass. This might be something as simple as answering the phone, or more complicated, like doing payroll.

Once you have a handful of those processes (the ones you do just because you have to) you can bundle them into a job description and then hire for that position or even outsource it. This is where the questions start to arise and things can get harder. Let’s take payroll as an example. You might think you can’t afford to hire someone to do your payroll, yet you spend five hours per week on it. How much is your time worth? (Hint: You may be undervaluing your time.)

For me personally, after owning a shop for over 10 years, I rarely do anything I don’t enjoy. And honestly, I’m not great with numbers. So I hired a bookkeeper and an accountant who keep that in line for me. I also got tired of doing estimates, so I’ve hired several estimators who went on to be much better at the job than me. 

But it didn’t happen overnight. There were many years of doing things I didn’t enjoy. This is a work in progress at all times, and early on, you’ll have to just hang in there and grow your sales until you can afford to lighten some of your load. But you can get there.

My hope is that you can systematically document all the processes in your business, bundle them into job descriptions, and collect them into an operations manual. If you need any help on where to start, feel free to reach out to me. I’d be happy to chat over email or a phone call. 

Here’s to setting yourself free. 

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