The multi-role dilemma: Strategies for business owners

The multi-role dilemma: Strategies for business owners
Tammy Whalen Blake
Tammy Whalen BlakeGo To Yellow

Posted: Wed 16th Aug 2023

Running a business can be an exhilarating journey. Still, it can also become overwhelming and demanding, often leaving owners feeling like they’re trapped in a never-ending cycle of work.

We often juggle several responsibilities at a time, struggling to find enough hours to get everything done. It can be easy to fall into the trap of trying to do everything ourselves, believing that no-one can do it as well as we can. However, this approach can quickly lead to burnout and a lack of work-life balance.

There is a way to break free from this cycle and achieve sustainable success. We’ll explore how micro business owners (anywhere from zero to nine employees) can reclaim their time, leverage personal strengths, delegate effectively and manage their capacity to strike a healthy work-life balance.

The life of a micro business owner and wearing multiple hats

As business owners, we often juggle a number of different roles and responsibilities. We're the CEO, the accountant, the marketing department, and the customer service representative all rolled into one. It can be overwhelming, and we may feel like we're constantly running out of time.

But here is the thing… The more hats you wear, the more hats you drop.

As you approach your third year in business, you realise that running a business is more challenging than you initially thought. Despite your passion, improving your performance is challenging when constantly attending to clients.

The role ratio

In any business, large or small, five activities determine our role.

  • Green is for time spent leading. Improving everything and everyone, including you.

  • Amber is for time spent managing. Checking to see if everything and everyone are as they should be, and making sure that changes if they're not. This is the stuff that keeps your organisation where it is and what manages risk. It includes managing all stakeholder relationships.

  • Red is time spent being an expert, in areas such as web development, bookkeeping, IT and business development.

  • Blue is time spent on living. You're looking after your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

  • Grey is time wasted. This adds no value whatsoever. Just like those endless meetings that achieve so little.

If you open up the diary of a CEO in a large company, you'll discover they have a lot of green activities and no red activities. A manager, however, will have mostly amber activities, some red and some green. Ideally, we all have plenty of blue and no grey. But this isn't the case when you operate a micro business.

What is common for a micro business is some green, very little amber, tons of red, and a heap of grey and a depleting blue. The problem is that most business owners love doing red activities.

While there's nothing inherently wrong with focusing on red tasks, it's crucial also to prioritise green and amber activities. Without amber activities, risks may go unchecked, and without green activities, businesses may struggle to improve and ultimately lose their competitive edge.

It doesn't start like that, but it does end up in the multi-role dilemma.

The multi-role dilemma

Most business owners start because of their expert skills (for example, being an IT professional). When they start their business, they have lots of contacts and relationships from their previous employed work to get a running start, and naturally, most activities in the calendar are red.

Because they're doing the red activities, they don't look after green and amber. They simply don't have the time. Over a couple of years, the business doesn't drive forward or generate awareness; they don’t spend the time checking in with their clients and keeping the relationship; and the messaging dilutes, as does their sanity.

They get to a dangerous point in business, meaning they have no choice but to start doing green and amber activities. But that work takes time. On average, two years! Hopefully, they survive this period.

Most don't and go back to employed work. They can't wait two to five years to build the pipeline. But let's assume they survive. The feast and famine continue until they lose the passion and desire they started with.

The business fails to materialise into what they had envisioned and hoped for, and they gradually become less engaged in their work as they mistakenly anticipate that the workload will eventually decrease.

Unfortunately, this never happens, and instead, their energy and enthusiasm slowly dissipate over time. Blue activities have a slow decline over this period.

Note: Depending on the product or service, the feast and famine cycle can be shorter. Some businesses operate on feast and famine over six months, which can take a toll on the owner's mental wellbeing.

The solution

There is no ideal multi-role ratio! Your role ratio will vary depending on the role you wish to play in your business, the strengths, industry, resources and direction. However, you must keep the pipeline primed to avoid feast and famine. More green and amber activity flattens the curves.

You can choose a consistent and stable business if you clearly define the role ratio and make no changes. If you're a disruptor and want growth, these strategies will help you navigate the multi-role dilemma.

1. Start with living: Achieving life balance

You must build a business that serves your life, not the other way around. Set boundaries, establish clear working hours, and prioritise personal time.

Decide how many hours you'll allocate to work, and the rest is your blue activities. You don't eat into this time, so you aim for 100% blue activities.

When you overwork, procrastinate or do activities that add no value, your 100% will decrease. Delegate responsibilities and empower your team to handle tasks in your absence (want that holiday?).

Remember: A well-rested and fulfilled business owner is better equipped to make strategic decisions and lead with enthusiasm.


Watch this webinar to become a better leader for your organisation as well as yourself:


2. The CEO: The visionary

Being the CEO involves strategising, planning, and building systems for long-term success. You define the overall direction and long-term goals for your business.

Having a clear vision provides your team with a sense of purpose and direction. This clarity enables everyone to align their efforts towards common objectives, fostering unity and focus.

As a visionary, you play a pivotal role in driving innovation within your business. You can propel your business forward by actively seeking out new opportunities, exploring emerging technologies, and challenging the status quo.

Allocate dedicated time each week to work on your business, focus on growth initiatives, spread the message, and refine your business vision.

3. The CEO: Leveraging personal strengths

It's vital to identify and leverage personal strengths. As a micro business owner, taking on every task yourself is tempting. However, this leads to burnout and prevents you from using your unique abilities.

Treat yourself like the employee, decide the role that version of you plays, and then hire for the weaknesses while being mindful of what the business needs.

Identify your strengths and concentrate on activities that align with them. Delegate or outsource tasks outside your expertise, focus on what you do best and add the most value to your business.

This includes if you choose not to be the CEO but the expert. That is OK!

4. The manager: The power of delegation

Delegation is a crucial skill for any micro business owner. Effective delegation empowers your team and lets you concentrate on your role.

Start by documenting processes and creating clear guidelines for your team to follow. Identify tasks that you can delegate, communicate expectations clearly, and provide necessary training and support.

Do it right once and there's no need to repeat it. Trust your team to handle these responsibilities, and you'll have more time to focus on strategic decision-making.

Top tip: Treat your freelancers like employees. Hire them through a job description, onboard them effectively and manage them as if they're full time.

5. The manager: Managing capacity and growth

Evaluating your business's ability to handle growth and adapt accordingly is vital – this is your amber behaviour.

Develop systems and processes that can scale your business. Regularly review your operations, identify bottlenecks, and implement solutions that will help you become more efficient and productive. By proactively managing capacity, you'll make sure your business can grow sustainably while keeping customers satisfied.

6. The manager: Nurture client relationships

Cultivate strong client relationships to generate repeat business and referrals. While delivering outstanding service is essential, don't overlook the importance of maintaining regular contact with clients, seeking feedback, and understanding their evolving needs. If you aren't attending to their changing needs, someone else will.

Top tip: Surveys are great. Phone calls and in-person meetings are far more effective. A coffee goes down a treat, too!

7. The expert: Billable work

To increase billable hours, streamline operations and prioritise tasks based on their cost-effectiveness. Calculate your hourly earnings and assess if non-expert tasks cost more than increasing billable hours.

If your role brings in high revenue, delegate non-expert tasks so you can focus on increasing billable hours. It's understandable if you're the primary expert in your business and spend most of your time on important tasks.

To address other crucial responsibilities, consider hiring additional staff, even if it means your own work will still dominate your schedule. Ultimately, this decision will benefit your business's growth.

Eventually, as your business expands, you'll reach a point where you can divide the expert role and shift into training to develop new services. For instance, an IT technician can become a consultant and hire other technicians to handle lower billable hours.

Final thoughts

In the fast-paced business world, it's easy to become trapped in the multi-role dilemma. If you're a sole trader, you must balance all roles. As early as you can, invest in growing your team, and the role ratio will change over time to allow more experts to do more of the red activities outside your billable hours.

Remember: Building a business that works for you starts with making strategic changes today. It requires a shift in mindset and a commitment to prioritise activities that drive long-term success.

Relevant resources

Tammy Whalen Blake
Tammy Whalen BlakeGo To Yellow

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