Are You Working ON Your Business or IN It?

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One of the mantras of FUSE Business Training is “Work ON your business, not IN it.” Many business owners spend too much time micromanaging minor tasks instead of focusing on how to take their business to the next level. When you have a smaller business, it is common to be intimately involved in every aspect of the company. Sometimes this is even necessary. However, as your business grows and your employee count increases, you need to spend more time focusing on the big picture. NOTE: In this article, when the term “employee” is used it is also referencing independent contractors, volunteers, or any other person who might be playing a role on your team.

Some people have trouble understanding the difference between working ON your business versus working IN it. It mostly comes down to one question: does the task you’re doing have you directly involved in the inner workings of your company? If so, you’re working IN your business. Consider this: the CEO of a Fortune 500 company isn’t going to be taking out the trash, ordering the office supplies, and designing the company website. If they did, they would be working IN their business… and they probably wouldn’t be in charge of a Fortune 500 company.

This isn’t to say that these tasks aren’t important, but the CEO’s time needs to go towards bigger, company-wide concerns. Of course, the budding entrepreneur doesn’t always have the luxury of having someone to work on every minor detail of their business, but they need to be mindful about how they use their time and if it could be better spent elsewhere. A business owner cannot afford to lose themselves in busy work. There is a big difference between being busy and being productive!

If you are worried that you might be spending too much time working IN your business, look at how you spend your workday. Take inventory of all of the tasks you regularly do, and for each one ask yourself two questions: “Does this make me money?” and “Do I have to be the one who does this?”

With the first question, the test is whether or not you are dedicating time to actions that don’t directly earn money or expand your business. Look at the tasks you are regularly involved in and consider what the end goal of doing them is. Not everything worth doing has a dollar value attached, but if you spend a significant amount of your work time doing things that aren’t directly leading to profit, you should consider if you’re using your time effectively.

The other question is important because even if there are jobs within your company that need to be done, you might not be the best or most qualified person to do them. Granted, entrepreneurs must learn to wear many hats in their business, especially during its early years. But building a successful company is rarely a one-person job. A company grows through the efforts of a team, so don’t be afraid to rely on your employees. If one of your employees can do something at least as well as you can, then maybe it isn’t something you need to worry about anymore.

Admittedly, some tasks can be a bit more involved, so you might be tempted to handle them yourself. After all, you already know how. But consider if it would be possible for you to train someone else to do it. So long as there is a system in place, a good employee can learn a new task fairly quickly. Dedicate some time to work with them one-on-one, or write some documentation to help speed up the learning process. This might require some effort on your part, but the amount of time you gain by moving these tasks onto other people will more than make up for the time spent training them.

And really, time is the central reason why business owners need to step back and move their focus to working ON their business rather than working IN it. If time wasn’t a concern, you could handle every aspect of your business yourself: answer every phone call or email, design your own website, marketing, advertising, content writing, the works. But as Barbara is one to point out, time is an entrepreneurs’ most precious resource, so they must use the time they have as efficiently as possible.

So the next time you’re hard at work, think about what you’re doing and ask yourself: “Am I working ON my business, or IN it?”

Mark Buckner

Mark Buckner is a freelance writer and editor from Hammond, Indiana. A recent graduate of Purdue University Northwest, he has edited two books and written on topics ranging from social media to science fiction film. At this time, he is open to other freelance writing and editing opportunities.