Working In Your Business vs Working On Your Business

Posted by Brandon Henry on

Working In Your Business vs Working On Your Business

If you are an entrepreneur, you no doubt spend a lot of time at work. All conventional wisdom says that this is the one thing that you absolutely must do to make sure your business succeeds, and that’s the case...Most of the time.

In order to be truly successful, you need to avoid the trap of just working IN the business, when you should also be working ON the business.

What does that mean?

Since everything in business starts with your mindset, let’s start by defining what it means to be working on the business, and not just in it.

Working in the business is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the work that you do, in your business, on a daily basis. Anything you do that keeps the wheels on the wagon, so to speak, is working IN the business. That includes everything from production and supply chains, to hiring, training, to sales and most (but not all) management roles. There are some management roles that can be considered working on the business (more on that in a minute), but for the most part, you should assume that most day-to-day management is working in the business.

Working on the business, by contrast, is things you do with an eye towards the future. This can include planning and strategy, education and mentorship, delegating or automating tasks, and securing investors and partnerships. If it makes you or your business better tomorrow, it’s working on the business.

Some examples:

  • Hiring someone to fill a role vs. creating a role to make your company run smoother.
  • Closing a sale vs becoming a recommended supplier/service
  • Training sessions vs financial planning meetings.

They’re all things you need to do, but they’re the difference between surviving and growing. For you as the business owner, it’s important to be able to clearly identify which is which. It’s even more important to make time for the things that will help you grow because that is ultimately your job.

When Should You Start Working On The Business?

When your business is just starting out, and it’s just you, or a small handful of employees, you will and should be spending most of your time working in the business. But even then, it’s important that you dedicate some time to working on the business.

40% of new businesses fail in their first two years. That's because many of the owners are not working ON the business.

Of course, in these early days, every second of your time is vital, so certain aspects of working on the business need to take priority. You should always be on the lookout for opportunities to automate and delegate, but they may not present themselves immediately. Likewise securing investors and partnerships: they may not present themselves immediately, but you should be on the lookout and trying to create them wherever possible. The main way you should be working on the business is through goals and projections. These are always going to be available, and are immediately within your control.

You shouldn’t let mentorships and education fall by the wayside, but your priority should be working those in where they will not interfere with the work you need to be doing in the business. If you have a mentor (which you should), incorporate them into your goal planning sessions. Audiobooks are a great way to absorb new information and ideas while driving or working on other projects.

How Do You Switch Between Working In and Working On?

Especially in the early days of your business, most of your time, energy, and attention is spent on working in the business, as it should be. Switching to working on the business is not just a question of making time, but also changing your mindset.

Some people can switch tracks effortlessly, but for many others, changing from projects to projections can derail your entire day. The most important part is knowing which of these people you are, and as you grow, what type of people your team is. If having a meeting first thing in the morning is going to throw off your entire day, have it in the afternoon. If knowing a meeting is coming up in the afternoon is going to be distracting you all day, schedule it for the morning.

Be honest with yourself, even if that takes trial and error, and make specific times for those functions, rather than waiting for time to free up to take care of them.

How Much Time Should Be Spent Working On The Business?

How much time you spend on planning and growth as opposed to day-to-day functions depends entirely on where you are in the development of your business. If it’s early days, and your entire company is just you, or reports directly to you, then you’ll necessarily spend probably only about 5% or less of your time on this.

Once you’ve reached a certain level of success and stability, that should increase. By the time you’re able to make confident projections of quarterly earnings and don’t require every employee there every day, the amount of time you spend should be 10% or more.

As your business gets larger and larger, the amount of time you spend working on the business should be increasing as well. Ultimately, your goal is to be able to spend as much of your time as possible working on the business and even begin delegating and automating parts of working on the business that you had previously handled yourself.

This can include:

  • Creating teams to work on partnerships.
  • Hiring staff to handle financial projections.
  • Having a research and development department.

You will always be overseeing this, but the more you can free up to spend looking at bigger and bigger pieces of the picture, the more successful your company will become.

In Conclusion

You may think that working on the business is something that only the CEOs of big businesses do, but it’s not. As an entrepreneur, at whatever size your business is, or whatever size you want it to become, it is vital for you to be working on the business, and not just on it.

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