A couple, friends of mine, own a business they started several years ago. “We’re crazy-busy, our customers love what we’re doing, and we’ve just achieved a significant milestone. But we’re overworked, stressed out, can’t get great staff, and we’re not making enough money. What are we doing wrong?”

They’re not doing anything wrong. In fact, they’ve done so many things absolutely right.

They started with a long-term vision. They’re deeply creative and have built something wonderfully unique. Their ideals and values, which are woven into their business, resonate with an international community. They are devoted to their customers; they listen acutely to their needs and suggestions and work hard to incorporate them.

But my friends are exhausted, not exhilarated. And their dream is in danger of becoming, well, not a nightmare, but perhaps a drag on their lives.

Their business has reached the point where it needs them to morph from being business founders to business managers. What’s the difference? And what must they do?

Business Founders Get Us Started

Business founders exercise the right side of their brain: they imagine and create new things; they obsess over details and make things perfect; they listen intently to their customers and are very sensitive to their needs; they sacrifice their time, family and money to bring their dream to life.

All good. All necessary. But financially unsustainable without the business manager side of their brain.

Business Managers Drive Us Onward

The business manager takes a dispassionate view. She recognizes that vision and creativity and customer responsiveness are only half of what’s needed to make a successful business. The business also needs discipline and a bottom-line focus.

Which means making only what sells. And raising prices. And letting some customers go. And recognizing that newly hired people won’t, CAN’T, do the job the same way we do, and that that’s okay.

It means balancing creativity with cash flow. Which often feels like a real conflict at first.

It means getting out of our own way.

We need to ask our Founder, who has been the dominant force for so long, to step back a little and allow our Manager to step forward.

This doesn’t mean that vision and creativity and perfection and customers are no longer necessary. Far from it. It only means that we need to recognize the cash flow imperatives of the business in addition to vision and creativity. It means that we need to integrate cash flow into our thinking. It means understanding that cash flow discipline doesn’t dilute our vision and creativity, it supports it.

Cash flow discipline supports our vision, enhances our creativity, and spreads our values and ideals further than was previously possible.

So let’s have a quiet word with our Founder. Let’s honor her passion, her commitment, her hard work. Let’s recognize her sacrifices and celebrate her successes. Thank you, and well done!

And now, as the business transitions to its next level, let us also transition. Let’s ask our Manager to help us rekindle our focus, our discipline and our determination. A determination to create a thriving business with solid cash flows that pushes the Founder’s vision and dream further than we could ever have imagined.