When I first set out on my own, what I really wanted to do was get paid for doing work I loved. I wanted to use my skills and see what I could create with them. I wanted to help cool people and great organizations.
I worked hard to bring in work, hone my services, and value my own time enough to get paid well. In many ways, I was living a dream.
But I struggled to close a persistent gap between where I was at and where I really wanted to be. I saw others with great businesses that allowed them to take considerable time off, build a legacy, craft valuable intellectual property, and lead teams of talented people. I wanted that. And I just didn’t see why I couldn’t make it happen.
Every step forward ended up feeling like two steps back.
I’ve come to realize that these goals didn’t match my mindset. The actions I was taking to move forward weren’t actually closing the gap between my reality and where I wanted to be. Every decision I made was dictated by my mindset and every decision I came to made it more difficult to realize the goals I had.
I needed to shift from a self-employment mindset to a business owner mindset.
When I “started my business” what I was really trying to do was just get paid for doing work that I wanted to do. I didn’t know anything different.
I didn’t yet have a vision for something bigger. I just wanted to love my work.
And I did. I crafted myself a great job. Even though I had a job that many others would envy, I figured out it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I wanted the fruits of owning a business and creating something bigger than me.
Now, before I continue and tell you exactly how a self-employment mindset differs from a business owner mindset, I want to get one thing clear: there is nothing wrong with wanting a great job. There is nothing “less than” about wanting to create a container in which you get to do great work everyday and explore your craft. If that sounds like exactly what you want, own it. And, at the same time, realize that the goals you have need to match that mindset.
What many bloggers, authors, and speakers have told you is possible—passive income, truly flexible schedules, working less for more return, etc…—only if you’re willing to shift from self-employment to business ownership.
Do you want a great job or do you want a business?
When I was trying to get paid to do work that I wanted to do, my goals were things like replacing the income from my day job, having a steady stream of clients, and trying to make myself useful. These were great goals (and I bet they sound familiar to you). But achieving these goals actually kept me struggling to get further ahead. I could raise my income, get more clients, and become more useful—but I wasn’t able to take a break, create revenue above and beyond the value of my time, or build a platform to do things that would allow me to do work I had deemed “more fun” (like writing books or speaking).
I was trying to work toward business owner goals with a self-employment mindset. It was incredibly frustrating. Each mindset has a set of goals associated with it and, while there’s significant wiggle room in each, there’s very little overlap.
Doing the Work
If your priority is digging in and doing the work, self-employment is a great way to do it. Doing the work is hugely important—also fun!—and still a part of my schedule. But it’s no longer the focus of my activities. Other people are often doing the work for me, or that work has been developed to the point of automation. My main task now is business development. I’m exploring new revenue streams (like licensing a fresh crop of business strategists on my methodology) and exploring ways to leverage others content to create additional value for my customers.
When your priority is doing the work, you’re not prioritizing restructuring your business model, looking for new revenue streams, building teams, etc… That’s okay, but you need to check your goals and make sure that your goals are aligned with doing the work.
“What” Instead of “Who”
If your priority is figuring out “what” you need to do instead of “who” can do it for you, you’re in self-employment mode. If your first thought is “I wonder what I need to do to get better at…” when an idea or opportunity comes your way, that’s self-employment talking.
This is probably the hardest transition for me: acknowledging that others can not only do it but do it better. Realizing my business won’t be as good as it could be if I don’t involve others was part of my shift into the business owner mindset.
While still extremely uncomfortable, I’ve rewired my brain to think “who” when there’s something new I want to explore in my business. Who is better at this than I am? Who already knows how to do this? Who has already created the program or has the content? Whose personal values would allow me to expand the scope of my business beyond my own?
Hiring people isn’t just about getting help. Hiring people is the best way to expand beyond your own limitations of knowledge, values, and capacity. Hiring people doesn’t just help you do more, it changes the very nature of the way your business can deliver value.
The self-employment mindset will guide you to hiring people who can help you do more of the work while reclaiming a little sanity. Business owners know that hiring people increases the amount of value (and therefore, most often, revenue) their businesses create.
If you’d like to do great work for a great salary, self-employment is the way to go. You’ve likely heard about the time-for-money trap—but it’s not just that. If you want a great salary, assets that increase in value, and a healthy share of profit from a great business, you need to shift to the business owner mindset. Self-employment excludes a hugely important part of the business-building equation: profit.
When I review past business models with our members, one of the main things I’m looking out for is profit calculations. A profit calculation is not the same thing as accounting for labor (yours or anyone else’s). Profit is the money you make because the value your business creates goes beyond the value of the labor and administration it takes to create that value.
To become profitable, you have to examine the true value your business is creating (often not what it is on the surface), you need to scale to a certain point, you create additional efficiency in the way the value is delivered, and you look for ways to innovate on the way the value is traditionally created. Creating profit is a process of optimizing effectiveness and efficiency.
Examine the products and services you’re offering now. How much of the revenue you’re creating from them is actually profit? How much is just paying for your time?
When you’ve been focused on paying yourself for so long, breaking into profit generation can feel really uncomfortable. Even though I’ve been generating profit in my business for some time (in the form of more accessible and lower-priced products), when I moved into profit pricing in the more exclusive side of my business, I got really nervous. The change in price wasn’t dramatic but it was accompanied by decisions to outsource part of the hands-on work and service delivery. That meant I was making more money and doing less work.
While that might be the “holy grail” of business, it was personally nerve-wracking. I gave myself many pep talks about value, growth, and profit as I intentionally shifted my mindset from self-employment to business ownership. Eventually, it sunk in and that lead to doubling my revenue last year and being on track to double it again.
Of course, my personal piece of that puzzle hasn’t grown as fast. That was another change from self-employment to business ownership mindset. My business’s revenue is not the same as my income. Even though that might be obvious, I’ve discovered that the more my business grows, the more I need to detach personal income and business revenue. Trying to grow them equally leads to making decisions that are ultimately about serving yourself (been there, done that!) instead of serving your business.
I used to run my business at a 85% profit margin. Now, I run with about a 40% profit margin. My financial team is still impressed.
Over and over again, I’m confronted with audiences, colleagues, and clients that have goals mismatched to their mindset. There’s no amount of tactical learning that will “fix” your business problems if your mindset is creating an insurmountable gap between where you’re at and where you want to be.
I won’t end this post by asking you to change your mindset. Instead, I’m asking you to consider what you really want and whether the decisions you’ve been making are actually designed to get you there. Has your mindset gotten in the way of achieving your goals? What’s one thing (structure, help, profit, etc…) that you could start shifting your thinking on?