Ask a Pro September/October 2023

October 13th, 2023 by Nathan Hobbs

Are You Really Running a Business?

By Mike Burke

I talk to many business owners, and I often find myself asking the same question: “Are you running a business, or do you have a job working for yourself?” This is a distinction few small business owners think to make, but it is a critical one.

Making a Distinction

It’s easy to tell the difference; if you were to break your dominant arm tomorrow, would your business continue to run without you, or would you have to close your doors until you could tint again? If the answer is that your business can’t function without you, then you’re self-employed … and you’re in trouble. We all get old, and whether we like to admit it or not, we all get sick and injured eventually.

I spent years thinking I was invincible, but it turned out that learning I was human was the best thing that ever happened to my business. Twenty years ago, I was my business. Earlier this year, I spent three weeks in Japan, where the 12-hour time difference made it hard to even talk to anyone back home outside a two-hour window each morning, and my business never suffered so much as a hiccup. So how do you jump from giving yourself a job to giving yourself security?

1 Outwork Everyone Else

I know I just said this article was going to be about being able to take time off, but I still can’t overstate the importance of actually working … hard—especially when you’re first starting out. The first 20 years of my career, I worked 12-16 hours a day, six days a week.

If I were to do it again today, there are certainly things I’d do differently, but still, I’m blown away when I listen to business owners talk about things they’d like to do but they don’t have time for, or how they’re sitting around because no customers are coming in the door.

When I opened my first brick-and-mortar shop, if I didn’t have customers, I’d grab a roll of film, head to a truck stop and offer to tint the big rigs for $100. While I was there, I’d put stickers on every gas pump and tell everyone I met who I was, what I did, and where my shop was. I tinted for eight to 10 hours a day doing retail work and at night I’d head to the dealerships to pre-load.

I answered the phones late at night, on weekends and on vacation. If someone calls me for business coaching, no matter what else I tell them, if they’re spending any part of their day sitting around, that’s the first thing they need to change. If you’re not hungry, you’re not going to grow.

2 Ask for Help

If you work hard, advertise, and do a good job, you will be busy. The next big obstacle is going to be letting go of the reins enough to ask for help. This is probably the biggest mistake I made myself. For years, even though I had plenty of employees, I refused to relinquish any aspect of running the business.

In many ways I was still very successful, but I hit a ceiling. I was holding as much in my head as I could. I was doing a lot of jobs and, to be honest, I wasn’t the best person for some of them. But I didn’t want to give up control, so I kept micromanaging. It wasn’t until I got injured and was forced to get help that my business took off.

3 Delegate

This brings me to my next point: if you want to truly remove barriers to growth in your business, you must learn to delegate. A wealthy businessman once said to me, “The only things you should be doing as a business owner are the things that only you can do.”

That advice has stuck with me. If someone else can do the job you’re doing, ask yourself if you should be the one doing it.

I used to spend time posting ads on Facebook and Google. But that’s not my strength. So I hired people who specialize in internet advertising. Not only did it free me up to do the things I should be focusing on—but because they do a better job than me, our ads perform better, our advertising dollars go further and we get more work. Win, win, win.

4 Have a Clear Vision

So if I’m hiring people to do the labor and all of the behind-the-scenes things that are necessary to running a big business, what exactly is it that only I can do? What is my job as a leader? First and foremost, my job is to have a clear vision of where the company is going, and every decision I make needs to be in pursuit of that vision.

Four years ago, I decided that I wanted Sun Stoppers to be a national brand, and every decision I’ve made since then has put another piece of the puzzle in place to make that happen. I started with nine stores and a couple of vans in one city, but I had a vision of an army of window tinting shops pooling their resources to work together and dominate the market.

So I brushed off my licensing agreement and started inviting other shops to join forces. Now we are 70-plus strong and growing. I wanted our pooled advertising dollars to go further, and I slowly put a team in place that is really good at keeping on top of what’s required to make the most of every platform’s rules and algorithms.

I use our combined purchasing power to negotiate discounts with major suppliers, which helps us all. I am constantly networking, getting to know tinters and shop owners, making connections, teaching valuable business skills, motivating my team and giving them the tools they need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

5 Be Careful Who You Listen To

Finally, as you’re navigating the business world, making important decisions that will affect not only your future but the futures of your family and all of your employees, you will run into countless people offering advice. There is plenty of good advice out there, and I’m grateful to everyone who mentored me over my 30-plus years (so far) in business ownership.

These days more than ever, the world is inundated with courses and classes and people eager to tell you the secrets to success for the low price of $7,999.95. I’m not saying every piece of knowledge for sale is junk, but before you put your future on the line, pay close attention to who you’re listening to. What has this person accomplished himself? Has he built—and sustained—a successful business? Or is he a smooth talker who’s made his money teaching others to do what he hasn’t actually managed to do himself? Make sure any advice you take is coming from someone who is qualified to give it.

Going from self-employed to self-made requires a shift in mindset more than anything else. It requires hunger and vision, but also a willingness to share the spotlight and the rewards. My first business was “Lighting Mike’s” – there’s a reason “Sun Stoppers” doesn’t have my name in it. Everything I have has come from empowering others to grow alongside me. Become a leader, trust your team, and everything else will follow.

WFCT to Host a Special Tuesday Educational Session

Most people get to the International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™ (WFCT) the day before it begins—why not get some quality education that day as well? Tuesday’s special pre-session offers the highest quality in education—from notable presenter Mike Burke of Sun Stoppers. It is available to all full and partial registrants at no additional charge and runs from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday. Arrive Tuesday mid-afternoon and start learning right away.

3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Sales in the Digital Age

Faculty: Mike Burke and Thad Norman

You know how to install window film … but do you know how to sell it? In this special, pre-WFCT seminar, sales expert Mike Burke and data/metric specialist Thad Norman will share sales techniques and discuss the role that technology plays in business advancement. You will learn how to become a top dealer in an afternoon. This session is free to all full registrants.

Mike Burke has worked in the window film industry for 33 years. His company, Sun Stoppers, has more than 71 locations in 28 states and offers residential and commercial tint and decorative film services as well as automotive tint, paint protection, and ceramic coatings. If you have a question for Burke to tackle in a future column, email him at

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

Leave Comment