Episode 6: Build A Team Even If You Suck At It

Five pieces of advice to succeed

Should you stay a “solo-preneur” or build a team? 

The truth is if you build a business correctly, you can focus on your strengths and your areas of greatest impact, and you can enjoy your work. Plus, if you build a good team, at the end of the day, you’ve got a sellable asset.

In this episode, host Niel Malan looks at the pros and cons of running your business alone or with a team, and shares five pieces of advice to succeed.

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Welcome to episode number six of the Elite Entrepreneur show. Today, we’re going to talk about why you must build a team, even if you suck at it.

An elite entrepreneur is an individual that is elite because they invest in their mindset and they invest in their own education. And the fact that you’re listening to this means that you’re really well on your way to becoming one of the elite, high-growth entrepreneurs in this world. I’m really excited to share this topic with you guys today, because building a team is one of the toughest things that you’ll do in your entire life.
Out of almost 20 years of coaching people to run better businesses, the one thing I’ve heard the greatest amount of complaints about, are people.

So, have you ever said to yourself, if you want it done right, do it yourself? Have you ever found yourself complaining about people don’t work as hard as you do? Have you ever complained about people that don’t take initiative and don’t take responsibility, etc.?
If you are like most entrepreneurs, probably somewhere in between these is the truth.

Now, why on earth would I advise you to build a team, even if you suck at it? Let’s dive in and I’ll qualify that statement.

Before we start talking about a team, the question I have for you is, why did you start your business, if you already have one? Or why are you planning to start a business, if you’re planning to start one? What’s the reason for it?
I’ve asked well over 1 000 entrepreneurs this question and I usually get some version of, “I want more time”, “I want to have more money”, “I want to make a difference in this world”, “I want to be my own boss”, “I want to have a greater level of freedom in my life”… usually, it’s all of those things.
Your reasons may be different. It may be the same. But what I found is that everything boils down to freedom.

You know, entrepreneurs hate constraint. Entrepreneurs dislike being an employee. In fact, international surveys show that the number one reason why entrepreneurs start a business – 29% of entrepreneurs surveyed – is “I want to be my own boss”.
It’s just about autonomy. It’s about freedom and it’s about having a choice. Now, I don’t know what your reason is. Your reason might be different. Maybe your reason is necessity. Maybe you want to make an impact in the world and that’s your number one thing. Maybe you want to spend more time with your kids. Your reason for doing it, of wanting to do it, is totally different from someone else. But, it’s really crucial that you identify why do you want to do it because it’s going to impact whether or not you should have a team.

So, I’m going to talk to you guys about going solo – being a solo entrepreneur versus building a team. I’m going to contrast the two for you.
In the United States, in fact, globally, the vast majority of startup businesses are what they call non-employers. These are people that will not employ someone else. These are solo entrepreneurs. It’s a life coach. It’s the accountant. It’s someone working from home. Someone providing a service, etc. They generally are called non-employers.

Then there’s a small number, like 30% of businesses that get started, that will become employers. Now, it’s not clear cut and dry, whether you should. I’m going to do pros and cons on both for you.

So let’s dive in with running a solo business, you’re the “solopreneur”? You are self-employed.
First of all, it’s cheaper, right? You’ve got no overhead costs. You’ve got yourself, therefore there’s less risk financially.
In the startup phases, before you focus on building a team, you can focus on that product market first. You can make sure that the thing you are going to try and provide into the world works, before you’ve got this whole overhead of salaries that you have to pay.
Often you can move faster because entrepreneurs generally work at quite a fast pace.
Initially, you have more time flexibility. If you’re the kind of person that likes waking up in the morning, going for a run, sitting in the sun, having a coffee, and it takes ‘till 11 o’clock to get personality, and you prefer working at night, generally, it’s a little bit easier to do that when you don’t have a team.
Also, you don’t have to deal with issues related to people. You don’t have to deal with recruitment, management, all that kind of stuff.
So, it’s generally good for a period of time. And I think for first-time entrepreneurs, for solo entrepreneurs, I often advise them for the first couple of months to go solo. Even if it’s not entirely solo, but just having a virtual team paid by the hour or something like that, just to settle into entrepreneurship, learn the ins and outs, learn the ropes.

The cons, though, of staying self-employed, there’s several. The first is you do everything yourself. Which for some people is like, “yeah, but I’m a hard worker, I don’t mind, I can do everything myself”.
Well, there’s a couple of practical problems with that. The first is, I don’t know if you’ve heard of a thing called “The Peter Principle”, but it says you will rise your own areas of incompetence very, very quickly. Let me qualify that.
You may be a brilliant salesperson or a marketer? Like, that’s my personality, I’m the sales guy. But, if you’re also the person doing admin, you’re going to have a very serious problem in keeping that administrative side of your business together. That’s not your natural talent. It’s going to hamstring you, and it’s going to drain your energy. If you also have to do the accounts and you are horrible with money, and you chronically overspend and you don’t balance your chequebook, you got a problem.

The opposite is also true. If you’re more of the structured admin kind of person, you’re going to do all of that stuff, well, but you’re not going to go out and get enough new business. Which means you’re always going to have cash flow problems.

We can’t be good at all things. It’s just not humanly possible to be great at all things. You can be great at a couple of things, but not many.
That’s the first problem – you’re going to have areas in your business where you have excellence, and you’re going to have areas of horrible performance.

The second thing is you are going to work very, very long hours doing everything yourself. Everything that needs doing requires time, right? You’re going to have no time on your hands after a while… if you’re successful. If you’re not getting clients, and you’re not doing any work, you’re going to have lots of time on your hand.
But, if you’re successful with finding new clients, and you’re successful at growing your business, you’re going to have no time, right? There’s going to be no holidays, because if you don’t work, you don’t earn, right? And there’s going to be no time to take time off.
So, the aspiration of having more time available and adding more flexibility of your time, goes out the door as your business grows, if you’re a solo entrepreneur. And you must know that upfront.

At some point there’s a time for money relationship, we you are trading time for money – if you want to make more money, you need to put in more time.
And there’s a point of diminishing returns where you just can’t do it anymore.

One big problem that I’ve seen over the years, so many people after 10 or 20 years of growing a company, they want to sell it. But nobody wants to buy it, because they’ve got to buy you. You are the business. So, there’s no asset that you’re building up here. You will never ever attract investment, or startup capital, or even loans from banks. People don’t like investing in one solo person. They like investing in businesses that could work without the entrepreneur there.

The big thing of entrepreneurs, most entrepreneurs are driven because they want to make a difference in the world. They want to have an impact in the world. And your impact in the world will always be limited if you can’t reach enough people, because your whole businesses is limited by you.

At the end of the day, at some point in your career, you’re going to burn out. Trust me. I’ve been there. You’re going to burn out. If you’re the person who does everything yourself, you’re going to get off on doing a few things, you’re going to enjoy it. And there’s a whole bunch of stuff you’re going to hate doing and you’re either not going to do it, or you’re going to do it poorly, you’re going to postpone it, or you’re going to do it on self-discipline, and you’re going to hit the wall.

So, there are very definite cons in staying solo, a solo entrepreneur, even if you start like that.

Now, what are the pros of building a team? Some of the biggest pros are, first of all, and that’s what I feel very strongly about, you can get to focus on your strengths and enjoy your work again.
What I have found over the years is that so many business people start companies because they love an industry, they’re passionate about it, they want to make a difference in it, and they want to bring innovation to that industry. They’re really excited.
But because of all the other stuff that they have to do just to run the business, they get drained, they get tired, and they end up hating it.
If you build a business correctly, you can focus on your strengths, you can focus on your areas of greatest impact, and you can enjoy your work. You can continue enjoying your work.

For me, this is one of the most important factors in business.

You know, Steve Jobs said that because it’s so hard, you had better find work that you love, because otherwise you will never have the resilience, tenacity and see-through staying power to make something great out of it.
I believe it’s very, very true.
You get a massive amount of support if you learn how to rally a team, if you learn how to recruit A-players, how to mobilize and how to get everybody excited about your vision, about your goals, and your dreams… you feel supported.
It’s no longer just you. It’s no longer you that’s going to do everything. You create what’s called “lateral pressure”. You’ve got all these people supporting you.
If I look at my business, other people in every department running that department, and they’re even more passionate about their department than what I am. And they work harder sometimes what I do just by the man hours, the man effort that goes into it.
So, that pressure isn’t on me, it’s on my team members. Yes, I’ve got my own pressure to make sure I’m a good leader, but you just feel supported. Psychologically, you feel very supported, that’s great.
You can grow faster. You can grow much more effectively because you are actually building the business. You can have a much bigger impact in the world. This is what I love.

One of the reasons why I founded Elite Inc. was because I want to make a global difference in entrepreneurship. We want to achieve, we want to reach 1% of all entrepreneurs across the globe with our solutions. That’s two and a half million people. Now if I had to rely on me, forget about. If I was going to get to two and a half, then I’m going to get burned out!
I must know how to build a business that’s scalable.
That’s really exciting. If you understand how to grow your business and how to scale it, and ow to have a bigger impact in the world.

At the end of the day, you’ve got a sellable asset. At the end of the day, you’ve got a business that other people would want to buy, because if you leave, they can appoint another CEO and the thing works.

Wouldn’t it be amazing that after years of toil and hard work, you actually have an asset that you built up and it’s valuable? You can attract investment and finance. My bank called me the other day and said “guess what, we are doubling your overdraft”.
I said I don’t need it. They said take it anyway. But I said why, our business works! We are about to do a capital raised for about $3 million to start a whole Software Development Division. And I’m really confident we’re going to get it. Why? Because the people are going to take one look at me and say, “alright, can this guy lead businesses, does he have good ideas?”
But, they all know that I’m limited in my own skills, capabilities and time. They’re going to look at me and my team and say, “if we give this guy money, is there someone strong in finance who is going to make sure that the money doesn’t get overspent and gets managed well? Is there someone strong in operations to make sure that while they are growing the business that the wheels don’t come flying off? Is this someone strong on tech that has built these kinds of software products before?”
I need to say satiate investors’ curiosity and their questions around all of this before they’re going to give me money. But, once they got confidence and say, “wow, this is an investable business, if Malan dies, falls over, gets tired of it.. and we appoint a new CEO, this thing will continue working”. Boom, you’ll get all the money that you need.

And you’ve got high time leverage. If you’ve been following me for any period of time, you know, that Candy and I travel probably about 8 to 10 weeks in a year. And in between we work because we love it. December we’re going to Bali for three weeks. Last December, we’re in Thailand for three weeks. We were in Mauritius last year. We were into the Med for three weeks on a boat cruise. We travel all around the world. We love it. And that’s because I’ve got flexibility. I’ve got time. I’ve got a whole team of people doing great stuff in the business. It’s not just me, you know.

There are cons, and I’m not going to lie to you about it. There’s no pleasure without pain. And the big one is that if you decide to build a team, the number one skill you have to learn, you have to master, is how to build a team. Whether you have an interest in it or not.
Because quite frankly, you can’t succeed at building a team unless you have the knowledge about how to do that. It’s a skill set.

So, even if you have internal resistance, saying, I don’t like people, I don’t like managing people, I don’t have an interest in building a team… listen, if you have an interest in building a successful company that can work without you there, then you by default have an interest in building a team, right?
There’s a risk. There’s a risk of placements not working out. We’ve all done it. We’ve hired people that didn’t work out. Waste of time. Waste of money. Some people stole from us, etc. By the way, usually the problem is how we recruited, but I’ll get to that in a second.
There is a risk with placements. There’s the initial frustration in getting people to do things your way. I think one of the toughest things is to realize that it’s not effective to get everybody to do things the way you want it done. But, it’s much easier to get them to do what needs to be accomplished, but give them a little bit more freedom about how to get there.
Many entrepreneurs are so controlling because they sit with the risk of payroll and the money, and they get very, very frustrated because people don’t do it the way they would have done it. But, I’m going to address that in a second. I’ve had to deal with it

There’s a short term profitability impact. Businesses like mine, for example, we train people how to run successful digital agencies. My clients are wildly successful. Some are getting 20 or $30 000 a month, pretty much as solo entrepreneurs. May have one or two funnel builders on contract, one or two media buyers on contract, but they’re pretty much a solo player. But then, at some point, it becomes hard, right? And that’s when we advise guys, when you get to that point, now you’re going to start actually building a team.
Up to that point, you’re wildly profitable. Most of the money you are making is your own. Now, all of a sudden, you start hiring people, and you got to take some of that money and pay the people. There’s a short term trade off when it comes to profitability. But long term, obviously, you can become a lot more profitable because you build a much bigger business.

Now, how do you succeed? What is my advice for you? I’ve ready got five pieces of advice for you. The first is, you’ve got to get clear on what you want most. It is absolutely vital. You’ve got to understand why you are starting a business. I’m not saying for everybody it’s right to start a team, and I’m also not saying it is right that you start a team now. Maybe the timing isn’t right. Maybe it isn’t right for you to have a team. But, you have to get to clear on what you want and what you want most. If not adding a team for whatever reason is a more important weighting factor than having a business sustainable and having time that’s your own – which you can also do running an agency, it’s one of the things that I love.
The guys who we teach to run agencies. You can run agencies and make $20 000 a month with probably 10 or 20 hours of work a week, once you’ve got clients established.
I’m not saying you’re going to start with it. You can do it, but you have to understand what you want most. You have to understand what your goals are.

And there’s going to be a tradeoff. You’re going to have to pick what your pleasure is and what your pain is. You’re going to have to prioritize. If there’s more of a payday, more of a payoff for you remaining solo, remaining on your own, you’ve got to be aware of what the tradeoffs are, and you’ve got accept it.
If having all the freedoms that I spoke about, it’s more important to you, at least in the medium-term you may want to invest in building a team.

Now, if you’ve had repeated failures and repeated frustrations about building a team, you may have come to some false belief systems that says, if you want it done right, do it yourself.
You can’t trust people. You can’t build great teams. Guys, I used to believe that and it’s all false. It’s all rubbish. Let me tell you how my mind changed about it.

I went to complain to a client of mine. In fact, it’s a friend of mine – also a client. And I say to him, “Steve, you’re brilliant at running teams, why does it always seem to work? I mean, the people I attract to my business, they don’t work out, they don’ work hard as I do, etc.”
And he listened to me bitch about life for quite a while, and he said to me, “Now, let me ask a question: You’re very good at sales, right?”
I said yes.
He said, “And how did that happened?”
And I told him my story that I’ve already told you guys on this Elite Entrepreneur show. I told him about how I had to really learn, and invest, and practice my trade, how I sucked in the beginning and then I became good. And he said to me, “So it’s a skill that you learned?”
And I said yes.
He said, “How long did it take you to learn skills?”
Quite frankly, it took me many years to become good at it.
He said, “Why should growing a team be any different?”
I said that’s fair comment.
He said, “How much of your time have you invested in learning about how to build a team, really understanding the science of management, really understanding sides of recruitment, really developing yourself to become a more effective leader and communicator? Honestly, how much of your time have you spent doing that?”
I said if I’m really honest, I really haven’t.
At that moment I realized that the problem isn’t people, the problem is me. My lack of education. My own lack of knowledge.

Maybe this is true for you as well. I don’t know you. I’m not sitting in front of you. Maybe you want to ask yourself that question, if you had frustrations with people in the past.

If you decide you want to grow a team, the second step I would advise you to do after getting clear on what you want most is to change your mindset about people.
Sometimes we develop false beliefs. We develop beliefs that tell us that if you want to do it yourself, if you want it done right, do it yourself. Maybe you need to allow yourself to change your mindset about people. Instead of seeing it as something begrudging, see it as something that’s going to set you free. Instead of seeing it as something really hard, maybe see it as something that’s a learnable skill and a wonderful challenge to learn about.
Start associating to “what if it’s true that you can get people to really support you”. What if it’s true that you can get people to work not only as hard, but even harder as you, doing your own business? What if it’s true that you really can have the Promised Land and the only thing standing between you and that outcome is really just a skill set?
Wouldn’t just think differently about it, make you feel different about approaching that subject.
That would definitely be the most important thing, because you don’t want to go into building a team begrudgingly.
If you have a team and it’s frustrating, decide to change your mind. Because it’s never too late to change your mind. Become curious, become excited and look at the positive and upside of having people, if you’ve decided to do it again.

The third step that you need to take is to become a student. There is nothing about succeeding with people that is obvious. Nothing. Take it from me. How to hire great people is not obvious. How to build a great culture is not obvious. How to become an effective communicator is not obvious.
Every single one of those things are skills and they are wonderful resources, which I’m going to recommend to you, which will help you on your journey.
So in my mind, there are really four core competencies that you need to become good at.
There are many more than that, but if you had to apply the 80/20 principle, in my opinion, there are really four areas, and I’m going to give you a book for each one of them.

The first thing that you need to become good at, is you need to become good at setting a vision for your business and creating a structure for it to succeed. There’s a great book called Traction by Gina Wickman.
What Traction does, is they teach a six-day framework for setting a vision. And then building a business around your vision, putting structure in place with your team – communication structure, scorecards, measure what matters and so forth. It’s quite a lot of work to implement all that stuff. But you need to have a strategy toolkit. You need to have a way to put structure to that strategy so that you can execute it. That would be my first starting point, reading Traction.

The next thing that you need to do is, you need to know how to hire people. I can tell you something, for many years, I believed in folklore – you know, hire people for attitude, train them for skill. But what if I don’t have the skill that they need.
That’s a problem. Or, you know, go on gut. Or you go on these on these whimsical ideas. It’s basically black magic.
It’s rubbish. Recruitment is a science. There is a way to reduce your risk.
And I suggest the best book on the planet is a book titled Who, and it’s written by Geoff Smart. It’s brilliant. It’s a lot of work. But, if you want to increase your chances of success and reduce your chances of failure, read the book and implement it. We’ve done it.

The third skill you need is, you need to know how do you have the people that you’ve employed, focus on the right goals that energize and stretch them and hold them accountable for great results. This is absolutely vital, because what entrepreneurs do and what I used to do is, I used to feel I have to manage people, and therefore I will peer over their shoulders and look at what they did all day long, except for IT management.
I would be over-involved when someone isn’t performing and completely absent when I’m sick of that or they do perform moderately well… until the next crisis.
What I learned is that you don’t have to manage the day-to-day of people, you actually have to manage what goals people focus on, and you’re going to manage whether there’s progress against certain goals.
This sounds very obvious, but it isn’t. There’s a whole science to it called OKRs – objectives and key results.
I read a book called Measure What Matters by a guy called John Doerr that changed my entire business. It changed my philosophy about business. It changed my philosophy about people. It changed how I succeeded with people. It’s made a huge, profound difference to me. I strongly recommend you read that book – Measure What Matters by John Doerr.

And then finally, you’ve got to know how to build culture. Culture is absolutely crucial, because culture determines the performance of every employee in your business.
There’re many books on culture, the one that I find particularly energizing and inspiring is a book called Delivering Happiness, by a company called Zappos.
They’ve made a massive science of culture. It’s just a fun read.

To recap. Start with the book Traction by Gina Wickman, then move on over to the book, Who by Geoff Smart. Then move on over to the book Measure What Matters by John Doerr, and then go to Delivering Happiness.
There are many other books, but start with those four.

Commit yourself to becoming a lifelong student because the better you become at attracting people, the better you become at employing people, the better you become at stretching people and getting people to produce high-quality results, the better you will do and the more fun your business is going to be. Treat it as a skill set.

Step number four. Start the way you want to end. You see, where entrepreneurs also go wrong as they wait till it’s bigger until they implement best practices. They wait until it’s bigger before they get a budget. They wait until it’s bigger before they do proper training and induction for new team members.
It doesn’t work like that.
Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, a reporter once, and IBM was the Blue Chip stock for many, many years before the Facebook’s and all these guys rolled around, so kind of in the 80s and 90s. I’m giving away my age here. This reporter interviewed this bloke and said to him, why are you so successful, what did you do?
He said, “There’re really three things I did right: number one, I realized I had to know what this business needs to look like when I’m done building it – begin with the end in mind.”
He said he spent full six months crafting out a vision, crafting out a plan. What does this business need to look like? What markets we’re going to go into? What products are we going to build? What impact are we going to have in electronics and computer science?
He said, “The second thing, we realized that we have to behave a particular way for this to make real.”
He said that he started putting form to how will they become that. So he, for example, he conceptualized the IBM man and the IBM training academy, which they were legendary for.

And the third thing, the most important that ties into this point, he said, “I realized, unless we start behaving that way now, we will never become that.”
That’s what I want to advise you to. Don’t shy away from the initial hard work of learning to put the stuff in place, because that is what sets you free. You don’t arrive there one day, you make it happen because of good business practices.

Finally, get moving. Again, number five, get moving with the next high leverage position.
For most entrepreneurs, I would advise the very first most important placement they need to do correctly, is an executive assistant. Why? Because if you are the typical 70% of entrepreneurs with ADD, if you are that person, you need someone that’s good on the structure. You need to go off and bash down doors, close deals, bring home the bacon. You need a good executive assistant that’s good at organizing, when you’re not good at organizing, that can take care of the paperwork, the finances, organizing people, setting meetings and schedule. Get your complementary counterpart.
If you are that really good structure admin person, then you need to get a salesperson. You need to go you need to get someone that can go out there and bring in the bacon.
As a generic piece of advice, I would advise people to get an executive assistant.

Assuming you’ve got the relationship between your own nature and admin and structure sorted out, I would say to the next big thing is a marketer. Now, either you become your own best marketer by going through a program like ours, like Agency FastTrack, where we teach you how to get people to become leads in rapid time, dirt cheap, or engage with one of our students or hire someone full time. But, get someone that is a strong solid digital marketer to bring all the leads you’re looking for. You see, one of the biggest problems in business is cash flow. And the number one way to solve a cash flow problem is to make sure that there’s always a massive amount of business lined up so that you never dry up your cash.
So, get the market and then also get the sales rainmaker. If you’re the kind of business where there’s a salesperson that needs to close the deal, get the sales rainmaker, as soon as possible.

Assuming you’ve got that part handled, right, the next most important thing that most entrepreneurs would need is you need to have a good operations person. Now that can often be your executive assistant. But a good operations person makes sure that the wheels don’t come off when you’re out there building an empire. Ideally, you want to have all the line managers that are part of your leadership team, report into your operations manager, operations director or Chief Operating Officer.

You need to identify what is the one placement you can make right now that’s going to give you the greatest leverage, that’s going to take the greatest amount of work away from you, that’s going to help you to move faster, that’s going to help you to have a bigger impact, and to really make a dent in moving forward. But, the bottom line is you’ve got to get moving.

You can’t sit passively. You can’t sit in fear. Those of you just starting out or are still in solo entrepreneur mode, at least get started with a virtual assistant or someone that can just help you. Don’t try and do everything yourself. It’s really not wise.

I want to ask you a question. I want you to scroll down until you get the comment section. I want you to answer two questions for me. Number one, how do you feel about recruitment and building a team? Just generally, how do you feel about it? Is it something that you resist? Is it something that you failed at? Is this something that you enjoy? Something that you embrace? I want you to join the conversation with fellow entrepreneurs on our blog, and to kind of get an idea where everybody’s at with it.
Sometimes just getting inspiration about how you feel, helps you to understand it. Gives you a great level of insight. And then once you get clarity about whether you’re going to go solo,
Participate in the conversation. Let me know how you feel about recruitment and building a team number one.

Number two, if you decided to go solo or to grow. I’d love to know your opinion. I always want to know what you think. I want to know what you guys think about these episodes. I want you to tell me what else you want to know and what other questions you’ve got so that I can help.
Make your voice heard.

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If you want to take the next step in building a successful business, if you want to take the next step at succeeding at digital, please feel free to book a 15-minute complimentary call with one of our certified coaches. It’s really just to see if we have anything that can help you with your unique goals.

So, thank you so much. Thank you for taking the time. Well done for staying tuned and for investing in your own mindset. And I look forward to seeing you ar episode number seven, where I’m going to give you the heads up on how to build a virtual team that is crazy productive. I’ll see you next time.