Challenges facing founders when growing a business

05 March 2020 • Leadership

Are you working ON your business or IN it?

I know, from many, many conversations with individuals and management teams running small and medium-sized businesses, you are constantly in the details of your business; reacting to clients, managing situations with staff, firefighting with the accounts department or calling the plumber.

You develop a finely honed set of juggling skills. Your memory expands and encompasses an impressive database of knowledge. You intimately know what’s happening in every aspect of your business.

And - this magnetic attraction to detail presents one of the most fundamental challenges facing founders as they aim to step up from founder-led to management team: lack of attention to strategic focus.

So what happens when you do work ON your business?

The answers to this question usually include;

Sound good? And given everyone wants this good stuff, why is it so difficult to do?

Where’s the most important place to start?

“Begin with the end in mind.” - Stephen Covey

This ability to maintain focus all comes back to vision and goals - and more importantly, connecting with that ideal future vision consistently and fully to inform, inspire and drive your actions at all times in order to grow your business.

This is the heartland of what I do as a business and executive coach. There are many ways of doing this, and what is key is to bring it alive for founders and their teams alike (more to come on this). I’m still surprised how many organisations have goals that are unspecific, or clear in the abstract but barely thought through enough to make them useful.

Do you have clear and measurable goals set - for a specific time period? Are they written down on some forgotten piece of paper? Are they somewhere in your head as you don’t like list making? For creative thinkers, who tend to be visual, you may have used your strengths and drawn a picture! Have you coloured your goal in? Give it light, shade, tone? Does it glow in fluorescent orange or is it real to you when it is in muted neutral tones? You might add a theme tune. What’s important is that you get it down – on paper, captured as an image, or simply a written statement.

What gets you moving?

The other key component of a goal is your WHY. If you are not connected with, and committed emotionally to your goal, you run the risk of simply going through the motions. In 1990 the model Linda Evangelista was famously quoted as saying she “wouldn’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.” While she was much maligned for such an avaristic comment, it’s a powerful example of the impact of a strong statement.

What is your business ‘why’? This is your purpose, over and above what you do on a daily basis, and what you hope to achieve. What emotions do you connect to when you think about these questions? How does your ‘why’ motivate you?

If it doesn’t get you leaping out of bed maybe you haven’t quite put your finger on what makes it so important for you. Ask yourself these questions, and then keep asking and you will finally arrive at some fundamental motivators - which are also likely to align with your core inspirational values.

What’s the most common reason for not working ON your business?

The most common challenge for founders working ON your business is managing your time. The phrase most often heard is “I can’t find the time”.

Where did it go? How hard did you look? What does it really mean to not have the time? The reality is that ‘time management’ is almost always an excuse. It’s not that you can’t find the time, it’s more likely that you are:

“I’m distracted by client work” was a comment I liked from one business owner. It’s still an excuse - however there was an understanding of where the time went, and a recognition that this was a distraction.


It is really important how to get rid of the things that don’t matter as much. So how do you decide what you can eliminate and what requires your time? Let’s get this in proportion:

One of Stephen Covey’s legacies was popularising the Important/Urgent Matrix. Although it’s a well-known management tool, very often we skip over the lasting value it can add to our busy working lives.


Once you do this, you will notice:

We react to urgent matters, while important matters usually need more proactiveness to make them happen.

As business managers we tend to spend a lot of time in Q1 – in crisis management, problem-solving mode. The more you focus on Q1, the bigger it gets! Sometimes we spend time in Q3, thinking we are doing important things whereas these tasks are often based on the priorities and expectations of others. This is what you should be thinking of eliminating!

The important quadrant, which often gets shunted aside, is to concentrate some of our time in Q2, which is, at its heart, working ON your business, not IN.

This model will give you the awareness of what you are doing now, and give you clues on how you can change. You have to decide what you want to do.

So to get that big picture, it’s important to:

When all this is clear, the challenges facing you as a founder are likely to be clearer, and you will be responding from your business’s ultimate goals, rather than your immediate tasks.

Liz Wren

Liz Wren

Through the Forest supports businesses and their people to clarity, confidence, self-awareness and success.

I have created, grown and ultimately sold a number of businesses in my career to date. I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved. And with what I know now, I am certain I would have been far more productive, confident and successful, if I had looked beyond my own mindset and abilities and worked with a coach.

Through the Forest exists to help others on that journey. If we can support you or your team to achieve a dream, help you believe that you can, or simply enable you sleep better at night, get in touch.

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