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The only grammar rule you need to know to build a successful business

working in vs on your business whats the difference crochet example because duh

As a non-native English speaker, prepositions and I haven’t always had the best relationship.

Where I’m from, we start learning English at a fairly young age. However, there’s only so much you can learn from books and a passionate teacher.

And that’s frustrating. You know the words, you know the order they go in, you know which verb tenses to use. Yet, your sentences don’t sound right. There’s some friction. They don’t roll off your tongue.

Often, when looking for answers on the internet, maybe because of the powers granted to me by my non-nativeness, I spot answers written by other non-native English speakers.

Yes, nativeness is a word. Naïveté is another.

The sentences are grammatically and semantically correct, but there’s something unnatural about them. They almost make you feel, hmm, uncomfortable.

Not all non-native English speakers speak or write this way, but some do.

Nicole Michaelis, one of my favorite content design people, also the host of Content Rookie, one of my favorite content strategy podcasts, recently shared that:

Some of us have completely broken free from the shackles of embarrassment and shame of saying the wrong thing.

Some of us are now openly talking about normalizing accents. We’re coming up with ways to celebrate cultural differences rather than shun them.

I’ve had to double-check even the most random phrases.

  • In or on a meeting?
  • In or on the internet?
  • At the end or by the end?
  • I’m home or I’m at home?
  • Do we see eye to eye about something or on something?

Sure, many native English speakers don’t worry much about your vs. you’re or these kinds of things. 

Most of the comments, emails, and messages that have errors are written by native English speakers. 

Many native English speakers don’t worry much about this because they don’t have to. No one’s going to judge their abilities or literacy level because they’re a sloppy writer. 

They don’t overthink their Quora responses so much that by the end, they look like they’re written by GPT-3.

Leif Parsons for NPR

Wondering how to improve communication between native and non-native English speakers? Heather Hansen, an expert who has spent years trying to answer this question, says native speakers should bear this responsibility. 

“…the onus shouldn’t be on nonnative speakers but rather on native English speakers to improve their comprehension of accents different from their own.

Take a page out of nonnative speakers’ book, says Hansen, by modifying your English to be more inclusive. That means no more confusing idioms, jargon and sports references, so no “touching base on improving synergy with your teammates.”

Today, I wanted to write about an important preposition distinction. Often, this preposition makes the difference between a successful business and a not-so-successful one. 

Working in your business vs. Working on your business

If you’ve ever considered starting your own business, you’ve probably only thought about the in part. 

Let me explain.

Before I do that, here’s a random fact. 

Every time I want to share an example related to having your own business, I think of a crocheting business.

There are thousands of other creative business ideas, but crocheting is always the first to come to mind. 

Let’s say you’ve thought about opening your crochet shop.

It’s a hobby at the moment, but you’ve been doing it for years and you always get compliments on your work. 

Three of your friends who wanted to get their partners gifts already bought crochet creations from you. 

You’ve spotted an overlooked market, maybe people looking for beautiful, low-key threatening feminist quotes and art on high-quality crochet, or I don’t know, people who want animals doing funny stuff.

Maybe crochet for babies? Well, crochet for parents because babies don’t– okay, I’m done

When we think of someone having a crochet business, we think of them spending endless hours crocheting. 

We think of painters spending their time sketching, painting, trying brushes and colors and canvases.

When we think of business owners, we often think of people working in their business.

Working in your business, simply put, doing the actual work, is a crucial part of having a thriving business. As Cal Newport said in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (and I quoted in my article 2 Things Writers and Creators Should Always Keep in Mind):

“This provides another general observation for joining the ranks of winners in our economy: If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive — no matter how skilled or talented you are.”

But even if your creations are out of this world, skipping the part of working ON your business will massively harm your growth… and your creativity and your soul because when you’re putting 100% effort into something, getting 0 orders hurts like helllll.

I saw someone on Twitter ask freelancers about the one piece of advice that dramatically changed things for them. Grace Baldwin, a copywriter I follow on Twitter, said something I found extremely interesting and kind of relieving: 

I found Grace’s advice relieving because while sometimes we know things rationally, hearing others say them really “unlocks” that knowledge. It’s out in the world, not just in the back corner of our mind, so it’s real real

In a way, this is my permission for you to spend time on things that don’t bring you money or other immediate rewards. 

Working on your business includes, but is not limited to: strategy, marketing, handling finances, outreach, seeking opportunities to show up on industry newsletters and podcasts, hiring, firing. 

When people heard I’d be writing a semi-to-very-long-form article every Sunday, they might’ve thought, “What a waste of time.” 

Writing was already my full-time job at the time, so why would I spend my free time on something that didn’t make me money, especially when I already did the same thing for money?

confused meme

Months later, when the realization I could repurpose my articles into Instagram posts hit me out of nowhere and I started doing just that, people might’ve thought, “What a waste of time.”

Yes, turning articles into Instagram posts is time-consuming because I need to edit the text to make sense in 2-4 separate posts (Instagram has a 10 images limit), I need to design the graphics, find titles for each post, thoughtfully engage with people who comment on my posts, etc. 

Things like writing for fun or posting regularly on social media when your livelihood doesn’t rely on it may seem pointless to some.

But I’ve gotten so many great work and collaboration opportunities because of my work on the blog and on Instagram. So many new readers have found me through these mediums. Clients have mentioned my work on here during discovery calls. 

Working on your business

Working on your business also includes hiring people once you get your head out of your butt and are mature enough to ask for help.

It includes handling invoices and having the closest thing to a CRM you can use without losing your mind. My CRM is an Airtable CRM template that I edited to be very, very, very minimal.

You’re also in charge of managing your website and every little thing that can go wrong there.

Big companies usually have people dedicated to each of these departments: finance, marketing, sales, design, programming, HR, project management, etc. We don’t. When you’re doing your own thing, especially in the beginning, you have to juggle a looot. 

Sometimes, small business owners, especially creators and artists, think the mere existence of their art will be enough to get people to buy their books or commission art pieces from them. They focus on their art and working in their business, forgetting that all these other aspects are incredibly important too. 

So, yes, while maybe a lot of you already knew it’s okay to spend a lot of your time in the “boring,” managerial aspects of your work, I wanted to mention the importance of doing work things that don’t bring you money.

I’ve had to miss out on coffee dates so I could do this. I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who get it and fully understand that I need to do this. But if I wouldn’t be, I wonder if I’d have the strength to tell my loved ones, “I can’t hang out with you because I need to do this thing… No, it’s not from work, it’s not urgent, and it doesn’t make me any money.”

It sounds like one of those things people elaborate so much on and embellish with so many details that it’s 100% obvious they’re lying.

But even though this one isn’t a lie, it sounds made up. It’s hard to explain all that to people, especially when you’re not even sure if all that time and effort will pay off.

Then again, what if it doesn’t pay off? That’s the caveat. 

As I said in my article Internalized capitalism- In defense of boredom:

Do we organize our life to optimize our personal energy, despite how selfish it looks like we’re being?

We should, and not just for our sake either. When I don’t prioritize rest, or when I don’t meditate, I’m not that nice to be around. All that’s left is for me to learn to love rest even if it didn’t imply a positive outcome.

We need to fall in love with doing these things, not just the exciting bits that will maybe never pay off, but also the admin stuff, the small talks, the boring, manual tasks, and everything in between, just in case it does pay off. 

Earlier this summer, I was talking to someone who was telling me about her professional/life milestones and what she was doing to achieve them. 

I think it was long after (aka 2 hours after) our conversation ended that I had a realization.

She wasn’t trying her best to achieve her goals. 

She had had different goals during various stages of her life. Now that she had found the thing she really loved, she wasn’t giving it her all.

I could be wrong–at the end of the day, I still don’t have the required qualifications to be a therapist–but I thought she was self-sabotaging in an intriguingly unique way.

When you’re doing something random, you don’t really, really care how it goes. Sure, even if the place you’re working at is subjectively the worst, you still get some satisfaction by hearing positive client feedback or getting performance-based bonuses. But at the end of the day, you don’t care about giving it your 10% or 100%.

But when you’re doing something you’re extremely passionate about or sharing something you’re very protective about, oh, shit gets real. 

What if you give it 100%… and it fails spectacularly? 

The thought of finding the answer to that question is too hard to bear for some. So, they decide to proceed… with extreme caution.

Instead of giving their life goals the time and effort and attention they deserve, they give them just a tiny bit, here and there, just so their desire or talent or creative juices (call it what you want) doesn’t wake them up at the middle of the night crying, begging to be unleashed into the world.

But, but, Delfina, don’t mediocre efforts produce mediocre results?

Yes. But that’s fine.

Because since this person hasn’t given this their 100%, they can always tell others and, most importantly, themselves, that it’s because they haven’t given it 100%. 

As I said in The Reason Most Artists Will Never Share Their Talent With the World (And Why They’ll Be in Their Deathbed, Dreading All the Art They Didn’t Create):

If you believe you will fail, you will engage in unhealthy behavior to  sabotage your success.

For most people, sharing their work and having others like it, love it even, is scary because it challenges their idea of self.

You would have to completely change the narrative you tell yourself – the one of being a failure, unworthy, mediocre, unoriginal, and whatever is your poison of choice to keep your art hidden from us.

Again, I’m here to tell you that our obsession with achievements is unhealthy. You need to work in and on your goals and give them 100% for the sole reason that you deserve it. You deserve all the effort and you owe it to yourself to find the answer to that dreaded question. 

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