How to Rid Yourself of the "Employee" Mindset

by Sarah Johnson on May 30, 2013
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Switching from a 9-to-5 job to startup mode involves more than just a great idea and some capital. You also have to make the shift from being an employee to being the boss. Whereas previously you relied on someone else to keep the lights on and pay the bills, now you have to worry about those basics and much more.

It can be tempting to continue to think and act as if you’re still someone’s subordinate. It’s easy to set aside tasks you find overwhelming and put off planning for the future of your business. But those aren’t your best moves.

So, how do you rid yourself of the “employee mindset” and refocus on the issues that matter? Consider the following four facts.

1. Busywork is not for business owners. Employees typically keep busy to impress their superiors. But you won’t move your business forward if you do menial tasks just to feel as if you’re hard at work or because you’re procrastinating on a harder job.

“People will do what they have been successful doing in the past. But entrepreneurs are not rewarded for handing in paperwork on time — that is not going to generate revenue in your business,” says Doug White, who along with his wife, Polly, owns Whitestone Partners, a consultancy that helps small businesses.

In the beginning, entrepreneurs usually spend too much time on the little things, like setting up their office space or putting together their website, Polly adds. “If you get up at 7 a.m. to shuffle through leads on your desk but never call anyone, it doesn’t get you to the next step,” she says.

2. You can’t get anywhere without a plan. As an employee, you could simply do what someone else told you to do. Now you are the one giving yourself and others direction. Entrepreneurs tend to skip over creating a business plan and plunge into making or selling their product, the Whites observe. They recommend that new business owners answer these three questions before moving forward: Why would a prospective customer want my product or service? Is there a segment of the market that will value my offering that is large enough to sustain the business? And how am I going to reach that group of people with my message? The answers will tell you whether you are pursuing a viable venture and can market it to the right audience.

3. You’re in charge of how you spend your time. Don’t get caught up in other people’s advice about being an owner. The Whites admit they fell into this trap when they first went into business together. They’d repeatedly been told that networking was critical to running a successful company. They estimate they met with 250 people in one quarter, but none of those coffee meetings led to any business. It turned out they were getting to know the wrong people, such as real estate agents and financial planners who were unlikely to give them referrals to the business leaders they wanted to reach. Although networking can be useful, it serves little purpose if you are not meeting with the right people — and if it’s consuming the bulk of your time.

4. Only you can make your endeavor worthwhile. You’re no longer at the mercy of a supervisor’s willingness to give you a raise. But you may find putting a price on your time and effort is hard, especially when approaching potential clients you’re afraid of turning off. Realize that it will be even harder to raise your fees later on when you realize what you’ve been charging isn’t enough to keep you in business. “Figure how much to charge to make yourself profitable and make yourself happy — and charge that amount,” Doug says. “If you can’t find people to pay that amount, you will fail.”

Sarah Johnson is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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