The Importance of Working ON and Not IN Your Business

The importance of working on and not in your businessWomen operated 34% of Australian businesses in 2015, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. In many cases, these are one-person or perhaps two-person businesses. Not surprisingly, that means the entrepreneur is actually working hands-on in the business, due to the limited amount of employees and, of course, to save on employment costs.

However, as you grow your business and achieve more success, things will have to change. You’ll need help, and here’s where hiring new employees comes into play. You’ll then start to assume more of a leadership role. In order to grow the business further, however, you as the leader must gradually switch to working on rather than in the business. What does that mean? Read on!

In the Beginning…

Startups are quite often the brainchild of an individual with a vision or a great idea. In order to achieve that vision, the entrepreneur spends long hours performing the hands on tasks—ordering materials and supplies, driving to shows and stores to display the products, creating advertisements, bookkeeping, writing proposals, and, in some cases, actually creating the products themselves. What typically happens is that a little success results in the need to hire one or more employees. At that point, you must begin to work on, rather than in your business.

What this means is that you must avoid trying to do everything yourself if you have employees, just because you want to make sure everything is done according to your standards. This includes managing or doing your employees’ tasks, and not delegating some of yours to them. While your effort is commendable, this is nonetheless a negative for your business. This is what many call working in your business, and it can result in you getting exhausted and having less time devoted to the tasks that you, as the leader, need to do, which includes strategising, knowing your business’ weak points and addressing them, being the face of the business through networking, looking for business opportunities and therefore leading the business to success.

Meanwhile, working on your business basically means you’re working on the ways to improve your business overall, focusing on the things that you need to do as the leader (rather than the tasks your employees are tasked to do), identifying problems, delegating solutions, and improving your leadership skills for your company’s future. Therefore you’re looking at the bigger picture and being more strategic.

Leading is Different

In terms of working on your business, leadership is about problem solving, working on the long-term goals, delegating to others, and growing your company. Setting the organisation’s direction, marketing, finding new business opportunities, acting as the trouble-shooter, and being the visionary are just some of the tasks involved in leadership. If you try to manage all the details as well as the leadership functions, you will quickly become frustrated, overwhelmed, and exhausted. You must learn to be the executive rather than the “doer.”

Noelle Sunstrom, CEO of biotechnology company NeuClone, created a technology that decreased the manufacturing costs for biological drugs. According to Sunstrom, some basic strategies she used were “surround yourself with very smart people, delegate, (and) learn from setbacks.”

Find the Right People

An important task in getting to the point where you can work on, rather than in, your business is selecting the right team members. Hiring the right people is an art and it gets better with practice. You should have a clear mental picture of the kind of person you want in each job, a well-thought-out job description that ties into the company’s mission and standards, and an effective training and development program.

In the early stages of your business, you may want to do the training and development yourself to ensure that people fully understand the expectations and the job itself. Always be on the lookout for the right person to become the coach, for you and your team, —this is a key position to keep your business growing successfully.

Having the right people means less stress and more confidence that you can leave the tasks to your employees and focus on guiding your business in the right direction, making working on it even easier.

Keep the Right People

Don’t hesitate to terminate the wrong employees, respectfully. When you have employees you can trust to handle the day-to-day operations, you are free to do what only you can do. It’s best to end the employment of people who are clearly not performing, don’t care about customer service, don’t fit your culture, or who are dishonest. It’s harder with the more subtle issues, however. Sometimes good people simply don’t fit with the job or the mission or the team. Be honest and respectful and replace them with the right people especially if training and development doesn’t work anymore—you cannot be successful with the wrong people, and you will never feel comfortable delegating to someone who is not a good fit.

This is one of the harsh realities of being a leader. It can be really hard to let go of an employee who works hard, has good ethics, and has developed a good working relationship with you and the other members of your business. However, if that person is clearly not compatible with the job, you might have to move him/her to another position or let go entirely. This is why having a probationary period for employees is important—you have the time to analyse to see if a newcomer is a good fit and can perform in the role.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

Delegation is the key to allowing you to work on rather than in your business. It may be the biggest hurdle for an entrepreneur, however. Moving from “doing” to “leading” means letting go of your “baby” and entrusting important tasks to others. Your employees must be clear on their priorities and jobs, the limits of their authority, and how you measure their performance. Constant communication (as well as listening carefully to what people say and don’t say) is one of the most important keys to good delegation since it allows you to better understand if an employee can handle a job or if he or she might need more direction and supervision from you or the other employees.

Without proper delegation, there’s a good chance you’ll be stuck with tasks not done correctly by people who are not competent to do them. The end result is you having to fill the gaps yourself and clean up the mess afterwards, leading to frustration and exhaustion, as well as being discouraged because you feel you still have to do everything by yourself. This also leads to confusion among your team members—who really need to step up and learn from making mistakes and you understanding there are other options and methods to achieving desired outcomes.

Learn From Mistakes

At first, your employees may not do things as well as you can or do them exactly as you would. In the first case, that may mean more coaching or supervision is needed (although your goal should be to have employees who need little supervision once they are fully competent). In the second, a difference in style doesn’t matter as long as the goal is achieved. Of course, you and your employees will make mistakes—and each one is an opportunity to learn. Whenever something goes wrong, ask yourself and all concerned, what could we have done to avoid this? Or if it was unavoidable, what have we learned from it?

Doing so gives you and your employees a better idea of how to avoid similar problems in the future. It also gives them the impression that their insights are important, and that they are valued members of the business.

As you work through the transition from being a hands-on worker to a true leader, it’s always a wise move to seek professional advice and guidance. Behind Closed Doors offers resources, networking, and peer-to-peer or one-to-one mentorship to help you work on rather than in your business, giving you a better chance of developing yourself into a better businesswoman primed for long-term entrepreneurial success.


Never miss a blog, subscribe today.

Other blogs that may be of interest:

Why Women May Want To Consider Board Opportunities

why women should consider board positions

There are many more doors open to professional women in the business world today than ever before. However, the door to the boardroom has still not opened wide. Women currently make up only 30% of ASX 200 board positions, according to the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

To some extent, this is because there are still not a lot of senior executives who are female. On the other hand, it may be partly because women are not on people’s radars ie Chairs and Board Directors don’t know you exist or are actively seeking Board roles. Here’s why you may want to consider board opportunities.

The Impact of Women on Boards

Women make up about half of the global population. If they are not represented well at the board level, their issues, concerns, advocacies, and requests may not be addressed or considered. It was women in board positions who fought for parental benefits such as on-site or subsidised child care, parental leave, flexible work practices and breast-pumping policies.

Organisations with high numbers of female directors also perform better regarding return on equity, return on sales, and return on invested capital than those companies with fewer or no female directors. This is despite the fact studies show that small-holding firms often cut back on investments in a company in the first year after women join the board.

Tech companies, in particular, are under significant pressure to diversify their boards—specifically by adding women, according to a recent article in the New York Times. The boards of huge companies like Facebook and Google are usually male-dominated. With the increasing evidence that boards with limited diversity are more susceptible to group-think and performance issues, that’s beginning to change. Boards have begun to court women like Stacy Brown-Philpot, the Chief Executive of online freelance marketplace TaskRabbit, Selina Tobaccowala, who runs the fitness app Gixo, and Clara Shih, the Chief Executive of digital marketing platform Hearsay Systems.

What a Board Position Can Bring You

Board service will boost your professional development and provide you with opportunities to gain more experience in mentorship and leadership or hone specific skills such as public speaking and even diplomacy. This enables you to more effectively guide and mentor other people as well, helping develop them into better contributing members for the organisation or for society in general.

As previously mentioned, a board position offers a great opportunity to make a positive change not just within an organisation but within society as well. And since you’ll also be working with other talented and skilled people with experience in the business and at professional levels (some of them with much more board experience than you), you’ll potentially have the support you need to attain your board objectives and be successful with your advocacies. However, for this to be possible, make sure you join a board within an organisation with values aligned with yours. For example, if you’re advocating for a healthier lifestyle, joining a fast-food company’s board might not be a good idea.

During the course of your board service, you will be exposed to other disciplines or fields you might not otherwise encounter in a regular work setting such as financial reporting, market analysis, or strategic planning. With greater experience you will grow into a well-rounded business or career woman.

Having a board position can be a rewarding way of giving back to the community—particularly if you serve on profit-for-purpose board—and can also provide you with an opportunity to help mentor other professional women. This is particularly true with local profit for purpose boards in a smaller community. The other advantage of joining a local board, if it’s your first time, is that many of the larger companies are looking for people who already have extensive board experience. Gain experience at the local level and then move up to the larger organisations that will help you make a greater difference.

In certain cases, board service also means extending your networks and additional income. While this is true, one shouldn’t join a board with the primary intention of acquiring profits or growing their own business financially. It is best to view and address board issues objectively and without a hidden agenda in mind. Board decisions tainted with personal interest are not the best ones and can have far-reaching negative effects for the organisation in the long run

Prepare Yourself for Board Service

Once you’ve decided that board service is part of the path you want to  take, spend some time educating yourself first about the companies you’re considering, the duties of a board member, and the potential risks. Boards make their selections on the basis of capability, trust and character. If you want to join a board, you need to market yourself. Enrolling in relevant courses such as those offered by the Australian Institute of Company Directors will educate you on what will be needed from you in the boardroom and the lessons you need to succeed within it.

What are your special competencies? You must also be able to judge others well. Remember, the board has oversight of the CEO. Successful board members raise tough questions, collaborate, and are trustworthy. Finally, a board member needs emotional intelligence—specifically self-knowledge, empathy, and humility.

Board service does mean work and added responsibility; doing it right takes time and considerable effort. But if you’re successful, you will reap many rewards that will help not just you but the community as well. If you’re considering joining a board, Behind Closed Doors has the tools and resources such as networking. coaching and mentorship that will prepare you and alert you to opportunities.


Never miss a blog, subscribe today.

Other blogs that may be of interest: