The saying, “You need to work on your business, not in it” is pretty popular in entrepreneurial circles.

If you open a bakery and want to grow past a certain point, at some point you’ll need to stop making cakes yourself and take on all the other tasks involved in building a “real” business.

Or as business expert Ray Silverstein says,

“There is a bridge every entrepreneur must cross in order to grow a business beyond a certain point, a point where they must transition from ‘doing’ to ‘leading’… stepping back from day-to-day operations and slipping into the role of overseer.”

At face value, the principle of working “on” rather than “in” makes sense. If you’re too deep in the weeds you won’t have time to do the “real” work of growing a business: Setting goals, finding solutions, and seeing the big picture. Delegating tasks to skilled people, especially to people more skilled than you at completing those tasks, frees up time to plan, strategize, and build a great business.

Yet you can also go too far in working on your business—and, in the process, lose sight of what made you successful in the first place.

You can’t work on your business forever

Take me. After working in the business world, I now make my living by writing and speaking. Anything else I do, however “important” it may seem—appearing on radio shows and podcasts, doing TV interviews, moderating panels—takes time away from what really matters to my business and to every business:

Generating revenue.

Focusing on essential tasks tends to come naturally when you first start a business. Granted, you might need to spend a little time on admin and infrastructure.

But you don’t need to spend time creating fancy spreadsheets.

You don’t need to spend time compiling comprehensive reports.

You don’t need to spend hours crafting a mission statement.

You need to find work. And you need to do the work. That’s why most successful startups—especially bootstrapped startups—tend to focus on two main goals: Selling and working.

But then you start to drift

Take me again. Since I also write books and articles, I was told I needed to go all Gary V and build a huge social media presence to build a larger audience. I spent about a month trying to grow my social media presence:

Jeff Haden Twitter Account

But I quickly realized that the more time I spent sharing and tweeting and commenting, the less time I had to do what I do best. And in strictly practical terms, no one pays me to tweet. I get paid to write and speak.

That’s what I do best. That’s where I make money.

And that’s why my goal is to spend as much time as I can doing what I do best—and what generates the greatest revenue.

So should you.

How to do more of what you do best—not less

1. Identify what you’re good at—and build your day around those tasks

Let’s say your real skill is sales. Great. But have you structured your business to let you spend most of your time selling? Have you delegated tasks like generating proposals, drafting contracts, and providing samples to someone else?

If you haven’t, you’re limiting your company’s success.

Or possibly your real skill lies in operations. But how much time do you actually spend optimizing business processes, streamlining workflows, improving your product or service quality? If the “shop floor” is where you add the most value, the shop floor is where you should spend the bulk of your time.

2. Figure out what you’re not as good at—and assign it out or do less of it

Someone else—someone better than you at the task—can handle admin. Someone else—someone better than you at the task—can handle customer service.

That’s where hiring people smarter than you really pays off: They can’t do what you do best. You can’t do what they do best. Together, your parts make an awesome whole.

3. If you can’t hire, learn just enough to do the job

Maybe you can’t afford to hire other people, at least not yet. That’s okay. Just spend as little of your time on non-essential tasks as possible. Don’t try to become an expert in fields that don’t impact your bottom line.

Here are a few areas most business owners can learn “just enough” of—and then assign to someone else who knows more. I’ve also included links to services that can help take those delegatable duties off your plate.

And if you’re not ready to delegate, browse through these resources that can give you a solid overview of various business topics—or simply a better idea of how you should delegate the work.

Sometimes “good” truly is good enough, especially if the effort required to make a small gain is hugely disproportionate to the revenue or profits that will result.

The key is to see your time as the investment it is and to constantly evaluate the ROI on that investment. In almost every case, doing more of what you do best will generate the best return.

Someday you may find you can—and even should—spend more time working on your business than in your business. If you have 15 employees, working in your business will mean motivating, inspiring, training, developing, managing, and leading those employees.

That’s when working in your business also means working on your business.

But for now, spend more time working in your business. Your bottom line will thank you.

Jeff Haden Jeff Haden is a writer, speaker, small business management expert, and Inc.’s most popular columnist. He's the author of The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win.
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