Working on your business rather than in it might seem like a fantasy or even laughable, especially for those starting out in business or in a growth phase. After all, these are some of the busiest times in business when most owners find themselves being pulled in many different directions and putting out fires daily. However, right from the start, it is important to be clear on whether you are building a successful company or creating a job for yourself. To achieve the former, you need to work towards removing yourself from the operational aspects of the business and into high-level management. But for many business owners, the idea of not doing everything themselves seems elusive. In this article, I outline what working on and not in your business looks like and give you the practical steps you can follow to get there.
Firstly, we need to understand the concept. What does working on the business mean? I describe it as any activity centred around the growth and viability of the business that is ensuring its future success.
What does it look like when a business owner has removed themselves from the operational aspects of their business?
If you, as the business owner, have removed yourself from the operational aspects of your business and are only working on the business rather than in it, your key responsibilities would include:
- Being the visionary
- Creating the strategic plan
- Research and development
- Setting the company standards (policy)
- Building strategic partnerships
- High-level relationship management
- Mentoring and guiding the team
- High-level involvement with the divisions in the business
When you are working on your business rather than it, your business needs to be able to function without your direct and constant involvement. The leads need to come in, sales need to be made, your team needs to be able to deliver the product or service, and you need to be paid. All of this must happen without you while you focus on the bigger picture.
There are exceptions to most rules; in this case, an example of an exception would be if the business is trying to close a significant deal. It might be beneficial for you to participate in sales meetings at a time like this. Another example might be observing the delivery of a specific product or service to ensure that quality standards are being met. But the key here is that it’s a once-off or an activity that is helping you to ensure the future of the business and not a business-as-usual task. Basically, if the business relies on you to perform a function relating to the daily running of its operational aspects, then you are not working on the business but still working in it.
How to get out of the daily operations of your business
Many business owners I work with want to remove themselves from the daily operations and “work on the business”. So I am often asked how to do it. My recommendations are as follows:
1. Begin with the end in mind – When you start building your business, ensure you have your end goal in mind. That way, you will structure and run the company to facilitate removing yourself from the operations so you can gear yourself towards working on the business. I’ll explore this recommendation in more depth shortly.
2. Document everything – Document your company structure and all workflows, policies and procedures from the beginning.
3. Hire for the team you want in the future – At the beginning, you generally can’t afford to hire for the senior roles in the business. However, what you can do is hire people with the right attributes that, with some training and development, would make excellent managers or seniors in the future. That way, when the time is right, you can promote from within as you move out of the daily running of the company. This is where a profiling tool like the Being Profile® can help as it provides a detailed insight into all the attributes that make someone successful in their role and their relationship with various qualities linked to performance and effectiveness. The tool can also be used to support you in the hiring and staff development processes.
4. Communicate regularly and openly with your team – Regular and open communication will help ensure that the team will execute your vision and strategic direction. I regularly support my clients in structuring and formalising this process to ensure accountability and productivity within the team.
5. Don’t get stuck in the day-to-day and not work on future growth and planning. Doing so is a surefire way to guarantee that you will remain chained to the hamster wheel and ensure you’ll be working in the business forever.
So, in a practical sense, how do you go from working in the business to working on it? The following is my step-by-step guide to gradually getting to the point where you are only working on your business.
Seven steps to gearing towards working on your business rather than in it
Before I outline the seven steps, I want to explain the following diagram, which represents a basic version of the company structure I implement into a business. In this simplified version, I am depicting the different divisions of the business, the reporting lines and workflow. In the extended version, there are many roles under each division, and the responsibilities are outlined.
When starting a business, the owner generally wears all or most of the hats. Over time, they may hire or outsource some of the roles, usually filling junior roles before management positions. The key point to note here is that when business owners are at a point where they can focus on working on their business rather than in it, they only wear the CEO hat.
Here are the seven steps that will gradually get you to the point where you can wear the CEO hat exclusively.
1. Hire staff to work in the Operations Division. This is where the delivery of your product or service happens.
At this point, you are wearing the CEO, GM, Marketing, Sales, Operations Manager, Finance and HR/Office hats but not delivering your product or service.
2. Hire an office all-rounder to help with the Marketing, Finance and HR/Office functions (alternatively, these functions could all be outsourced).
Now you are wearing the CEO, GM, Operations Manager and Sales hats.
3. Hire a salesperson.
Now you are wearing the CEO, GM, Operations Manager and Sales Manager hats.
4. Appoint an Operations Manager. This could be someone promoted from within your existing Operations team or an external hire.
Now you are wearing the CEO, GM and Sales Manager hats.
5. Appoint a Sales Manager. This could be someone promoted from within your existing Sales team or an external hire.
Now you are wearing the CEO and GM hats.
6. Hire a General Manager.
You have achieved your goal of just wearing the CEO hat and are now free to focus on working on your business.
7. Further expand the team as required. As your business grows, you might also need to hire managers and staff for the Marketing, Finance and HR/Office Divisions.
This process can take a short time or many years. The timeframe will be determined by growth and cash flow. However, familiarising yourself with the process will support you in knowing which hats you need to wear and what your next hire/appointment needs to be to remove them, one hat at a time. Over time, you will wear fewer hats until you are only wearing the CEO hat. That’s when you will officially no longer be working in the business!
If all of this seems overwhelming, you can always get help from an expert. I have supported multiple business owners to scale their businesses and am always open for a chat. Step one would be to sit together to understand your situation and future goals to see if any of my programs would be a good fit for you and your business. You can connect with me here.