Work On Your Business Not In Your Business

“Work On Your Business…. Not In Your Business”

You may have heard this cliché before, but have you ever wondered what it really means, or how to put it into practice? Let’s break it down to understand the difference between working ON and IN your business. If you’re a Franklin Covey fan like me, you may have read this story before that illustrates the gap between management and leadership. 

Envision a group of people cutting their way through the jungle with machetes.  They are the producers, the problem solvers. They’re cutting through the undergrowth, clearing it out.

The managers are behind them, sharpening their machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programs, bringing in improved technologies and setting up working schedules and compensation programs for machete wielders.

The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, “Wrong jungle!”

– Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, page 101

Can you identify with any of the roles depicted here? I believe we can learn a lot from this story, but today we’re going to focus on the importance of leadership as this narrative clearly defines. Imagine working harder than ever in your business, only to find out that the activities you’ve been engrossed in won’t make an impact to your bottom line, or are taking you down the wrong track to your desired target. This problem can be resolved with leadership, or in other words – working ON your business, not IN your business.

There are some simple strategies and things you can do to ensure you start in this direction even if you are not there now. Ask yourself these questions:

1.) What is your vision for your business? Why did you decide to start your business? 

Getting really clear on these answers will help you stay in the “working ON your business” lane versus getting distracted with the often ‘urgent’ tasks of working “IN” your business. When I first learned to drive, I struggled with staying in the middle of my lane because I was constantly watching the lane dividers at hand in my current location. This caused me to swerve and feel unstable. Once I learned to keep my eyes fixed on the road AHEAD of me and where I was going, it was easy to stay in my lane since I was looking in the distant destination of where I was headed. Knowing your WHY and keeping your vision in front of you will help you stay focused on where you want to go, instead of getting sidetracked with the day-to-day business at hand.

2.) Now that you have a clear vision and WHY for your business, what needs to happen in your business in order to make those things a reality?

This can seem like a daunting task, so let’s examine a couple things you can do to accomplish this step. 

First, write down everything that is getting in the way of your vision being realized. I call it a “bug” list – don’t think about it too much, just make a list of EVERYTHING that is BUGGING you. You’ll probably have quite a list once it’s done, but I’ve found this to be a freeing exercise of putting it all down on paper. 

Second, analyze that Bug List. How could each thing be solved? My guess is that you will start to see some commonalities among the list, and potentially “fixes” that could solve more than one of the “bugs.” For instance, maybe there are quite a few tasks that could be solved with better time management. What could be delegated and to who? If there are a few or even several things that don’t have a delegation “home” right now, maybe this becomes a critical job description for a must-hire. 

3.) What tools and resources do you need to be successful? Think about creating “repeatable” success and systems.

Maybe you identified some time wasters on your bug list such as gathering or analyzing data you need to run your business. What if you had access to actual real-time data that could help you make better daily decisions? How can you create repeatable processes that can be followed to give you what you need on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis? Perhaps this is something that can be assigned to a current employee or team, or could even be solved with a system such as a software platform that pertains to your business. Sometimes the investment in the right system can be the best “hiring” decision you’ll ever make – think about it as if you’re hiring an employee who is never late, never sick, gets excited about doing the same thing over and over, and shows up to work 24/7!

4.) Set aside and actually schedule time daily and weekly to work “ON” your business. 

This is the most important thing you can really do for your business. The activities of working “ON” your business are typically not urgent and screaming for your attention, so it’s easy to get distracted with the more urgent and pressing tasks at hand. Start by writing down the important things that need to be done. Pick a few to accomplish or make progress toward each day. 

If there’s something that’s overwhelming that can’t be done in a certain amount of time, such as hiring a key employee, then make a list of all the smaller tasks that need to be done in order to accomplish that – for instance, these could be things such as writing a job description, posting the job opening online, contacting potential recruiters who could refer good people, reviewing resumes, scheduling interviews…etc. Keep in mind which of those tasks could be delegated as well. Maybe you have someone who is good at writing who could pen the description from your notes and someone else who could initially review resumes as a first pass.

5.) What are your “strengths”? How about the strengths of your team? 

The last key to remember is that working “ON” your business should involve working in your “strengths” area, at least as much as possible. If you started a landscaping business because you really love the actual work of being outside and working “in” the business, and feel frustrated from being pulled in other directions, think about hiring a general manager or CFO who might enjoy working “on” the business. They can help you achieve your vision while you can spend more time doing things in your strength areas. 

If you aren’t sure what your strengths are, try this exercise: 

Take a sheet of paper and divide it down the middle to make two columns. Think about all the things you have to do in (or ‘on’) your business and ask yourself if you “LOVE” it or “LOATHE” it. Anything you love doing – meaning you enjoy these activities, look forward to them, and don’t procrastinate them – list on the left side of your paper. They probably come easy to you, so you may not even realize they are strengths, but that is the key! What would you choose to do, even if you didn’t have to do it, or even if you weren’t getting paid for it? If you can’t say you “love” a task, then write it on the right side under “LOATHE.” Your end goal is to delegate all (or as many as possible) of the “Loathed” items to someone else who would list that same task in their “Love it” list!

Now, give yourself KUDOS for reading this article…because it’s a perfect example of working “on” your business instead of “in” your business!