Do You Know the Difference Between Having a Business and Running a Company?

To the average person, having a business is the same as running a company, just different wording. Well in my opinion, that simply isn’t true. And I know there will be some small business experts out there who will challenge me and tell me I’m being mean in discrediting lots of hard working small business owners. But it is what it is. And having a business isn’t the same as running a company. It just isn’t, so get over it.

Anyone can have a business, where you have a set of services or products you sell to others. There are plenty of eBay sellers who sell “stuff” online to make money with minimal work. There are plenty of internet marketers and info marketers who set up affiliate programs and auto-pilot their infoproducts with minimal interaction with real customers, making money with little work or effort. Those are considered businesses. But running a company requires a whole lot more involvement and planning. Now that’s not to say that one couldn’t start off with a simple business and eventually grow it into a thriving company.

Look at Ali Brown for example (if you don’t know who she is look her up). She started out doing free teleseminars and selling infoproducts. She has gone on record to say that when she started out, she knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur and run her own business. She did it alone and from the comfort of her own home until she figured out exactly what she wanted her business to evolve into. As she figured it out, she decided what kind of team she needed and mapped out a strategy to incorporate services and products to deliver to her ideal, targeted clients. As a result of that planning, today she runs a company, Ali Brown International, which has employees and a variety of services and products in which she was intricately involved with each detail of creating. She’s not the sole person delivering the services because she made the right business move and hired people to work with and for her. As her programs gained popularity, she knew she had to move from delivering to creating a structure where her systems could be replicated by those she hired into her company. And she doesn’t have to be the only person in the business delivering.

Jeffrey Gitomer is another example. He started out speaking to companies about and training corporate clients in sales processes. It was just him and his expertise being hired to speak at various companies and providing training services. Then much like Ali, he went on to create an entire brand to leverage into building an international company where, again, he has people working with and for him. Yes, he has written books and developed training courses. But he also created a certification program and trains others in his process so that they can deliver the training. He has also built an impressive media platform that has allowed him to deliver even more content. While he is the face of the company, he is not the only one to deliver the goods. And that is what happens when you build a company.

In both of these instances, while the audiences and the products and services were different, each of them mapped out a strategy to grow and expand their business ideas into full fledged companies with international recognition that didn’t depend on work done by them alone. They have companies. They can at any time, decide to take an extended vacation, a sabbatical, and as in Ali’s case, time off for maternity leave, and their companies will continue to run without them. They have created documented operational processes for every aspect of their companies and not just trained their staff, but created a training system to get any new employees who join their companies quickly up to speed. While they are the faces and main attractions of their companies, they are completely independent of their companies. See how that works?

In perusing social media, I see so many wide eyed business owners talk about their companies with enthusiasm. But if they were to step away, have an unexpected crisis, or get ill, that would be the end of the business..or it’ll at least be on hold until they can get back to it. That is a pitfall of being a solopreneur. Even if they have documented the processes of every part of their business, if there is nobody there to fall back on in case of their absence, the work doesn’t get done. And in times of crisis, there is no time to do effective training with anyone newly hired. It’s painful how disillusioned some solopreneurs are. They simply believe they’ll “cross that bridge when the come to it“. That is a dangerous attitude to have.

When you are crystal clear about where you want your company to go and how you want it to grow, there is no time for crossing bridges as they come. From the time you decide you want to start a business, regardless of the timeline for growth acne expansion, you should be mapping out a plan. There are four major parts of your business that you should always be thinking about: 1) operations, 2) customer experience 3) product/service development and 4) staffing. Yes other areas such as marketing, finances and branding are essential, but they don’t matter if you don’t master those four areas.

Operations include the how and why of running your business. What systems and processes do you have in place to manage what you offer and servicing your customers? For each process there should be a documented system that outlines how that process is carried out step by step. Everyone coming into the company should be able to learn the process by studying and training on the documentation. How you fulfill and deliver products and services should you as the owner become incapacitated or unavailable? For many small businesses, if the owner cannot work, the business suffers and in some cases closes. It’s important to start planning continuity for your business. Take a look at every step of your business and how you deliver your services or products. Map out each process, no matter how small, and start creating your own manual. Even if you don’t hire someone right away, having that manual will give you peace of mind in case of an emergency where someone else has to step in for you. Keep in mind, as technology and processes evolve, it’s a good idea to review every six months to see what needs to be updated or even removed from your manuals.

Customer experience is everything from the vetting and targeting process to servicing customers to addressing customer concerns to building loyalty and retention. Without customers you have no company, period. Sometimes business owners only care that customers are buying from them, and don’t take the time to build real relationships with them. They make it purely transactional or in some cases reactional. People will always remember the way they were treated long after the service is over or the product is gone. Make sure you have a standard operating procedure on how to manage customers from the moment they lay eyes on your business all the way through post purchase. Stop thinking about the sale, and focus on the long term relationship. By building a relationship with customers you ensure they’ll return, but also that they’ll tell others!

Product/Service development shouldn’t end when it hits the market. Believe it or not, that’s actually the beginning of the process! There are a few of my services, courses and books that went through various iterations. I’m a big believer in MVP (Minimal Viable Product). Now that doesn’t mean slap something together and put it out there sloppy. It means get the product or service up and running so that it’s at least functional or implementable, and keep on testing and revising based on user feedback. People can often forget that step, especially when their product or service is doing well. This is not the time to adopt the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mindset. You should be paying attention to your customers’ feedback and looking for ways to constantly improve with each version. I hate to use this example, but look at Apple. It wasn’t enough to just introduce the iPad. They have gone through several incarnations of it to bring more features to customers. I won’t debate on whether they are good changes, but take note from their process. You customers will appreciate your efforts. And if you’re worried about over doing it, trust me, your customers will let you know what they like and don’t like. It’s up to you to use that data wisely.

Staff or team is the foundation of your business. Your employees (including freelancers and contractors) are the front line in your business. They are who customers encounter when they first stumble upon your business. They’re experience with them determines if a customer will come back. Never mind that you, as the owner, have a sparkling personality. I’m quite certain you won’t be personally serving each customer (unless yours is an intensively people focused business). Also, your staff must know and understand the basic foundations of the day to day operations. If they’re not properly trained or don’t have processes to follow, it could mean disaster for your business. Make sure you give them the tools they need to help your company succeed, and treat them well because they’ll be the ones who grow your business. Always value and empower your staff.

The wonderful thing about my own business is that I didn’t know to what extent it would grow. I only knew that I wanted it to grow. I’ve been disappointed at times, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised even more times. I have a goal to make this company a global leader in helping people grow their business into companies, and help owners become leaders.

In what ways have you been looking at the long term plan for your business? What steps are you taking to go from business owner to a leader of a company? What stumbling blocks (mental, financial, physical, etc) have you encountered and what are you doing to overcome them? And what are your goals for your business in 2014?  Please join the conversation and share below.

Til next time,

Adrienne Graham
I started with a business, and evolved into a company


Do you like this article and want to reprint or share? You can, as long as you include this in its entirety:

Adrienne Graham is the Founder & CEO of Empower Me! Corporation (, a Growth Strategies consultancy with brand extensions in media, publishing and small business & entrepreneurial education. She provides Strategic Business Growth consulting services to companies with high growth potential to assist clients in creating processes and strategies to effectively run, grow and position their business for success. Check out her weekly radio show Views From the Top. Adrienne is also an avid techie dedicated to promoting diversity in the tech community. Her company The Red Shoe Agency helps companies recruit & retain talented women in technology & engineering, and helps talented women in technology & engineering grow their careers.


Share this Post: Facebook Twitter Pinterest Google Plus StumbleUpon Reddit RSS Email

Related Posts


  1. Perfect timing for me to read this. Running a business, to me, seems to take away time and effort I can be spending doing the actual BUSINESS that I love. I don’t want to be a COO, I want to be in the marketing / tech / social space and for me both cannot exist at the same time.

  2. Excellent article! I am halfway there and am focused and turning my business in a company! I love how you clearly differentiated the two a business or a company. Thank you!

    • Good for you Alison! At some point, even if we are small, we have to think forward to the day when we must step back and put others in place to keep the company continuously growing. I believe by thinking small, you keep yourself small. While not everyone has dreams of becoming a Fortune 500 company, some people do want to break out of the small or micro business mold. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Leave a Comment

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>