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Working 'On' Your Business

Posted On: 1/4/2012

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Marcus Webb, Vending Times, business, jukebox operator, vending machine operator, vendor, amusement vendor, juke box business, coin machine business, pinball machine, goals, The E-Myth, working on your business, entrepreneur

Successful business owners often talk about the importance of working "on" your business, not working "in" your business. Others stress "becoming a real entrepreneur, not remaining a technician" (as in the bestseller The E-Myth).

Sounds interesting, but what does it mean?

To begin with, working "on" your business means setting specific goals -- for your company, your key employees and yourself -- and then putting strategies in place to help everyone achieve those goals.

In contrast, working "in" your business means simply scrambling day by day, trying to "do better" (or just keep your head above water) through sheer effort and opportunism ... without thinking about the big picture and without conceptualizing the company's overall direction, long-term strategy and success parameters.

Working "on" your business means setting up written systems and procedures. It means training your staff with policy manuals (even if it's only a single page of writing), calendars and deadlines so that everyone knows precisely how to perform his job, step by step.

Working "in" your business means issuing casual verbal orders, then expecting your employees to remember them and to execute what you "meant" to say -- or possibly issuing no orders at all, and letting employees simply "do what we've always done."

Proponents of working "on" your business say it opens the door to expansion and higher revenues. Working "in" your business, they warn, can be a formula for stagnation and eventual obsolescence. As one small company owner put it, "It's not enough to know your business; you need to get others to run it while you focus on growing the operation."

How would this idea translate into, say, running a street route or an arcade? Let's focus on one key area as an example: service.

To begin with, working "on" the service component of your operation business would mean keeping formal written logs of all incoming calls and outgoing service tickets. These days, of course, the logs would be entered and tracked by software, not handwritten on paper and entered into a logbook.

Working "on" your service business would mean meticulous recordkeeping for each machine and location: when a problem reported, what the problem was, who took the call, how the call was processed, to whom the job was assigned, what they did to fix it, when the work was performed, what parts or labor were used to make the repair, what earnings data and diagnostics were observed on site, and what additional problems were noted.

The most professional operators already do this as a matter of routine. But let's take it up a level.

Working "on" your business, not "in" your business, could also mean setting goals for how many repairs a technician should complete a day; setting workflow goals for how techs should cover their route assignments to ensure maximum travel efficiencies (most fixes for least mileage per week); setting goals for average cost-per-repair, including all forms of overhead; measuring, tracking and comparing each tech's performance on all these goals to himself over time and with other technical staff. (There are plenty more goals and procedures like these.)

In the broadest sense, working "on" your business means stepping back from chasing deals or putting out fires. Working "on" your business means recognizing that these tasks are the responsibilities of your staff or department heads, not the chief executive.

Many small operators may respond by saying, "Nice theory, but I'm too shorthanded to be able to farm out all those responsibilities. I am chief cook and bottle washer around here. That means I have to be the public face of my company to all of my locations. It also means that I have to chase deals myself, because nobody on my staff has the expertise to do it -- and frankly, I don't want to place my financial information or my company's future in my employees' hands."

If that's you, no problem. Keep doing what you're doing -- working "in" your business. But also set aside some time each week, even if it's just a couple of hours, to work "on" your business.

Make a weekly appointment with yourself in which you spend a chunk of quality time thinking about your own company as if you were an outside consultant who was hired to see the big picture and required to recommend specific, step-by-step plans for where to go and how to get there.

This weekly "appointment with yourself" might be just one hour, but those 52 weekly sessions could turn out to be the most lucrative hours you'll spend all year.