One of the biggest problems small business owners face is having a business which relies too much on them. In this article we’ll discuss why this is a problem, the typical root causes and some ways to fix it.

“Feels like I’m on a hamster wheel and can’t get off of it.”

“I can’t take a day off without problems coming up.”

“I’ll never get to take a vacation at this rate.”

“It’s a $h!t show around here.”

Yes, we’ve really heard that last one!

This is how small business owners feel when the business relies too much on them. Since the business could fall apart at any moment without them, it is really difficult to grow. The owner is stuck with a job, and to make it worse, oftentimes it’s an underpaid and overworked job.

If this is you, here’s the first thing you need to know – you’re not alone. In fact, sometimes this is simply part of the natural progression of a growing business. You also need to know you can fix it!

But here’s a bigger problem if you don’t fix it – this will burn you out and/or kill your business.

How do business owners end up in this situation?

When you’re trying to diagnose a problem, it’s best to find the root cause. Otherwise, you focus on the wrong things, the effects, rather than address the cause, which doesn’t help in solving the problem.

Here are three common causes of having a business which relies too much on you as the owner.

1. Lack of vision and goals.
2. Lack of profit.
3. Lack of repeatable processes and systems.

Lack of vision and goals.

This could be you if you find yourself saying, “I can’t find good people” or “the people I have aren’t up to the standards I need”.

As a result, you’re wearing too many hats which means you are, or will be, a bottleneck to decision making and growth. If most tangible progress in the business requires your direct involvement, you will impede progress.

Struggling with finding good people can be a sign that you need to work on, or develop, a purpose, a mission and values for your business. It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s more work to overcome not having this as you try to grow. (We discuss more about why your goals impact your business here.)

Having a clear understanding of what you want out of the business, so you can create a purpose and mission for the business, allows you to find motivated team members to join the mission. Team members motivated by purpose and mission will go much farther in taking responsibility off your plate (and keeping it off) than team members joining for no other reason than a paycheck.

Lack of profit and cash.

I can’t afford to hire (good) people.” If you’ve said this, you may have a profitability problem.

Because you can’t afford to hire, you’re stuck wearing too many hats.

This one is simple. You have to improve your profits, specifically gross profits, so you can afford the resources required to manage and operate your business.

There are two sub-components of this one.

First, you may have a gross profit margin issue. In simple terms, you don’t keep enough of what you sell. Maybe you sell something for $100 but you only keep $20. That’s a hard road to success at 20% gross profit.

Second, you may have a sales volume issue. Maybe your margin is OK but you don’t have enough sales to produce the gross profit dollar volume to fund the resources you really need.

We have two recommendations here and an article on each one for more detail.

1. Raise your prices! Click here to read the article about why you should do this. By raising your prices you can overcome both of the issues mentioned above.

2. Understand your revenue and profit drivers and how they impact your profitability. If you need to create more profit, you need to understand the dials you can turn to do so. Click here for the revenue article, here for the profit article.

Lack of repeatable processes and systems.

Sometimes the team isn’t equipped to operate without the business owner.

This could be because they don’t have the proper training.

Maybe they don’t have the right resources to complete the job.

Or possibly there’s just no process for them to follow to produce the same results as you.

Either way, the business owner might not be ‘wearing the hat’, but still finds themselves doing the work.

If you find yourself with a team but frequently having to put the hats back on, which someone else is supposed to be wearing, you probably have a process and systems issue.

This is where job descriptions, specific accountabilities by role, standard operating procedures (SOPs), training, tools, etc. come into play.

To paraphrase Michael Gerber in the book, The E Myth, business owners often abdicate roles when they should delegate.

In other words, if you hire a person with unclear job duties, unclear accountabilities and unclear process to ensure they complete the job, you’re going to be in this position.

Your business needs repeatable processes in place to ensure continued success as you step out of roles as you grow.


If you find yourself in the position where the business cannot operate without you, it’s likely that you need to address one or more of the causes mentioned above. This is a critical component of becoming the CEO your business needs you to be to thrive.

Are there other potential sources of the problem? Sure, but if you start here you’re building a solid foundation with vision, process and profit to set up your business for success.

Want us to find the best ways for you to free yourself from this over-dependency trap?

Book a free Right Fit call with our team. We work with service-based business owners from $1M to $30M in revenue to help them become free from this trap by building a more profitable business which can thrive without them, not because of them. Schedule a free call with our team!

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