Did you become an entrepreneur because you were deeply interested in the product or service your business deals with? Many of us did; and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. However, if your business is to grow and flourish, you must resist the temptation to spend too much time working in your business, rather than on it.
Michael Gerber makes this distinction in his widely hailed book The E-Myth Revisited. Those of us who have met him in person know that Gerber is not always right. But on this point, it’s clear that he is. Too many entrepreneurs are busy “doing it, doing it, doing it,” as Gerber puts it. They spend so much time on the operations side of the business that they leave little or no time to let the business grow in a planned, well-thought-out manner.
This is the issue that I call “liking your business too much.” No, you can’t literally like it too much, but you can be so involved in the mechanics of it that you leave little or no time to really look after it.
Often, this happens because of the criteria used for starting or acquiring the business in the first place. You started a ski shop because you love to ski. Your started an auto repair shop because you love to work on cars. You started a construction business because you love to do carpentry work. The sentiment is wonderful, but it’s easy to see how this type of attachment can suck you into being an employee in your own company rather than the leader of it.
Working on your business requires not only time, but focus–that is, the ability to focus your attention on the details you started out with in your initial business plan. For example:
• Where is your business going? What new adjustments need to be made as it grows? Or, if it’s not growing as expected, why? What can be changed?
• What is your competition doing? What steps do you need to take to continue to compete?
• What strategic steps must you take to be proactive in terms of changing technology? These are only a few questions that can force you to go beyond just operating.
When you are spending your time and energy on the business, your overall quality of life is also likely to be higher. You are not just running around “putting out fires.” Instead, you enable yourself to work on “fire prevention,” a great metaphor for planning your strategies. Rather than allowing the internal environment to control you, you can harness it. You will find that your business is enriching your life, rather than exhausting it.
For years I used to place my COCC business students out in the Central Oregon community asking a series of interview questions, questions the answers to which have helped a generation of business students understand the real issues that local firms face. One question–along with its answers–stands out among the rest: “Where do you plan to be with your company in five years? Ten? Twenty?”
Some business owners have had definite replies to the question, answers that showed a great deal of thought had been put into both short- and long-term planning. However, most of those interviewed had clearly not thought much about the planning issue at all, before the question was asked. A painfully typical answer was, “To still be in business, doing what I’m doing.” In some cases, the 20-year question would be answered “To be retired.”
My friends, those are not plans; they are hopes! We all have hopes, but those whose businesses succeed and grow have plans. Are you developing your plans, or are you spending too much of your entrepreneurial time working in your business, rather than on it? Don’t be an employee; be the leader who will take your company to its next step.
Lowell H. Lamberton is a professor of management at Central Oregon Community College. Please direct comments to firstname.lastname@example.org