The Illusion of Control

“I just want a handful of good clients without all the stress and grief.”

This was from the principal of a well-established firm with a fast-growing team.

It is a common situation facing owners who appear to have built a successful advisory firm but who are unprepared for the stress and grief their growth is creating and frustrated in their inability to resolve the situation.

Finding new team members, exploring new alliance partners, investigating alternative licensing options, controlling a growing list of urgent emails, daunted by the backlog of reports awaiting checking, reconciling the ridiculous quote for upgrading the IT platform, and handling the disruptive team member who isn’t engaging or collaborating like a team member. All this before considering upcoming client meetings needing preparation.

Needless to say, the demands of growth place successful founders on a frustrating edge of their own making – their ideal days are usually spent with their best clients but the vast majority of their days are spent on issues that stoke their frustrations.

They feel out of control.


There was an unprepared time in my relationship with each of my four adult kids when I could only influence, not control.

So too with growing firms where many founders are floundering like unprepared parents.

Founders are not only unprepared for the success they generate, but they are also stressed by the rate of growth of the stress.

As growth embeds, so too are frustrations with staff, clients, finances, workflows, and suppliers, as their days become full of other people’s priorities and expectations, making less time to do the real work and even less opportunity to enjoy what they do.

And they created it.


In fact, while failure would have had some hard ramifications, their success and growth are creating potentially harder ramifications.

The feelings of being out of control are both real and normal.

Without a change in how founders grow their successful start-ups, the out-of-control feelings won’t dissipate but flourish. Catch-22 kicks in forcing founders down a circular path of feeling damned if growth continues and damned if growth stalls.

What to do?


Founders have to let their business go to let it grow.

It’s a separation stage, that few parents and founders accept and are ready for.

Unfortunately, like parents, founders often confuse the solution as being external to them and more about the changes needed with the staff, the systems, the competitors, the marketplace, the clients, and the technology – they don’t always see themselves as part of the problem, but a victim of the increasing uncontrollable circumstances.

For firms, separation means a splitting of the previously combined responsibilities of ‘business execution’ from ‘business ownership’.

While business owners rightly own the type of firm they want to create, the time when they realise they can no longer control that outcome is the nexus of their separation stage.

Unlike our kids, who hopefully step towards increasing self-control of themselves, the control of a firm is different – this is entrusted to a firm’s plan.

The sole objective of creating and managing aligned to a plan is supporting growth.

Specifically for firms traversing their separation stage, the plan supports the owner’s reduction in control and the team’s increase of control.

Understandably for most founders whose initial success had little to do with the quality of a business plan, they embrace business planning similar to how my cat embraces a bath.

The engrained years of habit focussing entirely on meeting their client’s needs, priorities, expectations and payments, condemns most business planning priorities to a later time when everyone isn’t so busy.

Ironic for an industry built upon planning for others.

Or is it?

Unfortunately, when planning firms are planning for themselves and not others, they lose access to the greatest foundational strength of their planning expertise – their objectivity.

“We are truly different.”

“We tried that and it didn’t work.”

“I’ve been hearing that for some time, but I don’t believe it is an issue.”

“My clients are happy with how it is.”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The greatest challenges and opportunities facing businesses at their separation stage are not external, but internal.

That is why they are the hardest.


Until the firm’s plan becomes the most important plan within the firm with higher priority than anyone within the firm, including founders, any client or project being undertaken, the firm’s prosperous growth will remain too dependent upon the founders on whom too much is already too dependent.

Once through their establishment phase, firms have a lifestyle unique to the firm and separate from the founders – similar to kids and their parents.

Letting go and trusting a planning process is similar to letting go and trusting the steps your kids take.

It’s tough.

The alternatives are tougher.

What do you reckon?




Photo credit: George Becker from Pexels



For over 30 years, Jim has influenced, coached, and consulted advisory firms across Australia. His consulting firm, Certainty Advice Group coaches, trains and builds advisory firms delivering comprehensive, unconflicted advice, with fees priced purely on value. He is growing a strong and collaborative community of advisory firms aligned on Australia’s only Certification Mark advice standard for comprehensive, unconflicted advice – Certainty Advice.  He has authored four books regarding financial advice with his latest – What Price Value – available now since release in March 2022.

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