Working In Your Business, Working On Your Business
Long before the E-Myth became a business management buzzword, it provided a valuable insight into the workings of entrepreneurial companies, including independent retailers. It stated that most entrepreneurial businesses fail because entrepreneurs are primarily “technicians” in their given field, and fail to develop the necessary business management skills to succeed.
From that concept has come one enduring phrase, which I find definitely resonates with my clients – working in, as opposed to working on your business. One of the great traps that an independent retailer can fall into is spending too much time working in their business and not enough time working on their business.
There are other metaphors for describing this trap. Independent retailers become so engrossed in the trees that they lose sight of the forest. For me, I like to think about this is as a timeline – it’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day that owners never get around to focusing on what needs to be done so that they can get to where they need to be in six months, or a year, or three years. When owners are immersed in the day to day, their time horizon has a way of crashing in on them. Everything is all about right now. The future becomes something that happens to you, rather than something that you make happen for you.
It’s a matter of finding an appropriate balance between working on and working in your business. Trouble is the result when that balance gets out of whack. Here are a few of the things that I’ve seen in my work with clients that usually lead to problems:
- Stagnant, stale merchandise assortments
- Stagnant, stale merchandise presentations
- Stagnant, narrow vendor structures
- Heavy inventories resulting from fewer, larger shipments of merchandise
- Operational shortcuts and loose-ends
- A loss of energy, passion and purpose
- Weak sales, and even weaker cash flow
And what’s not getting done that needs to be done:
- Financial planning and budgeting
- Merchandise planning and budgeting
- Seeing and evaluating new lines and vendors
- Testing new items, and developing new programs and categories
- Creating new events and experiences
- Remerchandising the store to give it a fresh look and feel
- Learning critical new skill sets
In short, spending too much time working in your business, and not enough time working on your business, is an incredible impediment to growth and profitability! Beyond that, it’s personally deadening. Grinding in and amongst the trees day after day inevitably leads to burn-out and frustration. Not only is your business not growing, but you’re not growing as an individual. You’re locked into the same old-same old! You’re spinning your wheels, but not getting anywhere.
So what can you do to find a better balance? Here are a few ideas:
- Start by recognizing the natural human tendency to allocate time to what’s familiar and comfortable, and avoid those things that are unfamiliar and less comfortable, and acknowledge that you’re as susceptible to that as anyone.
- Recognize that success requires you to continually challenge your preconceptions, biases and sacred cows – to continually challenge yourself to learn new skill sets and think outside of your box.
- Partition your time. You may think you need to be on the salesfloor all of the time, but you really need to be off the salesfloor some of that time. Schedule your time as you would schedule your team – this is my time to be on the floor, working with customers, working in my business, and this is the time I need to be off the floor, working on my business.
- Create a project list, and schedule out the tasks necessary to complete each project on time. Most everybody has project lists, but not everybody will schedule and commit to the time needed to get them done.
- Create a calendar. Force yourself to look out into the future to identify what needs to get done, so you can schedule it accordingly.
- Commit to learning a new skill set. What don’t you know enough about or do well enough, that you know you must learn about or get better at?
- Commit to testing several new ideas every month – whether it’s testing new items, new categories, new presentations, new displays, new lighting, etc.
- Green-light your opportunities. What would you do with your business if you had all the time in the world? (Time, not money, really is the most limiting resource.) Where would you like to be in a year, in three years, in five years? What do you need to do today, this week, this month, to take the first steps on your way to that future?
- Finally (and here’s my shameless plug), hire a consultant or coach to help you identify and define your needs and opportunities, and partner with you to be sure you continue to work steadily toward achieving your goals.
In the world we now live in, financial success requires a commitment to proven retail business fundamentals, a commitment to operational discipline, and a heightened attention to detail. These things can only happen when you commit to dedicating the time to work on your business that your business deserves. And, from my experience working with my clients, I can also tell you that you’ll also feel refreshed and reinvigorated, and once again full of the passion and purpose that animated your business in the first place.