Working On the Business

Ever since Starting Over, nearly every business-related activity has been a first. Setting up an LLC? First time. Pitching the business to a customer? First time. Sending someone an invoice? First time.

The upside is that it has been a blast. Every activity requires a degree of creativity — even if it is just knowing how to navigate the registration website. If I were dating my business tasks, I would be in the infatuation stage with each of them. Their quirks are still interesting rather than infuriating. The long-term prospects still look hopeful. You get the idea. These are all good things.

The downside? It takes me forever to get anything done, and the initial result is participation-ribbon quality at best.

Need that work proposal today? Sure thing! As long as I drop literally everything else to focus on creating this largely mediocre document that you will likely assume sprung forth from my creative depths in 5–10, minutes max.

Despite being humbling, I don't think this is a problem. At least, not yet. Everything takes a long time the first time you do it. If it isn't any better a few months from now, that will be the time to panic.

Rather than willing this improvement process into spontaneous existence, I devoted some time this week to working on the business rather than in the business.

When people wax poetic about the unrestrained freedom of an entrepreneur, I somehow doubt they envision creating reusable Excel graph color palettes at 3pm on a Thursday. Or deciding on a “house style” for formatting tables of time series data.

These are tasks that would elicit a thorough eye roll — at a minimum — if I were asked to do them as part of a standard job. But they are actually pretty engaging when doing them for your own shop. Below a certain styling threshold, customers will label a product poor quality whether the content is good or bad. These mundane tasks directly affect my brand and therefore my success or failure.

Behold the glamours of self-employment.

Having a set of templates also means I won't spend another hour playing with chart settings to make something look nice, only to realize it doesn't match the document formatting — just as a hypothetical, of course.

Putting some structure around these processes isn't the sexy part of owning a business (I still haven't experienced that part but am looking forward to it), but I am convinced that consistent incremental efficiency gains like these are the only way to scale a business over time without giving up the personal goals of my Prosperity Plan. They are the lowest hanging fruit within the tasks that constitute working on the business.

So from now on, the new rule is “First time? Create a product. Second time? Create a process.”