How to Get Out of The Owner’s Trap

Dec 22, 2020

How to Get Out of the Owner’s Trap. An interview with Steven Kohnke.

Sharon: Good morning, this is Sharon Heller, and I’m here with Steven Kohnke from Denver Business Coach. Good morning, Steven.

Steven: Morning, Sharon. How are you doing this morning?

Sharon: I’m good looking forward to our conversation today. So what’s our topic?

Steven: As we’ve been talking about, at Denver Business Coach, we did some qualitative research. We surveyed business owners asking them where they’re showing up in their business, where they might need some help in their business or might be struggling. And we shaped up some responses and conversations and the conversation we’re going to have today is about the business owner themself being or the business itself being heavily reliant on the business owner themselves. This is something that we refer to as the owner’s trap in a business.

Sharon: Sounds like a really big one. So what are some indicators that owners have trapped themselves into their business?

Steven: Yeah, that’s great. Some big indicators are really if the business halts or slows down at all when the business owner is gone, takes a vacation, takes a couple of days off away from the office, or whatnot. That’s a pretty clear indication that the business owner is in that trap. That’s something that we actually shoot for here at Denver Business Coach as a test, as a litmus test for that is we’ll have the owner go on vacation, like “Hey go away for a little bit. Let’s see what happens.”

Steven: So that’s a really big indicator. If the owner is doing all the selling themselves, if they’re doing all the deliverables themselves, those are some clear indications. Another one is if the customers or clients are coming to the owner directly with questions or complaints or anything like that, that’s also a pretty clear indicator that the business is heavily reliant on that owner.

Sharon: That’s probably most business owners I know. So how does a business owner be proactive and recognize this issue so that they can hopefully plan differently so that it doesn’t have to be like this?

Steven: Yeah, that’s a tough one, because what ends up happening is, over time the owner starts taking on either more responsibility or the business needs something else and they’ll take it on for a little bit. And it doesn’t ever happen quickly. It’s over a long period of time. And then all of a sudden the owner is doing internal operations management to the employees, the sales, marketing, and the financials all themselves.

Steven: So it’s really understanding what that scope creep looks like for the business owner and being able to say, be comfortable with saying, “I’m going to train this other person to do sales. And if they don’t do it as good as I can, that’s OK”. And there’s a lot of business owners that we work with that have trouble with that, and really saying it’s OK if it’s not absolutely perfect right away, it’s going to take time to build that up.

Steven: So just kind of understanding and recognizing if you’re saying yes to too many things yourself, and not looking at how to create a system for it, how to train on that system and get people to kind of help take some of that responsibility away, it can creep up. And before you know it, you’re just doing everything yourself. And you don’t have time to help other people take over some of that stuff. So I just kind of seeing that happen before it does and understanding, if you are saying “yes” too much, you’re probably heading down that direction.

Sharon: Yeah. So other than not saying yes to everything, do you have a couple of other, like, key strategies for business owners to help them get out of this trap, like once they recognize they’re in it?

Steven: Yeah. So one way that owners can get trapped in their business is with the current clients or customers. Those customers have a particular need, and it might not be what is directly offered by the business, but the owner is capable of delivering it. So the owner says yes to clients, and then what ends up happening is the breadth of offerings becomes really wide.

Steven: And when owners come to us, that’s something we’ll look at, are you offering too much, too many services or is it that you’re too much of a generalist? Maybe it’s time to specialized down, and see what is good to be paying attention to, what is your sweet spot to be delivering on? And then you can kind of work your way from that.

Steven: But a lot of times it’s, are you offering too much? OK, let’s try to pare that down a little bit to get more specific and more narrow, and then we can go outside and broaden that, but do it the right way this time. instead of just continuously delivering things to yourself. So that’s some way that we’ll look at it for sure.

Sharon: That’s so important. And I just actually talked to a business owner who runs a tech company last week, and he shared that he did exactly that. He had a client that said, well, can you do X, Y, and Z? And he was like, yeah, I can do that.

Sharon: And he said he spent two months doing that because he could, but he really wished that he had just said no and just stuck to the things that he’s really good at and can do quickly. And yeah. So such a good example.

Steven: Perfect. Yeah, exactly. And that happens often too, because that owner is going to be that specialist, and can do a wide range of things just because of their experience. But to have that business that is scalable you don’t want to have that happen for the owner himself.

Sharon: Well, yeah, good. Great conversation this morning, Steven. Anything you want to say as we wrap up?

Steven: Yeah, well, if there are any business owners out there that are feeling trapped in their business or some of these things relate to you, reach out to us. Just go to We’d be happy to have a conversation, see if you really are trapped in that business, and maybe we can give you some ideas of how to get out of it.

Sharon: Great, thank you, Steven, and good talking to you this morning.

Steven: Sharon, thank you.