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Are you just working IN your business … rather than ON it? By Phil Shipperlee

Phil Shipperlee

Phil Shipperlee

Are you an entrepreneur, a business person or both? It would be a fair question to ask what is the difference?  Another more than reasonable question might be to ask does it matter?  In my experience, there is definitely a difference and it certainly does matter.  The journey from entrepreneur with a good idea to the creation of a business which could have great economic value for the founders is typically long and arduous and is best started with a good roadmap to hand.

In this day and age the roadmap is more likely to be akin to the screen on a SatNav.  Continuing the analogy, the journey from start point to ultimate destination should be planned via specific waypoints to ensure you visit all the places of interest, and value, along the way.

Working with start-up companies or any company that is struggling to answer the “where next” question, we have developed a framework built around five key stages of company evolution.  This is about a journey from working in your business to working on your business.  The stages are:

  1. Start-up, where the founders do everything
  2. The founders still do a lot of the tasks but now bring in and manage others doing the rest
  3. The founders focus almost entirely on managing others
  4. Then you progress to managing the business rather than what it does
  5. The final stage is when you plan and manage the exit.

The stages are sometimes referred to as:

  1. The artisan or craftsman
  2. The hero because you can always answer the questions and sort out the problems
  3. The meddler because you cannot leave others to do their jobs.  There is a part of you that thinks you know best so you cannot help yourself – you just have to keep stepping back into the business and telling them how to do it.
  4. The strategist spends most time looking out and forward, planning the next one, two or three years and generally steering the ship.
  5. At some point, the strategist gets the final destination in their sights and now focuses on exiting the business.

We use the following model to help companies understand where they are on this journey and to analyse the current position.  The example used below is for a company that is having difficult times where too much management time is spent looking back.  Try using the basic model to plot your own position.

Working ON/IN your business in Difficult Times

Answering my original question; stages 1 and 2 are almost entirely populated by the entrepreneur within you, stage 3 is where the business person in you starts to emerge, stage 4 is mainly and stage 5 is entirely business person.  Having observed this evolution on many occasions leads to some important lessons:

  • If your real interest is in “doing” the product or service, rather than how that can be turned into a growing business, that is fine but be clear with yourself that this is the case.  So, if stages 1 and 2 are where you want to be, you are working in the business, and this is the position for some 35% of SMEs in the UK.  I have spent a lot of my business life working in the IT services market where most founders exist quite happily in stages 1 and 2.  One thing to bear in mind is that you may find it difficult to exit your business from this position and you will probably not get the best value for your hard work.
  • The meddler is a common animal in SME businesses and can be found in anything up to 60% of all such businesses.  This often arises because very few people go to “entrepreneurs’ school” so it can be difficult to understand your role as a business person and therefore you slip back to your comfort zone of being a doer.  You are trying to work on the business but feel you keep getting dragged back into working in the business – this is probably an illusion and is more about your comfort zone than a real need for you to dive back in to fix things.

Be aware that as you have brought others into the business to be the doers, you will be interfering with them.  Not only are you duplicating their work, you are almost certainly causing them frustration which probably leads to underperformance and eventually to them leaving you.  If you do genuinely need to keep diving back in then you have chosen the wrong people to work for you or have failed to equip them to be successful.

If you are already a member of an Academy group you will be aware what a key role The Academy for Chief Executives (ACE) can play in helping you to deal with this and other issues raised in this blog.

  • Once you reach stage 4, and feel comfortable occupying this space, you can congratulate yourself because you have completed most of the journey from entrepreneur to business person.  You are now focused on what is outside and ahead of you and you really are working on rather than in the business.  This will typically lead you naturally into stage 5 where you will spot options to realise a healthy return for all your hard work and you start to plan your exit.

In summary, entrepreneur to business person is a journey and it is up to you whether you complete the whole journey or choose to stop at an interim position.  The natural characteristics of entrepreneurs are typically contradictory with the necessary characteristics of an effective business person.  If you are the entrepreneur, it is important to recognise this fact and make sure you surround yourself with good business people who can operate at stages 4 and 5 leaving you to continue being creative an innovative.

Phil Shipperlee has a lifelong passion for business and professional selling.  These two passions were combined nine years ago when he and his partners formed Performative plc with the specific purpose of Improving Business Performance through a unique process of Sales Performance Transformation.  Performative also helps businesses with the management issues of Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) To find out more visit
Entrepreneurs will be necessary for economic growth in 2010 and beyond as Government and Business emerge from recession. Experts in this area, like Phil, will be in demand. At the Academy for Chief Executives (ACE), the leading provider of experiential business learning, leaders are also provided with an outlet for any feeling of isolation and uncertainty by building a community of like-minded individuals around them.  For more visit

One Comment

  1. This was a well thought documentation; you have covered a lot of points here.

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