So what’s it like to be the CEO of a small or developing business?  The answers are probably as varied as the individuals that head these organizations.  Yet the one common thread which I’m sure we all have in common is this; you’re responsible for everything.  Let me elaborate.

When I worked a “corporate” job, there were all types of functions to take care of various tasks.  The folks in Marketing made all those fancy advertisements.  Sales guys and gals made sure the money keep flowing in.  Legal dotted the I’s and crossed the t’s and made sure no one did anything to get us in a bind.  IT kept all the systems humming along and fixed them when they went down.  Security kept the riff raff out of the building.  Maintenance made sure that the lights worked right and when something broke it got fixed.  The list goes on and on.

Now when you are the CEO of a small business, you assume all those roles and functions simultaneously.  I remember recently a good colleague of mine saw my title change on LinkedIn (to CEO) and sent me an email congratulating me.  I jokingly responded, don’t be fooled by the title, CEO really just means Chief Everything Officer!  So what is a “typical” day in my life like now that I’m at the helm?  Let’s take a look and see.

5:20AM  Time to get up and get ready to go.  My wife travels a good deal of the time so that often means I have to drop our daughter off at day care.  We’re out the house at 5:40AM and I’m typically back at 6:20AM.  From there it’s time to get ready for my commute (I bike to work) and get headed over to the office.  The biking to work serves two purposes.  One, it allows me to save on gas and conserve that every dwindling savings of mine.  Two, it allows me to get my race “training” in as I often don’t have the time to do full workouts (hey, you make do with what you can get done and move on).

8:00AM  I’m typically walking in the office around this time.  First task is to get all the computers and printers going while I get cleaned up and changed into my “office duds.”  Once I’m ready to go, I have to get our “Uncle Sam Air Dancer” up on the roof so that passing drivers will notice that we’re even there.  Yeah, the office has signage, but you’d be surprised at how much you drive by places a thousand times and never realize that they even exist.

8:30AM  Doors are open, neon signs are on and it’s time to go to work.  The first two hours of the day typically involve me responding to customer emails, returning calls, scheduling the work load for the day, sending out prospecting calls/emails, etc.  This is a bunch of administrative stuff that has to get done, but unfortunately I can’t focus on it for too long because I have to eventually do the work that brings in the checks.

Noon  Maybe I stop and cram some food in my face.  Maybe I keep working on cranking out the work.  Maybe I am talking face-to-face with a customer.  Eventually I will get to eat something, but there really is no such thing as a “lunch break” anymore.

6:30PM  Time to close up shop.  The day is typically too short and there is always something left to do.  I try to table it until the next day UNLESS it involves a customer.  Customer service is essential to building a good brand name and it happens with each and every client interaction.  Mess up once and you’ll pay for it more than you even want to imagine.

7:30PM  If my wife is home then this marks the time when I can begin family time.  If she’s gone then I have to go and pick up the kid first.  Either way it goes, from now until about 10PM it’s me getting my daughter and I ready for the next day, getting food on the table, getting ready for bed and then eventually falling asleep by “accident” as I put my daughter to bed.

Now, if you read above, no where will you read that I talked to my friends, checked my personal email, checked my Twitter timeline, yada, yada, yada.  Is that because it didn’t happen?  Nope.  It’s because it didn’t happen while I was AT work.  When I get home, I get a few minutes here and there to do those things.  But when I’m at work, if it’s not a revenue generating task, it gets to wait.  Like the old adage goes, nothing happens in business until you make a sale.  That’s why in corporate America you typically work in a “cost center” as opposed to a “profit center.”  This is also why the sales folks often get paid a boatload of money, because they actually make the business happen.

Lessons Learned?

So what has this transition taught me so far?  Well, I’ve had plenty of “Ah ha” moments and I’ve also gained an appreciation for many things.  But it I had to pick a few of my best lessons, I would say:

There’s Never Enough Time  The day goes by too quickly and there is ALWAYS something to do.  Most of this “something” has nothing to do with making money, but it never goes away and if you stop doing it, you more than likely will run out of or lose your customers.

You’re Emotions Are Always On  From the time I get up to the time I go to sleep, I am always thinking of the business.  Things go right, things go bad and in the middle of it all, there I stand.  I often don’t have time to relish in the moment of anything that happens.  But what I will say is that no matter what’s going on, I’m always feeling it until the minute I go to sleep.

You Don’t Know Jack  Yeah, you know how to make the product you sell or deliver the service you offer.  You might be good with computers, but there will be a time when something goes wrong and you will have to fix it (or call someone to).  With that said, you are always learning.  No matter how much you know about each function, you will always be learning more about it.  And even if you do know about the function, you will always be learning about tasks.  For example, you may know marketing, but it may take you a few attempts to “learn” which ad actually drives traffic through your door.

It’s Always An Adventure  For those of you who like change, then this job is definitely for you.  No two days are exactly the same.  Every day you will be pushed to your limits in terms of learning, flexibility, time, skills, etc.  It’s both fun and scary at the exact same time.  There is no “Oh, I’ve learned everything in this role and now I’m board.  When is my next rotation or promotion?”  Instead there is “Wow, how do I figure this one out?  And once I do, what’s around the bend?”   But this is what makes being a CEO one of the most rewarding roles out of all the ones I’ve previously had.

Until next time.