Working ON your business

"I see it as a problem with small and growing firms in any business. Working on the business cannot be neglected. It is very hard when you don’t have a lot of capital, or you have a narrow skill set, or when you feel you have to touch everything. This especially is a problem in design firms."


—Gary Munch, President and CEO, Artisans & Co.


Work It

For any business to grow, principals and senior staff need to be able to take a step back. You have to have time and space to think strategically about such critical issues as:


  • Who should be our clientele and what will they need in the future?

  • Where are we going and how will we get there?

  • Do we have the proper systems, processes, and standard operating procedures in place?

  • If not, how do we establish them?

  • Do we have the proper staffing?

  • Is a major business transition approaching or underway?


Deliberate strategic reflection touches all aspects of the business and the entire business cycle. This is particularly true for business development. When operating in a purely ad hoc fashion without systems and structure, things are not necessarily going to happen as they should, and in most cases, they won’t happen at all. If you set up the proper systems for business development, you have a much greater chance of executing your plans and landing the new opportunities you need to grow.


In large organizations, the CEO is the person asking these strategic questions, and in practice, working ON the business. Others in the company, such as the COO, CFO, managing principals, project managers, and professional staff, are working IN the business. They are the ones rolling up their sleeves and getting things done.


In professional services firms, the strategic role is typically not necessarily distinguished from day-to-day operations. Everyone is engaged in managing and delivering projects, and there is never enough time to work ON the business. Opportunities are hard to spot, because people are deep in the weeds. The consequence is that the trajectory for growth is significantly slower, and people can lose sight of what they want to achieve over time.


Working on your business is extremely hard to hire for. Often if seems like nobody can chart the course for you. And yet, how do you get to the next level? Who are the connectors? What are the actions and activities you need to execute on a regular basis?


As you grow your firm, your job changes, and part of the change is recognizing the need to take a step back and work ON the business. We find that you can put your firm back on course by working together in a mixed team of your staff and consultants like Appleseed. The tools that are most effective are:


  • Facilitated discussions

  • Staff retreats that afford time for reflection to determine changes in direction

  • Creating and executing detailed action plans with defined responsibilities

  • Research and targeted outreach

  • Staff mentoring to create a business development culture


No one tool can do it all. Working on the business is a team effort, especially if a leadership transition is involved. What matters most are to adopt the discipline of being strategic, and not reactive, and to commit to continually working on your business. We look forward to helping you through the process.



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