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Time to Step Up

How to transition from working “in” the business to working “on” the business

Leaders, Business Leadership

Running a business is very challenging, in part because there are so many tasks needed to make it function. These activities range from buying supplies and repairing equipment to managing workers and doing collections—not to mention performing the work and winning
new customers. 

As the owner of the company, it can seem overwhelming just to tread water, let alone grow the business. Successful leaders learn to delegate day-to-day operations so they can focus on the highest-value activities, namely, sales and customer service.

When a business is small with only a handful of customers, the leader will often roll up her sleeves and perform the work alongside her few employees. By doing so, she will save the business money by not hiring more staff, and she may feel like she has more control over the execution of the jobs. However, a problem arises when inevitably a customer is lost or an employee leaves. The leader then becomes trapped on the rapidly ever-increasing treadmill of daily operations. The business does not grow but instead shrinks.

The ultimate solution is to develop a highly functional team that delivers strong results for the customer and is capable of operating without on-premises oversight by a micromanaging leader. This outcome has two important benefits. For one, customers are happy and you incur little if any extra labor costs to resolve satisfaction issues. Customer satisfaction leads to referred or additional projects. The other benefit is less appreciated but more impactful: freed-up time for the leader to grow revenue. Given there are only so many hours in a day, less time devoted on operations allows for more time dedicated to selling to existing customers
and prospects. 

How to make the transition

So how does someone make the transition from working “in” the business to working “on” it? The first step is to realize that this transformation is not a one-time event, but rather an ongoing effort that requires continued awareness and attention.

With this realization, a leader must put a persistent and comprehensive focus on team building. Recruiting, developing, and retaining employees is paramount. Beginning even before an employee is hired, carefully and repeatedly specify your expectations and give feedback. Provide employees with a wide range of tools such as internal and external training, high-quality equipment and cleaning chemicals, and a comfortable working environment. Successful team building requires you to take an interest in each team member’s personal and professional development. Practice open communication through regularly scheduled team meetings as well as informal conversations with each person on your staff. Financial incentives are important as well.

Putting these systems in place sounds like it will take significant effort, and it will. In fact, when a new team member is added, expect an initial drop in efficiency since time and resources will be diverted to training. However, keep in mind that the use of these best practices will lead to an attractive long-term return on investment for
the business.

Ideas to leverage your time

Hiring an assistant, maybe part-time initially, will off-load repetitive and time-consuming administrative functions—such as payroll, invoicing, collections, scheduling, and ordering supplies—from the business leader’s task list. An assistant can even help with lower-value sales-oriented tasks such as prospecting and coordinating customer meetings. Remember, the goal is time management, allowing the head of the business to focus on the highest-value activities while ridding as much as possible of the necessary but lowest-value operational functions.

One helpful guideline is the 80/20 rule. If someone else can perform an activity on their own roughly 80% as well as you can, then unload it. Delegation is key, and the key to delegation is developing a competent team. This requires ongoing effort in creating an environment that empowers employees to grow and learn from their mistakes. 

Overcome the apprehension

To some managers, the possibility of an unhappy customer is deeply unsettling and often cited as the reason they must be present on every job. However, who is to say that the presence of the manager on every job will prevent any customer issues? Success will come through open communication with team members to identify any challenges, allowing time to remedy these problems in a timely and satisfactory manner. 

We all know the expression of “turning lemons into lemonade.” As long as the shortfall is addressed quickly, the customer typically ends up feeling positive—and in fact often more positive than if there was no issue at all!

In practice, focusing on high-value sales activities is not natural for everyone, and that may be the primary reason some gravitate to operations. Fortunately, we are living in a time when there are many affordable resources to assist and improve marketing capabilities. Available tools include customer relationship management (CRM) software, online courses, and business coaches specializing in sales and a variety of other functional areas.

Change is never easy, so the key is to undertake a series of small, incremental steps. Laying the groundwork to pull back from operations—say, one extra hour each week—moves the ball forward to reorient your approach to working “on” and not “in” the business. Celebrate even the littlest victories, and over time the result will be much more dramatic than simply replacing one vowel with another. 

David Grossman

David Grossman is the president and CEO of Renue Systems, a leading franchisor and operator of deep cleaning services providers to the hospitality industry. He can be reached at [email protected].

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