Growing Your Business

How to Transition from an Owner to a CEO

This may sound strange. You might say, "Transitioning from an owner to a CEO? What could we possible have in common?" More that you think.

This may sound strange. You might say, “C’mon, I run a small business, why should I transition to a CEO? What could we possible have in common?” More that you think.

Over the years, we have helped a wide range of small business owners.  There’s been one clear theme that we have found. Many of the challenges successful small businesses face arise from the need to transition from an owner to a CEO.

Transitioning from an owner to a CEO

So, what’s the difference between an owner and a CEO? And why should I care? It all starts with the mindset shift.


  • Has complete control of the business
  • Is highly involved in the day-to-day operations
  • Has an intimate knowledge of all the details
  • Plays multiple roles
  • Is not usually accustomed to delegating
  • Business model, systems & processes are usually not optimized


  • Has shared control of the business
  • Focuses more on strategy & growth, much less on the day-to-day
  • Relies on others to manage the details of the business
  • Focuses on leading & managing
  • Understands that delegation is a way of life
  • Business systems & processes are much more formalized and optimized

Why is this important?

The problem with the owner model is building scale. Unless you can clone yourself, your sales are capped at your maximum capacity. You can see signs of this, bookkeeping that gets put off, working 12-14 hour days, lopsided sales cycles (peaks when your selling, nothing when you’re working), etc. There are countless examples, which generally lead to trouble of burnout (see blog post “How to survive the 3-year itch”)

How do you make the transition for an owner to a CEO?

That’s the harder part, and we’ve found that many people struggle.  We’d suggest you get help, but if you wish to do it on your own, here are a few tips on how to transition from an owner to a CEO.

Learn to let go by taking little steps:

Delegate some minor operational activities to an employee or new hire.  See how it goes.  If it works out, delegate more.  If it doesn’t, find out why?

Hire the right team

No one person has all the skills needed to run a successful business.  It requires a team.  If you try to do it all on your own, you are likely to burn out.  Finding the right talent makes delegation easier.

Ask yourself where you want to be in 5 years?

Knowing where you want to go can significantly help you structure the business so that it can get you there.

Work on your business systems and processes

Clear processes lead to clear communication and timely information.  Both make delegating easier.

Develop your leadership and management skills

There are a number of great online resources that you can use to help build those skills. We also offer some free business tools as well.

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About the Author

Brian Cairns, CEO of Prostrategix Consulting. Over 25 years of business experience as a corporate executive, entrepreneur, and small business owner. For more information, please visit my LinkedIn profile

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