It will never cease to amaze me how a single insight can change everything. For me, it was the realisation that I was thinking about business wrong. I, like a lot of people, had made a series of misguided assumptions about why businesses succeed and why businesses fail. Changing my perspective on this has been the single most important factor in building the life I have today.
And it can be boiled down to the simple distinction between working ‘in’ your business and working ‘on’ it. Missing the big picture Working ‘In’ your business means directly immersing yourself in the organisation’s day-to-day operation – talking to clients, taking applicants on viewings. Now, this is obviously necessary some of the time. It’s always important to understand how your agency functions at this granular level, and at least when you start, getting your hands dirty is part of the fun.
The problem with this is it rests on the assumption that what makes a business successful is technical knowledge in the area your business operates in. People who focus on working ‘in’ their business tend to think the reason businesses succeed is by mastering their trade and providing more value than their competitors.
And let’s be clear: those things are important.
But focusing all your energy working ‘in’ the business also blinds you to the big picture. You start overestimating the importance of specific technical factors that most people don’t understand or care about; you get fixed in a set of ideas about what your business does and how things should be done; and you miss all sorts of opportunities that simply cannot be seen from ‘inside’ the business.
Put simply, understanding what your business does is not the same as understanding how your business works. Because the truth is, successful businesses aren’t always the best or most technically competent - they’re the ones that are run best and adapt most effectively to change.
Looking from the outside in Working ‘on’ your business means looking at it like a business-person, from the outside in. It means thinking about things in terms of business strategy, process efficiency and competition - not trade-specific technical stuff.
While this might not sound so revolutionary, thinking in this way unlocks a whole new way of thinking about success. The reason most businesses fail is not because they lack the ability to provide value, but because they lack the entrepreneurial skill to properly manage and sell themselves.
It’s all very well being the best at what you do, but a business is never just ‘what it does’ – it’s also the process of gaining attention, persuading clients to work with you, responding to change and making effective use of your resources. And understanding this could change the whole trajectory of your business – and your life.
Where do you want to be in five years? The most important reason to work ‘on’ your business is not simply to make it function better, but to make your own life easier in the long-term. If you’re working exclusively ‘in’ your business, you might well succeed and have a bigger, better business in five years’ time. But you will likely have to continue working ‘in’ it every day in order to maintain those improvements.
Change will be slow and incremental, if how you operate really does change at all. That means in five years’ time you won't have nearly as much as you could to show for all the hard work you’ve put in.
Working ‘on’ your business is all about ensuring that things do change, that the business model becomes more effective, the processes more efficient and the day-to-day grind easier to handle. So the question really is: what kind of business do you want to have in five years’ time?
Conclusion | Don’t let your business control you People can find it hard to ‘let go’ and change the way they run their business as it begins to grow. Often clinging on to the early necessity to work long hard hours right in the grit of their business. Whilst this can still be an important job to get involved at a certain level, you may ultimately lose out on potential growth as you fail to review it from an outside perspective.
Stand back, change your perspective, adapt and most importantly, give yourself enough room so that you can take advantage of opportunities and not be a slave to the company you own.