4 Tips for Building a Business that Runs Itself

November 27, 2018
4 Tips for Building a Business that Runs Itself

Most entrepreneurs dream of creating a firm that runs itself. Many legal entrepreneurs and accountants who run their own practice are no different. At FirmChecker, we analyse the business models of many firms and believe that passive income is an achievable goal.

While many lawyers and accountants are in the game for professional satisfaction, those who work to live rather than live to work should read this post!

Essentialism is key to creating a firm that runs itself

Greg McKeown is the author of ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’, the main thesis of which he summarises in the video below for the Stanford Graduate School of Business. McKeown examines the key factors that hold back high achievers from achieving their ultimate goals. These goals might be, say, to create a self-sustaining firm that gives you the financial freedom to work on what you want, when you want.

“Success becomes a catalyst for failure”

Paradoxically, he argues that the main inhibitor to achieving one’s goals is ‘success’ itself. Some level of success gives one too many opportunities, which results in “the undisciplined pursuit of more”


‘The Disciplined Pursuit of Less…but better’

To counteract this paradox, McKeown reasons that perennial ‘high-achievers’ should examine the critical things that you want to pursue. You should eliminate all other opportunities and focus on building a platform for “effortless execution” of your chosen strengths.

To start,  give yourself time to think about the bigger picture. It’s not that you can’t reason your way to what really matters – it’s that you don’t. This takes dedicated time. Once you’ve defined which goals of yours matter, you can focus on eliminating everything else. Crucially, you must learn to say ‘no’ to opportunities, offers and demands. It’s a difficult, but powerful skill to master.

From there, you can hone your performance on what really matters – creating a firm that runs itself.

Test, automate, iterate

creating a firm that runs itself

We speak a lot about taking a ‘Lean’ approach in the FirmChecker Blog. Simply, we think it’s the quickest and most cost-effective way to build something great.  It’s typically associated with startups, but your business needn’t be a startup to get great results from this method.


Lean – the Minimum Viable Product – ties in nicely with Essentialism’s ‘less is more’ philosophy. Once you’ve used an essentialist philosophy to focus on the precise problem you’re solving – at the exclusion of other problems – you should build something that solves this problem. ASAP.

Once your product/service is in the market, getting continuous feedback on your service delivery allows you to iterate what you’re offering and provide better service. Client satisfaction is a lead indicator that your business will work, so take all feedback on-board.

This is referred to in Lean as a “Build-Measure-Learn” (repeat) loop.  It should be a core component of your strategy if you want to succeed in building a business that runs itself. Once you’ve honed your offering as much as you can, you can start looking to increasingly automate it. This is the most satisfying bit!

4 Key Tips

To summarise, here are 4 key tips for creating a firm that runs itself:

  1. Eliminate all but the essentials. Define what you want to achieve and brutally cut everything else. Learn to say ‘no’ to opportunities. Don’t fall in the common trap of the ‘undisciplined pursuit of more’ and give yourself time to reflect.
  2. Build a Minimum Viable Product – fast. Build something that addresses the problem you’re trying to solve. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it must be testable against real clients.
  3. Start learning. You should have spent minimal resources getting your MVP off the ground. Now, get it in front of real clients and get their feedback. Being receptive to feedback is critical if you want to succeed. The best idea in the world can suck in real life. Preparedness to change things up is key.
  4. Automate. If you want freedom, you can’t do everything yourself. After you’ve eliminated unnecessary things which sap your time and don’t create value, look to automate everything you can.


These frameworks apply to professional firms as much as other businesses. While lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers and conveyancers are in the business of selling their expertise, administrative elements can be automated. Increasingly, expertise will be too.

This entails risk to current business models, but its associated opportunities are immense if you want to create a firm that runs itself.

About the Author

Ben Farrow is the Managing Director of FirmChecker and a consultant for Beaton Research + Consulting, the leading management consultants to professional services firms in the Asia-Pacific region. He holds commerce (economics and finance) and law (JD) degrees from the University of Melbourne, digital marketing certifications from Northwestern University and dabbles in coding. Ben provides frank and actionable tips to professionals looking to work to live, not live to work.

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