Should You Be Working On Your Business Or In Your Business?

Final in a five-part series

We are at the end of a five-part series about running a successful business. Over the past four issues, I have given you four practical recommendations to help you build your business: adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, build a strong brand, market smart and cultivate more sales. These will help you because they force you to look at your business as a business and see your business as a part of a bigger picture. You’re not a promotional products distributor—you are a business owner who runs a promotional products business. If you’re a supplier, you’re a business owner who happens to offer items that support the promotional products industry. Think about these descriptions. Do you agree? How do these make you feel?

The difference between a $50,000-per-year distributor and a $2 million-per-year distributor is understanding how promotional items are perceived and used by the clients they serve. It’s all about perspective. The difference between small suppliers and big suppliers is perspective, too. Okay, maybe some more cash flow, but for the most part it is what successful business owners think about, and how they run their business that makes them different.

Now, if you’re a hobbyist working in this industry, you’re probably not reading this article with the expectation to make a change. But if running an industry company is your full-time gig, your career and a job you love, I hope you’ll read on to learn how to become a happier promotional products distributor or supplier.

In the first article (November 2016), I talked about mindset and the importance of clearing your thoughts and getting your mind focused on success every day. Your mindset is like food—your body needs nourishment every day and so does your mind. The hard reality is that your brain will grow whatever is planted there; it’s like soil. Soil doesn’t care what’s planted; its job is to help seeds grow. Well, brains work the same way. Make sure you’re planting your mind with good thoughts.

The second article (December 2016) moved into branding, which is the foundation from which marketing and sales are built. I recommended you look at your branding from a bigger view, and gave you a few ways to narrow it down to the best thing you do, the best client you serve and your best positioning within your competitive marketplace. Next (January 2017), I wrote about marketing planning, strategy and tactics, and what your messaging should say. I covered how to start building relationships and help prospects find and choose you. And then (February 2017), I wrote about the contents of “selling” conversations. Sales is a two-way street and it’s important to qualify every one of your prospects for the best results.

These are all necessary tools for building your business. You must do them to stay competitive, to grow and to create a thriving a business.

Now, the challenge is that you must also run your business. Quoting, sourcing, billing, problem solving, managing inventory, managing employees, learning systems—even running to the store for supplies—it’s all in a day’s work. You must also take steps to structure, organize and manage your business. These responsibilities will also help you grow personally and professionally, and create a thriving business. But all the effort to grow your business can’t happen if you’re not ready to tackle your business with organization, structure and systems.

The truth is, we can’t manage money if we’re not making it. We can’t manage clients if we don’t have any.

The age-old question business owners struggle with is where to most productively spend their time. It’s a paradox for many, and the reason it’s so confusing is that we struggle to find the right balance.

How does a business owner figure out what to do? 

You manage priorities. The only way to find the right balance of working on your business as well as working in your business is to decide what you need to focus on in your business. There is no right answer to this question. It requires you to look at your current operations and processes, and see where you have weaknesses and voids that are causing you to waste time and lose money. Relative to promotional products, what research tools are you using? Is your prospect database up to date? Is your client database up to date? Are you paying for tools you’re not using?

Let’s face it, everything needs to get done, but it can’t all be done at the same time. Sometimes it makes sense to work in your business to firm up structure and get organized so that what you’re doing works more efficiently. While you can’t organize your way to success, you can free up precious time and energy needed to work on your business.

For example, you should evaluate various operational issues at least once a year. With new online tools launching quickly it pays to keep up to date on how technology can help you run your business more efficiently. And, a smooth-running business will free up time so you can create deeper relationships with your current clients, and provide greater value to prospects as well. And greater value ultimately leads to more customers and more orders.

As I’ve said, everything has to get done. But knowing whether you should be focusing in your business or on your business at a specific time is critical to helping you understand yet another piece of the business success puzzle.

Abigail Tiefenthaler, founder of Aiken, South Carolina-based distributor Sweetspot Strategies, Inc., is also a speaker and consultant helping entrepreneurs run the businesses they really want to run. With 30-plus years of business experience, including 15 years in corporate America working in a variety of marketing capacities, and 19 years running an award-winning promotional products business that put her in the top five percent of the industry, Tiefenthaler understands how critical it is to play full out, and use marketing for the heavy lifting it is designed to do. Her goal is simple: simplify the marketing process and eliminate confusion. Reach her at or 954-804-9413.