Working In the Business vs On the Business

In the entrepreneurial circles, there’s a well known book called The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber, where he popularized the concept of working on the business as opposed to in the business. Generally, the idea is entrepreneurs often get caught up on the day-to-day running of the business and don’t spend enough time dreaming, planning big goals, and thinking about the future.

Only, it doesn’t make sense to worry about working on the business if there isn’t much of a business to begin with. At the beginning, almost all time should be spent working in the business. Due to limited resources, domain expertise, and many other factors, the entrepreneur is usually the best person to be working in the business. Over time, this changes, and as the business grows and achieves some stability, the entrepreneur does need to consciously allocate more time to working on the business. Here are a few thoughts on working in the business vs on the business:

  • Paul Graham has a great essay titled Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule that highlights one of the challenges an entrepreneur goes through from being a doer to a manager (once in the manager state, it’s even more important to work on the business)
  • From a company size and scale perspective, when companies meet my simple definition of a successful business, entrepreneurs should be spending at least 10% of their time working on the business
  • Overall, the more time spent managing and leading other people, the more time that needs to be spent working on the business

Entrepreneurs would do well to think about the concept of working on the business vs working in the business. Early on, most of the time is spent working in the business. Then, as the business grows, the entrepreneur needs to allocate more time to working on the business instead of in it.

What else? What are some more thoughts on working in the business vs working on the business?

4 thoughts on “Working In the Business vs On the Business

  1. I just finished E-Myth Revised and it was excellent! I felt that the message was indeed to work ‘in’ your business until you can focus more ‘on’ your business.
    Michael’s advice was to create a complete organization chart for the business as it will be when it is complete, then the founders should assign ALL the positions between themselves. After you perfect the low level processes you can hire someone to replace you, give then a proven SOP, and then focus ‘on’ your business at a higher level.

  2. Nice post David. It can be tough carving out time to work “on” the business when you’re buried under a mountain of minutia. Through the years I have always struggled with delegating small tasks, either because I didn’t trust other people to do them, or because I didn’t want to burden other people with simple things that I could easily do myself. If anyone else find themselves in a similar boat, here is a service that might help []. They can help get the little things off your plate, so you will have more time to focus on the big picture. Hope it helps someone.


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