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Five ways to work on, not in, your business

Friday, 20 September 2013 | By Melinda Oliver

When SmartCompany speaks to business owners one of the recurring themes is their desire to spend more time working on, not in, their businesses.


They bemoan that they are so bogged down in the stress of the day-to-day operations that they have little time to step aside and analyse the status of their business. They can’t pause to innovate, create, set new goals and brainstorm exciting ways to implement them.


However, there are many benefits of taking time to work on, not in, your business – both in terms of developing the growth potential of the company and also personal wellbeing and satisfaction.


SmartCompany has gathered together some of the best tips to help make this happen:


1. The Friday folder


A great way to get perspective on your company is to be savvy about trends in your industry, and what people around the world are doing in your field. Phil Rogers, owner of Loan Market North Ward, told SmartCompany he has a ‘Friday folder’ in his laptop, where he files interesting emails, industry-specific articles, and broader inspirational advice that he wants to read.


He gets up extra early on Friday to exercise and clear his mind. Then he takes his laptop to a cafe, treats himself to breakfast and spends an hour or two reading through them before going to the office.


The result? He gains fresh perspectives on his industry from around the world, he understands the broader issues at play, and gets inspired to think about how he can bring these new ideas into his company.


2. The think chair


An issue faced by most business owners is finding time to stop and think. Aged Footcare Australia founder Damien James told SmartCompany that he makes it a priority, as much as any other task that needs to be done.


He sits down every Sunday night at about 6pm in his “dedicated thinking chair”, armed with a pen and paper, and he “goes into the zone”.


“I answer a series of questions about the business,” he says. “The questions are designed to help me see invisible things like threats, weaknesses or even opportunities, and if I spot anything I’ll build it into my next 90-day plan. What you can’t see kills you. So making that a priority when my brain is fully recharged is really important.”


3. The support crew


External advice can be just as beneficial as what you can think of yourself. In a recent SmartCompany webinar, strategic advisor and coach to international business leaders Kevin Lawrence told listeners that having a support network is key. The co-author of the new Rockefeller Habits book said that consulting mentors, a specialist strategy advisor, business coach or even fellow business owners can open your mind to ways to do things better.


4. The team brainstorm


Former ninemsn CEO Steve Vamos told LeadingCompany that ‘management thinking’ continues to rely on what managers can control, rather than what they can bring out in others. In other words, draw on your team’s insights to help you see the business from a different perspective and generate ideas.


“If you’re a typical small business owner, working seven days a week, you need to find a way to stop and put your own ideas in the background,” Vamos says.


“If you’re open to new views and feedback, you end up with an organisation that carries you rather than one you have to drag. And that’s the mindset shift we need. Because you can’t be an expert on everything you need to know.”


To embrace this, get the team away from the usual workplace into a more creative environment. Ask them, if they could start the business from scratch, how would they re-do things? What would they turn upside down? What would they keep? Throw ideas around and see what magic evolves.


5. The outside help


To allow time to review your business, it may be that there are some tasks you need to let go of. Relinquishing control can be hard, but putting trust in others will enable them to shine, and free up the business owner to focus on some big picture strategies. The foremost supporter of outsourcing is US-based author of the popular The 4-Hour Work Week book, Tim Ferriss. He told SmartCompany that hiring people from online outsourcing sites to do key tasks, such as administration, finance and email management, can free up hours of time. Ferriss says when searching for the right freelancer, business owners should give a tight deadline for submission on proposals, to ensure that candidates can work fast. “Test for reliability,” he says. “Test on a small project, not something that is mission critical.”


This story first appeared on SmartCompany.