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3 Roles of a Small Business Owner

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

Small Business Owner

Sometimes an employee looks at the work they’re doing, and thinks, “Hey, I know how to do this. I should go into business for myself. Not only will I have more freedom, but I can make tons of money!”

And then they do it.

They start a business doing the work they know how to do.

But they realize, it’s a lot harder than they expected. And they’re not growing like they thought they would.

They feel run ragged, pulled in a million directions, but actually making no progress.

Eventually, they get to the point of giving up. They say, “It was so much easier to clock in and clock out. Maybe I’ll close down and just get a job.”

The Struggle of the Small Business Owner

What I’m talking about in this post is why so many small business owners feel stretched thin and can’t grow. This site is dedicated to starting and running a coffee shop, but this advice applies to any small business. This post is inspired by the book The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work And What To Do About It by Michael Gerber.

In his book, an allegory comprised of dialogue between a baker and consultant, Gerber explains why so many small business owners burn out, and eventually close up shop. He highlights three different roles that small business owners play. Typically, they start in one role, don’t know how to do the next one, and never have time for the third one. This is why they burn out. Now let’s take a look at what those roles are.

Let’s say there is a baker, baking for someone else. They think, “Hey, I’m pretty good at this. Maybe I should open up my own bakery!” They’ve got drive, skills, and some savings, too.

The baker knows how to bake. Isn’t that what a bakery does? Bake?

This first role is called the Technician: someone with a skillset to produce a good or service. The baker knows how to bake. Isn’t that what a bakery does? Bake?

So, they take the leap, and open up the bakery. They start growing enough to hire some more people. When a new hire starts showing up late, the baker has a one-on-one meeting with them, and says, “I’ll let it slide, but do better in the future.”

This second role is called the Manager: someone who can manage a team, resolve conflict, get everyone to work effectively, and keep employee morale up. The baker has worked with people before, shouldn’t be that hard, right?

Then, the bakery is humming along with orders, enough to provide some income for the baker. But they are still putting out fires everyday. Resolving conflicts. Writing the schedule. Paying the taxes. And still baking.

The business has stopped growing. They still work a ton. They still don’t bring home that much money. They are essentially working a job they can’t just quit. And they don’t know what to do next to get them off the treadmill.

This third role is called the Entrepreneur: someone who can cast a vision for a company, then grow and scale it to achieve that vision. The baker hasn’t really thought about this. The typical thought is: If you build it, won’t they come?

No. They won’t.

How to Avoid This Struggle

Can you see why many small business owners burn out? It takes more than just the Technician to build a business. Many that have only ever been in the Technician role might not have experience managing a team. Certainly not growing and scaling a company.

The Technician is focused on the present - fulfilling orders now. The Manager is focused on the past - getting things organized, filed, and people taken care of. The Entrepreneur is focused on the future - casting a vision of what the company will be and taking it there.

They are all important, but they play bigger parts at different stages in the company. What’s difficult is that everyone is better at one or two of the roles. But all three are necessary to have a successful business. And they almost never all three show up in one person.

So, if the baker needs to play three different roles, how can they make their business successful?

What the baker didn’t realize was that there are three roles. They only saw one: the Technician. They thought starting and running a bakery was just being a baker.

From the beginning, the baker needs to have the vision of the Entrepreneur. They need to forecast what they hope their business will be in five or ten years. They also need to play the manager. Defining positions, organizing workflows and systems, and establishing company standards.

What positions do they see the business needing? Obviously, a baker, but what else? Store Manager? Sales rep? Delivery person? Accountant?

The baker should list out the positions they think they’ll need in the next five years and the duties each position will have. At the early stages of the business, it’s okay for the baker to be playing all these positions.

When the baker has enough business to hire another person, they should hire someone to fill one of the positions they listed out earlier. Do this instead of hiring someone with a vague title who wears many hats.

Duties will be easier to hand off when they are clearly defined within the position being filled.

Sometimes companies don’t define these positions clearly when they hire people. They know they are growing and they just hire more people. Typically this is done by someone who is not a Manager first and foremost.

Then when a new manager steps in - someone who is an expert at management - they have to let people go. There are too many people without clearly defined duties and positions that don’t help the company scale. This could’ve been costing the company tons of money for a long time.

I know the temptation is to put this off for later. I’m guilty of it myself. I tend to be overly optimistic, thinking, “I’ll have this way more figured out by the time I need to cross that bridge! No use planning it now!”

When you are starting a coffee shop, those 'little things' turn really expensive.

I guarantee that thinking through all the roles first will help every aspect of your coffee shop. You will have less stress, hiring will be simpler, and scaling will seem like you are walking down a clearly marked path, instead of trying to swim through a swamp in the dark.

Doing this front-loaded work for your business will give it a framework of a true business, not just an expensive job. You will eventually be able to hire out for all the duties needed to run the business. Then you can finally let the business run on its own.


  • List out the current positions in your company.

  • List out the positions you see your company needing in the next 5-10 years. Remember, you may be in these positions at the moment.

  • List out the major duties for each position

  • When your company continues to grow, look at your list, and hire someone to fill one of the specific positions you listed.

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