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Early Growth Strategy for Startups and Small Business - How to Work "On" Your Business, Not "In" It

Working “On” the Business Vs Working “In” the Business

One of the toughest things about the early growth of a company is that you are not only “working in the business”, but you are also “working on the business.” If you’ve never heard these terms, allow me to explain.

“Working in the business” is doing the day-to-day operational work of the business, fulfilling orders, building your product – whatever you do to make money right now. “Working on the business” is doing the work to grow the company. Early on, you will be doing both because you haven’t yet replaced yourself in every aspect of day-to-day operations.

One of the keys to growing early on is getting yourself out of the day-to-day operations of the company so you can focus on growing the company.

So if the goal in early growth is to work “on” rather than “in” the business, how do you get there?

Hiring to Replace Yourself

You need to replace yourself with someone that can do one of your jobs better than you can. That means three things:

  1. You must first be capable at that job. Do not hire someone for a job you don’t understand yourself

  2. Create the systems needed to manage the job before hiring.

  3. Always be hiring. Find potential new employees before you actually need them.

1. Don’t Hire Until You Understand the Job

It is tempting to hire one of your day-to-day roles as soon as you get the money to do so. The central problem with this approach is that you won’t know what type of employee you are looking for because you don’t yet possess the skills to do this job yet yourself. And when you don’t know what you are looking for, you certainly won’t find it!

Only hire for roles in which you are competent so you know the desired skills and traits necessary to do the job well. Additionally, you’ll need to create the systems needed to manage them and their work.

2. Create the Systems Needed to Manage Employees and Their Work Before Hiring

One of my favorite books is The E-Myth because it tells the story of nearly every single small business. A great technician starts a company. They do great work, are recognized for it, and the business grows. There is more work than the technician can handle so they figure they must hire someone for that work. They hire someone, but without proper training or systems. That new technician starts to do the work “their way” and problems arise. The owner gets frustrated at the mounting issues as the business suffers. New technicians come and go while the business never grows. Eventually, the owner realizes the amount of suffering is not worth the payoff and the business closes.

There is a hurdle in small business that most owners never get over - being able to replace themselves and enjoy being successful.

In order to accomplish this, the owner will need to understand the importance of systems and hiring.

This is not a post about how to create systems (one of my other great passions in business). However, if you simply understand that systems need to be in place in order to create a standardized level of quality in the product then I’m satisfied. Of course, systems can run an entire business, which is eventually how DVD Your Memories was run, but that is a story for another time.

Reach out to me via email if you'd like my help systematizing your business.

3. Always Be Hiring

One day I was walking with Sean Williams, the ex-VP of Belkin and the guy that just bought DVD Your Memories from me. We went into a Starbucks and had a great experience, particularly with one barista. You could just tell they were great at their craft and had great customer service. What surprised me was when Sean started asking them questions about how much they liked their job. Eventually, I caught-on to what was going on – Sean was recruiting for DVD Your Memories. He was practicing the “always-be-hiring” method.

The “always-be-hiring” approach works because you can witness someone at their current job. You’ll see them as they actually are, not under the pressure nor trying to put on a false front that so often happens at a formal job interview. If you like what you see, let that person know and ask for their information if they are open to something in the future. Then when a position opens up, you can call them up to see if they can fit the role you’re hiring for.


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