When you’re the boss, you need a strong work ethic to keep making progress and motivate your staff to work hard. But work ethic is more than just keeping your nose to the grindstone. A strong work ethic takes into account several different personal characteristics and behaviours. When you’re confident, motivated, hard-working, and ready to expand your skills and expertise, you increase your chances of succeeding as a small business owner.
Your determination can help you build and maintain a strong work ethic, even when you don’t feel particularly inspired to do so. It’s the ability to stick with a task even when it gets difficult. This means you don’t let obstacles get in the way of being a professional or from delivering great service to your clients. Determination can encompass a lot of other positive factors: sense of responsibility, discipline, quality, and timeliness. No matter what you aspire to be, your sense of determination plays a big role in getting you there.
A surefire way to exhibit a strong work ethic is to complete a large number of tasks. Incredibly productive people stand out from the crowd and among their competition. Try thinking about people in your own life who seem very productive. There’s a good chance those are the same people to whom you attribute a healthy work ethic. Being productive is important, but the things you do should matter in order to truly embrace a strong work ethic. You also need to perform the tasks well instead of just rushing to get lots of things done.
Quality and work ethic go hand in hand. Imagine two different workers who build birdhouses. The first person builds 12 birdhouses per day, while the second person only builds eight. Given just this information, you might assume the first person demonstrates more work ethic. Now what if you later learn that birdhouses built by the first person tend to be boring, haphazard, and non-durable? On the contrary, the second person’s birdhouses are ornate, functional, and hold together very well, even under tough conditions. Suddenly, the second person seems to have the stronger work ethic. After all, that person produces a quality piece that increases customer satisfaction. The first person seems to care less, and that lack of integrity and respect for customers appear in the flimsy products.
Manage Interactions With Others
Cooperation may be one of the more underrated factors associated with a strong work ethic. Many people see work ethic through an individualistic lens. This perspective may be even more tempting for independent contractors who operate without any immediate co-workers. Having a great work ethic means aspiring to work well with others. If you’re an independent contractor, that might mean interacting positively with your clients or others in your field as you network. If you have employees on staff, that means working well with those people.
If you want to develop a more cooperative work ethic, try the following exercises:
- Practice empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of your suppliers, customers, and other associates.
- Review all of your communications to ensure a professional, clear tone.
- Be considerate of other’s contributions and acknowledge them.
- Admit when you don’t know something or need help completing a job.
The quality of the interactions you have can affect the long-term success of your business. Whether you’re trying to land customers or just negotiating a low price from vendors, strong verbal and written communication skills help to make those interactions go smoothly. And while it’s good to be friendly and flexible, it’s also important to be firm and reasonable, as making too many concessions can injure your credibility and kill your profits.
Part of having a strong work ethic is being professional in all interactions. When you’re professional, you set a positive tone for your business. Professionalism pulls in many different aspects. Your physical appearance plays a role. You should appear professional in a way that fits your business. If you run a garden center, you aren’t going to wear a suit and tie to work, but you should maintain a neat appearance that fits the setting. You also show professionalism in the way you treat people, the values you implement, and the integrity you exhibit at all times.
Implement Effective Work Habits
The way you work helps determine your work ethic. Establish effective work habits to make the best use of your time without sacrificing work quality. Organizing and prioritizing your work tasks is an important part of those work habits. If you’re not sure how to prioritize, think about the tasks that are both important and time-sensitive. Getting into routines also helps you work effectively. Streamline the tasks that you do on a regular basis to make the best use of your time.
Set Reasonable Goals
Ambition is essential for entrepreneurs, but over-ambitious plans may leave you coming up short, which can take a toll on your confidence levels and your self-esteem. Thinking big is good, but don’t overlook the small steps. Use the SMART goal system to set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Break up your big goal into a series of small objectives that lead up to your short- and long-term goals, then enjoy the confidence boost that comes from achieving measurable goals.
Form a Support Group
When your passion is building your business, having a small network of close friends who believe in what you do can also help you stay confident and support your work ethic. Your personal support network should be people who you can count on to be happy for you when you have a good week and give you a pep talk during rough patches. That motivation can keep you going to support your strong work ethic. You should choose your support group wisely. For example, entrepreneurs who are your direct competitors might undermine your business and your confidence.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Other startups and influencers in your field can be great sources of inspiration, but don’t compare yourself to other businesses or think your business has to be a carbon copy of theirs to be successful. When you realize that every business is different, you maintain a sense of confidence that can help you keep going. If you give in to the trap of comparing yourself to others, you may hesitate, pull back, or change what you’re doing, which can interfere with your progress.
Keep Up With Continuing Education
Expertise in your field inspires the desire to become an entrepreneur. If you don’t keep your skills current, you might end up feeling overwhelmed and swamped – those feelings can interfere with your productivity. Think of continuing education opportunities as one of the keys to your business growth. For example, search engine optimization (SEO) experts should know about optimizing sites for mobile search, web developers need to know the latest software, and restaurants need to adapt to new culinary trends. Engaging in continuing education gives you the tools you need to stay current and work effectively to give your clients what they want.
Learn From Your Wins and Losses
It’s natural for your confidence to spike after wins and fall after losses, but you can learn from both experiences. For example, when your marketing campaign works to bring in new clients, you can replicate your process to add more clients. Even losing the occasional client has a bright side. Evaluate what went wrong and determine how you can prevent it from happening again in the future. In fact, if you look at the negative business experiences as opportunities to learn and grow, you can reduce your stress levels and build the confidence you need to achieve your long-term goals.
Use Time Management
Modern technology has improved business efficiency in a variety of ways. However, it has also led to an increase in the number of distractions employees face on the job. From answering emails and phone calls to browsing Facebook and LinkedIn, there are hundreds of ways for workers to lose focus throughout the day. And while a little inefficiency might be overlooked at a large corporation, self-employed individuals need to be rigorous with their time management. When you’re self-employed, it’s important that you re-evaluate tasks on a regular basis, because no one can predict the ups and downs of business operations.
While it’s important to manage your days and stay focused, small business owners should also make time for themselves. Working too much can lead to burnout and hinder overall productivity and performance for your business. For best results, be sure to occasionally give yourself some downtime to recharge your batteries and reflect on your decisions and the overall performance of your company.
One undeniable fact of self-employment is that you don’t get paid unless you work hard. Without the motivation of a boss setting expectations and a steady biweekly paycheck, entrepreneurs must take the initiative to find and secure jobs on their own. It’s also important to make sure that you finish all tasks on time and to the clients’ specifications in order to retain business and bring new prospects via referrals.
To keep motivation levels high, ensure that the venture you pursue is something you’re passionate about. Additionally, entrepreneurs should try to maintain positive attitudes and celebrate as many small wins as possible. Building a strong business takes time, and you shouldn’t expect to rake in millions right from the start. Be patient with yourself in the beginning while constantly striving for the excellence you know is possible in the long run.
Improve Tech and Financial Skills
You don’t need a CPA or an engineering degree to launch your own business. But having financial and technical expertise can give you an unquestionable leg-up on the competition. Most self-employed professionals work on tight budgets and don’t have the funds to hire a team of financial experts. If you have a basic understanding of cash flow, profit margins, return on investment, and other vital metrics, you can manage the financial aspects of your business yourself.
Developing strong technical skills also helps you handle many of the administrative parts of running a business yourself. Along with basic knowledge of popular software, such as QuickBooks, Outlook, Office, etc., entrepreneurs should also seek training in other essential technical tools. For example, expertise in Excel can help a business owner better manage both their finances and their organization, and a rudimentary knowledge of HTML programming can help alleviate the costs of creating and maintaining a website.
It’s not enough to come up with a new idea for a business venture. You also need to make sure that there’s a market for your products or services. The best entrepreneurs are innovators who know how to identify, disrupt, and capitalize on markets. Start by determining your clients’ needs, and assess how they’re likely to change over time. You can then develop new and innovative ways of satisfying those requirements now and in the future.
Expand Your Expertise
You know your business inside and out, but is that enough? Being an expert in your own field paves the way toward entrepreneurial success and gives you new ways to improve your work ethic. Expanding that knowledge base to become an expert in other fields and services makes you the go-to person with the potential to increase your business significantly. The additional expertise helps you corner a particular niche and expand your service offerings. Examples include an accountant who becomes an expert in building contractor businesses, a software developer who gains expertise in real estate, or an advertising agency with expert-level knowledge of running restaurants. These professionals position themselves at the cutting edge of the market in multiple industries. Gaining that additional expertise comes in many ways.
Consider Client Input
Choosing a valuable new area of expertise is crucial to successfully expand your business. You can learn about any field, but if it’s not an area experiencing growth or in need of the service you want to offer, it doesn’t net much new business for your company. Start with your current client base. What are your clients’ areas of expertise? How does your area of expertise coincide with their areas? Knowing your clients’ industries and business needs enables you to help them better identify emerging markets, particularly those that are underserved. What can your clients teach you about their businesses? Spend some time on location learning more about their operations, discovering what they do on a daily basis, and identifying gaps or areas of need that you can service. Doing this hands-on research with your current clients helps you target your learning to become an expert in additional spaces.
Hire Experienced Personnel
When you want to expand into a particular area of expertise or add a new line of business, consider hiring someone who is already an expert in the new field. This person already has the education and real-world experience to get you up and running. Use your newly acquired talent to help you plan your expansion into new areas of business. Work closely with this person to learn all you can about the field, then work together to create training sessions for the rest of the staff.
Take Advantage of Educational Opportunities
Learning new skills comes down to seeking out available educational opportunities. Professional development courses exist in almost any field and fast-track your learning about a new area. If you’re a marketing pro who wants to target the insurance industry, consider taking classes to earn your insurance licence. Online courses and books from existing experts in the field are also excellent sources of information, as are industry conferences and expert speakers in the field. Create an education program for your employees that covers the cost of course registration and learning tools, and set up a learning library in the office as a resource area for employees.
Study the Experts
Who is at the top of your target industry? What can you learn from those people who already know the field well? Studying what those experts do and how they do it can give you key information about how to proceed. Find out how they got started in the industry, when they stumbled, and where they succeeded. Many field experts write books or blogs on the topic, which gives you an inside track into their processes. You may discover new techniques or streamlined processes that help you work more efficiently and that inspire a strong work ethic.
Practise New Skills
Studying gives you a knowledge foundation for a new area, but actual hands-on work in the field gives you a greater understanding of skills and challenges. Dive in to test out new skills related to your business. If you want to expand into developing mobile apps, start tinkering to see what you can create, even if it’s not an actual product you plan to sell. Learning all you can about the new skill is useful, but you can also get stuck in the learning cycle without actually taking steps toward performing the new skill. Don’t be afraid to start trying your new know-how even if you haven’t mastered it yet.
You may not have a budget to pay employees full-time salaries, but that doesn’t mean you have to build your business alone. If you have a overwhelming number of tasks to get done, consider delegating some of the work to a temp. For example, as a solopreneur, you probably don’t have time to handle tedious tasks such as populating a database of potential business contacts in your area, but a temp with basic computer skills can do the job for you.
The same goes when it comes to beefing up your online presence. Maybe you’re a busy software developer, but writing blog posts isn’t your strong suit and you don’t have time to share links to your blog in social media. Should such be the case, you can turn to online resources for small businesses such as Upwork, Guru, and Fivver to find contractors in Canada or abroad to help you get important work done in a timely manner. Come tax time, easy-to-use online accounting software can help you prepare your taxes without pulling your hair out.
Hiring help may seem like it goes against a strong work ethic, but it’s important to remember that a strong work ethic doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Learning how to effectively delegate certain tasks lets you focus on your areas of expertise so you’re working hard where you’re most effective.
Break Up Your Workday
Your small business is your baby. You probably could spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week doing everything possible to make it a success. But it’s also important to schedule time off. It may not be possible to take an extended beach vacation when your business is in its infancy, but you can do small things to avoid motivation burnout, such as:
- Limit your working hours to around eight in a day.
- Take at least one day off per week.
- Take regular breaks during the workday.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat healthy meals and snacks.
- Get enough sleep.
It’s also a good idea to unplug completely just for a short while to stay motivated. Consider engaging in a relaxing hobby you truly enjoy. Doing nothing at all is also a perfectly reasonable way to unplug. For example, taking in the view from your balcony or watching your favorite comedy show are effective ways to regain your energy and focus.
Remind Yourself Why
You run the risk of losing sight of why you started your business if you fail to take a step back. To stay motivated, it’s a good idea to connect to a community of your peers. For example, you might join a mastermind group to get feedback and brainstorm ideas with people who understand your challenges as a small business owner. Taking workshops to enhance your skills is an effective way to stay motivated. You can also create a vision board with images of people and things that motivate you, and place the board in your work area to remind you why you started your business. Burnout can negatively affect your work ethic, but you can be proactive in fighting off burnout to keep productivity high. For long-term success, it’s important to learn how to stay energized and motivated early on.
Use Networking Skills
In the world of independent contracting, word-of-mouth marketing is everything. Because you spend a lot of your time working on projects, you may not have extra time to market your services. If you have excellent networking skills, you should be able to use referrals, social media, customer reviews, and other person-to-person marketing techniques to drive business organically while you focus on getting your work done.
It only takes one unhappy client to cast a negative light on your small business. Independent contractors are only as good as their word, so it’s critical to establish yourself as a dependable resource. Being reliable is part of having a strong work ethic that your clients respect. Be careful to agree to things you know you can deliver, and follow through with everything you say you’re going to do.
There’s no guarantee of steady work as an independent contractor. You may go weeks or even months without a project. Planning for those periods ahead of time can help you get through them, but it’s also important to have patience. When you find your business in a slowdown, use that time to network and promote your company to gain more clients. Those efforts take time, so you may not see immediate income from them. But having patience and knowing they pay off eventually shows strong, respectable work ethic.
One of the benefits of independent contracting is a more flexible schedule, but that’s not always the case. You may have to work excessive hours to finish up a rush project before a deadline. Sudden changes at the last minute are quite common in the world of independent contracting, so you need to be able to roll with the punches. Being flexible means you can change directions and still keep moving forward.
Keep a Positive Attitude
In general, negative people that are difficult to work with don’t get called back for a second gig. Much of an independent contractor’s income relies on repeat business and referrals, so staying upbeat and pleasant is a must. As long as you go above and beyond to treat your clients and yourself with respect, independent contracting can be a thrilling, rewarding career path, but you must be ready to put in the physical and mental effort required to make it work.
Running a business with integrity and a strong work ethic is a challenge, but it’s one that’s worth it because it shows customers that you run the type of business they want to support. Using tools that are available helps you work efficiently with less effort. The QuickBooks Self-Employed app helps freelancers, contractors, and sole proprietors track and manage their businesses on the go. Download the app.