Real Entrepreneurs Work On Their Business Not In It

by admin

We all know that we have to work ‘on’ our businesses, not just ‘in’ them right? Unfortunately no-one seems to be able to tell me exactly what it means to work ‘on’ my business – so I did a little research…

I asked a large number of business owners who had been in the role for more than three years and there were the most common answers;

  • Bookwork
  • Hiring and staff management
  • Selling
  • Marketing
  • Ordering and inventory management
  • And a somewhat unclear category called ‘Administration’


Michael Gerber’s fantastic book ‘The E-Myth’ has a fair crack at a good explanation but I really needed to read the whole book to understand it and it still left me wondering; What’s the definition of ‘on business’ work? So here’s my take;

Any business task that needs to be done more than once per year is probably ‘in’ your business and any that needs to be done four or more times per year is definitely ‘in’ your business.

So what does it leave? Not much in content, but a whole lot in context when you start to think about it. I came down to just five categories of true owners work; Marketing, Selling, Systems, Hands On and Entrepreneurial. In this sense they mean;


-Creating a marketing plan

-Market Research to determine:

  • Who (do we want to attract)
  • Where (can we reach them in great numbers)
  • What (are we going to sell)
  • When (is the best timing)
  • and Why (should they buy from us),

But not;

  • What medium to use
  • How to deliver it
  • And What to say (these three  are all technical and therefore ‘in business’)


  • The brand
  • The need for the business and its products and services
  • The need to show interest (respond to the marketing)
  • And the reasons why great employees should work for us
  • In essence, networking and meeting people you don’t know


  • To quote Gerber; ‘the creation, implementation and continuous improvement of the systems that the hands on people use to run the business is genuine owner’s work’
  • Clearly the above is ‘on business’ a good system only has to be written once and then it can be used forever (or at least for a very long time)

Hands On

  • The part of the business called hands ‘on’ but is really ‘in’
  • Literally everything not included on this list
  • We all do some hands on, but some of us more than others, and some of us nothing else


  • The most important and the least understood, and the reason why 80% of businesses fail in the second five years! And the only work that can’t be done while working!
  • The thinking, the imagining, the dreaming and the planning of what the business could be, what it must be and what it will be
  • And when it will be achieved

Here’s what’s really important, other than in large or very sophisticated businesses, only the Hands On part can be delegated or outsourced. All five categories are equally important but if the business owner is not doing their four, who is? Generally the answer is, no one – and that’s why businesses fail.

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