Working In vs. Working On Your Business – What’s the Difference?

Running a small business involves a lot of hat-switching for sure but does it matter how and when you switch gears and what you’re working on -- what’s the difference between working in your business vs. on your business?

Understanding the distinction could impact the long-term success of your company.

If you’re like most small business owners, with or without employees, your default is working “in” your business. You’re entrenched in the details of everyday tasks related to the core of your business, doing the type of activities that have to get done, the work that directly produces revenue for your business.

The flip side -- working “on” your business - is the big picture stuff, the work you do “for” your business -- such as designing processes or finding ways to get more customers. When you’re working on your business, you’re looking ahead, developing your company, and doing tasks that that will help you sustain your business in the long term.

Why It Matters

It’s easy to get stuck in the day-to-day operations of your business, yet it’s critical to remember how important working on your business can be. Don’t let that part of your job as business owner slip through the cracks or your company will suffer long-term. 

“I know from experience how easy it is to just work IN your business for weeks and weeks and even months without doing anything to work ON your business,” writes Cam Langsford, founder and developer at Training Tilt, a software platform for running and endurance coaching businesses.

“For me this happened because I was running my business in a re-active way instead of a proactive way. Every day stuff happens so you deal with that stuff and if you aren't very careful the day will end without achieving much at all to help your business move forward.”

Neil Ducoff, founder & CEO of Strategies, and author of No-Compromise Leadership, echoes that advice. A business owner who is spending the majority of time doing the work of the business,” he says, has little time to plot the course for growth and continued success.

“Who’s making sure the business has the resources, money, talent, systems and a rock-solid culture to ensure continued success?” writes Ducoff in his Strategies blog.

How to Work On Your Business

Working on your business opens the door for a clearer vision -- when you get “out of the weeds” you can see things you may not have thought about since first starting your business.

Outside the confines of the everyday work of producing your product or services – when you work for your business instead of in -- you can track the competition, figure out ways to improve your company, and just evolve. 

As the owner of a company, your job is to lead the business. And part of leading is the work you do “on” your business.

So learn to recognize the difference between your tasks -- whether you’re working in and on your business, and the steps you can take to strike the right balance.

If you have employees, make sure they’re well trained and let them do the jobs you hired them to do so you don’t have to be there every minute -- it will free up more time for you to work “on” your business.

It’s a bridge every entrepreneur has to eventually cross as they grow their company -- the transition from “doing” to “leading,” says Ray Silverstein, president of the President’s Resource Organization, a network of entrepreneurial peer advisory groups, and author of “The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses.” 

“Good leaders know when to get out of their own way,” says Silverstein in a blog posted on

Of course you can’t simply drop the daily tasks of running your business but you can learn to create pockets of time in your week or month to steal away from working in the business. Because working on your business is vital to your long term success.

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