There is a lot of confusion over some rather simple concepts in business. They stem from the following:
- Working on the business,
- Working in the business,
- Focusing on your business strategy, and
- Keeping your customers happy and finding new ones.
This all stems from one major problem with how many entrepreneurs think about business.
Your goal as an entrepreneur is to build a business (first and foremost) that can then build and deliver great products and services to your customers, thereby making more money than you are spending (profit).
What many entrepreneurs do is build the product or service as the main focus and deal with the business as an afterthought. One of the three outcomes is then possible:
- You outright fail,
- You succeed at first and then your business falls apart when you try to grow it quickly,
- You succeed but at too high of a high personal price.
I've excluded "you somehow get the business right despite the lack of focus because of either luck or a natural ability to be an entrepreneur"; this case is just too rare.
Your business strategy is where you are planning on taking things from a larger time perspective than what you normally work in; your strategic rather than tactical perspective. These terms derive from a military context so I will use a military example.
You might decide to use a strategy of "war by attrition" on the belief that you can more afford to lose resources than your enemy and after a period of time, they will capitulate or plain run out of steam. So then your tactical responses are based on your strategy; you try to draw your enemy into battles that cost them lots of resources. It doesn't matter if you win or lose each battle as long as they lose lots of soldiers each time you engage.
From a business perspective, many organizations focus strategy on their customer, products and services, finances, etc. These are goals like: grow our market, double revenue, increase profit margins, or release a new product. Internal goals and projects can flow from these or you can have internal goals all by themselves.
Working On The Business
If your real job in being an entrepreneur is to build a business, why do so many entrepreneurs focus on their product/service at the exclusion of their own business?
Simple. Most entrepreneurs start businesses doing something they are good at… the product or service. Your customers then want more of it (if it is any good) and you are kept busy delivering it. You then hire people to "take care of problems" or "help". You then depend on those people to handle it without stepping back to really design it. You are totally dependent on a few key people.
Some of the best businesses are created by people who aren't experts in the details of the product or service when they start. They are forced to build their organization to work despite their shortcomings. They hire experts to handle customer delivery and they put in systems and architecture to ensure that those people deliver according to the mission and vision.
Working on the business means that once you know where your vision is going to take your business, you work on the architecture, processes, systems, tools, etc… the how part… of every aspect of your business that is required to deliver on your promise to your customer; your mission and vision.
People are also horribly unreliable. Even you. (Even me.) We get distracted easily and can lose focus. We have emotions and can go from being happy and productive to unhappy and unproductive. Yet our customers are expecting a consistent delivery on our promise to them. You need to make sure you design your business not just to mechanically fulfill the requirements; but to motivate and inspire the best possible outcomes in delivering to your customers (and your employees, shareholder, vendors, partners, etc.).
Continuing the military example… Working on your military muscle would include enhancing your ability to recruit and train soldiers, inventing and enhancing weapons capabilities, building out supply lines, engaging the civilian population to ensure commitment to the eventual goal, ensuring depth of skills and capabilities, building new bases, etc.
As a more business example closer to home, you decide to launch a new software product available to customers via the cloud (the Internet). Yes, you have to build the software product. If you are a great software development team, that is not your biggest issue. You also need to define:
- How your product will be built initially?
- How your product will be enhanced?
- How will you manage the product (product management)?
- Where will it be hosted?
- How will you bill customers?
- What happens when they don't pay on time?
- How will you market your product?
- How will you get referrals?
- Who will support your product (customer service)? How?
- How will you attract the right people to your team?
- How will you retain them?
- How will you motivate people to perform consistently at a high level?
If your answer is that you will deal with all that when you have paying customers, that is the first indication that you may not be really working on your business. I am not saying you have to deal with all of the details of flying before you build the plane and engines. On the other hand, I doubt you want to try flying for very long without them.
The architecture you put in place requires that you identify the key areas of your business required for your venture to succeed and build them up with as much interest and focus as you put into your products or services.
The Process for the Process (of Architecture)
First rule. You probably already know a lot about what really needs to get done. You not in the sense of "just you", but you in the sense of you, your team, your friends, your family, your customers, and anyone else willing to help you out. Having your entire team involved will help ensure additional buy-in from them when it comes time to implement.
First step: Brainstorm what all of the things that need to get handled in your business are. By brainstorm I mean think of all the options, not just the obvious ones. You can discard things later that don't fit your mission, vision or budget.
Second step: Determine which items you want to tackle first and brainstorm creative solutions. Focus not just on what needs to be done, but how. How do you make the work that needs to get done self-motivating? Make it fun, make it a game and keep score; make it your culture.
Third Step: Implement your solutions, measure, create and brainstorm some more.
Whatever happens, don't forget that working on your business is an essential part of your business strategy.