Working ON your business and working IN your business : The Maker's Business Toolkit

Working ON your business and working IN your business

If I were to ask you right now to tell me your plans for growing your business would you be able to tell me?

Not just your plans for fulfilling orders and making sales but your plans for GROWING your sales.

How will you find more customers, sell more products, make more money? Could you tell me?

And would these be things you’re actually doing, or just talking about doing?

If you never seem to be able to find the time to get any of these things done, or worse still, you never seem to even find the time to think about them, then you might be spending too much time working IN your business and not enough time working ON your business.

Wait, what??

What’s the difference between working IN your business and working ON your business?

It all comes down to growth vs maintenance.

Is this task a task that grows your business or maintains it?

Essentially, working IN your business is MAINTENANCE.

These are the day to day tasks that need to get done. Ordering supplies, making products, planning for and going to craft fairs, mailing out orders, bookkeeping, posting on social media.

Whereas working ON your business is working on GROWTH

These are the strategy activities. How are you going to get more customers? How are you going to develop your product line? How are you going to ensure you make a profit? How are you going to manage the day to day running of your business as it grows?


— Planning a new collection
— Creating a social media strategy
— Developing a new market for your work (e.g – Etsy, your own online store, shops & galleries)
— Ideal Customer Research

These tasks don’t feel urgent and they’re easily pushed to one side, but it’s a mistake to think that you’re too small to think about them.


Because the number one problem for makers at the beginning of their businesses is that they don’t really believe that they are capable of running a business.

Let’s not beat around the bush – starting your own business is terrifying.

There are regulations you have to comply with and technology you have to get your head around, there is cold calling and selling to do, there’s bookkeeping and marketing and social media.

And the decisions! Every five minutes there’s another decision to make and every one is on your shoulders.

Plus, of course, there are friends and family chiming in every five minutes on things you didn’t ask about and then being suddenly out of ideas when you do need advice.

With all of this going on, it’s no wonder that so many of us retreat from all of that stuff and bury ourselves in making and fulfilling orders or preparing for and attending craft fairs.

But working only IN your business leads to cycles of feast and famine. You’re never planning ahead so you’re either swamped with orders or panicked because there are no sales to be found. Suddenly you realise it’s Mother’s Day in a couple of weeks – with no time to plan any advertising, PR or new products, you rush out an email and say that’s enough.

It’s a hamster wheel you can’t get off.

When you never look at the big picture you can end up overworked, underpaid and unable to see how things will ever get any better. And that secret belief that you’re not capable of running a business gets reinforced.

But there is another way.

Spending at least 25% of your available time each week working ON your business can help you to think strategically for the long term, and get you used to the idea of eventually expanding beyond your current comfort zone.

Here are three ideas:

1. Instead of halfheartedly writing another social media post about nothing in particular, why not spend a couple of hours planning out a social media strategy. What kinds of topics you’ll post about, how regularly you’ll post about them, what you’ll do to get engagement, what you’ll do to start conversations.

2. Instead of checking your email every five minutes, why not set yourself an email and social media routine that you can can work through once or twice a day so that the rest of your time is really free.

3. Instead of making some more stock, how about creating a timetable for your work that will set out the hours you’ll create work, the hours you’ll respond to emails and post on social media, and the hours you’ll work on business admin such as bookkeeping. You might set up Finance Friday or Making Monday so that you always know that these important things don’t get pushed to the side because they’re not urgent.

You’ll find that the more time you spend creating systems and processes to make what you want into a reality, the smoother things run and the less anxious you become.

That’s really crucial if you’re going to make sure your handmade business is a dream job, rather than a prison or a nightmare.

So, take some time this week to plan things out more than you normally would. Take some time to think about why you’re doing something before you do it, and think about why you’re doing it in this way. And also take some time to think about what you really want from your business and whether what you’re doing is likely to get you there.


Remember, if you’re just working on what you’ve already got, you’re working IN your business and if you’re building something new to make things work better in the future you’re working ON your business.


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I'm Nicola Taylor

I’m the founder of Maker’s Business Toolkit and I help artists, makers, and handmade business owners to make more money with less stress.

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Tips to help you build a successful business as an artist, crafter or designer-maker