April 16, 2022

Operationalizing Growth: How To Work On Your Business

Written By Charesse Spiller

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Working on your business is just as important as working in it, if not more so. Let’s dig into what, exactly, working on your business looks like, and how to set yourself up for success.

Being a service-based business owner is a unique challenge. Most advisors got into the business of firm ownership because they were passionate about financial planning and serving their clients well. Marketing, accounting, setting growth goals, HR, and all of the other “hats” they have to wear become exhausting with time.

As a result, firm owners end up focusing almost exclusively on working in their business. They build a strong book of business, continue their education to hone their skill set, and nurture strong client relationships. These elements of a service-based business are foundational! However, if firm owners only focus on the services they offer, their business will suffer in the long run.

Working on your business is just as important as working in it, if not more so. Let’s dig into what, exactly, working on your business looks like, and how to set yourself up for success.

What Does It Mean to Work On Your Business?

It’s not a secret that running a business takes a lot of work. Still, it can be hard to distinguish what working on your business versus in your business looks like. Working in your business might entail:

●      Working directly with clients

●      Managing your team

●      Delivering your firm’s services

●      Conducting sales calls

●      Administrative duties (payroll, accounting, etc.)

These tasks alone can often be a full-time job. It feels like there isn’t time for anything else, and firm owners step away from the other tasks they have on their plate.

Still, taking time to work on your business can lead to a stronger operational foundation that offers an elevated experience for your clients. These tasks might include:

●      Strategy

●      Future planning

●      Financial projections

●      Working with experts or consultants to help you move the needle

Being the visionary for a business is also a full-time role. It’s difficult to balance both as a small business owner, but having a plan in place can help to push you to the next level.

How To Work On The Business

The hard truth is that there is no true “balance” when it comes to owning a financial planning practice. Firm owners need to choose what they’re willing to sacrifice in different seasons of their business to help it thrive. To spend time working “on” the business, you may end up sacrificing revenue. Putting up a waitlist or reducing the number of clients you take on so that you can spend time working on your business is one option. Alternatively, you might decide that you’re willing to sacrifice your time and spend a season of life working more in order to save you time and increase efficiency in the long run.

Before making a decision, firm owners should consider a few questions:

  1. Do we have the budget to invest in working “on” the business?

  2. Does our team have the capacity for these extra projects?

  3. How much of these tasks are dependent on me as the firm owner, and can I delegate anything to my team? Note – most firm owners are overly focused on doing “on the business” work themselves, but teams can be very useful when it comes to improving the firm.

Once time and funds have been allocated to working on the business, there are several options to explore. Working on the business as a firm owner doesn’t have to be all-consuming, and every business owner can determine for themselves what resources will help achieve their long-term goals.

The DIY Route

If time isn’t a concern, and the firm can’t sacrifice bringing in new business or suffering a dip in revenue, DIY-ing business improvement can be an excellent option. To DIY working “on” the business, firm owners might pursue:

  1. Courses.

  2. Group coaching.

  3. Mastermind groups.

These DIY options are often beneficial for saving money while still taking ownership of the direction of the business. However, due to time constraints, firm owners may struggle to implement all of their ideas on their own.

The Expert Route

Another option firm owners have is to leverage experts and outside consultants to help them work on their business. The financial planning profession is becoming increasingly focused on providing exceptional advice to direct clients. Yet, many advisors I speak with are hesitant to work with experts who can help them level up in their business. Working with consultants or other experts can be a huge help for firm owners who are short on time and have the budget to spend on expert advice or support for their business.

Working “on” the business leveraging consultants or experts might look like:

  1. Working with a business coach. Business coaches often focus on mindset shifts and can help firm owners personally grow into the next phase of the business.

  2. Working with a consultant. Consultants often have a much more specific skill set, and help firm owners level up one specific part of the business.

  3. Collaborate with a service provider. Marketing consultants, social media managers, accountants – there is a service provider out there for every need a financial advisor might run into. Decide ahead of time if the firm would benefit from a service provider who also consults and educates, or if the firm just needs a pure implementor. Regardless of who you choose to hire, having an expert in your corner can help you gain unbiased advice, and get a second set of eyes on key elements of your business. Service providers also help you to save time, which, for a busy firm owner, can be the biggest benefit of all. They may be able to help you with strategy, implementation, and tracking results.

Of course, collaborating with a consultant or service provider can have drawbacks. Working with a coach, consultant, or service provider whose vision doesn’t match the firm’s goals can be detrimental (and expensive!). To combat this, take time to get clear on exactly what you need from a coach, consultant, or expert before the interviewing process begins.

Working with experts can also be expensive. Before committing to one consultant or service provider, make sure you have the cash flow or savings to afford to invest in your business. Remember: often, working with experts is a long-term play. There may be immediate results, but you’ll see the biggest impact after their work has been implemented for 6 months and beyond.

Leveraging Your Team

If you have capable members of your team who have capacity for extra projects, pulling them into this process may be beneficial. Whether you send them through a course, or connect them directly with a consultant or service provider to level up the business, they can help with a number of tasks, including:

  1. Interns can update SOPs or help with a technology transition.

  2. Associate advisors or operations team members can help to implement your marketing plan, migrate your CRM, or build internal workflows.

  3. Administrative team members can help to set up automated communication or email campaigns with a marketing consultant.

Keep in mind that when you leverage your team, you’re pulling them away from their typical role, and they are not experts in the project they’re taking on. The project may take longer than if you had worked directly with an expert, but it will free up your time to focus on bigger projects or more impactful tasks.

Tackling Next Steps

Working “on” the business is rarely a one-and-done project. When your firm goes through the strategic planning process for operations, HR, marketing, or another key pillar of your business, and implements action items that will help your firm to level up, you’ll likely need to plan for “maintenance mode” as well.

What is maintenance mode?

Whether you’ve streamlined your processes, built a marketing strategy, or decided to leverage a new piece of technology in your firm, you’ll need to plan to maintain those new tools and ideas. This might mean regularly checking that your processes are still working for your firm, implementing and tracking marketing progress, or even continuing to stay in the know about updates to the technology you’re using and how they impact your processes.

Consider who on your team can help you with “maintenance mode.” Typically, this is a contractor who you bring in for special projects, an executive assistant, or an operations associate. However, an associate advisor who is passionate about one area of the business may also be a good fit. Typically, I don’t recommend that firm owners maintain 100% responsibility for maintenance. They’re often too busy, and important maintenance tasks fall to the back burner.


Maintenance shouldn’t be a hugely time-consuming element of working on your business. However, it is important to consider both the time your initial project will take and the ongoing time commitment required by your team to maintain your new strategic vision.

For example, if you know you’re entering a surge meeting season, it’s probably not the right time to kick off (or wrap up) a huge technology project that will require your advisors to learn new technology and maintain client information or communication in a new system.

Instead, time projects so that you know you and your team will have time to strategize, implement, and maintain “on the business” projects successfully. Often, starting the strategy process before you feel ready, or at the tail end of a busy season, gives you plenty of time in your slower season to implement and start maintenance before business picks up again.

What Projects Should You Start?

There are so many different ways you can start to work on the business. However, a few key projects can help your business grow to the next level regardless of what season you’re in. When I speak with clients, these are the projects I typically recommend starting with:

  1. Hiring a business or HR consultant to help you set up an organization chart. This helps you to understand where you are, and where you want to go.

  2. Working with a business coach to help you shift your mindset towards growth and to hold you accountable to your business and personal goals.

  3. Working with a service provider to take tasks off of your plate and execute them exceptionally (this could be for marketing, social media, administrative tasks, or operations).

  4. Collaborating with a consultant in a one-time capacity to solve a specific problem in your business – like organizing your processes, building a marketing strategy, or creating workflows in your technology systems.

Working “on” your business can often feel like a distraction from your day-to-day, but it’s an important part of firm growth. Set aside intentional time to highlight where your business is lacking, and decide from there what projects you want to tackle this year, what your budget is, and how much time you can commit to accomplishing these goals.

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