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July 14, 2021

Scale Yourself: How to COO for Solo Founders

One of my aims is to help founders learn how to work both IN and ON their business, which can be a difficult task, especially for solo founders wearing multiple hats and struggling with a finite amount of time, attention, and resources. And while wearing many hats, such as marketing, customer service, sales, administrations, is integral to your business, none is more critical and more misunderstood than the Chief Operation Officer (COO).

In businesses built with a more robust C-suite, the COO position is easier to distinguish from the CEO's role. But when you are a solo founder, the CEO and COO roles becomes intertwined, and management becomes synonymous with operational leadership, which should not be the case.

This misconception leaves integral parts of the business vulnerable to even the smallest breakdowns having an outsized effect on their business.

How do you know when you are managing the most critical parts of your business or when you are doing busywork? Or have we underestimated or overused what we qualify as busywork?

The answer is in building an operational model that helps you understand the difference between the necessary and critical things and the things that can be left for another day.

I have broken down some of the foundational elements in building an operating model within your business into this Miro board to help you begin the journey of successfully being your COO.

First, let's clear up some misconceptions.


What's the difference between the CEO vs. COO?


The CEO sets and maps vision and goals, and the COO is the operational power creating new systems, matching the day-to-day with overarching goals, and focusing on execution.


Operating Model vs. Business Model 

Your business model does not layout your operating model. However, your operating model works within your business model. The business model delves into a business' customers, value propositions, and the best ways to make money, create the thing, and sell it to the market. The operating model is the nitty-gritty daily and big picture details responsible for the HOW, WHERE, and WHEN.


The operating model is determined by your business type, size, overall goals, and what stage of business you are in.

This introduction into COO'ing for yourself as a solo founder creates an operating plan for your business and a personal operational plan for yourself.  When a company creates a working model, they eventually make a TOM: total operating model.

The 3 COO Archetypes or Hats

Are there only three types of COO hats or archetypes? No. Do I believe these are the 3 COO hats you should prioritize? Yes, especially if you have a small business.

Operations Hero

When we talk about operations, we break it down into creative, logistical, and financial. The Operations Hero focuses its time on creating and implementing action plans to increase efficiencies, improve systems, and focus on making the business more profitable and efficient.

The Executor

The Executor hat allows you to stand in the gap between what is currently happening and what is needed to bring goals, tasks, and milestones across the finish line.

The People Person

This archetype or that focuses on managing and increasing the value and relationship quality in their business ecosystem. This ecosystem includes anyone from partners to hires and contractors to customers.


The Stages of Building Your Operating Plan

Building an operating model for your business is a continuous and iterative process. Below is the cycle that should lead you from planning to whatever your next level is.


 

PLANNING

Defining the objectives of your business model and the processes necessary to achieve them.

ACTION

Creating an overview of steps & interconnected processes needed to execute your business model

GOVERNANCE

Establishing authority, responsibility, and accountability for managing processes, direction, and decision-making

OPTIMIZATION

Using continuous improvement and learning to increase both efficiency and effectiveness

INNOVATION

Becoming more intelligent with data to drive innovation

Our Operating Blocks

These are the 9 blocks (yes, the Business model Canvas also has 9 blocks - I like consistency) that represent the Areas of Responsibilities you will be creating your new systems and processes for. Each block should eventually go through the planning to innovation stages listed above.

Planning Objectives

As you begin to plan each of your functional blocks, you will be designing from within your business model and the internal drivers surrounding your business model.

My favorite business model definition is all the business elements that allow you to create, deliver, and capture value. Within each of your blocks, you will be thinking about the most integral parts of your business model that allow you to deliver on your value proposition, be competitive, and grow in profitability.

In the Miroboard that goes along with this post - you can walk through our planning objectives.

Action & Documentation: Creating Your Processes

Now that we've set the priorities and values for developing your operating model, it's time to begin documenting your business processes and procedures.

If you are starting to do this, we recommend focusing on the processes most aligned with your business priorities.

A fundamental core principle of being the best COO for your business is the power of documentation. Good documentation allows for continuous improvement and high levels of service to be maintained. Some of the additional benefits of well-defined standard operating procedures included making it easier to train and onboard new employees, pivot, expand or experiment on your business model.

Most importantly, it frees up mental spaces and resources to focus on the big picture, high-impact CEO task needed to bring your business forward.

Another reason why I decided to use Miro is because you can create a digital space for all of your mind mapping and brainstorming needs.

Governance

With the previous steps completed, not only are you building yourself an operating model, but you are creating a governance plan. Think of your governance plan is the compass that keeps you on track but is also ready to navigate you to get back on track or lead you in a direction.

Governance Plan Checklist

  1. How do I make sure I am aligned with my priorities?
  2. What does alignment mean to me?
  3. How do I make decisions?
  4. How do I communicate decisions to team members, partners, and customers?
  5. How do I ensure that decisions are followed up and followed through?
  6. How do I mitigate risk?
  7. How do I ensure each part of my business model is aligned to the decisions taken?

Management

  1. Have I established clear metrics for performance that drive accountability?
  2. How do I stay on top of the new knowledge?
  3. What procedures and cadences are in place daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly, giving me a view from the detailed to the strategic?

Optimization

When it comes to optimizing the way your business operates, it's not possible without understanding your key metrics.

For each operation block, you should have 1-3 key metrics that give you the data that indicate how your business and connected activities are performing. While quantitive hard data is essential, it won't reveal the textures of your performance without qualitative data - especially feedback that is coming from your customers. With that information in mind, you can make decisions and take actions based on evidence that is balanced with experience and intuition.

Head to the full Miro board
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Nage Dales

Nage is the founder + creative pilot of SLCo & Agency and it's research arm of SLCo Idea Trust. She prides herself on making all this innovation stuff as accessible as possible.

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