Do You Work On or In Your Business?

business owner and teamIf you work IN your business too much, the business will suffer.

You’re the boss and you need to make choices.

When I started my first business, my flight school, I did everything.

I answered the phone, gave the flight instruction, scheduled maintenance and whatever else needed to be done.

Of course I couldn’t expect my business to grow if the office was locked when I wasn’t there and nobody answered the phone but the answering machine.

The first addition I made was to have one of my teenage children sometimes come to the airport and greet people when they came to our office and answer the phone. Not a big solution as they were only available after school or on weekends.

Because I had a good reputation for flight instruction as a result of my years of teaching people to fly and my years of being the chief flight instructor for another company, students did want to fly with me.

The problem, a good one, was that I didn’t have enough time to accommodate all of them.

I hired another flight instructor and also a part time flight scheduler. That was a big step but an important one because now the phone was answered and more students could be accommodated.

There were a lot more stages: more instructors, etc. as the company grew.

However, my main point is that I didn’t have to do all the jobs in the business. Instead, I could work on the business. I could, for a few examples:

  • woman talking on phoneset up a marketing plan
  • talk to pilots who wanted to lease planes back to the company
  • encourage would-be pilots who wanted to discuss learning to fly
  • take part in meetings that concerned airport policy
  • interact with the FAA

I always told my employees that I wouldn’t ask them to do tasks that I wouldn’t do myself (except for changing the heavy water bottles – most of my employees were strong men) but usually I delegated the majority of the work.

Yes, I know, you most likely do not run a flight school. But the same principle holds true in all businesses, even online businesses.

I had to learn to delegate all over again when I started working online.

The way I do it now is to divide up the tasks by deciding which ones I want to do or need to do and which ones can be competently done by somebody else.

If you hate bookkeeping, hire an accountant. I do that.

If you don’t like the technical  or routine chores, hire a virtual assistant. I do that for some of my techie jobs as well as repetitive ones.

It would be different for everyone.

The more your business grow, as a result of your working ON your business, the more you can outsource or delegate.

Keep in mind, that your time is worth money. If you can hire somebody for less money than you lose when you neglect tasks that can only be done by you, that’s a good idea.

Then you will have time to, perhaps, depending on your business:

  • shaking handscreate marketing content
  • interact with your clients
  • make sales
  • whatever really needs your attention.

Now you are working ON your business a fair amount of your time instead of only working IN your business.

You are creating opportunities for growth when you work on your business.

This is just one of many topics that will be a part of my program, TIME TO SHINE.

Have you considered the difference between workin ON as opposed to IN your business? Which do you do primarily? Do you need to think about delegating or outsourcing more tasks?



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  1. This is such an important distinction to make Beth. Working on our business is mainly the likely revenue producing activities; you give relevant examples. When I think of working in our business, I often think about – being knee deep in – actions that after we get going, hold us back from moving on. Personally I like both sides but fortunately am more interested in the working on! Thanks for this post!

    • Hi Patricia. I love the mental picture you mentioned, being knee deep. It’s a good one. If we do all the work, we will be stuck in the mud and unable to find time to do the really important tasks that will make our businesses prosper.

  2. Agree, Beth. It’s impossible to do everything so in my experience it’s best to concentrate what we do best and outsource other areas such as bookkeeping and legal issus. If it’s a larger company we need to hire people who are better than we are to do the areas we want them to do. That way the business will thrive. Company owners who fail to do so will not be as prosperous as they would like to be.

    • Right, Catarina. Often the people we can choose to do our work that we’d rather not do will be better at it than we are. We can then do what we are especially good at doing too.

  3. This is great, Beth. I think lots of small businesses just don’t understand this. They think they are saving money doing daily tasks themselves but it may take them twice as long and could be incomplete. They need to focus on where to go with their business because if they don’t, who will. Thanks for sharing.

    • You’re welcome, Sabrina. Good point that if they don’t work on their business, nobody will! Nor would you want someone else to decide where your business is going.

  4. hi beth; yes its hard to find the time and energy to imagine new opportunities or work on promoting your business to reach even higher rewards when you do everything. for me the hardest part is having the confidence that the money will come in to pay the people I have hired. I seem to wait for the money to hire them instead of hiring them knowing the money will come. but its something i’m a little better at now. thanks for sharing, max

  5. At present I only have a small make up business (a franchise). There is absolutely no need for extra hands. In the future if this grows or I move into another business, I would seriously consider employing people to do what I
    a) do not enjoy doing
    b) cannot do

    I have learnt to delegate as it frees up your time to undertake other tasks which perhaps you cannot pass on to someone else. Learning to delegate can be challenging for a person who.likes to be involved in every element of their business.

    • I know, Phoenicia. You can still be involved though, in an overseeing way. I hope your business grows enough or evolves so that you need to delegate!

  6. Great topic Beth! I used to be pretty darn good at delegating. I had to learn to be because I was on the road for weeks at a time and couldn’t afford to let clients dangle as I’m traipsing through Europe or Japan. But when I gave up travel and started working online everything changed because my ‘business’ was my writing and virtual coaching I couldn’t very well delegate that. Fast forward and now I am at the point where if I am to survive I am going to have to learn to delegate in my new environment, so your post is well timed for me. I have on my wish list for this year 2 virtual assistants. It’s going to take me some time to work out a system but I am determined to do it. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Oh, I’m so glad that you found my article helpful, Marquita. Each environment is different but I’m glad you know you need some help. You’re smart to figure it out first though and I applaud that approach. Good luck! Finding just the right VA’s is so important.

  7. I think that most people, when they start businesses, have a perfectionist attitude. While they know they can’t do everything themselves they often have a hard time learning to trust others with what for them is a very personal business.

    • I agree, Ken. Fortunately for me in my first business, I had already run the same kind of business as a department for another company and so I knew I couldn’t do it all! It’s going to be harder when it’s a company that starts with one person who does everything.

  8. I’m not at the point yet where I can have an assistant. However, I’ve started hiring out for small jobs. I realized I would pay so much less than the time it took me to do the job. The big picture always has to be delegating as you grow. Otherwise, I imagine, your business remains stagnant. I would think it will be scary to bring someone in for the first time as a full-time employee. But it is definitely a goal for my business to grow big enough to do so.

  9. Hi Beth, now that I’m retired this is no longer pertinent to me but when I was still working I was the first to delegate all those humdrum tasks that needed to be done but that did not generate revenue – but would certainly lead to losing it if not done. I concentrated on the revenue and community relations both of which were needed to ensure the organization continuously moved forward. Interesting topic and right on advice.

  10. The big issue with me, is seeing the dividends from the work I do.
    As an author, I am constantly doing the advertising, promoting my novel. Some of this I am learning as I go.
    I would like to hire professionals to do some of the work for me, it might increase sales. Until I get enough from my book, I am unable to hire them. Seems like a catch-22, but that is the truth of many business’s.

  11. Yes, I so agree with this difference. There comes a point when we need to step back and look at our own effectiveness. I often ask myself – is what I am doing now a money generating task? Is it something that can wait or be delegated? That helps me too. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience – highly valuable!

    • You’re welcome, Teresa. You are wise to ask yourself if what you are doing could wait or be delagated so that you can spend more time on generating income.

  12. I am definitely in the working IN my business stage. As a newer health coach I only have a few clients so it is hard to justify hiring someone else until money is more available, yet that might be hard to get if I don’t have someone doing those tasks. Double edge sword. Thanks for making me think about it.

    • Karen, I’m glad you are thinking about it. You’re right; it’s hard to know when to begin outsourcing. If you don’t have time for tasks that someone else can do, you may want to buy a few hours from a VA. Their options for plans vary.

  13. This is such great advice, Beth. I had to learn it the hard way (as I tend to do with everything! Laughter :). But when I finally hired help with the business side of my business, not only my business itself but life in general flowed so much more freely.
    You hit on the litmus test: “Now you are working ON your business a fair amount of your time instead of only working IN your business.”
    Thank You!

    • Susan Mary, I’m glad that you did learn, even the hard way, as most of us do! You are absolutely right that life works out so much more smoothly when you outsource or delegate tasks in your business. You’re welcome!

  14. This is so true Beth. It’s hard sometimes to trust that others will do as good a job as you. We all have to remind ourselves that we are in a business. Trying to do it all ourselves just exhausts us.

  15. Great article, Beth. Starting out and bootstrapping my business, I was doing everything myself. In some ways, I’m very glad I did, because I have a better understanding of what I want, need, and expect when it comes to hiring out. Even though my business is not well established yet, I can see that I need to start hiring out those things that 1) I’m am never going to be getting any better at doing, and 2) I’m never going to like doing. Enough time has gone by for me to be able to see how overspending time on these kinds of activities keep my business from growing into all that I know it can be.

  16. Much truth in this post, Beth. We simply cannot be all things and do all things in both our personal and our business lives. I have always delegated accounting, (even though I could do it,) and design work to others. I love being hands-on though and when I owned a chain of home video rental stores back in the 80s, my partners thought I was only choosing employee who did things the way I would do them. They were interesting to work with, as at that time they didn’t understand the value of “wellness” days when one of our hard working employees asked for a day off. Somehow it made more sense to me than a sickness day.

    Currently, I probably do too much on my own purely for an economic reason, and would love to be in a place to hire someone to help me. Last time I did that was for my book launch and it was a helpful addition to setting up my systems, (Mailchimp and Hootsuite etc.), which I still use today. Thanks for the reminder to work on not in our business.

  17. A great distinction to make, Beth. I don’t think it’s a matter of not wanting to delegate as much as it’s not realizing it’s good to do it.

    Currently, I delegates some tasks, but I’m just not ready to do more of that as I feel I can do them better, haha! It’s a process and a journey that I walk every day so I trust I’ll know when the time comes to do it.

  18. Such an important distinction here, Beth. Letting go can be a really difficult thing for business owners. As you shared, though, it can also be very liberating and allow the business to grow. Delegating has been a topic of conversation in several groups I’m involved with – identifying the right time, the right people, the right tasks. A great reminder for all of us to take a 30,000-foot look at our business.

    • Welcome to my blog, Deb. I have to laugh. As a pilot I can completely relate to taking a 30,000-foot look! Hmmm, I think you get a clearer look from 5000 ft. though. Thanks for reading and giving your thoughts on my article.

  19. So glad I asked you to distinguish this. I was concerned that I was only working in my business. Whew! I can breathe because I am doing some of both. Having a partner our tasks & responsibilities are clearly defined based o interests and ability. Following the guidance of a business coach allows us to work on our business. Designing jewelry is in the business. A few years ago I hired an accountant and am thrilled with that decision. I sometimes think we ould use a VA for graphics but we both really enjoy this aspect, so unlikely. We could hire a rep and that falls into the catch -22. Thanks for the post. I see others appreciating it as well.

    • Roz, I hope you didn’t mind that I mentioned you as having suggested it. I’m happy tht you are relieved to find that you are working ON and IN your business. Like you, I love to make graphics and wouldn’t want to outsource that. I appreciate your suggestion of a topic for me.

  20. Hi Beth. I SO agree with you! I have hired a number of people over the years to help with my business. Some are ongoing, and some are short-term and project specific. But I am a firm believer in focusing your attention on what you do best, and leave the rest to others who are good at what needs doing.

  21. I’m not to the point where hiring help for certain tasks is financially feasible, but I know it will be in the future. I’ve been approached by a couple of fellow proofreaders if I can refer work to them, but business isn’t quite that booming yet! Mainly, I need to concede when I shouldn’t be putting too many hours into my website. I enjoy the tech aspects of it and love to learn how to maintain it, but at the end of the day, there are a few times when I decided to hire a computer person to help in order to save myself time and frustration.

    • I hear you, Jeri. There are things that I like to do too that really make more sense to outsource. I enjoy techie things but my VA can do them more quickly and then I have more time for things that I need to do myself. I just don’t have to do them often enough that I remember just how everything needs to be done and so it makes more sense not to waste time fiddling with them.

  22. Beth- I work on my business and let the people I have hired work in the business. I do not have to be glued to the business 24/7 and it gives me time to come up with new ideas. Time is money and delegating duties allows me to make money and grow my business which is a win win for everyone as my business grows so does the employees salaries.

    • Arleen, It sounds like you have this all figured out! It is a great motivator for employees to know that their good work will bring them more money! That’s smart.

  23. I really need to brainstorm and see if there are more things that I could outsource. A lot of my work is ON people’s websites and I just don’t know anyone I would trust enough to be in my clients’ back office. I do outsource now where I hadn’t before.. but my thing is I need to manage ME better. working on it!

  24. When I first started my blog, I tried to do everything myself. It wasn’t too long before I realized I needed to focus on my strong points and outsource some of those things that weren’t so much…web design, editing, etc. if you try to keep control and do everything yourself you are really doing yourself and your company a disservice…unless you are. Superwoman! :).

  25. I feel like I work on stuff rather than in a business. Probably because I am always checking things off my to do list.

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