Work on your business?

Picture 1Yesterday, I told you (yet again) about this book … the book that others claim to be “the most important business book” that they’ve ever read.

Well, I claim it to be so, too!

Let me revisit one of the key tenets of this book – indeed, a phrase that has been often (mis)used by all and sundry:

Work on your business, not in your business!

Why misused?

Because I think that most people use it, but don’t really understand what it means to really work on your business, rather than in it …

… to understand what this truly means, let me give you a personal example:

When I started my second business (the first having being ‘handed to me’ in a rather crumpled heap … but, that’s another story), I was not at all qualified to do the ‘work’ of the business, which was essentially technical in nature, yet I taught myself to handle the paralegal files that we were handling at that time because my attorney was too slow.

This became a blessing – because, it meant that I could reduce costs by insourcing a lot of the previously outsourced paralegal work which was the essential component of the business model – and a curse, because I was the person handling all files, initially.

Even when I started to hire staff, all ‘complicated’ files – or, all files over a certain $$$ value – would cross my desk, because I wanted to make sure they were “done right” … you see, I had started the business, so I wanted to believe that I was also the best technician.

But, of course, that wasn’t my job …. but, at the the time, I was blinded to the fact that every hour that I spent handling technical issues was an hour that I was NOT running my business!

Eventually, as happens in so many businesses (thank goodness!) my operations manager simply stopped his people referring those files – any files – to me; he didn’t ask, he just stopped sending them to me.

Guess what?

Our technical metrics didn’t fall in a heap … the uber-technician [AJC: obviously, only in my mind!] was not as essential as he thought he was …  and, I had more time to concentrate on my real job: CEO i.e. running the business.

The business grew!

Lesson One learned: I wasn’t essential to the technical operation of the business.

But, as CEO – now, totally focused on marketing, finance, and other high-falutin’ business matters – surely, I was key to the successful day-to-day operations of the business?

Seems logical, until I signed the contract for the USA branch of the business …

… since this would be about three times the size of the Australian operation, I decided that I needed to relocate to the USA to personally manage my ‘global operations’ (well, three countries: Australia, New Zealand, and now the USA) from there.

That left me a hole to fill: I needed to appoint a replacement CEO of my Australian operations.

After a long search, I found somebody, who I appointed and trained over a period of months …. and who promptly resigned for a “better opportunity” [read: more money] just 6 weeks before I was now contractually-bound to relocate to the USA to commence operations!

Think about it: I now had only 6 weeks to find and train a CEO who could replace me in a job where I – like every owner/CEO – believed that I was totally indispensable!

How would this be possible [AJC: queue to apocalyptic visions of imminent business failure]?!

Yet, somehow, I found the ‘new guy’ and gave him all of two weeks training before I left, leaving him with:

– some last minute instructions (which he subsequently, all but ignored),

– my direct phone line in the USA (which he NEVER used), and

– my silent prayers that he wouldn’t run my life’s work into the ground too quickly.

Here is where I learned my ‘second lesson of indispensabilty’: not only did he NOT run the business into the ground, he saved a client that I had all but lost, maintained excellent relationships with my largest existing clients, signed a major strategic new contract, etc., etc. …. he proceeded to double the business over the next couple of years.

In fact, to this day, he is still successfully running the Australian operations for the new owners!

Lesson Two learned: a good business runs well under the watchful eye of it’s owner/CEO … a GREAT business runs even better without him.

You see, anybody [AJC: clearly!] with suitable training and experience can do the technical and managerial work of pretty much any business …

[AJC: if not, you don’t have a business …. you have a JOB]

… it just needs good systems to be put in place so that the business can run on ‘auto pilot’ while you – as the entrepreneur behind the business – do the ONLY job that you NEED to do:

Develop and and promote the strategic vision of the business.

Any other work that you do decide to take on is just so that you can feel busy … if that’s what makes you happy, keep doing it.


I prefer to make money 😉

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