All our articles are designed to help improve your business, but if you only pick one, this is probably the most important for all business and can make your business really fly. It's a little longer than usual - but still just a starter. It will only be effective if you actually implement it.

Daily you’re answering phones, replying to e-mails, talking with team members, fighting fires, and juggling all the elements of your business at once - marketing, sales, management, operations, finances, cash flow, debtors, creditors, suppliers and more. You’re extremely busy and you’ve just realised that you forgot to eat lunch again, and someone unexpected has just walked in the door. That means you’re going to have to spend time with them instead of completing that paperwork you really wanted to finish. Oh well, you’ll take it home and do it tonight.

Sound familiar? This is what working IN your business means. You’re in the midst of it and trying to handle it all and be everything to everybody

What if you were to take a step back from your business and look at it objectively, saying, “Without me, what would happen? What do I want to happen? What needs to be done to free me up from working in it all the time?” If your business were a lump of clay, what would you mould it into?

Just thinking about it, you can sense the huge difference this could make. Imagine some time free from day-to-day tasks and looking at your business in the long term. Think of the creative ideas or opportunities you could come up with! This is working ON your business.

Working ON your business is the difference between your business just providing you with a job versus helping you attain your personal goals.

Think about why you went into business in the first place. Financial independence? To be your own boss? To spend more time with your family? How many of those goals have you actually attained? The fact is, most of us jump or fall into business. Before we know it, we are so busy that we have no time to think about what we want from the business, how it will be shaped and what it will be like the day we retire or sell it.

Steven R. Covey, in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, says to “begin with the end in mind.” In other words, whenever you start a process, understand exactly what the end-point is before you start.

Think about that in the context of a business. How many business owners actually do that? End-in-mind thinking makes a profound difference. Let’s take two different hamburger restaurants for example.

Two hamburger joints

When Ray Kroc founded McDonald’s he had absolutely no intention of working behind a counter.  In fact, he never even made a hamburger. He began with a different end in mind. He envisioned thousands of McDonald’s stores around the world, each doing exactly the same thing in a predictable manner. Knowing that, he knew he wouldn’t be able to work in them, hence they would have to work without him! He then developed processes and systems structured around how to hire people, the colour the restaurants should be, the way a restaurant should be managed, right down to the way they should heat their buns.  All of this occurred by having a vision, determining what needed to be done to get there, and then carefully going over every little detail.

Contrast that with owners who run a typical hamburger place. They’re doing it, doing it, doing it, every single day. And that’s precisely because they didn’t begin with the end in mind. They set up a business that depended on the owner doing everything. Their only vision was of ordering the goods to make the hamburgers, doing the stock control, frying the fries, grill the burgers, buttering the buns, wrapping it all up, ringing up the sale and hoping to make ends meet at the end of the day. Their burgers are often more appetising, but our question isn't which burger you'd rather eat but which business you'd rather own.

As Michael Gerber points out in his book "The E Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work And What to Do About It", it’s a myth that most businesses are started by entrepreneurs. Gerber suggests that most businesses are started by a person suffering from an ‘entrepreneurial seizure.’ That is, instead of creating a business that works, we create a business that is us. A business that often becomes all-consuming. And worse yet, when it all becomes too much, we sell our most precious asset for far less than it would have been worth if we had started with the end in mind.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is another path. Consider again the true purpose of your business. Once you get the thought processes of beginning with the end-in-mind going, the true purpose comes out. Isn’t the purpose of a business to create life - for you and for the people with whom you interact?

A central theme in Gerber’s E-Myth is that most businesses fail or never reach their full potential because their owners spend too much time doing the work that the business does, rather than managing and growing it. Creating a systematised way of doing things is the key to breaking this cycle. So, an important step to start working ON your business is to simply develop systems for everything.