Working ON your business vs working IN your business

One of the things I give new clients when I’m first asked to work with them is a questionnaire.

It asks them about their view of their business in a number of areas: financial, sales, marketing, planning, employees, as well as describing their product, clientele and other items.

I use it not only to gather that info that allows me to help them more quickly, but also to see if some preventable but potentially fatal, flaws are holding them back.

The bonus the client gets for filling it out is that it is often quite eye-opening, simply because the process of completing the form usually requires that they think about things that might not be on their radar.

One of the big questions that helps me figure out areas of frustration and productivity problems is the pair of “On/In” questions.

How many hours each week do you work ON your business?
followed by
How many hours each week do you work IN your business?

Fairly often, I get the same answer for both, or question marks for one of them.

It’s an important distinction.

If you own a shoe store and you spend 32 hours a week on the floor selling shoes to clients, then you spend 32 hours a week (at least) working IN your business, effectively as an employee would.

If you spend 15 hours a week working on management improvements, systems, marketing programs and so on, then you spend 15 hours a week working ON your business.

ON – working to improve its success.
IN – working as an employee would. A rather expensive employee, most of the time.

So which is it for you? Does the difference make sense?

In most small businesses, only the owner, partners or management can make substantial impacts by working ON the business.

Presumably, everyone else is working IN (or FOR) the business.

And yes, there are exceptions, but remember that I’m most often working directly with the owner.

It’s easy to argue that working with clients provides insights to help you work ON the business, and you’d be right, but there is a point where you neglect the business by performing the tasks of a regular employee (the IN or FOR work) by ignoring the ON work.

What have you done to work ON your business this month?