By now you’ve probably heard the famous advice given to business owners: “Work on your business, not just in it.” This key tip has been attributed to Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It.
That phrase gets plastered everywhere, but did you ever wonder exactly what you should be doing to work on your business?
To help you get started, outlined below are five things you can do to work on your business. They are each doable in chunks of 60 minutes or less.
For those of you who find it difficult to get unburied enough to step back from daily activities to be the leader and strategist you want to be, think of these five action items like this: You're breaking this challenge down into manageable pieces that you can fit into your daily workday. Spend 60 minutes each day on one of these activities, and by the end of the month, you'll have spent at least 20 hours working on your business, not just in it.
Because you spread these tasks throughout the month, you probably won’t even miss the 20 hours you'll take away from your regular business activities. But those 20 hours could pay off big by sparking increased efficiency; more consistent customer experiences, which will increase customer satisfaction; and escalating innovation, resulting in new products and services offerings, higher sales and, ultimately, more profitability.
Let’s get started:
1. Write Out a Detailed System for One Recurring Business Process
Gerber suggests that every business should create a franchise prototype—whether you plan to franchise your business or not. In this context, becoming a franchise isn't what’s important. Rather, what’s important is setting up the systems for your business so others can step in and, following your systems, run the business without your personal involvement. By putting most of your effort and mind share on the front end, you've reduced the need for you to be involved on the back end—engaged in carrying out that activity every day.
The primary advantage of this is that you can delegate more of the day-to-day work. By doing so, you’ll be developing your team to operate without your involvement.
This also makes for a more valuable business that you may be able to sell one day. A potential investor or buyer is more likely to find your business attractive if it doesn’t require you being personally involved. By outlining the processes in writing, you’ve captured the know-how and codified it in a way that your company now has value to someone else.
If you can’t get a single process completed in an hour, simply finish it at your next 60-minute session (or sessions). Once you have that first system completed, choose another process or part of your business to systematize. Then, just rinse and repeat.
2. Establish and Review Your Key Performance Indicators
Every business needs key performance indicators (KPIs). These are ways of quantifying what's important to your business, then measuring the results. By tracking and reviewing your company's KPIs, you won’t need to be as engaged in day-to-day business activities to know how things are going—the numbers will tell you. And while it’s still wise to be actively involved in the management of your business, you'll now have more time to look at the big picture and not worry so much about the details.
Author and business consultant Bernard Marr created a list of 75 KPIs every manager should know. But 75 KPIs are too many for any one business owner to manage. Review Marr's list, and choose a smaller, more reasonable number of indicators that are important to your business. Then use your 60-minute daily sessions to set up these KPIs, along with the management systems and reports that will help you track them. Review them from time to time, and identify areas where changes are needed.
3. Research a New Technology or Educate Yourself on Best Practices
The smart use of technology can position your business to grow much faster at a lower cost. And best practices enable us to streamline our business processes. To use another adage, best practices help us “work smarter, not harder.”
When was the last time you looked around to find out what new technologies are out there that you might implement in your business? Are you aware of new online or mobile apps that would make you, your employees and your business more productive? What about replacing old and outdated hardware that may be costly to maintain and less powerful than what’s in the marketplace today?
With the right technology, could you cut out excess time in your business cycles? Could you take on more production and grow your business without adding more staff? And are you increasing your learning so you can implement a new process or procedures?
Set aside a few 60-minute sessions to look at new technology developments and for some self-education. Read industry websites. Attend a one-hour webinar. Try out a new online software app—pick one that offers a free trial. Read through a management book one hour at a time. Do something that helps you look outside the four walls of your business to leverage technology and expand your knowledge and know-how.
4. Connect With Customers
As a business grows, one of the things that frequently happens is that we get so caught up with everything we have to do, we may get out of touch with our customers.
Now you might say, “But we deal with customers every day!” But are you just handling a transaction? Or are you actually talking with them about their needs and how things are going? Do you understand what they want from you? Do you know how they feel about your company? Do you know if they would refer friends and colleagues to you?
Getting out of touch can happen when sales are going gangbusters. You either get complacent, or you get so busy you don’t have time for anything except transactions—or both.
The good thing is, a customer is just a visit or a phone call away. If you run a retail business or any kind of restaurant or hospitality operation, get out front and mingle with your customers. Even spending that one hour per day designing and implementing an online survey could be part of your ongoing efforts to talk with your customers.
5. Network With Peers
Working on your business, not just in it, means connecting with industry peers and prospective business partners. Networking can lead to business-altering relationships and opportunities that can spur your business to new heights.
An hour is enough time to meet someone for breakfast or lunch. It’s enough time to make some connections on Twitter or respond to connection requests on LinkedIn. It’s also enough time to write an email to someone you haven’t spoken with in a while and offer to meet up at that upcoming conference. Lots of networking can happen in one hour or less.
And once you get started, don't stop there: Consider these one-hour chunks as just the start. Sixty minutes a day isn't the complete answer to your challenges as a small-business owner. You've got to do more if you want your business to grow.
So, go off by yourself for a few days for extended thinking time. Shut your door and mute your phone for a half day each week, or set aside one day every week just to work on your business. The more you work on your business and not just in it, the more personal freedom you'll have and the stronger your business will be because it isn’t tied entirely to your daily toil.
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