Why It Pays To Work On Your Business, Not In Your Business

Discover how a simple change in the way you think about being a leader can unleash productivity, growth, and overall happiness in your business.

Two years into owning and running my business, I found myself still trying to figure out how to achieve the sort of growth that I knew was possible. It wasn’t until I heard someone at a conference say “you should work on your business, not in your business” that it hit me like a wave: the thing that was holding the business back was… me.

So what did that mean? How do you work on your business without working in it?

Most entrepreneurs start off small, if not entirely on their own. You become used to working in every department, fulfilling every role. But once the business begins to grow, the list of tasks and duties build. It often gets to a point where attending to every matter of the business consumes a tremendous amount of time and effort. Sales suffer due to a lack of time spent acquiring new customers (or maintaining current ones). Customer service inquiries go unanswered. Big picture ideas are left unattended. The effects on the productivity and profitability of the business can be drastic.

After the conference, I sat down and wrote a list of all the things I did to keep the business running.

I put each item into one of these two categories:
1) What should only I do?
2) What can someone else do?

Then I made a sublist of what I should be doing based on the following questions:
1) What are my strengths? Turns out my strengths are communication, operations, sales, and leadership.
2) What are my responsibilities as the business owner? The answer to that was problem-solving, sales growth, and vision-casting.

By having a full list of tasks, duties, and responsibilities categorized by necessity, and comparing that to the list of my strengths, I clearly saw that I was spending far too much time on operations and administrative duties. These were both areas in my “What can someone else do?” bucket.

Letting go of daily tasks can be more difficult than you think. Many business owners believe that because it’s their business, they have the best methods or that their way is going to be faster. Now, that might be the immediate case, and training new hires can take a while, but time invested in hiring someone to handle smaller, continuous duties always makes more time in the long haul. A quick glance back at history will show that any great leader surrounds themselves with other savvy leaders.

After carefully considering a handful of candidates, I hired a business manager to take over the daily operations and an office manager to handle all administrative tasks—all of which was done during our slow season to give me plenty of time to train them. More importantly, it gave us enough time to develop their job descriptions together. This kept the training period very short so that I could get back to working on the business.

Once my new managers were up to speed, I dusted off my list of things I should be doing. The first idea was a marketing campaign to help sales growth—an idea that I’d wanted to get at since we first had customers, but never found the time. With the help of my new office manager, we pulled off the campaign in two weeks and increased our sales by 20%.

Deciding to change the way I worked on my business paid off almost immediately. 

That one marketing idea alone paid for the salary of my two new employees. And that was just the start.

Business has since doubled, and I’m working less on the small things and more on the big picture in ways I was never afforded in the beginning. Now, I focus primarily on three things:
1. Fixing bigger problems so that my employees work more efficiently
2. Developing new ways to market and sell our services
3. Implementing a vision and future goals for the company

Leadership doesn’t always mean spear-heading every aspect of the company. Great leaders are aware of their strengths and weaknesses so that they can hire employees to act as other strong leaders within the organization. They build and delegate to effective teams. They establish clear goals and steer the company in a successful direction.

Two years out from deciding to work on my business and not in my business, we still have challenges. It certainly doesn’t solve every problem, but I now have two happy employees with which I can tackle problems. The business is more profitable. And most importantly, I have more time with my family.

Do you find yourself taking on too many responsibilities? What strengths would you like to focus on in the upcoming years? Let me know in the comments below.


Ben Sturgill
Ben Sturgill is the host of StartupCamp Stories, as well as a Business Bootcamp coach and CMO for StartupCamp. He is also a college minister and founder of several businesses. Ben has a passion for helping people and businesses grow and thrive.


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