What Does It Mean to "Work 'ON' Your Business?

Updated: Aug 9, 2018


Are you working ON your business? Or IN your business? Which is right?

It seems these days as if everyone is talking to entrepreneurs and business owners about "working ON" their business.


Why is that so important? And what's the difference between working ON or IN your business? And which is the "right" way for an owner to work?


Starting Place

Working "on" your business is a concept introduced years ago in a seminal book for anyone with (or thinking of starting) a business, The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber. I bought my first copy in December 2005, before I started my company in 2006. It remains the book I recommend as a great starting place for every new or potential business owner I meet.


Even if you don't agree with every single thing the author believes (and I certainly don't), he asks important questions that you may never have even considered before. At least that's what I found, particularly as a "Corporate Refugee" with NO small-business experience.


The E-Myth Revisited is where I first encountered this concept of "working ON versus working IN your business." Now, I don't totally buy Gerber's proposition that you have to completely separate yourself from your business to be successful. As women, we do business differently. But each of us needs perspective and context. Sometimes that's really, really hard in the "first person," i.e., alone.


Whether you are a solopreneur or are staffed to the gills, you probably get involved to some degree in the running of your business. Those tend to be the task-oriented details that every business encounters, from keeping the books, to working in the store and/or website and marketing, to meeting customers or clients. Some tasks we love doing, some we dread. It's way too easy to fall in the trap of focusing all our efforts in these areas rather than outsourcing or delegating them when we can.


Visioning, Strategies, and Tasks

You can see how divorcing yourself completely from your business operations might lead to losing touch with your business. The more typical danger is that we get consumed by these tasks, and it leaves us exhausted with little time or energy to step back and THINK about our business. To work ON our business.


Tasks tend to be simpler and more automatic than the strategic thinking and analysis that every owner must perform and lead.


So how do we do both the future visioning and strategizing, and the processes and operations that constitute our business?


I wish there was an easy answer.


There is a simple one. We need to learn the skills to step in and out of our business at the appropriate times. There are multiple times and opportunities to improve a business or do a course correction. Where these ideas come from, and their reason matter less than having the skills to analyze and predict the impact and value of introducing a change (as best we can - sometimes the "crystal is cloudy").


Managing Change with Perspective

Sometimes change is essential to save a business. We might be spread too thin, we might have grown beyond our comfort zone of knowledge, we may have even taken an unexpected path in the business that is taking us away from our original purpose. Harnessing and managing change is possible -- it's done every day. And it helps to have some foundational skills to guide us.


It's also helpful to have someone objective to ask for perspective. That's why a LOT of people are hiring business coaches and advisors. For that third-person perspective to be helpful, we have to first be able to state concisely our issue as we perceive it. And there are techniques and skill-based approaches to help that.


One approach that we use in CEO School™ calls on a philosophy that took hold a few years ago. Yes, I'm going to introduce another book, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. By using a process of continuous improvement and iteration, we can test hypotheses before we bet the ranch on wholesale change.


Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to find a community of like-minded (women) business owners to act as our reflectors, to play back to us what they hear us saying. Challenges from friends who want us to succeed and, importantly, who understand our situation can help us learn and become ever more comfortable and confident in our role as the leader in our business.


If you are wondering where to start such a process, I invite you to look at the offerings of CEO School for Women™. We have both free and paid programs designed exclusively for women (because we do business DIFFERENTLY). Even if you can't afford your own coach, you can certainly join us.


And if learning through reading appeals to you, please download my free e-book here, 5 Books That Every Entrepreneur Should Read.


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