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Working on Your Business vs. Working in Your Business

PivotPoint ActionCOACH

There is no denying that being a business owner can be a “labor of love” but there can be a danger in that mentality. One meaning of “labor of love” after all is work done for pleasure, rather than profit and not many business models are sustainable under those principles.

The problem, some argue, is that too many business owners focus on working in their business instead of working on their business. The difference between “on” and “in” may seem slight, but it can make a huge difference.

“There’s a common mistake I see business owners consistently making. It’s a kind of trap that they fall into,” says Tim Conn, president, and co-founder of commercial cleaning franchise Image One USA in a Forbes article. “Too often, business owners fixate on the aspects of working in their business rather than working on their business.”

A Business Pulse Survey several years back supports Conn’s thesis with the average entrepreneur spending 68.1 percent of their time working in their business and only 31.9 percent of their time working on their business.

The Mindless but Necessary Daily “Housekeeping Tasks”

The issue is not that business owners enjoy their line of work – that is essential for success! – but that many small and medium-sized business owners get so caught up in the mindless but necessary daily “housekeeping tasks.”

“Working in your business constitutes things like doing mindless, but necessary, tasks for 8-10 hours a day,” says Conn. “Filling out paperwork, talking with customers or clients on the phone, and going through the motions of a typical day all meet this definition.”

What sort of “housekeeping tasks” can get a business owner tied up? Research from The Alternative Board found that the following mundane tasks ate up business owners' time daily:

  • 1 in 3 entrepreneurs said that time spent on reading and responding to emails was the top strain on their time

  • The second time waster (cited by 24 percent) was routine administrative tasks

  • The No. 3 drag on business owner productivity was spending time on interpersonal conflicts among their employees

The survey also found that:

  • 56 percent of business owners would like to delegate administrative tasks

  • 44 percent would like to “stop working below my pay grade”

  • 41 percent would like their employees to stop “upward delegating” tasks to them

“An entrepreneur’s job is executive in nature. Yet, as anyone who has tried to launch a business knows, the line between working on the business and working in the business is blurry and hard to keep top of mind,” said the Forbes Business Council. “Wearing every hat by doing all of the tasks that must happen in the business can bite into the time an entrepreneur has available to work on the bigger picture.”

3 Strategic Ways to Focus “On” Your Business

Conn, in the Forbes article, says there are three strategic ways to prioritize working on your business, and not simply in your business:

  • Move over “labor of Love'', and focus on “your business passion”: We started this article by avoiding running your business as a “labor of love” which does not mean you should not have passion for what your business stands for. For many business owners, it requires remembering why you started your business in the first place.

    Says Conn, “Sometimes going back to the basics is the last thing you think about when trying to reinvigorate a business. Since it is simple in nature, it is often overlooked.”

    Conn advises that even if your business has moved in a direction that is a natural fit for you, try focusing on those aspects of your business that you have a passion for.
  • Make Sure Your Business Model Solves a Timeless Problem: Conn says that some business owners can focus too much on “going with the flow” of what consumers want at this moment instead of focusing on a business model that solves a timeless problem.
    Says Conn, “. Like anything else, jumping in and providing something at the right time — and in the right place — can lead to a boon for your business. However, it’s crucial to avoid falling into a fad.”
  • Keep Your “Vision Googles” On: Business owners can miss out on big opportunities if they lack vision because they are too focused on the minutiae of day-to-day activities. Make sure to take a step back, now and then, to a complete view of your business and its markets.

“Don’t lose track of your target market either. Keep a pulse on what people want. And just as importantly: where these people with this desire are living. It’s easy to see the microscopic details of what you want to offer with your business, but consumers don’t always think how you do.”

How Business Owners Can Strike the Right Balance

The Forbes Business Council asked a dozen experts on how business owners can strike the right balance between working in their business and working on their business.

Here are 10 of their tips:

  1. Keep it Simple! Schedule at least one hour each day on each of the following five core activities: marketing, sales, operations, accounting, and leadership.

  2. Schedule Your Breaks: Put the time in your schedule where you block out any meetings or calls – even taking an entire day to just do “heads down work” will do the trick.

  3. Leverage Your Help: Smart business owners surround themselves with other professionals which can help with the company’s growth.

  4. Make One Day About Working on the Business: Take that one day a week where you do not schedule meetings or calls and make sure that you are focusing on issues that work “on the business” rather than “in the business.

  5. Act Like an Investor: Is your time as a business owner being utilized how an investor in your business would want you to spend your time?

  6. Plan Using Outcomes: Work a plan with 90-day intervals broken down into outcomes. Planning for outcome-focused results will eliminate “busy work” that does not work toward your goals.

  7. Be Resilient: Do not neglect your own mindfulness, physical well-being, and social connection so you have the stamina and perspective to effectively lead your business.

  8. Create a Peer Network: Use the resources and advice of those who have already accomplished what you are trying to do with your business.

  9. Make Prioritizing a Priority: Business owners need to decide what they should be focusing on and what needs to be delegated. Trying to do everything is not an option.

  10. Make Sure You Have a Trusted No. 2: Find a No. 2 that can help you reach your business goals. Too many entrepreneurs try to go it alone but investing in the right person to have by your side can pay off.