Balancing the “Ins” and “Ons”

If you own a small business, then you likely have heard about Michael E. Gerber’s iconic book The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It.  I’ve talked about his concept of working IN the business vs working ON the business before. But the constant struggle to find the right balance seems to be coming up a lot lately, so I’m revisiting it.

Recently, I’ve seen newer businesses or their owners tipping too far to one side or the other and the resulting problems.  Growing a business is a bit like raising children. As soon as you figure out what works to solve the issue you’re having, another one pops up. Or, the formula you’ve been using suddenly doesn’t work anymore.

Same thing goes in a business.  When you first start out, you may be on your own. So you wear many hats and handle everything from sales and marketing to accounting. Meanwhile, you’re producing your goods or services and providing excellent customer service.  Whew, that’s a lot!  

As you grow, you may start adding staff who can assist you and handle some of the responsibility.  This is great and can indicate that things are working. But you have to be careful of the latent pitfalls if you offload too much to them too quickly.  Your customers still want to work with you, and you may not be able to give up some of the high-level tasks that are your specialty.

The reality is, at some point, you can’t do it all.

So, how do you figure out what you should be doing and what you should have someone else do?  

That’s when it’s important to divide the tasks into the two categories of IN and ON.

When you work IN the business, you’re face to face with your customers or hands-on producing your product or service.  

When you work ON the business, you’re supporting the infrastructure that’s so critical to making sure the business runs smoothly.  This is everything from sales and marketing to business planning and hiring.

Once you’ve laid out everything needed to run your business smoothly, figure out who is best suited for each task. Decide how to keep your balance as the business owner so that the balance is not offset too far in either direction.

It’s not necessarily a 50/50 balance; it depends on what the company needs most at the time.

For example, if you’re a new company that is growing super-fast and you are running around taking orders and producing your product, then you may not have time to handle the accounting.  In this case, the accounting falls by the wayside and you have no idea if you have enough money to buy your cost of goods sold to produce your amazing product.  Maybe you run out of the supplies you need to produce your product and you go to order, but your supplier says she won’t ship to you because you haven’t paid your last bill.  Everything comes to a screeching halt while you frantically try to figure out what happened to all the money you’ve been making and how to pay your supplier.  You’re spending too much time working IN the business, and not enough working ON the business.

To continue the scenario, let’s say you decide you need to get a handle on the finances. So you download an accounting software and spend hours online trying to set it up and use it.  Then you decide you better get up to date, so you spend a ton of time making the books current.  Meanwhile, your customers are left with no product, so they turn elsewhere to get their orders filled. Suddenly your orders have slowed to a trickle leaving you with no cash flow.

The cycle continues, back and forth, until you figure out how to find the right balance.

Finding the right balance is the most important part of running a business. You must keep the orders coming in, the cash accounted for, and all the other critical pieces running smoothly, all while expanding and growing.  Not an easy feat by any means.

Back to my earlier suggestion: you should know everything that your business needs to run smoothly and produce your product or service.  Make an extensive list and then divide it into INs and ONs. Figure out what you MUST do and what others CAN do.  If you are the face of the company, then likely you’ll need to do most of the sales and marketing. But if you’re like me and stink at anything remotely resembling creating a marketing plan or the necessary pieces (like a website), then maybe it’s best to outsource those items.  You can still meet with prospective new clients and give them your best sales pitch.

When it comes to producing your product or service, figure out how to divide it up so that you’re responsible for the parts that ONLY you can do.  If someone else CAN handle it, then it is best to find someone you trust to help you.  You need to be sure you have the resources to support whatever you need to spend to get the help you require, but once you’ve delegated anything you easily can, you’ll likely find that having the extra help will more than pay for itself and you can once again breathe.  You may choose to hire someone as an employee, or you may find it best to outsource to a specialist.  Both have a place and sometimes one works better than the other.

And, then it starts all over again.

A business is a living entity. It’s not static, so don’t hesitate to examine everything regularly to see if you are keeping things in balance or if it’s time to make adjustments.

One of the simplest ways I’ve found to help me keep in balance is to answer these two questions frequently. They’re posted on the wall next to my desk, so I don’t forget.

  1. What am I doing that I should not be doing? (Delegate that stuff.)
  1. What am I not doing that I should be doing? (Delegating the stuff from the first question will free up the time to do the second one.)

Finding your balance is part of the challenge but also part of the reward of running a successful business.  Once you grasp the concept, remember to take a step back sometimes and see if things need to be adjusted.  Try to keep as close to balance as you can. Don’t be afraid to make changes before things tip too far to one side or the other.

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