As small business owners it’s easy to fall into the trap of spending all your time working IN your business.
You find one or two good clients, and they’re willing to buy as much of your time as they can get. You work for them long hours, maybe 40-60 hours per week. Then one of them changes tack, and doesn’t want your services anymore.
Suddenly your income plummets, and you have to replace them, fast. You scramble, make lots of phone calls, pay a fortune for social media ads, and desperately try to bring in a new client – but you don’t have any leads, because you haven’t been working ON your business.
What’s the difference working “on” rather than just “in” your business?
We know exactly what working in our business looks like: serving clients, ‘doing the work’ and wearing all the many hats needed to keep the lights on.
But what does it feel like when we’re only working in our business and never on it?
‘Stuff’ is getting done, but you don’t feel like you’re making progress towards anything big or meaningful.
You’re not clear on the big picture, and the ‘why’ or vision behind your business, is fuzzy.
You’re on a hamster wheel of busy-ness, stress and being overwhelmed.
Sound at all familiar?
We know, we have to spend considerable time working in the business to have a business at all. But if we’re acting like a full-time employee and never stepping into the role of CEO in order to lead the business, we’re not going to get very far.
Working in and on the business, you have to think of it as running two businesses at once: the business you’re in and the business you’re becoming.
The Problem With only Working IN Your Business
You might say, it is not a problem, after all, things are still running. The problem is:
There is also no leverage.
There is no long-term planning. No one is looking at what could happen (or should happen) next year or three years from now.
No one is focusing on the big picture. Everyone including the owner can see the woods from the trees. All the focus is inside the four walls. No one is visiting customers and using that feedback to improve and evolve.
No one is tracking the competition to see how they are evolving.
The “boss” has no continued professional development and is getting little input other than from staff members. Soon his/her skills and outlook could get stale.
Spending all your time working IN your business will, unfortunately, harm it. Because it’s not about what you’re doing, it’s about what you’re not doing.
Working ON your business means designing, planning, refining your business, but not directly producing revenue.
So what does working ‘on’ your business look like?
These are some of the things you should be doing when working ON your business:
1. Evaluation of your business performance
According to the Pareto Principle, 80% of results come from just 20% of activity. But if you’re not evaluating what’s working and what’s isn’t, how will you ever know what your 20% is?
Evaluation means sitting down weekly, monthly or quarterly – whatever is needed – and crunching the numbers. To do this, you need to define what success looks like for you and the metrics to measure.
Revenue and profit: Is your business model serving your lifestyle and leaving plenty left over to re-invest in growth?
Creative output: Are you doing client work that challenges and inspires you?
Quality of life: Does your business support your health and hobbies and enable you to travel and spend time with your loved ones?
Your business should serve your lifestyle, not the other way around, so you need to be able to measure its performance.
2. Being clear on your vision
As the CEO of yourself and your business, you need to know where you’re going and why, and make high-level strategic decisions accordingly. Once you are clear on your vision, you can set relevant goals on the path to get there.
Do you have a vision for your business?
3. Business Development
Whatever industry you’re in, we’re all in the relationship-building business. Working ‘on’ your business means looking ahead, nurturing warm leads, and building great relationships with people before you need them.
4. Figure out & document your processes
You not only need to build your sales lead pipeline long before you run out of clients, but you also have to put in a lot of planning to:
Build a process for future employees to follow
Hire the right employees
Manage their product delivery and their personal growth
And worse, scale it fast enough that you can hire a manager to do all this stuff (because technically this isn’t really working ON the business either)