What’s the Difference Between Working “On” Your Business and Working “In” Your Business?

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If you read enough books or articles on entrepreneurship and business advice, a phrase you’re bound to come across eventually is “Work on your business, not in it.” It’s become something of a mantra for the budding business owner, a reminder to be aware of the scale of your company and to avoid unintentionally limiting it’s growth. This can be difficult advice to follow through with, as it isn’t always easy for the owner of a startup or a smaller business to identify when and where they can step back from the inner workings of their company. Their business is their baby, so they want to be involved in every aspect of running it. But just as someone can “over-parent” their child, an entrepreneur can do the same for their company, and in order grow their business beyond a certain point, to reach that “next level” you so often hear about, they have to be willing to let their baby learn and develop on their own.

Put simply, working [on] your business rather than working [in] it means that once your business has grown large enough, there are some tasks that you don’t need to handle personally anymore. When an entrepreneur first starts their business, they have to wear many hats based on what needs to get done. This is done largely out of necessity, as they likely cannot afford to hire someone to take care of every odd job within the company. This means the CEO will have to take out the trash, do the bookkeeping and organize the files. The trouble is, this takes time away from the work that will allow you to really expand your business. A smart business leader recognizes that they cannot afford to micromanage every minor task within the company, instead understanding how to identify problems and delegate solutions to others.

Obviously, there will be situations that need your direct input, but if your employees cannot function without you holding their hand, then maybe you’re a little too involved in the day-to-day grind. The key here is making sure your employees understand their goals, responsibilities, and the limits of their authority. Once you’ve established this structure, you can focus your attention on the bigger picture, and your employees will have the chance to grow and develop. Remember that there are some tasks that you just aren’t well suited for – no one is good at everything. You hired your team members because they had skills that you knew would benefit your business, and when you
start working on your business instead of working in it, you give them the opportunity to reach their full potential. After all, a leader is only as effective as their team.

So if your business has grown recently, consider this: is there some smaller task you spend a lot of time on for your business? If so, is there someone else better suited to do 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.