Pirate Captains Don’t Scrub their Decks, and You Shouldn’t Either

Pirate Captains Don’t Scrub their Decks, and You Shouldn’t Either


It’s routine for entrepreneurs to work very hard for long hours. Hard work is a part of entrepreneurship, but how balanced is that workload? Do you handle customer complaints, check quality, answer emails, expedite deliveries, do progress chasing, and fix problems? These are all reactive.

You may also do some proactive work like designing the website, selling to customers, and developing products. Even these may really be reactive – arising from the lack of a website, no trusted sales people and customer gripes about product deficiencies. If this sounds like you, you are working in the business, not on it, and working at a low level as well.

You should be focused on beating competitors, innovation, customer retention, structuring finances, building the brand, managing budgets and forecasts, getting the right people in place and a host of other managerial tasks. These are working on the business, not in it.

Related: Is Your Business Managing You? 

  • At least some of your time must be devoted to strategy – have you got the right products?
  • Are you in the right markets?
  • Should you buy competitors or be bought?
  • Is your buying strategy right?
  • Your pricing?
  • Does your structure support your strategy?

Life balance is equally important. Family, health, friendships, hobbies, holidays and entertainment will often be sacrificed for long days working, but there is a cost.

Recognising the problempirate-skull

Many entrepreneurs run their businesses like pirate captains (my way or the highway). That’s fine as long as this style does not extend to operations (I do this because nobody else can do it like I can). Or they try to make everyone a clone of them. This behaviour will limit growth, frustrate employees, stifle innovation and increase your workload.

Most entrepreneurs I speak to would like to spend more time managing and strategising but do not have time to do so. This seems strange – why would anybody take the risks of opening and running their own business only to spend their days on low level operational tasks?

Such entrepreneurs claim they cannot trust their staff, or they do not have the right people in place. “I am surrounded by idiots,” is a phrase heard all too often. The key question is why did they hire idiots and why do they not replace them with competent managers and workers?

There is also another, unacknowledged reason for getting stuck in operational issues. The entrepreneur excels at these tasks, does them better than anyone else, enjoys what he or she does and finds this a comfort zone.

Changing the balance

I suggest you start by deciding what you should be doing, and how much time that should take. Be realistic; operational issues which others cannot handle will still be a part of your life.

Start by delegating the time-consuming things you do. That may include finding the right people, and training existing staff, maybe promoting some of them. Delegate responsibility and be patient; they will make mistakes, resist the temptation to take over.

Now use the time you’ve gained to focus on some of the key issues you should be managing. Pick any of the areas mentioned in this article or make your own list and choose some to start with. Make this one of your daily or weekly tasks. These are not one-time actions to be handled and then ignored, they are ongoing management issues.

Set time aside for strategy review and development. Implementation is critical. Sadly the entrepreneur is often the guilty party, not having time to put new ideas into practice. Make time, this should be the highest priority in your business.

Related: How to Master the ‘70% Rule’ of Delegation

Ed Hatton
Ed Hatton is the owner of The Marketing Director and has consulted to and mentored SMBs in strategy, marketing and sales for almost 20 years. He co-authored an entrepreneurship textbook and is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to succeed.