How to Work on Your Business, Not in it

Tuesday 5th September 2023

How to Work on Your Business, Not in it

Tuesday 5th September 2023
Written by Steve Roxby

‘Working on and not in your business’ is a phrase that’s often used. 

Working in your business is something we do without realising. It means being involved in the operational activities, day-to-day tasks, and routine responsibilities directly involved in running and managing it. 

Working on your business, on the other hand, means carrying out strategic and high-level activities that involve planning, analysing and making decisions to shape its long-term direction and success. 

But is working on your business possible as a busy small business owner?

Seeing the forest, not just the trees

Here’s the crux of the issue: 

When discussing the reality of working in a business, a common metaphor is ‘You can’t see the forest for the trees’.

In other words, you’re so preoccupied with examining each tree up close (your day-to-day operations) that you’re not stepping back and seeing the forest as a whole (your business).  

How can you see the whole forest? Enter the helicopter!  

Just as a helicopter provides a comprehensive and panoramic view of the forest below, you need to look at your business from above to assess the bigger picture to understand your overall strategy, goals, and market dynamics.

Find that helicopter (and pilot)

Of course, we’re talking metaphorically here. So, how can you literally get outside and above your business to see the big picture?

For this, you need to remove yourself from the daily operations. This may be for only an hour or two, or it could mean getting away for a few days so you can really focus and get clarity. We recently went to spend time in the Barossa, somewhere we’d highly recommend!

This time and space is your helicopter. 

On top of this, get yourself a pilot, aka an external business advisor, business coach,  or a key person in your business to join you. They can help you be more objective in your assessments. And may take you in directions you may not have gone.    

Start working on your business 

Once you’re sat in that helicopter, it’s time to take a strategic look at your business and ask yourself ‘Am I doing what I want to do?” and “Are there areas of the business I need to improve/assess?”.

The specific areas you break this down into could be market analysis, financial performance, operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. 

Make sure you gather all the relevant data you’ll need, from your financial statements and market trends to customer feedback and sales figures. 

Related: Finding business clarity: the pre-strategy questions

Carry out a SWOT analysis

A key part of any strategic review is identifying your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats—otherwise known as a SWOT analysis. 

Perhaps your strengths are your team and the advanced technology you use. Your weakness could be your brand and inefficient processes. 

To identify your opportunities and threats, look at external factors that your business could capitalise on (e.g. gaps in the market, changing customer needs) and factors that could potentially harm it (e.g. economic downturn, regulatory changes). 

Importantly, be honest in your appraisal. There’s no sense or benefit in telling yourself (or others, for that matter) things you want to hear. Plus, make sure you document each area you identify.

From appraisal to strategic plan

Once you’ve documented your SWOT, consider options for how you can:

  • Build on your strengths
  • Eliminate weaknesses
  • Explore opportunities
  • Minimise threats

As well as being beneficial during the analysis stage, an external advisor may also be able to give you some great suggestions here. 

Once you’ve decided what you’re going to do, you need to start strategic planning. This includes prioritising what’s most important, delegating tasks, allocating resources and setting timelines. 

Working in your business

So, that’s working on your business. Now, what about working in your business? 

The key to doing this successfully is utilising your time efficiently and effectively. 

As small business owners, we’re confronted with many tasks every day. Staff, clients, suppliers, marketing, IT, business partners, cash flow, financial performance—the list goes on!

‘Learn how to manage your time’ is great advice. There are so many hours in a day; we just need to be genuinely motivated to extract the most value out of them. 

Appointing others to take ownership of certain aspects of the business is a great way to get back more of your time to work on the business. Of course, that’s if you have the business size and human resources to support it.

Other suggestions include delegating tasks to other staff members, outsourcing where possible to others who specialise in their fields, and using software tools to automate low-level tasks. 

Balancing your efforts between working on your business and in your business becomes more attainable through efficient time management. 

Related: Mastering the art of resource planning

Are you committed to locking in the time?

Assessing your business from a helicopter view allows for effective strategic reflection and planning. It opens up time to ask yourself the right questions, perform a SWOT analysis and make the necessary changes to steer you towards business growth and future success. 

Time management is crucial. Are you committed to locking those sky-high strategy sessions in the diary?

Would you like to dive deeper into strategic planning? Check out our related blogs

Interested in an honest appraisal of your business to help create a more successful business? Reach out to your Maxim advisor or get in touch with our team.