How to Switch from an Employee to an Entrepreneur Mindset
When I started my business in 2009, I had that mix of excitement and trepidation that most entrepreneurs experience when moving from employee to employer. I knew that I was going to have to work harder than I ever had, handle the knockbacks as well as the triumphs, and keep my confidence levels high to get the job done. I had worked as a professional violinist, as well as a fundraising lead at charities and arts organisations and had always been a team player and an innovator, company-spirited in all of the jobs I’d had up until that point. Becoming an entrepreneur did build on those character traits but there were aspects of my working style that I had to adapt. It wasn’t a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But when you’re at the helm, in a startup environment, it takes insight to recognise which is baby and which is water.
Eleven years on, here’s what I would have told myself to make the transition from employee to entrepreneur easier.
Can’t play a blame game
Being an employee can be frustrating when things don’t move fast enough or when colleagues drop the ball. As part of an organisation, we blame others if things don’t go perfectly. There’s always a notion that you could do a better job if your hands weren’t tied, or you didn’t have to work under certain conditions. Entrepreneurs can’t do this. Nothing is anyone else’s fault. You’re in charge – if something is wrong it’s up to you to change it.
Self-motivation and self-awareness
As the head of your own business, you need to know your own mind and not be driven by others’ expectations of you. It’s OK for your business to work for you, to fit in with your lifestyle and follow your own ambitions. Much of being an employee relies on second-guessing your boss’s requirements or sticking to the company line or brand guidelines. Your own business requires you to decide what works – for the business and for yourself.
Get a mentor
Just because you no longer have a boss, don’t imagine that you can do everything alone. You will need support. That might come in the shape of a mentor, a coach, or a network of other entrepreneurs – whatever works for you. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely, stressful job. It’s vital to have a sounding board, to be able to pick the brains of someone who has been in the same situation. The best support I have had is from other founders who can appreciate the challenges I’m facing.
There will be times when you might look back fondly on your time as an employee when all it took to take a few days off work was an email to a boss or a form filled out. As the founder of a business you’ll always be thinking about the work, considering how to improve things, developing ideas and solving problems. It’s important to manage your own health and find ways to protect your mental wellbeing from burnout, but you can never anticipate the work and effort entrepreneurship involves. It’s worth preparing for the worst and ensuring that your family and friends understand too. In the first few years, you might not be the social butterfly you used to be, or the spontaneous family member they have been used to. Having a supportive family makes a huge difference.
Hang onto your values
There will be times when all you feel that you have are your principles. Your ethics will set you apart as a business leader so have faith in what you believe. With the current recession and COVID-19 crisis, it’s important to maintain an ethical strategy even though many organisations are struggling to cope with the day-to-day operations. Ethics are crucial because, at the most basic level, if the public loses trust in your company, or your staff or partners find your actions at odds with their own ethics, the damage will be difficult to repair. During a crisis, in particular, some do the right thing and others who cheat the system or act without a moral compass. Be one of the good guys. You are no longer a cog in the wheel and your actions establish the reputation of the whole business.
Generosity is gold dust
If you were lower down the career ladder you might have rarely experienced the generosity of a board of directors. Now you’re running a business, your generosity will deliver tenfold. Giving a little to others builds goodwill and sustainability for the business. Being compassionate will cultivate loyalty. Humans are hard-wired for reciprocity so the more you do for your customers, staff and partners, the more they’ll be inclined to do for you.
A master of all trades
Employees have a job description and even the best multi-taskers have a boundary to the work they do. It’s part of the nature of a start-up that the entrepreneur needs to be proficient with finance, with sales, with marketing and with the delivery of the service or the manufacture of the product you’re selling. You can’t expect to be an expert straight away, and you’ll need to call in specialists, but to lead your business well you’ll need to master as many business skills as you can. There are too many cautionary tales about entrepreneurs cheated out of money by unscrupulous partners, or falling foul to an unexpected tax bill because they misunderstood the details on their business return. Even with specialist help, or a well-qualified team working with you, you’ll never have the ‘luxury’ of saying ‘not my job, mate’. Learn from day one and keep learning.
Being an entrepreneur is an exciting and rewarding undertaking and, if you’re motivated by the thought of being your own boss, don’t be put off by the changes you’ll need to make to become a success. Not having one boss can mean you now have many, when you’re answering to your customers, your bank manager and the large number of people who are going to be looking to you for answers. Being an entrepreneur isn’t the same as being an employee – no matter how high up the career ladder you’ve climbed. But the freedom you get as an entrepreneur means that you can develop your business, and run your life, in the way you think is best.