Design agency owners and leaders…more ON, less IN?

Owners and leaders of small and medium size design firms can often be found working predominantly IN the business tackling the day-to-days.  Understandable maybe in the multitasking hands-on world of the SME. But are many positioning themselves and focusing where they could or indeed should be for the firm?

Most will follow what is meant when we use the term ON or IN the business, but for the sake of clarity…

Working ON the business is stepping back and looking into the business and equally what’s happening outside the business in the market. It’s concerning yourself with the bigger picture considerations for the firm. This will typically involve thinking about the strategic growth options, the competitive landscape, general management and operations, reviewing the financial position and it can involve activities that see yourself behaving as an ambassador for the firm….ensuring that your firm is seen and heard in the market place.

Working IN the business is when people are focused largely on internal considerations like running client projects, preparing presentations and fee proposals, managing people and the general day-to-day activities and inner workings of the firm.

So what is the right balance for owners and leaders of small and medium size design firms?

The extent to which heads of design firms should be working ON and IN the business will be relative to individual strengths, weaknesses and in part to their preferences, so there is no general rule here. However, from experience, I have more often than not found that most owners and leaders are striving to be working 60-70% of their time ON the business, and 30-40% IN the business.

For some this can be quite a significant change in how they work, which can take some planning, some organisational change, and time to put in place. For those heads that may recognise or acknowledge the need for change, either for themselves or in other areas of the firm, the path that leads to change will typically involve exploration of several areas of the business, including; roles and responsibilities, resources, time management, working behaviours, discipline, team structure, utilisation, and so on.

So as an owner or leader of a design firm, are you satisfied that you have the right balance of working IN and/or ON the business, and are you positioning yourself and focusing your time appropriately for the firm?