How To Clone Yourself

by Mr. Cheap

As a disclaimer to this post, I’ve only really run one business, which never had any employees and failed. With that being said, the ideas in this post have come from more successful entrepreneurs, and when I’ve run it past other people who run their own business they’ve found it intriguing.

“The E-Myth” by Michael E. Gerber presents the idea that most small-business owners are very good at the various tasks running their own business requires, but are very bad at training and managing other people to do those tasks. He suggests that the reason so many new businesses fail is that they grow beyond what the founder can handle, the founder isn’t able to handle the ever increasing demands, and they’re eventually crushed under their own weight. His book talks about how to consider all the processes that are required to run your business, formalize them, and allow them to be delegated to others.

When you talk to business owners, often they’ll complain that they’re so busy meeting the daily demands of their business that they can’t invest in their business growth. Often this is expressed as “trying to build a dock while you’re treading water” (this may be a Canadian expression, we like docks up here).

A common wish from small busienss owners is that they could clone themselves (and have twice as much of their own labour for business needs). This is actually possible.

The first step to accomplish this is to hire someone fresh out of school. Either high school if there’s no special skills required to run the business, or an appropriate program if there is (if you’re developing software, hire someone fresh out of a computer science or computer analyst program, if you’re running a small law office, hire a recently called to the bar lawyer).

People who have worked in the industry or elsewhere themselves will be more resistant to doing everything “your way”. They’ll have had the experience of doing things their own way and will figure some of these techniques are better than your approach. The real advantage to someone fresh out of school is that they’re used to learning to do things a certain way, and they’ll be more receptive to learning your approach.

Over the next 6 months, you work very closely with this new hire. Basically you involve them in your day-to-day tasks, and at first explain what you’re doing to them, then directly supervise them while they perform the tasks, then finally delegate increasingly complex business challenges for them to handle themselves (and monitor the outcome). Through this process you’re giving them intense training on how you operate your business and teaching them to think the way you do.

After the 6 months, they may not do everything exactly the same way you do, and there may still be things that are too complex for them, but chances are you’ll be able to trust them to handle the vast majority of business decisions the way you would. At this point you can either semi-retire or focus on higher level business challenges and let them deal with day-to-day operations.

One fear business owners will have is that at the end of the 6 months the person will quit. That’s definitely a valid concern, as you’re investing MASSIVE amounts of time and energy into this person. I’d minimize this risk by: 1) treat them the way you’d want to be treated, 2) pay them very well, and 3) keep a “carrot” dangling that they’ll keep moving up the ranks and eventually run the business. Some owners will try to just use 3 (since its the easiest – all promise, no delivery). The danger there is if the person ever starts doubting you’re word (perhaps you don’t follow through with something else you promised them), then they’ll probably head for the hills and you’ve lost them.

Some people may try to use a “stick” and get the new employee to sign a contract forbidding them to compete with you, or causing some sort of penalty if they quit before a certain length of time is up. No one likes to be treated this way, so I think its short-sighted to try to legally bind someone to you (if they just become a surly and unproductive employee because they’re sick of you but can’t quit, how is that any better than if they’d left?).

Your clone is going to be very valuable to your business for many years to come, so treat them like the valuable resource they are.

Another concern is that veteran employees may resent the new guy who is being groomed to be the second-in-command. This is valid too, and I’m not sure the best way to handle it.

Has anyone ever created a clone or been a clone themselves? Anyone who is currently running a business with employees, do you think this would work in practice?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Four Pillars

This cloning would probably help a lot of small businesses expand but I think it doesn’t address another big problem – what if the owner’s skill set/abilities are not adequate for running/expanding a larger business which is apparently a common problem. If this is the case, they can clone themself 100 times and they will end up with 101 people who can’t run a large company.

Now if Warren Buffett could clone himself….

2 nobleea

my boss likes to say that the young hires are ‘impressionable’ and ‘mold-able’.

3 Gates VP

I’m working in this type of business, that’s going from small to large at 100 miles / hour. Watching multiple departments split and clone and various such things.

The office is filled with 20-somethings held together by a few vets in each department. One of the things that’s become very apparent is that variety is important. It’s easy to believe that we need “one more person just like me”, but the businesses I’ve seen typically need one more person who’s “good at the things I suck at”. It sounds like marriage, it kind of is 🙂

There’s definitely a benefit to having some shared background and experience, but if I wanted to add an “apprentice” to my office I would add somebody who can do things I can’t to help fill in the gaps.

Of course YMMV 🙂

4 Thicken My Wallet

Having advised small businesses in a previous life, one of the larger issues is recognition that the cost of hiring someone will pay for itself in spades. Too many small business owners complain they need help but then will not allocate any or adequate resources to hire someone.

I also agree with Gates VP. The first people you hire should be different than you. If you are the technician, hire a sales person. If you are a sales person, hire an operator etc. etc.

One general rule in building a team is having on board is someone who knows the product, someone who can sell it and someone who can grow it.

5 Jake

I’ve never created a clone but good post Mr.Cheap. The Veteran Employees have already proven they aren’t the ones for the job or else you wouldn’t be searching for a clone in the first place.

6 fathersez

I like your basis of keeping people. Treating them the way we would want to be treated. After all everyone has more or less similar dreams.

Still I thought that one of MG’s main lessons was to meticulously document and systemise all processes, so that no one becomes indispensable.

7 Mr. Cheap

Nobleea: Yes, I’ve definitely heard similar things from other managers. I think oftenmanagers are more attracted to the idea that its easy to make the young hires do what they want rather than molding them into an integral part of the business.

Gates & TMW: yes, you’re both absolutely right. I don’t think its an either / or situation though (you can hire people to enhance the business by bringing new skills to the table, AND hire people who learn to do what you do the way you do it)

TStrumpt: I think you’re right.

Jake: “Good help is hard to find” as all super-
villains like to say 😉

fathersez: I think so (about how to treat people). Plus their’s a selfish component too, if people stick around you don’t have to spend the time/money hiring and training new people!

I agree, MG’s main lesson was about “system”-ising processes (I was going to discuss it further, but thought it might be at odds with the rest of the post – why create processes anyone can follow, then train someone to think the way you do?).

8 Dividend Growth Investor

I would like to be the one who doesn’t agree with the post just to see where this could get us.

I believe that most business owners work for themselves because they didn’t like working for someone else and get into that whole corporate thing where you have to be political to move up, network with your superiors etc etc.
In order to be in charge of his/her own destiny the entrepreneur works on his own by starting his/her own business. If they train someone else to do their job, what’s the chance of that new hire ( or bunch of hires) stealing the business model or customers and then starting a business of their own?
Or why should the business owner start hiring people and create a corporate culture that he/she doesn’t enjoy when they actually started the business in order to escape from it ( the corporate culture)?

Just because in the theoretical world of business books it says to delegate, delegating should be done very very carefully.

9 Mr. Cheap

DGI: Sorry, I should have been more clear in my post, these ideas came from small business owners I’ve talked to, NOT from “The E-Myth” (which advocated something entirely different). I just mentioned the E-Myth as it talks about the same problem (growing businesses running their owners ragged with ever increasing demands).

You make a good point, but the “clone” part maybe doesn’t stretch as far as you’re supposing. Your clone isn’t going to like the same food as you or adopt the same religious and political views. You’re teaching them a certain way of handling business problems, through a hands-on “master / apprentice” style of teaching. This is very good at helping them learn how YOU do things, and do things in the same way. It isn’t necessarily going to give them the drive / interest to start their own business (since you’ll have already done this long before you met them, you’ll be working with them to run the business you’ve already created).

It definitely is a danger when entrepreneurs hire people who are also very entrepreneurial (especially if they see a lot of themselves in the new hire). As you say, these are the people who are likely going to want to start their OWN company instead of growing yours at some point in the future.

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