What Does Working ON Your Business Really Mean?


“I feel like my business owns me sometimes.” Ever said this to yourself? Can you relate to that feeling? If you had to answer honestly, in your heart of hearts, have you felt the same way at times? Is your business really enjoyable to own?


This is so common. A lot of business owners feel like they have a well-paying job for themselves. Sure, they are making money, but they have all the stress and pressure that comes with running an “owner reliant” business. In other words, they are working IN their business way too much, and not ON it enough.


Of course, lots of business owners wish they could be less involved in the day-to-day operations of their businesses. When you have 2 or even 20 employees, you can be intimately involved in all aspects of the business. But if you want your company to grow and perhaps get to that elusive “next level” everyone’s always talking about, you must build an organization that can get the job done without you personally having to manage every detail.


And every business owner already knows this. But, doing it consistently is hard.


Plus, this: If you think, “It just isn’t possible to build a business that I can leave for an extended period,” think again! It is possible to reduce your working hours substantially. It is possible to take extended vacation time with the peace of mind that your team will use the systems and internal controls that you’ve developed to run the place smoothly when you’re not there!


And, isn’t this why you are working so hard to begin with? To build a business, not just own a job?


Which brings me to the next question. Do you know how? Do you have a clear, concrete road map to build a business not just a job?




The trick is to spend more time in Entrepreneurial Mode and less in Technician Mode. Working in Technician Mode means doing all the money-making day to day stuff. Working Entrepreneurial Mode include the things listed below.


Entrepreneurial Mode Activities include the following:

  • Envisioning a better future
  • Setting business goals
  • Planning how to achieve each of them
  • Tweaking existing systems
  • Devising better systems
  • Training to improve employees’ skills
  • Monitoring performance systems
  • Minding the money and tracking cash flow
  • Enhancing profits
  • Exit planning


Here are some of the issues that must be hurdled to make the transition from doer (Technician Mode) to owner (Entrepreneurial Mode). Naturally, surmounting these hurdles is easier said than done and can take years to accomplish. This list does not have all of the answers but should at least provide you with the right questions to ask yourself.


1. YOU. You must get out from under the day-to-day. This may require getting out of your comfort zone, learning new things, and unlearning old habits.


2. HIRING. If you don’t learn how to hire the right people, you will continue to chase your tail. (This does not come from a fortune cookie; if anything, it comes from a no-fortune cookie.) Remember, hiring for conscientiousness is the most important thing you can do. People with a high-level conscientiousness sincerely care about what they do and make excellent employees. It just so happens that there is are a couple of pre-employment tests for conscientiousness. Ask me about this if you like.


3. STANDARDS. A company’s reputation and its customers’ satisfaction will be determined by what a company expects of itself. Setting standards should not be done casually by whoever happens to be in the driver’s seat. The standards should be well thought out and aggressively communicated, and they should be lived. Whether it is response time or product quality or how clean you keep the bathroom, there are numerous things that define a company.


4. TRAINING. People are not going to figure out everything on their own. And even if they somehow manage to, it will be after messing things up and potentially harming your reputation. Training is a forever on-going business owner task.


5. SYSTEMS, PROCEDURES, PLANNING AND TOOLS. There are ways to avoid mistakes, to keep track of things and to be more effective and efficient. Every time something goes wrong you should ask yourself, is there something we could have done to avoid this? Systems ought to dictate how things are to be done so individuals can simply apply the system and get things done right the first time and every time.


6. THE WRONG PEOPLE. Sometimes it is bad hiring, sometimes it is just a bad fit. You can put out fires all the time. Or you can get rid of the arsonists. That doesn’t mean the subpar employees don’t mean well. It may mean, assuming they have been properly trained and managed, that they simply can’t do well. This step requires the force of will, as in you will do something about it. Is there anyone working for you that you would be happy to see quit?


7. DELEGATION. This one seems obvious, doesn’t it? But delegation only works when you have the right people. And the hardest part is accepting that some of the things that you delegate will not be done as well as you could have done them yourself. You can afford to fix occasional mistakes more easily than you can afford to do everything yourself.


8. COMPENSATION. It is difficult to run a smooth operation if you are constantly losing good people. What is your turnover rate? Do you pay enough, respect enough, and provide a pleasant work environment?


9. FEEDBACK. Have you surrounded yourself with yes men and women? Of course, you must be able to handle the truth! Sometimes you will be wrong, sometimes you will be oblivious, sometimes you will be delusional. The last thing you want is to stay that way. You may feel that the lonely-at-the-top thing is very, well, lonely. But there is no greater feeling than knowing that people are with you on a common cause, (because they are conscientious, thoroughly trained, and well lead) and you don’t have to read their minds. Ask for and demand candid feedback often.

10. YOU, AGAIN. Maybe you really like being the sales rep, the production manager or the one doing the day-to-day work. Maybe you are trying to be someone you are not. You may have learned that there is such a thing as big enough. It can be liberating to people who are ambitious to recognize that they have limitations, and that they do not have what it takes to be the next Bill Gates. And that it is O.K. More than O.K.! Many business owners want to hire someone to take care of the things they don’t want to do. However, be careful about thinking that one person is going to come in and handle absolutely everything perfectly well all the time.


The list of 10 things was adapted from a 2011 New York Times article by Chicago business owner Jay Goltz.