The Middle Layers You Can’t Afford to Neglect

In theory, most of us know that it’s impossible for one person to do it all within a small business, but in reality, many entrepreneurial CEOs are still out there trying.

Let’s talk about my client, Rachel. Her business was taking off and she found herself working nights and weekends just to keep up. Even though she started out on her own, she was ready for something bigger and knew she needed to start building a team to get there. 

She followed the prevailing advice to hire a VA, thinking it would solve all her problems. But, it actually led to more frustration. In order for things to run smoothly, there was a lot more hands-on management and communication than she was anticipating. 

She was still getting stuck in the day to day details of the business, which was exactly where she didn’t want to be. She found herself falling back into doing things herself because delegating to her assistant felt like too much work.  

And when that happened, she was back at square one.

This is a very common experience for many of the business owners I meet…and that’s okay! It’s part of the growing pains of a business, but it doesn’t have to be if you understand the four layers of business and how they can each support you as the founder and visionary. 

The Four Layers of Business

If you’ve spent any time working in the corporate world, the concepts in the illustration below are likely familiar. 

When you think about how a larger company works, the CEO sits in the vision layer, director level positions serve in the strategy layer, upper and mid-level management is the next layer, and the rest of the employees work on implementing the day to day projects and tasks.

If you’re an escapee from the corporate world, you may shy away from anything that resembles it. You’re probably running a small start up or non-profit where you’re the CEO and have a small team. 

But, these layers do exist in every business, even your tiny one. They just look different!


The most important thing to know about this layer is that it only has room for one person – you! As the founder and CEO, you are the big picture thinker who creates the company’s vision. 

This layer is the what, which transitions into the how as we move into the other three layers.

As the visionary, you should spend most of your time in this layer doing the things that only you can do to move the business forward – speaking, writing, thought leadership, business development, networking, fundraising, learning and creative time. 

The biggest challenge I see with most visionaries is that they’re not spending enough of their time at this level because they’re having to also function in some (or all!) of the other layers.


In a small business, the strategy level isn’t going to be a bunch of corner offices filled with C-suite level people in suits. But, you still need someone [or a small team] to be your right hand support. 

Most small businesses I work with don’t need a full time person in this role and can hire one or two fractional positions to help with specific buckets like finances [CFO], operations [COO or Director of Operations] or sales and marketing [Director of Marketing and/or Sales]. 

One of the most critical roles for this strategic thought partner is to serve as the buffer that keeps you in the vision layer instead of dipping down into the other three. They figure out the “how” and communicate with and manage the next two layers to keep the team moving forward from vision to action.


Luckily, you’re not going to have a conference room full of middle managers in your business. But, you may want to have an OBM [Online Business Manager], Operations Manager, or Project Manager depending sitting in this seat.

This team member takes the lead in organizing and planning projects and getting things done. To keep you firmly in your visionary seat they’re typically managed by your strategic partner, and they can also help manage the implementers.


Virtual assistants, executive assistants, bookkeepers, copywriters, tech support and other specialized positions in this layer work on tasks that are part of larger projects. The strategy and management layers support these team members, meet with them regularly, and assign them tasks. 

You as the visionary should not be involved in the day to day of what these team members are working on except for setting the big picture priorities that relate to their roles.

The Challenge

Okay, let’s get back to my client, Rachel. She hired at the implementer level first because she thought an assistant would help her get out of the day to day of their business. 

But, in order for the assistant to have everything they needed to succeed in their role, the other three layers need to be running well – you need to be clear on the current priorities of the business [vision], you need a plan for turning these priorities into action [strategy], and you need the systems and processes that guide the projects [strategy + management] so your assistant has very clear direction [management] of what they should be working on every day . 

That’s a lot of things that need to be in place for your assistant to do their job well and support you in your business. When you hire help at the implementation layer, but nowhere else, you have to sit in the middle two layers, in addition to vision, in order to bridge the gap between vision and implementation. 

No wonder you’re feeling overwhelmed! All of those things are not a job for only one person. And let’s be honest, most of these things are not what you want to be spending your time doing, which is why you’re still feeling stuck in the weeds.

It’s difficult to move your business forward when you’re trying to function in too many layers of your business. 

It’s simply impossible for one person to hold all four, or even three, layers.

But, the good news is that when you find yourself hitting this wall it’s simply a sign that you’re ready for the next step – not having to solve all the problems and move everything forward yourself! 

Photo by Nicholas Sorrenti on Unsplash

What It Could Look Like Instead

Getting expert help with the middle missing layers of strategy and management will make all the difference at this stage in your business. And that’s where I come in!

As your new COO, I use strategy to help you clarify your vision, identify your game-changing projects and initiatives, and pinpoint your biggest inefficiencies and roadblocks.

Then, I combine the strategy with management to take your vision and operationalize it. The goal is to get as many things off your plate as possible! 

My superpower is turning big ideas into forward motion. With me on your team you have ongoing strategic thought partnership and priority-setting, tailored systems built for your business, and you’ve handed off all management and the extensive daily communication that goes with it. 

When all of the layers are covered in your business [by people other than you!] your time is freed up so you can focus your energy on what matters and experience spacious success. 

Your team now hums along without you. And you’re back in your zone of genius, doing the things that only you can do. The things that energize and excite you and allow you to bring your big vision into the world.