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Do you ever wonder why some e-commerce business can survive so long, while others are like short-lived shooting stars? 

This main reason for this is that owners of long-standing businesses have been WORKING ON their businesses, while the owners of the latter group are just WORKING IN the business. Listen to Willy as he explains the difference between both concepts, and learn why you should always WORK ON instead of WORK IN your business – if you want it to succeed.

In this episode, Willy is going to cover:

  • What WORKING ON and WORKING IN a business means;

  • What determines whether your business can survive and grow;

  • How to create an organization to manage your ecommerce business.

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Just in case you are not familiar with me yet, I have started several ecommerce businesses since 2012. As the years go by, I often get asked this question: “Willy, how come your ecommerce businesses are always so long-standing?” I will be like, “Oh, because I work on my business every day!” 

These people will roll their eyes at me and say, “Duh, sure, I also worked my head off for my business every day, but unlike you, it did not survive!” The next thing I know, I will be slammed with all sorts of complaints about being a mean and money-minded coach, that I refuse to show people how to get successful, I am ungenuine and just want people to pay for my programme, ya-da, ya-da… 

But please rewind this recording now and listen carefully. I have already stated my answer for being able to create sustaining businesses right at the start: “I work ON my business.” Unfortunately, many people are unable to see the difference between this and ‘working your head off’, or what I will say, ‘working IN’ a business.

‘WORKING ON’ and ‘WORKING IN’ – see the difference? Even though these two terms differ in one word, they mean completely different mindsets of managing a business. And THAT is going to decide whether your business can survive, or if it will become a short-lived shooting star in the ecommerce industry. So, in this episode, I will focus on why you should always be ‘WORKING ON’ your business, instead of ‘WORKING IN’ your business.

Before we begin, let’s clear up the concepts between WORKING ON and WORKING IN your business.

WORKING ON your business refers to anything that’s STRATEGIC. For example, setting goals for your business, creating viable systems, automating processes, and projecting your business’s finances, etc. Think ‘PLANNING’ and ‘MIND-BOGGLING’, then you will get it. Meanwhile, WORKING IN your business involves everything that needs to be EXECUTED, like negotiating with suppliers, answering customers’ queries, dealing with invoices, etc. You know, all the ‘coolie’ work. See the difference?

And the reason why I always tell people to WORK ON their businesses if they want it to survive, is because all of us have limited energy. If we spent all our energy on executing tasks instead of planning and growing the business, how will our business ever survive? Let me use a simple analogy to show you.

Let’s say you are a farmer who owns different plots of land. You dream of getting rich by selling your crops. But you have limited energy to do the selling – because all day long, you are hard at work across all the different plots of land. Whenever any plot of land got some issue, you will rush to that plot and try to put things right. You simply have no time and energy left to do anything else at the end of the day, because you are just too tired!

That’s what WORKING IN your business is like. It’s much better than if you don’t do anything, of course – but then, you will always find yourself in a rush to get things done. It’s like, trying to extinguish sudden ‘fires’ happening at different plots of your ‘land’. Or rather, trying to settle every single issue that pops up across different aspects of your business, like sourcing for products, negotiating with suppliers, executing new marketing strategies all at the same time. Eventually, it will be too mentally-straining for you to handle, and you will find yourself getting burnt out. In the end, you have to give up on your ecommerce business. And I am not bluffing you about this, because a 2019 research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that approximately 65% of businesses make it to the 2-year mark, and just 30% make it to the 10-year mark. This goes to show that one simply cannot expect to succeed if they are just WORKING IN their businesses!

On the flip-side, we have the smarter way of doing things, that is, WORKING ON your business. I shall use my own eCommerce company  to illustrate how WORKING ON a business is like, and let you see the difference. 

So, if you know me, I am a strong believer in hard work. I also used to run my eCommerce business all alone by myself previously, but a few years back, I realised I cannot keep up with it. My company had become stagnant, there’s no growth for it! I need to spend more time to think of what goals I have for my business, and ultimately, where I want it to head for. I have no time to do all the simpler and mundane tasks, like answering emails, doing up the accounts, looking for products to sell, etc.

As such, I started hiring virtual assistants, or VAs, to help me. They will do work like product-sourcing, marketing my products, managing the company’s finances and dealing with customers’ questions for me. As for me, I set up SOPs, or Standard Operating Procedures, for my VAs so that all of them know what they ought to do. After which, I divided them into 4 teams based on their job roles, and I assigned one leadership role to a VA per team so that they will lead and manage the team. I also assigned an overall leadership position to one of my most trusted and capable VA, to help me oversee all 4 teams’ day-to-day operations.

Now, I have a total of 15 VAs working for me. My company’s structure is like this: I have 4 different teams, namely the Product Team, the Sales and Marketing Team, the Financial and Planning Team, and the Customer and Account Maintenance Team. Each team is headed by a Project Manager, who will adapt their own sets of SOPs that suit their team’s working style the best.

My Project Managers and their teammates will make sure that the various aspects of my company’s business are doing well. For example, the Product Team will be involved in selecting factories for my ecommerce products, designing product-sourcing strategies, tracking the suppliers’ manufacturing process – basically everything that has to do with merchandising. My Sales and Marketing Team is in charge of setting up my website’s sales channel and will think of ways to attract customers to buy my products. My Financial and Planning Team looks after my company’s logistics, comes up with the financial and accounting statements, and keeps watch over my company’s cash management. Last but not least, my Customer and Account Maintenance Team will do the data management for my company – like managing my company’s email, providing support to customers, and updating my company’s contact methods.

So, each team is concerned with different matters, and my Project Managers will answer regularly to my General Manager. My General Manager will help me settle as many problems as possible, and escalate issues to me if she needs my opinions on it. This is how I can concentrate on improving my coaching programme for my students, while at the same time run my own ecommerce business. Meanwhile, I don’t get worn out easily, and I can jump out of the picture to look at my company’s progress from afar. This helps me see what’s wrong with the business, and think of ways to improve it. I can now afford one to two hours per day to look at ways to move my company forward, and plan to adjust in times of crises – like for the recent economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.  This is what WORKING ON your business means – you lead the team, but you don’t have to be on the ground doing all the work.

To make it clearer, here’s another analogy: think of a business or a company as a human body. The VAs are the ‘hands’, which help a person to do the nitty-gritty stuff. The Project Managers and the General Manager are the ‘ears’ and ‘eyes’, which allow the person to monitor if things are done wrongly and if things need to be corrected. The business owner is the ‘brain’ – it directs everything and makes the final decision as to what this person should be doing at different points of time, like eating, sleeping, bathing, etc. Do you think the ‘brain’ can do everything by itself? NO, of course! Then, the same goes for you – you also cannot do every aspect of your business by yourself! Only when you have your ‘hands’, ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ working for you, you will be able to think through things clearer and hence make better decisions.

Now, do you see why I say you should always be ‘WORKING ON’, instead of ‘WORKING IN’ your business? This is the only way your ‘body’, and your whole person – or rather, your business and company can survive in the long run.

So, this will be the end of this episode. Remember, start WORKING ON your business now, instead of ‘WORKING IN your business!

See you in the next episode.

Need Help? Book Your FREE
Strategy Session With Our Office Today!

We'll discuss to see if we are a good fit to work together to help you start or scale your ecommerce business.

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