You better get back into your business, and fast

I went to my friend Burt Hanna’s new candle factory in Fayetteville the other day. Since he was kind enough to read a draft of my new book, Confessions of an Entrepreneur, and write a testimonial for it, I wanted to give him an autographed copy upon publication.

So, I pulled the car into the parking lot Hannah Candle Company The factory and offices on South School Avenue—a renovated building that formerly belonged to the commercial printing company Standard Register Co.—and the new warehouse that Hannah built next to it. Who do I see in the yard, covered in dirt and sweat, working his lawn? It was none other than Bert Hannah himself. I asked what he was doing outside. He said he was showing his son hard work.

Hanna owns a company that had more than $80 million in revenue last year. As you walk through his factory, Hanna talks to everyone. He knows how everything works and can explain every process to you. My point is Bert Hanna has something to do with his business. He’s actively involved in every aspect of it, from securing multimillion-dollar contracts from retailers to fixing any machinery that breaks down that day.

As our Vistage Chair in Northwest Arkansas, I am on a list server with other Vistage Chairs across the country. There is a constant exchange of information between us. A few weeks ago, a colleague of the chair mentioned three small business owners in their area (about $3 million in revenue) who needed to work for their businesses, not in them. This is the constant Vistage mantra I hear from business coaches and experts – you need to work for your business, not in it.

Mark Zweig

How do I react to this statement? You’re better off doing both. In my (very) long career, I’ve observed that one of the most important reasons small businesses fail is that the owners don’t work for their business. They think they can do it from a distance or hire a manager, or that their time is too valuable to bother with any mundane work the business does for clients or clients. A $3 million company has three owners, and of course I want them to work in the industry. It’s crazy.

Only by working in a business can you figure out what your business is doing well and what it isn’t doing so well. You’ll also learn who’s good and who isn’t in your business. You’ll experience first-hand the problems your employees face every day. You’ll develop better relationships with your employees, and they’ll see you as one of their own – a contributor rather than an overhead, sucking everything out of the company rather than investing in anything.

Those who think they can step away from the day-to-day operations of the business and become CEOs who focus on “big picture” or “strategic” things are bound to run into a lot of problems.

Mark Zweig is the founder of two companies in Fayetteville. 500/5000 companies.He is also Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Sam M. Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas, where he teaches entrepreneurship and Vistage International Northwest Arkansas Chapter. Opinions expressed are those of the authors.

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