Why should you work ON your business?

   photo by thrig 

Imagine you’re playing a game like chess.  Your goal is to win the game, but instead of looking ahead several moves, trying to drive your opponent’s moves, setting up situations that benefit you – you start brand new on every move and react only to the move that just happened.

If you’ve played chess or similar types of games, you’d know that the approach outlined above will quickly lead to a major loss against almost anyone.

If you’re not a chess player, here’s another analogy:  Imagine that you decide you’re going to travel to Albuquerque (first place I thought of…).  You’ve got your goal in mind when you get in your car, you know the general direction you need to head (Southwest, East, etc.), but once you’re underway you make navigational choices based on what’s in front of you.  Turn left onto a less crowded road, turn right towards a scenic view, left towards an advertised gas station, etc.  You might make it to your destination, but it would likely be as much luck as anything else.

Although these are clearly silly examples, the reality is that a lot of small businesses (and frankly a lot of large businesses) operate in a very similar way, they react to the firedrills that are in front of them and don’t have time to keep looking at the bigger picture.

What is strategy for a typical small business?

I started thinking about this topic partly because of several discussions I had last week with some business owners and partly because of an interesting blog post I was reading yesterday.  Angus Gordon from Melbourne Australia is frustrated with the use of the phrase “Work On your Business, not In It“.  In his opinion, not only is it poorly worded, it really doesn’t apply to a lot of business owners (using his situation as an example).

(Incidentally, I still find it amazing that I can correspond with Angus in Melbourne even though we’ve never met and he’s halfway around the world.  I had the chance to live in Melbourne for a couple of years in the early 90’s and it’s one of the best cities I’ve ever had the chance to see…it amazes me what’s possible these days – technology is cool!).

He makes a great point about being a writer and not an entrepreneur – he does all of the other business activities as a necessary evil to give him the opportunity to write for interesting clients.  I would guess that if he could find a job working for someone else that paid almost as well, but totally freed him up just to do what he enjoys, then he would jump all over that opportunity.

And I think that’s where we actually violently agree on this issue.

The purpose of your business is to give you what you want out of life.  It’s not to grow an enterprise to a certain size, it’s not to solve the world’s problems, the purpose of YOUR business is to meet YOUR needs, whatever they may be right now.

However…unless you’re lucky enough to be able to find a job that really fit your needs pretty closely, then you’re best bet is to have your own business (the alternative is to do stuff that you’re not excited about so you can put food on the table – you may have to do that for a while, but you should be looking for something that fits what you need and want – otherwise you’re wasting your time and your life).

If you have your own business, then having a strategic intent and actively focusing on that strategic intent is critical to succeeding in the long run.  It doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but it should be a big picture view.

How to take the strategic view of things:

The first step is to have a clear idea of what you want out of your business (see the points above).  I’m guessing that Angus wants to work with interesting people, do writing projects that are fulfilling, make good money and minimize any other overhead that doesn’t fall into the above categories.

That is a fantastic goal / vision – in a lot of ways, it mirrors the choices I’ve made with Aspire.  After getting the up close and personal view of being a corporate executive with a large staff, I’ve made the choice that I’m best off having a business of my own that will support my goals: 

My goals?

  • I want to work with interesting people that want to get things done,
  • I want to help people succeed in their business by leveraging my skills and knowledge of systems, leadership and business. 
  • I want to make a good living, but it doesn’t have to be great money. 
  • I want to give back and help other people. 

You will have different goals and objectives. 

The second step is to develop the framework / systems / plans you need to be able to reach the goal you’ve set for your business.  I’m not interested in running a large organization at this point (been there, done that) so I’ve built my business around a model that doesn’t go down that path.  I can fairly easily picture (and put on paper) what my business would look like at the level of success I’m looking for.  When I get there, I may well decide to change that vision, extend it or even do something else, but for now it’s a compelling vision that I think is achievable.

Finally – the last step is to regularly and consciously step back from the day to day fires that you’re fighting and evaluate where you are in the bigger picture of things.  Get a clear idea of where you are now.  Reevaluate where you want to go – both the long term and the shorter term.  And finally, create and adjust the priorities, plans and activities that you’re spending time on and match them up to those longer term goals.  If you’re spending a lot of time and effort on a product or service that’s not really in your long term picture, then stop doing it (even if it’s making a lot of money in the short term).

In summary:

  1. Define what you want out of your business and what your business needs to look like to get what you want out of it.
  2. Plan out a way you can achieve the vision you’ve set above.  Is it a 3 year process?  A 5 year process?  Maybe 10 years or more – whatever it will take in the long run, you need to have a plan that moves you forward.
  3. Take the time on a weekly basis to work ON your business, not In it (sorry Angus…!).  Seriously – you should carve out at least a couple of hours a week to make sure that you are still on the course you want to be on.  (note – shameless self-promotion, you might want to work with a Business Coach or a Peer Group advisory Board to supercharge this part of the process).

Maybe the most important thing to remember is that this is a journey (corny I know) – you’ve got to enjoy the trip or the destination isn’t going to mean much.

So what do you think about working On your business?  Does it make sense to you?  Poor wording aside, let me know if it resonates with you.  Share your thoughts below.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

4 thoughts on “Why should you work ON your business?”

  1. Dana Ward says:

    I agree with everything you said above. And I appreciate the 'real' way you convey it. Michael Gerber mentions a lot of the same topics in his book, E-Myth Revisited, which I read several months ago. The funny way that he talks about working “on” your business, rather than “in” it is to look at it this way: understanding the fact that each year your business continues, someone is going to “buy” it. The question is: Who? Is it going to be you? OR someone else? Either way, take the step back and look at your business from the big-picture standpoint and look down the road (like you said) 5, 10, or 20 years, see what you want then, AND THEN come back to NOW and make happen what NEEDS to happen, to get that result. Oh yea, and I love the chess analogy…what a great way to relate to the way many people lead their lives and/or businesses (i.e. re-active) rather than pro-active . Thanks!

  2. skinkade says:

    Dana – great to hear from you, thanks for the comment.

    I'm glad this resonated with you. It's not necessarily a difficult concept, but it doesn't always hit people the same way.


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