Freedom – Stage 5 of the Entrepreneur’s Journey
Freedom — that’s what we strive for when we embark on our Entrepreneur’s Journey.
The dream of freedom is why we didn’t give up when times were tough. It’s what keeps us going when we’d really prefer to put our feet-up and watch TV.
It’s what we all believe will happen a lot sooner and a lot easier than it does.
I liken Entrepreneurship and growing your business to raising children. When we are first pregnant we imagine how amazing it’s going to be to have a baby. Then with heartburn, back-aches and little feet kicking our ribs we wonder what we were thinking!
When the baby arrives we’re elated — until we’re so sleep deprived we can hardly remember how to brush our teeth or what it felt like to have time to ourselves.
Then before you know it, the child has grown and you’ve got a teenager — and you sometimes wonder what possessed you to have children in the first place!
And then the child moves out.
You try to remember what your life was like when you didn’t have a child at home and it hits you — you are no longer needed. Cue the tears! I know this all too well as our youngest is now in university — this is the child who has only ever known her Mom to be an entrepreneur (as I started my business while on maternity leave with her).
And so, while my journey as a Mom was relatively straight-forward — with the usual twists and turns along the way, and it has resulted in my Personal Freedom — my Entrepreneurial Freedom was fleeting. I had a taste of it when I was able to go to Europe for a month with my family and, hindsight being 20/20, I should have been satisfied with the freedom I had.
However, I wasn’t ready for freedom then and that’s when I made my fateful decision to pursue the software development that was in the original business plan. Long story short is that the project failed 3x with 3 different development teams over a period of about 3 years.
My Freedom dream disappeared at the same time our two best clients declared bankruptcy in 2008 and 2009 — right around the time when I realized that the software project was not going to work again.
To say I’ve learned a lot as I went from a good solid stage 4 with a toe dipped in stage 5 back to stage 1 would be an understatement. I mentioned this in another post, that I teach from my mistakes — and since I’ve made my fair share, I have a lot to teach. I’m not yet at Stage 5 again myself, although now that the momentum is picking up again, I can “taste it”.
You have been the center of your platform all along. You likely have been the person leading the charge to make ripples and create impact. You’ve succeeded when others have failed and you are warranted to be incredibly proud of yourself.
As in the story above about having your child move out, it’s a time of mixed emotions. Firstly, your freedom is yours for the taking but when you realize you aren’t needed, it can be emotional.
Most entrepreneurs have worked so long that they see themselves and their business as one. I know I do and I know it’s why I took the downturn of my business so hard. My identity — in my mind — was so intertwined with the business I didn’t know how to be without it.
If you completed the “ideal day in your ideal lifestyle” exercise, which is recommended as part of understanding yourself prior to starting your business, your freedom may be connected to it and you’ve been preparing for this moment all along. If you haven’t yet done it, now is a perfect time.
If you are finding that you are having a challenge to break free and enjoy your well-deserved freedom I suggest exploring the reason why. Is it because you won’t know what to do with yourself? Is it because you aren’t absolutely certain that you’ve got the right people in the right roles with accountability and checks and measures well established? Is something else going on?
If you are handing over the reins to a trusted employee or family member who you’ve groomed and mentored then you’ll still be checking in on a regular basis so you’ll still be needed.
If you sell your business, you are free to do whatever you want of course.
However, if you decide to keep your business you obviously need to be sure your foundation is strong. You need to know you’ve got the right people in the right roles, with the right tools and skills and experiences.
If you are part of the Enlightened Capitalist™ community you already have the tools to do this and if you have used them your transition to freedom should be smooth.
As I mentioned in another post, I witnessed a mega-disaster with a franchise in our community a number of years ago. The founder had — by all accounts, from the outside looking in — built a highly successful franchise.
The founder was living “the good life”, which seemed to have gotten to his head. It started with some questionable decisions he made which were clearly in violation of bylaws and then it got worse.
He put his business in the hands of one of his team — presumably someone he’d groomed (I am just guessing) — and he took off for a very extended vacation. While he was gone, he obviously took his eye of the ball, because the business came crashing down. Firstly, because there was a switch in consumer behaviour but more importantly, I suspect it’s because he hadn’t built the foundation strong enough and his definition of freedom was hands-off the business. He most certainly could have been hands-off if he’d sold it but he hadn’t and without him there to ensure the team was doing what it should have been doing, it imploded.
As you are on the verge of Freedom and as you step strongly into Stage 5, remember that your role is to oversee — you are “policing” your business to be sure nothing goes sideways. However, you aren’t needed in the day-to-day operations, which is just fine for many of us. Remember to constantly monitor your Impact Performance Measures and check in with your team to be sure they are doing ok.
An Entrepreneur friend of mine was in the process of preparing for his freedom when things came crashing down and he, too ended up back in stage 1. For him it was because he trusted the wrong person — his controller. By the time he realized that something was wrong, she had embezelled a large sum and had vanished. He ended up closing the business as he couldn’t recover.
I learned from his lesson and set-up financial controls to ensure this didn’t happen in my business. One day I spot checked the petty-cash and discovered that the bookkeeper was using it as her personal fund. Always keep your eye on the numbers and have checks and measures to safeguard against a disaster.
Even though you are no longer working day-to-day in your business, maintain those close relationships you’ve built with your employees and your customers. You need to hear when things are slipping.
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