Seth Godin asks an important question which I debated with a colleague a little while ago:
What would it take to make yourself indispensable? Do you even want to be?
There are a number of businesses that have been started by very visible entrepreneurs, visionaries even, and these individuals have built up those businesses from concepts to resources that their customers have come to rely heavily on. These individuals become synonymous with their businesses and customers often can’t imagine there being any value in that business if the founder were no longer a part of the business. In short, these individuals become indispensable.
On one hand there is a lot to be said for that recognition. If you are recognised as a visionary or creator of the next best thing since email then it bodes well for your growing business. You use the brand called You and you build an empire. That brand can become a powerful brand. Consider Richard Branson, Michael Dell, Bill Gates and Darren Rowse (not quite in the same league but he has become a powerful brand in the blogosphere).
I am not convinced that being indispensable is such a good thing. If it is your intention to build a business that grows and is around to do all that amazing work you started after you are gone then building that business around your personal brand and personality is a bad idea. It means that if you are no longer in the business, your customers will perceive all that value you created to be gone and the business may fail. At the very least it will be a battle to restore your customers’ confidence in your business and your ideas when you are no longer there to promote them.
My suggestion? Start working on a succession plan and while it is important to cultivate those relationships and conversations you have with your customers, get them used to the idea of your business as a separate entity, capable of doing great stuff even if, touch wood, you are no longer in it.
If that doesn’t work for you, read this article by Tom Peters about the brand called You. Could be one of the most important things you read in your quest for greatness.