The Hands-Off CEO Blog

The 5 CEO Exits: Shift You From “Doer” to “Leader”

Source: Chapters 12 and 13 of The Hands-Off CEO book. 

The Steps to Become a Hands-Off CEO.

One of the most complex parts of profitably scaling a consulting agency is recognizing that your business cannot be directly tied to your time and effort handling the day-to-day minutiae. 

Your job as the CEO is not to continue absorbing more and more responsibility as the business grows.

Part of the roadmap for profitable, scalable service growth hinges on the development and empowerment of the leaders you’ll develop, who will take ownership of key business areas. 

To do that, you need to let go of some tasks systematically.

Satisfied CEO leaving the office in a taxi cab after following the 1 of the 5 exits and becoming a Hands-Off CEO

But how do you know which tasks you can let go?

You observe, then eliminate, automate, or delegate.

The Work Elimination Matrix helps you determine what you should do and what to do with everything else. It allows you to root out the biggest time and energy sucks to understand which are the primary tasks you should be focusing on. Here’s how to do it:

  • Step 1: Track every activity you do for three days. No activity is too small or insignificant. If you do it, write it down.
  • Step 2: Next to each activity, write down which quadrant it falls in based on The Work Elimination Matrix below.
  • Step 3: “Reassign” each activity going forward based on which quadrant it’s in.

Work elimination matrix

Quadrant 1: You’re doing it.

Quadrant 2: Delegate or automate it.

Quadrant 3: Eliminate, delegate, or automate.

Quadrant 4: Eliminate.

Not your focus? Eliminate, Automate, Delegate, and Consolidate.

We must let go systematically, one area at a time, and in the order laid out above. Many are tempted to skip ahead. DON’T. Unless you would like to waste a lot of time and money. 

Now that you have more free time, it is time to empower leaders to share the responsibility so you can focus on the strategic work that needs to be done.

It is the only path to greatness. It’s also the key to your freedom: making more, working less.

The 5 CEO Exits

There are five main leadership areas to exit and to create sustainable hands-off growth. They fit within three main growth phases, building upon each step to create an increasingly valuable hands-off business. These 5 exits exist within 3 main stages of growth: 

  1. Build Capacity 
  2. Scale Growth 
  3. Passive Asset 

These 3 phases are built on top of the “Foundations to Scale.” This foundation is what makes these exits sustainably work. 

Moving from “Doer” to “Leader” involves five exits, each involving what to delegate next for the most significant impact when scaling a consulting agency.

Five exits to become a Hands-Off CEO

The more you focus on the last two areas, the more growth you can generate.

Exit 1 – Client Service & Project Management

By operationalizing your Irresistible Offer and Client Success Map, you can split this role apart and utilize your talent most effectively. This increases output and capacity and allows space for continual growth and proactive business improvement.

It is essential to realize that if this exit is not done right, the quality may drop, and the business may lose clients and revenue. However, breaking down the process into milestones, KPIs, and clear processes allows you to define at least 80% of the end-to-end process, from onboarding to the next engagement. This step is crucial to remove yourself from client management without each project being a custom roadmap, which keeps you stuck in client communication. 

By freeing up your highest-level people, you unlock their true potential and create space for them to become bigger profit centers. This makes it easier for the company to justify paying them more, creating a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Exit 2 – Operations Management

To truly take a step back from working IN your business to working ON it, you need a manager to run the day-to-day business.

By empowering an operations leader aligned with the company’s values and culture, business owners can be sure that the day-to-day operations are being run profitably, even when they’re not there. This is essential for successful growth and getting ahead of competitors who haven’t yet realized the importance of having an operations leader in place.

Without this person, you’re stuck reacting to everything that could demand your attention, leaving you drained and pulling your focus from what you should be working on.

Exit 3 – Client Strategy

This exit emphasizes the importance of developing a standardized, proven process for a single, focused, ideal client type. This approach enables organizations to attract top talent to build out the execution of their process, thereby ensuring consistent delivery of high-quality services to clients. 

The CEO plays a critical role in this process by leading and coaching the team to build up the processes. This enables your team to acquire new skills and expertise rapidly and fosters a strong sense of accountability and investment in the company, leading to more productive employees committed to delivering the best possible results to your clients.

Exit 4 – Delegate Sales

Delegate Sales is critical to scaling your business and achieving sustainable growth. However, this exit is not for the faint of heart. It requires diligent preparation and a solid foundation to delegate the sales function and ensure continued success. Without the right systems, strategies, and offerings in place, you risk losing money, time, and valuable sales professionals who thrive on winning in a well-defined environment. So, it’s important to avoid jumping into this exit prematurely and instead focus on building a strong foundation through the previous exits.

To successfully delegate the sales function, you must focus on creating an Irresistible Offer and a simplified selling system using a Client Success Map. These elements form the backbone of a profitable sales process that attracts the right clients and maximizes profits. Once you have these foundations in place, you can be scalable in various ways, including creating and training sales strategists to take over sales functions, building a sales playbook for your sales team, and streamlining your selling process through automation and support. 

Doing so can attract top sales talent, increase your profitability, and create a thriving sales operation that runs seamlessly and efficiently. 

Exit 5 – Executive Leadership

This exit represents the final stage in the Hands-Off CEO’s transformation, where you transition from being an owner/operator to a full-fledged investor. At this point, your business should be a well-oiled machine capable of operating and growing without your involvement. 

To reach this stage, you must focus on strategic planning, innovation, and vision, coaching leaders to take over senior C-suite roles as the company expands. You need to ensure that your less senior leaders are adequately developed, and you should mentor your C-Suite. However, the most critical aspect of this stage is the very last thing you let go of – the vision and direction of your company. 

With the right team in place to manage your business, you’ll be free to explore new opportunities and invest in new ventures. Once you’ve reached this profitability, you can hire a CEO to replace you. Many of our clients had groomed a COO internally over several years to take over as CEO when they exited to work on other ventures. 

By doing so, they ensure that their legacy lives on and their business continues to thrive long after moving on to new ventures. The Executive Leadership Exit represents the culmination of your years of hard work and dedication and sets you up for a lifetime of financial success.

In our Scalable Growth Roadmap Session, our clients uncover for themselves the right time allocation needed to reach their expansive 12-month and 3-year growth goals. It illuminates gaps in their business and who to hire next, and we help them hire and develop the leader to install the systems and mindsets to take over responsibility from the CEO effectively, safely, and in a way where quality increases.  

It takes cash to hire those folks, though. We also have a plan to help increase cash flow and profits so their model is sustainable, can support profitable growth, and the business can both run and grow without the CEO.

Would you like to see this in your business? Book a complimentary Scalable Growth Session with our team, and we’ll help you see what’s possible for your situation.


Let us help you Scale to Freedom

We help consulting agency CEOs free up 10 hours per week for strategic growth, command 50-600% higher fees, and unlock millions of dollars of profitable growth.
Mandi Ellefson

Mandi Ellefson

Mandi Ellefson helps service businesses with the tricky task of becoming scalable. Her passion is helping freedom seeking entrepreneurs scale the better way– for success in their business and in the rest of their life. Out of a decade+ experience and testing as a business manager, and then building and selling a design business, Mandi has created a system that is responsible for generating tens of thousands of dollars of new revenue for businesses she's worked with.

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