This article was originally published on LinkedIn, you can read the original here.
You have to have heard this before: “A business owner should be working on their business instead of in it.” It’s one of those phrases that gets thrown around by coaches and gurus and business magazines. But what does it actually mean? And is it true? And how do you do it?
Employees work in a business. They have specific tasks that they need to do in order for specific duties and functions to be accomplished. Most know exactly what is expected of them and how to do it. They get to tick off their To Do list and go home at 5pm. If you think of a business as a machine, then they are the nuts and bolts and bits that make it up. They serve a specific purpose within the business and their work keeps the cogs of the machine turning.
A business owner, or executive, on the other hand has a different viewpoint and different priorities. It is their job to keep the whole machine running, to make sure the machine is in the right place, that its still viable and that it is known and in use. They work on the business and they never get to go home at 5pm and switch off. They have to force themselves to go home and switch off.
All too often, a business owner spends too much time getting list in day-to-day operations, putting out fires and tending to matters inside the business. They focus too much on day-to-day tasks and the fixing of problems. Which seems like a good thing, right? I mean, the problems need fixing and the fires need putting out and the business does need to run… but too much focus on now, means no focus on the future – no long-term planning, no strategy, no vision. This means that you could be so busy working in your business that you could look up one day and discover that your business is no longer viable. It means overwhelm and burnout. It means anxiety, lack of motivation and declining metrics. The only person truly motivated to grow your company, is you. Do not get bogged down in simple details that your employees could be working on.
Now its not an easy thing for a small business owner to work on the business. Sometimes you are the only employee you have! You have to do the work, there is no one else to do it. But if you want to grow your business, or just simply have a life, then you need to build an organisation that can get the job done without you managing every detail.
So how does a small business owner with little or no staff, work ON their business? Here are a few tips and habits to help you achieve this goal:
- Evaluate the things you are doing. Do they really matter? Are they important? Do they have to be done by you? A task can feel more important than it actually is, make sure that you spend your time on things that take you forward.
- Schedule your work and intentionally choose your tasks for the day. If you prioritise three things a day and you make sure they happen, you will not allow superfluous and unimportant matters to de-rail you
- Work yourself out of a job. Hire and outsource and delegate your tasks until you don’t have a “job” in your company. If there is someone fulfilling all the necessary roles that keep the cogs turning, then you don’t have to worry about them anymore, you can turn your attention to the machine.
- Learn how to hire the right people. Have a very clear picture in your head of the person you are looking for and the tasks that they need to accomplish. Don’t be scared to spend money on them. A good team will make you far more money in the long-term than they will cost you in the short-term. This is as true for outsourcing as it is for internal hiring.
- Develop your systems and processes. Having good policies and procedures means that staff will be able to operate without you, because they know what to do in different circumstances (or they know where to find the answer). Set standards. For yourself, for the company and for the staff. A company’s reputation and its customers’ satisfaction is vital to its success. Standards need to be well thought out, clearly communicated and definitely demonstrated by you.
- Spend your time developing systems and creating training materials so that you don’t have to personally mentor every new hire or supplier. Good training is vital, but it doesn’t all have to be done in person and one-on-one.
- Spend time looking for automated processes and tools so that things can happen without human intervention. This is the age of AI and automation, leverage technology to save you time and money.
- Be prepared to continuously improve and adapt your systems and processes. The whole purpose of them is to remove you from the equation – that means you are no longer the person on the ground dealing with the problems and the customers, listen to those that do. Constantly seek to improve. Do regular efficiency and quality checks. Ask your staff for feedback and innovation.
- Let go. You spent time and good money on building your dream team. Trust them and the systems that you created. Learn as much as you can about yourself. Recognise your strengths and weaknesses and trust the team members that are good at what you are bad at.
- Keep good records. Not just accounting records, although these are super important, but you need reports and metrics for every aspect of your business so that you can continuously evaluate, measure and improve. And yes, I just said not only accounting, but reliable and timeous accounting records are VITAL for good business management, planning and cash flow management.
Whatever you do, don’t just take on the task of working on the business at the same time as working in it. You are already overworked and overwhelmed. Start small and remove yourself from the cogs a little bit at a time.