SBJ Article

February 19, 2024

Navigating the Shift: From Craft to Business Mastery

Many small businesses start with an owner’s passion for a craft. Beginning as a self-employed practice, they soon add one or two others to help. Whether it's custom cake decorating, landscape artistry, personalized fitness training, or some other venture, the cornerstone of the business is the entrepreneur’s expertise in their craft. As the company grows, the owners will eventually face a pivotal point: The shift from "practitioner of a craft" into a "manager/operator of a company."

Unfortunately, this transition is rarely seamless. This is my story, exactly, as my wife and I went from “just us” practicing our craft in a basement office to over 120 full-time staff in an enterprise that involves eight companies. I started a business offering lighting design services for large-format, live events, corporate meetings, and theatrical productions nationwide. From where I sit now, it has been 15 years since I have touched lighting design. Instead, I have been figuring out how to run and grow a business. Embracing this evolution is essential for sustainable growth and long-term success. Here are just a few key strategies that I found helpful in navigating this shift:

Delegating Tasks:

Arguably, the biggest challenge is relinquishing hands-on involvement in your craft. The first thing I had to learn was to trust others with specific operational responsibilities to allow myself to focus time and energy on strategic decision-making and business development initiatives. I had to determine what “only I could do” was and began developing others to do the rest. Admittedly, this was by far the hardest thing for me.

Building an Infrastructure:

I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough. Building a solid foundational infrastructure is crucial for scalability. It can include technology systems, operational processes, human resources, and more. It becomes critical as you grow, and you will need it much sooner than you think because a business eats resources as you go. Implementing efficient systems and workflows will free up time for you to concentrate on high-level activities that drive growth.

Developing Leadership Skills:

It's common for entrepreneurs to be good managers, which is good because management is a big part of building a company. Even more critical is leadership. Management and leadership are two different things. Leadership spearheads the new vision and initiatives, whereas management controls the resources effectively, bringing those visions into reality. Both are critical, but entrepreneurs or founders will typically need to be in leadership roles, and those skills must be developed.  

Setting Strategic Goals

It’s been my experience that a clear vision, followed by strategic direction, is vital for the “company growth” road map. Setting ambitious, yet achievable, goals will be necessary. Still, the more challenging part is developing actionable plans to achieve them. These plans must be regularly reviewed and adjusted to help ensure that the business stays agile and responsive to changing market dynamics.

Embracing Continuous Learning

The initial skill sets of the craft you started with will only take you so far in operating a business. A successful entrepreneur will always be learning. This may involve acquiring new skills, staying abreast of industry trends, or seeking mentorship from experienced professionals. The business landscape constantly evolves, and investing in personal and professional development is essential to adapting and staying ahead of the curve.

Not all small business owners desire to scale their businesses. But for the ones who do, the transition from focusing primarily on the craft to mastering the art of running a business is a significant milestone. It requires stepping out of your comfort zone, relinquishing hands-on involvement in your craft, learning to build company infrastructure, and creating strategic goals. You will be forever challenged to develop leadership skills and learn continuously from there. As I said, embracing this evolution is essential for sustainable growth and long-term success. If you have done this from scratch, congratulations! It is not for the faint of heart.  

By Donnie Brawner, Partner, Colligo Holdings
CEO, Paragon 360 & Paragon Fabrication  

Originally Featured in Springfield Business Journal