Working ‘on’ your business not just ‘in’ your business

Filed under: Contributed Columns |

Are you an entrepreneur or a technician?
Most business owners are viewed as entrepreneurs because they have the risk tolerance, vision and wherewithal to start or buy their own businesses. However, once the initial decision to own and run a business has been made, most business owners spend less time operating as entrepreneurs and more time working as technicians.
To explain this in a bit more detail, let’s look at a typical employee structure that exists in successful businesses.
Entrepreneurs — The thinkers and innovators. People in this position are focused on the future, and they work “on” the business.
Managers — The organizers. They exist to keep order and put the entrepreneurs’ ideas into action. They generally act upon the past and they work “in” the business.
Technicians — The doers. They focus on the task at hand and perform work based on predefined instruction. Their focus is on the present and they also work “in” the business.
Small- and medium-sized business owners typically start a business because they are very good managers and/or technicians in their trade. For example, a software engineer for a large software company is most likely to start or buy a business that provides some kind of software engineering services.
This might be a good reason to operate your own business, but in order to grow, a business owner needs to spend more and more time on the entrepreneurial aspects of the business. This is where most small- and medium-sized businesses stall or fail, because the owner is not aware of the need to refocus his or her attention from the technician level to the entrepreneurial level of the business.
This can be for a number of reasons, but most commonly it’s a result of:
Gravitating toward what comes naturally.
Lack of time.
A reluctance, or lack of bodies, to delegate workload.
In order to grow and develop the business, the business owner needs to start focusing his or her attention toward working “on” the business, such as formulating strategies, improving processes and positioning the business for growth, rather than “in” the business, such as approving invoices, managing cash flow and dealing with human resource issues.
Unfortunately this is not an overnight fix, because most likely the business owner will face a number of challenges:
Finding the right management and employees who can be empowered to take responsibility for the day-to-day functions to free up the owners time.
Letting go of technical tasks.
Knowing what to do when working “on” the business.
So how does a business owner start the transition to spending more time “on” the business?
Obviously, the first thing is to create the time to do this, so being able to hire the right employees and delegate work to those employees would be one of the first steps. Unfortunately, this is one of the most difficult steps and can take a lot of time to achieve.
Therefore, it is important to start by allocating a small amount of time on a regular basis where the business owner can be uninterrupted while the process of employee delegation and structuring gets under way. This could be as little as one hour a week or one day a month.
Now that there is some time allocated to start working “on” your business, what happens? The answer to this will be different for each business owner because every business will have its own challenges that need to be overcome.
There also are many different exercises and approaches that can be taken, and each will work differently for each business owner. However, in order to get started, the best thing to do is take stock of where the business is today and what the business owner wants the future to look like.
This can usually be accomplished by undertaking the following exercises:
Review personal goals. What do you want to get out of the business personally?
Review the business objectives. Why does the company exist?
Perform a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis about competitors, customers, suppliers, employees, equipment and finances.
Part of this process will tie into the employee structural requirements needed for the business owner to transition toward working “on” the business on a more regular basis, so it is generally performed in conjunction with the recruiting phase.
These are only a few of the issues the business owner can start focusing on. However, these initial steps will set him or her on the right path toward working “on” the business, which in turn should enable the business to grow and provide the business owner with renewed passion and a clear direction for the company.
Austin Buckett is a manager at BiggsKofford P.C. He can be reached at or 579-9090.