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How to Work On Your Business While Working In It

Michael Gerber, whose business books are huge bestsellers (millions sold) has coined some powerful, memorable phrases that hit you like a bullet, and you never forget.

One of those phrases is that business owners need to work “ON their business, not IN it”.

What exactly is Gerber getting at?

He is pointing to the truth that most businesses are started by technicians, not entrepreneurs, people who are really good at the technical skill of their business; they are not born entrepreneurs.

A lawyer starts a law practice, a plumber a plumbing business, a grower a gardening business; you get the idea.

The pull for a technician who is good at the operational side of the business will always be pulled into doing the technical work of the business.

The doing it, doing it, doing it in an endless cycle.

Can you relate, dear reader? (I know, I can, even after studying Gerber and practicing what he preaches the pull is to, as Nike says, “just do it”).

What Does Work “ON” Really Mean?

Working ON simply means taking a bigger view. When you work ON a project that is IN your business, you are not working ON you are working IN.

Let me explain.

Imagine (yes, this is an unlikely business!) that you sell model airplanes – fully assembled (would kind of take the fun away right!).

You are working ON assembling a model airplane.  But raise your vision slightly.

You are in what department of your “assembled model airplane business”?

You are working in “operations”. So, imagine you were working ON the systems of your “operations” department.

You might start with Performance Standards for how you want the models assembled. You may create a detailed Systems Manual such that an average person could follow your system and do it the best way possible that produces a consistent outcome.

You could do the same for “marketing”, “finance, “human resources”.

Is that working “ON” your business?

Yes, and no. It is at a higher level than just working the shop floor.

The Eagle Eye View

Now rise up, take an eagle’s eye view of your business. Look at it as a whole.

How do all the moving parts work together.

Do you have a completed organizational chart?

Do you have a mission, values, a strategic action plan? A marketing plan?

When you work ON your business you are standing at the highest level, tinkering with your business as a whole.

This is when I tell people that, if you want to remain a kind of “technician”, just apply your technician mindset to the whole of your business.

Now, do you see a problem?

Go back to the beginning of this blog – most people that start a business are technicians – with very specific skills related to the work of the business.

The skills required to do the work of the business (assembling model airplanes, plumbing, real estate, accounting, you name it) is an entirely different skill set!

When I started my first accounting practice, I only had accounting skills. I knew very little of what it takes to run a business as a whole.

So, in the beginning I was the business. The business was not separate from me. If I stopped working, the revenue stopped, because I was the biggest earner.

I am Too Busy to Work On

Many of you reading this may be thinking “I am way too busy to work ON my business, I just don’t have the time, as much as I would like to work ON my business, I just cannot find the time”.

What is a busy person supposed to do?

As you are working IN your business, doing the work of the business, take some extra time to document what you do, as if you were delegating this work the very next day.

Start with bold, big steps and then drill down from there.

You must, (absolutely must! – I am shouting here 😊), write the steps down. It is not enough to think about them, you must document them.

So, write down systems as you are doing them or shortly thereafter.

I can hear the protests – I don’t even have time for that!

Ok, I won’t fight you on that – then you will have to accept always having a “business” that is almost entirely dependent on you.

And, if you are run over by a truck tomorrow, will your business continue smoothly without you?

Probably not.

You didn’t build anything to last.

Not Me, Who?

When you are working IN your business, before you jump into a task or work project, do this – STOP-WAIT, not JUMP-DO.

Then ask yourself this critically important question – “Not Me, Who?”

These three simple words will re-direct your thinking to who else could do it.

Ultimately – and this will take time – in a business that is done, complete and operating like a well-oiled machine, the only things left for you to do are – vision, planning, direction, motivating, and tinkering (with your systems, not the work inside your business).

What if I Love Working IN my Business?

That’s ok if you love working IN your business – so do I!

I love accounting, playing with numbers, connecting with clients.

Even after your business is operating like a synchronized swim team, you can choose to work in it. The difference is you are choosing it, you don’t have to!

I Don’t Have Great People

I have heard this complaint about not having good people in various forms my entire business career.

You must hire good people – you cannot make up for the bad child rearing many adults had!

With systems though, and high Performance Standards, your Team can excel in unimaginable ways!

And, here’s the thing. You will never have consistent PERFORMANCE without Performance Standards.

Even good people will each do it “their own way”.

Just imagine a fabulous, winning sports Team, do they not operate as one? Even with super stars, like Michael Jordan?

Written Performance Standards that are granular, simple, and can be monitored in physical reality are what I am talking about here.

The difference between a real Performance Standard and a fake one is that the fake one is a motherhood statement that cannot be monitored in physical reality.

Here’s an example – Performance Standard 1 – We provide awesome service to all our customers. The customer is King, and we treat each one like Royalty.

How do you track that? You can’t.

Here’s one we have (of seven or so), just for our Phone System – Performance Standard 1 – Smile to the point of a grin before answering the phone.

With that one – you can see when someone is doing it or not.

We once had a great Team member who was a bit on the stoic side – and rarely smiled when on the phone, so we put a mirror right behind her phone, as a reminder!

Two Last Things Before You Go

Write out your systems at times when business is slow, rather than squeezing it in to the cracks of time when busy as heck.

And, lastly, block the time to document your systems – it is the most important work you will ever do.

Tinker away dear technicians, ON your business!

Thanks for reading…