CEO in a Box: Five Essential Steps to Leading Your Small Business

Feb 17, 2011, Written by Sue Miley

Running a business is hard.  Even a small business.

I know some people make it look easy.  But, many small businesses were started on a dream, a passion, a calling!

The idea is good.  People need it and want it.  Why do I feel like I am about to drown.

It is interesting because right now I have two clients in their twenties who took over businesses from a parent.  It was sudden and neither had prior business management experience, training, or education.  Yet, they are beating themselves up because they do not magically know what to do in every situation.

Most of my other clients started their own business, yet had never managed a business before.  Not even for someone else.

All of them work really hard.  Most of them don’t feel adequate and stay in a constant state of stress that they can’t keep all of the plates spinning.

I wish I had a product called CEO in a Box.

Actually, most of them are too busy to implement a product.  I think they would prefer the CEO Pill!

Since I don’t see this product development coming to fruition anytime soon, I will just try to provide some encouragement and suggestions.

Encouragement #1:  You have never been trained! Don’t beat yourself up that you don’t supernaturally know what to do in every situation.  Running a business is complex and hard.

Encouragement #2:  Each individual part of running a business is not that difficult and you CAN be trained. There are resources and tools to teach business principles from marketing to human resources to production to finance and so on and on and on….

Encouragement #3:  It’s okay not to be the expert at every part of the business. You don’t have to be the expert, you just have to know your strengths and weaknesses, and hire people who are strong where you are weak.

Encouragement #4:  You are not alone. God cares about your business!  It’s okay to pray about business and to take advantage of the advantage of having Christ at the center of your business, just like the rest of your life.

Encouragement #5:  Education, training and experience will make a huge difference. If you focus on your own development, it will get easier.  You won’t always feel like you are standing on the ledge.

Maybe I should have put the encouragement at the end.  I know encouragement with out any practical application isn’t enough to stop the tightness in your chest or the embarrassment when your whole team is staring at you for your untrained advice.

Here are the suggestions:

Suggestion #1: Make your own professional development the #1 priority of your work! I know you are busy and you have to make business things happen.  But I promise it is a circular.  You can only make so much happen without training and education.  What you learn will create extra time because you will have answers, not spend time correcting problems, or lose business because of paralysis.

Suggestion #2: Read a minimum of a book per month. If you don’t read listen on tape.  There are business books on everything.  My favorites to start are here!  I read at least 40 -50 books per year.  Pick a book on an area you need to strengthen.  Keep a notebook or use an ap to collect your notes on things you can implement in your business.  You are the owner.  No-one else can make you read a book.  But I am telling you that every successful business manager is constantly learning.  Reading books is the easiest, least expensive, most flexible way to start.

Suggestion #3: Only hire experienced people in every position.  I know it is more expensive, but you have to.  If you don’t you will have issues in areas that you do not have the experience to train people or ability to fix the problems.  In the end, hiring less expensive inexperienced players will cost you in lost sales, turnover, and lower productivity.  Building the right team is essential to your business.  As you move up the learning curve in certain disciplines, you may be able to hire people you can train.

Suggestion #4: Take notes. Keep a notebook (only one) with you at all times and take notes on everything.  What customers say.  Conversations with employees.  What you learned reading.  How you resolved an issue.  A new business idea.  At the end of each week go through your notes and transfer them.  Transfer follow-ups to your calendar.  Put notes on employee issues in a file for each employee.  Determine if a new idea should be implemented and schedule appropriate meetings to discuss.  Delegate assignments if applicable.

As a business owner we must deal with many moving parts.  If you just try to remember things you will soon find yourself having the same conversations, dealing with the same issues, and putting out the same fires routinely.  It will feel like each day is repeating itself like in that movie “Groundhog Day”!  Seriously, do you already notice this?

Suggestion #5: Spend an hour each week planning your week. I know this seems obvious and rinky dink.  I tell almost every client that I work with to do this and it is always a new idea.  As the CEO of your own business, you must run the business.  Don’t let the business run you!  The only way to do this is to have a pulse on all aspects of your business.  If you walk in each morning and just start working, you will always stay in the reactive mode.  I urge you to take time at the beginning of the week.  Make a list under each main area of your company i.e. Marketing, Sales, Operations, Service, Finance.  What are the issues, concerns, opportunities, actions that are needed in this area.  Once you make the list transfer items to your calendar.  Send emails delegating or following up on delegated items.  Schedule meetings if required.  Plan your week!

I know this just scratches the surface.  But, if you are not already doing these 5 things I can promise you that you are stressed, working a lot of hours, less efficient than possible, and are creating a glass ceiling to the growth and development of your business.

Start with these and you will be the CEO in the making that you want to be!

I don’t usually put a plug in for business at the end of my posts, but this is something I can help you with.  I have had years of education, training and experience running businesses.  I have moved from finance to marketing to operations and back, many times over.  Let me be your temporary CEO in a Box and help you develop into the CEO you want to be.  Email me or call me to discuss how this would work for you and your business.

Reader Interactions


  1. Brad Harmon says

    I like the CEO in a box concept, Sue. The words of encouragement you gave in this post are very apropos. I’ve needed them from time to time as an entrepreneur, and many of my clients have had the same fears and concerns about running their own business.

    I’ve been helping out a friend get through tax season this year, but I have to drive over an hour each way to do so. This has taken a huge toll on my blogging activities which have led to broken promises, but it has also given me 2 hours a day in what Zig Ziglar calls Automobile U.

    I love this uninterrupted time to catch up on podcasts and audio books. It makes the drive go by much faster and I’m learning so much from this time in the car. Small business owners need to carve this time out wherever they can. The commute is usually a great place to do it.

    • S_Miley says

      Brad, I used to do a commute from Baton Rouge to New Orleans for about 2 years. It’s about an hour, a little more with traffic. This was 5 days a week. It did get very old, but it gave me great thinking time. I also used it for an ongoing dialogue with God…it kept me close. It is always difficult, even at home, to make quiet time without interruptions. Enjoy the commute, but I hope it is still relatively short-term!

      You are a great friend too by the way! I am sure your friend appreciates you.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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