Are you on the business or are you in the business?

Are you on the business or are you in the business? Most business owners would have heard this question. As per my experience & understanding, only a few business owners say that they currently are ‘on’ their businesses.

Before we go deeper into why your answer should be “I am on my business”, let’s look at what this questions means.

What does this question mean?

Most activities in a typical small-business can be classified into strategic and operational activities.

Strategic activities more often than not translate into growth of the business. These activities involve figuring out the WHAT question. Examples: What new products should I be offering to our customers? What changes in my current product or service line will make customers want them even more? Typically in small-medium businesses, these activities are normally handled by business owners while in larger businesses these are carried out by business heads. Strategic activities mean ‘managing’ the business or being ‘on’ the business.

Operational activities cover day-to-day functioning of business. Example: Taking new orders, preparing a solution for customer or delivering a product to customer. In order words, operational activities involve ‘doing’ the business or being ‘in’ the business.

What’s wrong with a business owner majorly doing operational activities?

As a business owner, working primarily on operational activities leaves you with no time for spotting newer & possibly more lucrative business opportunities, improving your current offering or developing deeper relationships with your top customers. For most small-medium business owners, it also leads to a nagging feeling that they are not getting commensurate returns in the business compared to the ‘hard’ work they are putting in.

I understand that doing operational activities might be necessary during the starting phase, but sooner than later the business owner must move into ‘managing’ the business than ‘doing’ the business if his/her intention is to scale it up. Almost all business owners who have successfully scaled up their businesses have a competent team of middle-level managers who take care of operational activities. If you have to grow your business, you must do the same.

Why do business owners keep doing operational activities even after the starting phase?

When I dig deeper, the most common answer I find is that most business owners are unconsciously comfortable doing familiar ‘operational’ activities. It gives them a pseudo satisfaction of being busy doing ‘something’. Also added to this is the satisfaction of saving money on employees that they would have hired to do this activity.

On the other hand, initiatives to empower employees and thus freeing themselves from operational duties seem unfamiliar and hence difficult to business owners. In short, by doing ‘operational’ activities, most business owners unconsciously stay in their comfort zone.

Assuming business growth is the aim, I believe that even simply being aware that a business owner’s focus should lie on strategic activities, is battle half won. I say this because this awareness more often than not converts into action. And, that, in my opinion, is the most important step to business growth.

To conclude, being ‘on’ the business means that you are mostly doing strategic activities and monitoring the operational activities via your middle managers.

So, the next time someone asks you “Are you on the business or are you in the business?”, what is your answer going to be?

PS: I would be happy to hear what you think about the article or to answer any questions you might have. Please comment below.

Thanks to Chitaranjan Gupta & Anand Patil for their valuable feedback.

Note: This article was originally published on 17th July 2013 on Quora at this link.

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