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Can I Own A Business and Not Be The One Running It?

HUMBLEBRAG: We just woke up one day, and we were this huge organization. It happened overnight.*

*If ‘overnight’ equals or exceeds 11 years.

We once heard that in business, “You don’t own anything. The day your business doesn’t need you day-to-day is the day that you own the business. Until then, you run a business.”


So what would we say to someone who has a business who doesn’t want to run it? Here are some kernels – and corn fields – of truth that we’ve learned along the way to become an ‘overnight’ success.

Practice What You Preach

We’ve used contractors at BELAY for a long time – well before we thought we could afford them or should hire them. The second was to outsource our bookkeeping because when you’re honest about the value of your time and where you get the greatest return on the investment of your time, bookkeeping was decidedly not that for us – and proved cheaper to find someone else to do it.

‘Work On The Business Or Work In The Business’

That Michael Gerber quote resonates so much with us because it echoes the same sentiment that informed our efforts 11 years ago. 

So few business owners know how to get from point A to point B, putting 30-40 years into their business and when it comes time to leave, they can’t. 

They never made that transition from ‘working in’ to ‘working on’ so when it comes time to sell, they really don’t have an asset because they don’t actually own anything. 

There’s nothing to sell; they have a job where they just happen to be the boss.

The Holy Trinity of Trust

The first in the trust trinity is, well, trust. You have to trust other people to take on what you currently own in the business. 

The second is training. You have to train them – not just for the job that you’ve been doing, but also guide and train them for what you envision for the role. 

And then you have to transition. You have to get out of their way and truly allow them to lead so that every decision, every idea and every problem doesn’t have to filter through you.

That’s the underpinning to make it all work. 

Don’t Be The Hero

Leave that to your team. Business owners think they have to be the hero for everything – that they have to solve everything and everything has to go through them. 

But we’re not heroes. 

At BELAY, we encourage our team to not come to us with problems but rather with solutions to talk through together. In time, those people are empowered to solve problems on their own so they can be the hero.

And hopefully, that will replicate itself throughout the business as it grows. Have faith in the fact that you have a lot of great people you trust for a reason.

Most Mistakes Are Paper Problems

We never worry about mistakes – we have systems in place so we lean into them instead. 

Sure, mistakes have consequences but most of the time, the mistakes are – in the grand scheme of things – relatively insignificant.

And as long as we learn from it, we’re OK. Unless you’re in health care or are a first-responder, no one’s going to die if you make a mistake. Since we don’t work in an ER, no one will die if we mess this up.

We would rather have speed and agility knowing that we’re not going to get it perfect out the gate. Because when employees are afraid to make a mistake or decision, everything gets delegated back up to the owner who will then never get out of that role.

So, there you have it. Our secret, silver-bullet recipe for ‘overnight’ success. 

Easy, right? 

All dangerously deep eye rolls aside, the most critical, blink-and-you-may-miss-it nuanced piece of advice is recognizing the difference between owning and running a business. 

Every decision you make, from who you hire to how you delegate, should be informed with that guiding goal in mind.