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Posted: 2010-08-04 / Author: Coert Coetzee

Why One-man Operations Remain One-man Operations Forever

Most small businesses remain small because they are one-man operations. However, there are exceptions: some one-man operations get quite big, with various people working there, and on the other hand, some small businesses are by no means one-man operations. But wait, letís just stop there for now, because I know you think Iím contradicting myself. How can a small business not be a one-man operation, and how can a one-man operation have a number of people working for it? Of course itís possible for a number of people to work for a one-man operation, and in reality, thatís always the case. Think of the butchery or doctor in town. The owner isnít the only person who works there, but itís still seen as a one-man business.

Why is it called a one-man business then?

There is only one man who makes all the plans, accepts all the responsibility, provides all the sureties, has all the knowledge, and so on. These aspects do play a role in determining whether itís a one-man operation or not, but to me itís actually about the mindset of the owner instead. If he has a one-man operation mindset, then as far as Iím concerned itís a one-man operation, regardless of how big or small the business is.

Not all one-man operations remain small, but most do, because it takes an exceptional person to make a huge business out of a one-man operation. As far as Iím concerned, Sir Richard Bransonís Virgin Group is the most successful one-man business in the world. Have you ever wondered what will become of Virgin when Sir Richard is no longer there one day? Iím sure theyíve thought about it a lot already and have their plans in place, but Iím just wondering.

Few of us are in Sir Richardís class though, and I think most one-man operations come to an end when the founder/owner dies or is no longer around. Iíve seen the evidence of this when businesses like this get sold. Many of them collapse shortly afterwards. I even saw it happen with a successful business that I sold years ago. It could not continue to exist without my skills. I learnt a lot through that and started making sure that my other businesses would be able to continue without me. How does one do this?

Duplicate yourself. Appoint people who can do the work as well as or better than you can. This sounds easy, but for most one-man business operators itís the hardest thing on earth. Itís easy to make the decision, and you know you have to, but itís not going to work if you donít get rid of your one-man operation mindset.

As long as your mindset is not right, youíll take one step forward and appoint people to do the work and then the first time that they get stuck youíll take the work back again. So the person youíve appointed is not being utilised, but is still getting paid. This means that youíre still doing all the work, but you now also have a paid spectator. So youíve taken a few steps backwards, because the business is in a worse position than before. Your staff numbers are growing and the value of your business is decreasing.

Get your mindset right and accept that other people cannot do things as well as you can, but that there is no other option than to push through; or else make peace with the fact that you will have to work until you die and are doomed to eternal mediocrity.

By the way, no investor will invest in a one-man operation. Investors invest only in businesses that can operate successfully without their founder. That is value

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