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4 Ways to Work on Your Company, Not in It

Even entrepreneurs need to take some time to think the big thoughts.
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At our company’s Thanksgiving potluck last week, I was chatting to a new employee about her holiday plans.  When she asked in return what I would be doing, I said that I’d enjoy the family and food on Thanksgiving Day, but I’d be back to work right after that. “With so many people off work on Friday, I finally have a chance to catch up on all the big-picture projects I never manage to get to!”

“Of course,” she replied, “It’s the difference between working in your company and on it.”

That phrasing has stuck with me because it perfectly captures the constant tension business owners feel between responding to the next crisis (phone calls you just have to take, supplier contracts that only you can negotiate, customer service fiascos that require a personal response) and making sure the company is headed in the right direction.  If you’re familiar with Stephen Covey’s classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you’ll notice that I’m talking about the difference between tasks that are “important and urgent” and those that are “important but not urgent.”

Supposing that you have a few moments for self-reflection this holiday season, here are four topics you might want to consider that will help you work on your company, not in it:

Set concrete goals for 2013.  Let’s say one of your goals for the business in 2013 is to open a new branch office.  Carve out an afternoon to really dig deeply into what that means.  How many people?  How much money are you willing to spend?  Where should you locate it, and why? Break each goal down into smaller steps or mini-goals for each month, and then break that into actions that must be done each week.  If you don’t schedule weekly tasks that will get you towards your goals, you’ll wake up in June without having done anything. On the other hand, getting to Friday without accomplishing a weekly goal means you have to pay attention to it that weekend.

Plan your hirings and firings.  Firing people is just no fun.  Every business owner is guilty of procrastinating on firing someone that really needs to go.  But if it has to be done, bite the bullet.  Do the same thing with hiring.  It will make a huge difference to the company’s atmosphere and profitability.

Get your finances in order.  How much money did you make this year?  Do you know the answer down to the last penny?  It’s tempting to make sure that you can cover your expenses for the next week or month and then move on to the next urgent issue.  If you’re not auditing your company’s financial statements (or paying an outside firm to do so), make it a priority and set aside the time and money.

Work on long-term strategy.  Do you know where you want your company to be in five years? Ten years? Do you want to take the company public, or sell it, or pass it on to future generations? If you’ve written down your long-term goals before, pull them out again and see what has changed.

Over the next six weeks, I hope you have many opportunities to enjoy the holidays.  And if you have the chance to carve out some time to work on your company rather than in it, I urge you to take it!

Last updated: Nov 29, 2012

DAVID LONSDALE | President, Allegiance Capital

David Lonsdale built and sold three venture-funded companies before becoming president and co-owner of Allegiance Capital in 2005, which provides M&A financial services to middle market business owners.




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