Five Things I Learned After A Year Of Being My Own Boss
Many dream of being their own boss. For a year, I lived that dream, leaving the security of a corporate position to build a successful consulting practice. I shed the 9 to 5 drumbeat (working 12 hour days), the “oppressive" dress code (button down oxfords and bathing suits became the norm), and the mind numbing meetings (traded in for Skype calls at all hours of the day or night). I set sail, leaving the safety of the shore, charting my own course across the deep blue ocean.
Did I love it as much as I thought I would? It was invigorating, recharging my sense of curiosity, and fueling my drive to innovate. I became fascinated by the culture of start-ups, spending time in a variety of industries. I discovered new ways of looking at customers and the world around them, what influenced or could influence their behavior. I worked with companies, large and small, that looked at the world differently, with purpose, with the intent of changing or disrupting their space. Though it wasn’t what I expected it to be (is it ever?), yes, I loved it as much as I thought I would.
However, now that the offer of the “job of a lifetime” has lured me back in to the organized world, I have taken the time to think about what I have learned, how it has impacted my working behavior, and what advice I might give others.
(photo credit: 123rf.com)
Working for yourself doesn’t make you your own boss.
Here is the first lesson…unless you win the lottery and have no need to generate an income, you are always working for someone else. The customer, the client - it doesn’t matter – and honestly, there is nothing wrong with that. We all serve someone. The point is more how you do it, and what you give up of yourself in doing so. Entrepreneurs sometimes have the luxury of what they are willing and not willing to do to earn a dollar where others, beholden to an organization sometimes feel that we give up that control. Though often, that is our choice to do so, whether we believe that or not.
The fact is, regardless of whether you share an office with your co-workers or lead your own organization, you are your own boss. You decide each day, with every action how you are going to conduct yourself and how others see you. You decide how you are going to go about making a difference and what impact you are going to make. No, not every decision is your own - but you choose what you do with it. It took me working for myself to realize that I had always been my own boss. I just needed to do a better job at managing that.
(photo credit: IBM.com)
Time is a valuable commodity that you have control over.
I had a mentor once tell me “don’t tell me you didn’t have time to do something when you simply chose to spend the time doing something else”. That advice stuck. Well, eventually. I could have unpacked the moving boxes in my garage yesterday, instead I chose to spend time with family and watched a movie instead. It is no one’s fault but my own that I still can’t park in my garage, and I don’t regret it because I chose to do something more fulfilling. Though I will spend today in the garage, or maybe I’ll get to it next weekend.
When I started my agency/consultancy, I equated my value to time in hours spent working directly on a project, not the final outcome or the impact of the work that I did. To be fair, this is how most projects are “costed” since after all, time is money. However that logic led me to trying to fill every working hour with some sort of project, or contribution to a project because I felt guilty otherwise. How could I not be busy when I was directly responsible for my own paycheck? I followed productive time with unproductive time in the interest of staying busy, sacrificing the downtime that I had sought to earn with this new venture. It took me time to figure out that every hour invested was precious and that I had to find balance. Think about this for a minute - how much do you get done when you go in early and plan to work at the office late, only to fill those hours with unproductive “twiddling"? Compare that to when you go into the office for only a few hours because you have an appointment and with unrelenting focus, you make a serious dent in your “to do” list? The value, and investment of time matters, and it is up to you to invest it wisely.
Don’t undervalue your abilities and experience, or others will.
Before a restaurant opens for business, they will often have a couple of free nights to encourage people to give them a try, giving their staff the chance to iron out any issues before a full opening. If a business is trying to build a client base, they may discount their services to attract those who might otherwise go somewhere else. Both of these are great tactics that can help you build your business, as long as they don’t undervalue your work over the long haul.
When I started my practice, I took on some projects for free or a reduced cost to gain experience and to get a few successful projects under my belt. With some clients, they were happy to get the help and followed up with paid projects as they came available. But I noticed that with a couple of clients, that notion of “cheap” stayed with us throughout the relationship. The value of what I brought to the table was depressed and with these particular clients, I was never able to get past it. I later found that one of my clients was actually giving similar work to another firm and was being billed four times as much as I was billing! Whether working independently or for an organization, undervaluing yourself, your experience, and your abilities can impact you throughout your relationship or career. If you don’t value YOU, who will?
(photo credit: Shutterstock.com)
A great team can take a great idea and make it even better.
When faced with the opportunity to leave my practice, to take that dream job with a new organization, it was a very difficult decision to make. I loved the work I was doing, appreciated the flexibility, and it was financially lucrative. So why make the change? Several reasons factored into my decision, but one of the most influential - I missed being part of a team.
Earlier in my career, I subscribed to the thought that if you wanted something done right, you were better off doing it yourself. Though I attempted to delegate authority, I often found myself snapping it back up because I was ultimately responsible for the result, and didn’t trust others to deliver, whether I admitted that or not. That was until during a "360 degree" feedback review, members of my team told me that while they enjoyed working with me, and appreciated my ideas and strategies, they often felt shut out of the process of developing them. And that hurt. I learned over time that delegating authority and being part of an engaged and empowered team wasn’t sacrificing results, it was in fact putting myself, and the team, in the position of achieving greater results. As successful as I was working on my own for the last year, I missed the energy of being surrounded by a talented team. It took me longer to get projects done, and often I would go back to the end result and see things that I may have missed. And without those around me to help execute ideas, the implementation and its effectiveness was often stunted. Today, surrounded by talented individuals, I am reminded how much of a difference a team can make.
(photo credit: Forbes.com)
Take the time to help others without the expectation of anything in return.
What am I proud of from the time that I worked for myself? Well, I am definitely proud that was able to put more money into the bank than I took out! But I would say that I am most proud of the fact that as much time as I invested in my business, I set time aside to help others. I continued my practice of mentoring young men and women, not yet in the business word, and expanded that to include working with a few start-ups, led more often than not by very talented Millennials. And while I expected nothing, the truth is I gained immensely from the experience.
I joined an organization, a local co-op and accelerator that partnered me with people that might benefit from my experience. And I sought out new businesses and entrepreneurs that I found fascinating, offering to help in any way that I could. Many kept wondering why, why I would spend my time without expecting anything in return. The truth is, I benefitted more than they did. It was them who taught me how to value my time differently, how to look at the customer in new ways, how much more was possible than I once thought sitting at my corporate desk. Each in their own way taught me how to use the tools at my disposal, not to pine for something shiny off in the distance. I learned the power of passion and the importance of purpose, re-calibrating my own expectations and resetting my own goals. Taking the time to help others without expecting anything in return doesn’t mean you won’t get anything back. Quite the contrary, in my case, the ROI was through the roof.
One can, and should learn from any experience. For me, the contrast of working for a large organization to working for myself provided many such opportunities. My biggest lesson and the common thread to the points above? You have far more control over your situation and your actions, regardless of who you work for, should you choose to accept that. And sometimes accepting that is the hardest part.