By K.P. Persaud / Guest Column

When I hear the expression “work on a business,” I envision a business owner in full control. I see a person connected to the business, yet making strategic decisions from a healthy and objective distance. And if tomorrow this individual received an offer he couldn’t refuse, he could simply walk away and hand over the keys to the new owner.

By comparison, the expression “work in a business” leads me to envision someone trapped inside their company, unable to escape. This particular business owner is constantly in a spin-cycle, putting out one fire after another and racing to accomplish tasks on a never-ending to-do list. This owner could never sell the business in the shape it’s in now – after all, this person is the business.

Given the choice, we all want to be owners who work on our businesses and not in them. But how do we make this transition?

You might be familiar with Michael Gerber’s book, “The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work And What To Do About It.” The book teaches us the invaluable lesson that to be able to work on our business, we must first view ourselves as three different people in one: The Technician, The Manager and The Entrepreneur. If we are too much of one or not enough of another, our business is destined to fail.

The Technician within us is great at building and delivering the product or service. But just being good at cobbling shoes doesn’t mean your business will become the next Zappos, let alone a local shoe store capable of surviving more than a few months.

The Manager within us excels in bringing order to chaos, in conserving resources and time, and motivating employees to yield maximum output. The Manager is great at executing the company’s big picture plans and ensuring that workers are attending to the finer aspects of its products or services.

The Entrepreneur is the one with the vision to take an idea and turn it into a business. This person excels at taking the 30,000-foot view of a company and spotting new opportunities for growth. If The Entrepreneur was the only one in charge, however, the business could spend too much time at the “whiteboard” or studying the balance sheet without following with the appropriate actions.

The important thing to note is that as a business owner, the technical, managerial, and entrepreneurial aspects of your endeavor are always competing for your focus. Finding the right balance between all three is critical.

 

Diagnosing your business

The first step in learning to work on your business is to step outside of your current reality and diagnose what you do well – and what you don’t – almost as if you were an outside investor or a consultant. Be brutally honest with yourself or the exercise is pointless.

Take a sheet of paper and create three columns labeled “Technical,” “Managerial” and “Entrepreneurial.” Come up with your strengths and weaknesses in each category. After that, decide, as a percentage, how you currently divide your time and resources between all three roles. For instance, you might determine your focus is 60 percent technical, 30 percent managerial and 10 percent entrepreneurial.

Many business owners enjoy the most success – and devote the largest percentage of their time and energy – in the Technical column, which makes sense. As a professional, you take pride in your products and services, and believe the greatest marketing strategy is to deliver high quality.

Unfortunately, that laser focus on the technical aspects can lead to tunnel vision and an abandonment of the managerial and entrepreneurial aspects of your business. For example, has your business been growing at the rate you forecasted? Have you been meeting your profit goals? Could you walk away from your business for a week and leave others in charge? This kind of diagnosis can sometimes be difficult for business owners.

Having worked for many years as an industrial engineer, I understand the temptation to focus solely on the details of the task at hand and neglect the “bigger picture” problems of the business. Resist that temptation.

For most of you, it is precisely the “big picture” where you must first focus your energy. After all, your business’s biggest problems don’t require a deep dive into analytics or high-dollar software. You already know your biggest challenges. Start by addressing those and then you can hone in on the details at the appropriate time.

No matter how you perform your initial diagnosis – whether you use this exercise or something else – I recommend that you write it all down as you go. Capture your thoughts on paper or in your word processor. Don’t just keep it in your head. By writing down all of these things, you will feel empowered to start working on them and you can do so in a methodical manner. You’ll also derive value in charting your progress over time.

In Part Two of this article, I will show you how to use the diagnosis you have performed to make important changes to your business. We will also explore what your ideal business looks like and how to make it a reality.

K.P. Persaud is the founder and president of DeKasp Enterprises Inc., and an executive business coach with ActionCoach in Cedar Rapids. He can be reached at actioncoach.com or (319) 721-3175.