I read the eMyth by Michael Gerber many years ago when my husband and I owned a construction company. One of my favorite quotes by Michael is, “Most entrepreneurs fail because they are working IN the business not ON the business.”

When I first began to study Michael’s work, I saw myself and both my businesses in this quote. I saw how in my consulting business and then in our construction firm I spent too much time working IN the business and not enough time working ON the business. It was safer and easier to work IN the business. I see this every day with my clients as well. It’s safer to work in the business – to make bagels, give speeches, swing a hammer or clean bathrooms. It’s harder to write business plans, build systems, solidify processes or work on building culture.

While it may be harder it’s essential for growth. Working ON the business has many benefits. You’ll make more money over time, have more freedom and create opportunities for growth. It can even give you the option to sell the business if you choose to.

Entrepreneurs often justify working IN the business because it’s where they make the money. Yet, over time it’s actually working ON the business that will make the money. It’s the time spent creating systems, putting efficient processes in place and making sure the business can run without you touching every part of it.

Working on the business will give you more freedom. When my husband David and I began our company, we were working 60+ hours a week. We were ‘kind of’ working ON the business but mostly in it. David was still working IN the field every day and trying to do everything else at night. We were swamped. It was fun in the beginning, but we knew we couldn’t keep that pace forever – nor did we want to. We wanted time with our kids. We desired to grow the business, but not at the expense of our family. 

Opportunities for Growth
You can grow a business to a certain level on your own but at some point you’ll need to surrender control and have systems in place to grow it to the next level. What a business with $500,000 in revenue needs is very different than a business with $5 million in revenue. I see many entrepreneurs grow their business to the point where they are stretched very thin but can still manage it all. They’re afraid to let go and don’t grow because subconsciously they know the business can’t take on more the way it currently runs.

Potential to Sell.
A business isn’t worth much in the open market if there are no systems in place. If everything you have is in your head and it all revolves around you – no one will pay top dollar for that. A business is more likely to attract a future buyer when there are systems in place, when it can run without the owner.

No matter where you are at right now today, working ON your business even for a few hours a month will produce results. In order to consistently work ON my business, I put habits in place over the years. Without creating habits, the working ON gets pushed to the background. When things are busy we work on the urgent [working IN] vs. the important [working ON].

Here are some things you can do to work ON the business:

  1. Hold your own strategic planning retreat. David and I actually went away a few times a year for a weekend to work ON the business during the years we were growing quickly. For my consulting business I take one day a year. Depending on how big your business is and how fast its growing will determine how much time you need to devote to planning. Our retreats were not just planning they were work sessions as well. We did business planning, we created policies and procedures, brainstormed new marketing strategies and made lists for future weekends.
  2. Take time out of the office monthly. Getting out of the office regularly even if it’s just to go to Starbucks can help you to be more productive. We get into routines, sometimes not the most productive ones when we do the same thing over and over again. Also getting out of the office, i.e. being stuck on a bus for three hours, forces me to do the work I might be able to put off when I am in the office.
  3. Use the first half hour of your day. I have a master list of things I need to do to work ON the business. This master list is something I can commit a half an hour a day to every day before I start answering emails and working on other client work. These things include writing, marketing, work-flows, processes and future planning.
  4. Join a mastermind group or other business group. Having other people to talk about the business with can not only help you problem solve and get where you are going faster, it will automatically help hold you accountable.
  5. Take a class. Need some additional skills? Are there things you need to know in order to bring your business to the level you want it to be? Find a class or resources and learn. Engaging in lifelong learning – continuing to hone your craft and expand your knowledge base will grow your business.
  6. Get a coach or hire a consultant. Okay this one may be self-serving J but I truly believe it works. I have worked with dozens of coaches and consultants over the years and the money invested has always paid back ten-fold.

Get to work ON the business today – your future business will be the result of the work you do now.