How you can stop being the ‘business bottleneck’ in your small business

As I write I am thinking of a man I know who became the business bottleneck in his business. He is an ideas person, highly visual and creative. He excels at connecting with and making business presentations to new prospects. This is great for getting sales in the door. When he is in the office the whole place buzzes around him.

However, his clients only want to speak with him. When things go wrong they call him to sort them out. He then communicates their problems with his design team. Everything goes through him. His number one desire is to please his clients, and he is highly responsive to them. This often means that priorities change depending on whether clients are happy or not. If a team member does anything for a client he likes them to Cc him in on emails, so he can approve everything. He likes to know what’s happening and feel in control. He likes having his team working at his beck and call.

As things grew he became the business bottleneck. His business processes were incredibly inefficient and costing him time and money. Many times he did not convey instructions clearly for revisions of designs and so there would be conflict and problems with clients and with his staff.

The simple solution was for him to get out of the way. He was best in the marketing and sales role. We helped him see that as part of the sales process he needed to introduce the client to a client manager who would handle their matters. He needed to explain that this was the best way for the client to get the best service from his business. We had to put some very clear boundaries around his ongoing interaction with his clients to ensure he did not create confusion. After a testy period of change during which he had to learn to trust his team we managed to remove him as a business bottleneck and his business began to grow strongly.

The 4 main reasons an owner may become a business bottleneck and how to fix them

  1. The Control Freak – This is a trust issue. It is hard to trust others with responsibilities and decisions that affect YOUR business. As understandable as it may be, every business owner MUST get past this hurdle and build a high performing team that will help carry the load. The key is to establish clear Position Descriptions with KPI’s and accountability. Effective and simple processes and systems need to be set and written for every normal function in your business. This makes training staff so much easier. They will learn to do things the way you want and get the results you want.
  2. The Disorganised Person – This is a personal organisational Issue. If you the business owner are disorganised then it is very difficult for others to work with you. If organisation is not your strength then your first business hire must be someone who can help organise you. Once you know your strengths, and work to them, you can build a team that enables you to stop being the business bottleneck.
  3. Ineffective Staff Induction – This is a training issue. Staff cannot read your mind. Very few small businesses have great induction processes. Staff will start working things out for themselves if you do not train them. If their ways of doing things are not acceptable to you, it is highly frustrating for all concerned. No-one is happy. So, stop being a business bottleneck and learn how to write an induction manual that includes everything that is important for new staff to learn about your business.
  4. Poor morale – This is a leadership issue. Most small business owners have never learned basic leadership skills. They do not realise that as they grow their team, the team needs leadership. They need some sense of where the business is headed (vision); why the business exists (mission); what your major goals are this year, and this quarter (goals); what your plans are to achieve those goals (plan/strategy) and how and why you do things the way you do within your business (culture). Without some sense of understanding how their role contributes to business growth staff members will struggle to be consistently motivated. When a team is not motivated it is almost always due to the poor leadership skills of the business owner. Once again they are the business bottleneck.

These four issues often crossover – e.g. a person is a control freak because they are not personally organised and fear that their team may get things wrong so they become an even bigger bottleneck insisting on everything going through them.


Overall, the key to small business growth is for the business owner hire talented people and set them very clear expectations for the results they expect from them. Have a brilliant induction process in place for staff to learn the vision, mission, values and culture of the business; and any processes that are critical to know. The more they are focused on results and the less they have to worry about your ‘right way’ of doing things the more creative and effective they will usually be in their role. This will usually ensure the owner is not a business bottleneck, the team is empowered, and the business can grow.



INTEGRATE: Why Work Life Balance is a Myth | John Drury

Integrate: Why Work Life Balance is a Myth and what you really need to create a fulfilling lifestyle

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