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Countertop Fab Shop Owners: Are you still working IN your business?

Does this sound like your business?

  • Your business has hit a certain size that it just can’t seem to grow beyond.
  • Profits have stagnated and you just can’t seem to move that needle.
  • The level of noise and chaos in your business has reached a fever pitch and nothing you do seems to reduce it.
  • You find yourself working harder and harder and still can’t keep up.

If so, then the chances are you need to change your approach to running your business. Notice I didn’t say, “change the way you run your business.”

I specifically said, “change your approach to running your business.” There’s a significant difference.

Here’s an example:  

  • Changing how you run your business would be something like installing software to automate the flow of job orders in your office – think Moraware, ActionFlow, Stone Profits, etc.
  • Changing your approach to running your business would be improving the completeness, quality, and timeliness of the data you enter — implementing process quality checks, setting time limits for when all data must be entered prior to template, training employees in these tasks, and auditing the output of the process.

If all you do is install the software without also improving how you manage the workflow, then all you get is an expensive way to make mistakes faster – and it will still be difficult to quickly and accurately answer customer questions about the status of their jobs.

Improving how well your team executes these business processes is called ‘working ON the business’ instead of ‘working IN the business’.  Working IN the business is essentially being an employee. You process paperwork, you template, you help in fabrication, you help install, you take service calls and field customer complaints – all the normal things you are paying other people to do.

Working ON the business means you are improving how those things are done.

For example: 

  • You are training employees to make sure complete information is input for orders, that information is accurate, and it’s entered on time.
  • You are looking at how information flows from the front office to the shop and are improving procedures for speeding up that flow and improving the accuracy of that information.
  • You are auditing how these improvements are working and adjusting the process as needed.

We all know that starting to make a change like this is much easier than consistently sticking with the change. You start that new diet on Monday and by Thursday the diet is a distant memory. You start working on improving your information flow from the office to the shop and, 30 minutes into it, employee questions and customer calls have already derailed you.


So, how do you make the shift

from working IN the business

to working ON the business?

FIRST, answer this question: Why is it important to make this change? 

Here are some questions that will help you define the drivers for this effort:

  • What do you want your business to look like 6 months or a year or 5 years from now?  Can you get there if you don’t make this change?
  • What are the positive impacts you want to see from this change?  Do you want less stress and fewer interruptions in your day?  Do you want the ability to get away for a quiet dinner with your spouse?  Would you like a fatter bank account?
  • What are the negative impacts that occur if you don’t make this change?  Could your on-going stress lead to personal health issues?  Will you be unable to make enough money to pay off the bank note on the new CNC you just bought and maybe have to close the business or mortgage the house?

A stakeholder analysis is a great tool to get you thinking beyond just your business. List the people and entities that are impacted by your business — employees, families of employees, the community, your suppliers and customers. List both the positive impacts this will have on them and the negative impacts of not doing this successfully. The perspective you get from this exercise is very valuable. Write down all the answers to the questions above and make sure you have a clear picture for why it is important to change your approach to running your business. Write down all the answers to the questions above and make sure you have a clear picture for why it is important to change your approach to running your business.

NEXT:  How will you make the change happen?

The biggest challenge is making the time for these new activities.

Here are some suggestions to help you:

  • Start by taking two hours per week – two lunches. Make sure you will not be disturbed – put a sign on the door, lock the door, turn off the cell phone, turn off the computer, and unplug the desk phone. Grab a pad of paper and a pen, decide which issue you want to start improving, and get to work on it. You may not finish everything in the first session or two, but you will have a solid start.
  • One of the biggest consumers of time for owners and managers is answering questions from employees. There are many reasons for this, but here’s an effective way to reduce how often this happens: When you get a question from an employee, simply say, “I don’t know, what do you think?”  Do not say another word – just listen. Let that uncomfortable silence linger until the employee answers. If the answer is close enough to being correct, then tell them they are correct and to make it happen. If the answer is not correct, then you have a training opportunity. If you do this consistently, employees that are asking for permission or doing C.Y.A. will soon realize that you know that they know the right answer. They will eventually stop wasting your time asking questions they already know the answers to.

As you consistently do the above items, you will find that you will have more and more time to work ON your business.

FINALLY:  What should you work on?  

I’ve written about using the concepts of Value-Added and Non-Value-Added [VA/NVA] to free up capacity that you are already paying for. If you focus your time on reducing Non-Value-Added activities, you will begin to free up time for all your people. This time can be used to service more customers and help you break through that business plateau. It can also help reduce the noise and chaos in your business. When your employees see the positive impacts from you working ON your business, they will become interested in helping you work ON your business even more.


To get started, you can download free tools that will walk you through the identification of your shop’s VA and NVA activities. There’s a video and hand-out on the process, and an excel worksheet with an example and a clean worksheet for you to use. These tools are located at, under “Recapture 10% of Your Capacity Today.” If you need help getting started, you can schedule a call with me from this same page.


This article is a reprint from the April 2024 Slippery Rock Gazette, found here:


In addition to having run a countertop fabrication shop, Ed has also helped many fab shop owners become very successful. He is a seasoned manufacturing manager and coach who has helped hundreds of companies from single person startups to large international corporations. As a for­mer business owner, he understands the responsibility to make payroll while also satisfying customers. Ed can be reached at . If you want help implementing this tool, Schedule a Call with Ed.