Business Automation vs. “Business Runs Itself”

One of the most dangerous and misguided thoughts related to business management is: “I’ll be there to run everything at first, but once we’re established the company will practically run itself.” As with many myths, there’s a grain of truth in this idea. There’s also a whole pile of “bad idea” in there that can lead to the peril of your company. What’s the grain of truth, and what are the pitfalls? Let’s find out.

Truth: Business Automation is Possible

Let’s start off with the positive side of this – I think this myth of “businesses running themselves” surfaced in the first place because there is such a thing as fantastic business management, organization, and automation. Put these elements together, and what you’re left with is an incredibly effective leader/founder: someone who isn’t burdened by trivial or mundane tasks, and instead spends time finding new business, working through long-term strategy, or establishing personal relationships. At first glance, the picture looks like this: the founder is out meeting with clients over lunch, and the company is “running itself”.

Instead, let’s look a little deeper. Or more specifically, further back in time. If you looked 1 or 2 years ago, that same founder may have been buried under a pile of daily chores. Tasks like managing benefits, payroll, paying taxes, processing orders, inputting bank statements….the list goes on. These tasks could easily eat up a 60 hour week. This is where business automation (and good leadership) come in. Spending 2 hours a week on benefits administration, payroll, and onboarding new hires? A good way to automate these processes is to use a full-service payroll company, or even better, a PEO to manage the process entirely. There’s a ton of business automation software, machinery, and services – some are incredibly easy to implement. Inputting bank statements manually? Find accounting software (like Quickbooks) that will download transactions automatically. Spending hours putting in orders? Build a web portal for your customers, and simply link it to your accounting software via an API to automagically bring in those orders – it’s easier than you think.

These steps aren’t “running” your business – they’re automating the more mundane parts of it. Now that founder out at lunch looks a bit different – while a machine or service is doing some repetitive task anyone can do, she’s doing something that only she can do – having an important lunch to connect with a client. She’s running her business.

False: Your Business Will Run Itself

The idea that a business can run itself implies that is doesn’t require leadership, or creative thought: it just needs to keep chugging along like a machine. Needless to say, this mentality isn’t too flattering to whatever founder adopts it: it’s saying they’re inconsequential to the success of the business. Usually in an organization, if there’s someone who contributes so little that the place runs perfectly fine without them – they could disappear for 6 months and nobody would even notice – they’re due to get fired. Either you’re an amazing leader, or your business could get on fine without you – but you can’t really have it both ways.

I’ve seen businesses try to “run themselves”, and it operates just like any other business without a leader: poorly. Just watch any episode of “Kitchen Nightmares” – that show is less about bad food as it is about owners not being present in their business. No business will run itself – there must be someone steering the ship. If your business is partially automated and you finally have some time on your hands, don’t make the mistake of walking away – your company still needs your leadership to take them to the next level. Put that time to use on deeper, longer-term ideas – be a leader, run your business!

Want the inside track on my latest ultra-efficient business hacks and tips? Follow me on Twitter @DenODonnell – I share my favorite business content on Twitter, usually before I get to writing an article about it on Starterist!