A few weeks ago, I mentioned to a customer that it was good to see them working on their business, and they replied, “How do you define that? What is working on your business versus working in your business?” And this is a key thing to think through if you’re in leadership of your organization. Lots of people fail to work on their business because they are stuck working in their business. I define working in the business as anything that is direct sales or direct client service. Only the largest businesses allow leadership to be completely removed from working in the business. You have to have a really large infrastructure in place to prevent you from doing any real client work. These businesses get into the professional managerial world. While there are strengths to this type of work, it does leave a disconnection between the work that the organization does to survive and the leadership. On the other hand, if the organization is too small or the infrastructure has not been built up, leaders can get stuck in the daily grind, the whirlwind of doing business, and find themselves unable to lead ahead of where the company currently is.
Leaders in that situation are working in the business. Anything that involves direct client work or direct sales. In our business, building website, making social posts, and shooting video are all things that I participate in, but I classify them as working in the business. In the financial industry, that might include making a financial plan, moving clients’ investments around, or writing a new policy. Looking at it another way, it might be that you can’t get out of direct sales for your organization or have so many fires to put out every day as a leader that you can’t find time to work ahead of the company. It’s not a bad thing to work in the business. If the business isn’t successful doing the work that makes it run, leading ahead of the company is not valuable. But where people fail is not making working on the business a priority. So what is working on the business? Working on the business, broadly defined, is anything that improves the business or increases its capacity. Working on the business is working ahead of the current state of things happening in the daily grind of work. I think about working on the business in a few categories: marketing, culture, systems, people, infrastructure, strategy.
Each of these categories, when done correctly, increases the capacity of the business to do more work, to do better work, or to have more work come in in the future. Working on marketing is working on a business because you are setting up for future sales for the work. Working on culture allows you to build more resilient businesses with retention and happier employees. Systems help you build out processes that work towards allowing a leader to delegate work and free it more time in the long run. Infrastructure allows a business to handle more work and do so in a way that is beneficial to the company. People are the lifeblood of a business, and working to develop people into the right seats on the bus allows a business to crush its day-to-day work. And strategy allows you to set a course for all of these things to improve continuously. Working on any one of these things during the course of a week should pay great dividends in the days and weeks to come. If you’re in leadership of your organization, specifically if you’re at the top of the company, you have a responsibility to work on the business, not just in the business.
Your job is to improve the company and lead it. And it is really difficult to lead the business if you’re only doing the day-to-day work of the business. But how can you do this? One thing, and this is the biggest thing, just make time for it. I encourage people to time block things on their calendar to make them a priority. For example, I have each Monday blocked on my calendar for all internal work. This podcast, and almost all of our podcasts, are recorded on Mondays because that’s when I’m working on capacity building for the business. Tuesday mornings are blocked for business development for me, so I spend a few hours every Tuesday morning, or most Tuesday mornings, if I’m honest, on building business development because that’s something I have to focus on as well. The rest of the week is free for client meetings and client work. But what do you with that time once you have it set aside? I have two suggestions. One, work with a framework like EOS or the four disciplines of execution to work on a list of things to do to improve the company. Number two, consider working with an outside group like a strategic planner, a fractional chief marketing officer, or a fractional chief financial officer to help shine light on priorities to take the next step.
But to start simple, maybe take an hour or two a week and start making a list of things that you can do to improve your business from where you are right now. Then start taking action. How do you work on your business? Let me know via email at email@example.com. I would love to know what others are doing to make this a priority. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Content Machine podcast, and we’ll see you on the next one.