Do you own a business or a job?

Published on: December 13, 2007 |Tags: ,,,, | Categories: Articles

reality checkThis is a guest post from our friend, James. His blog was just awarded #4 in the 2007 top ten blog for writers contest. He and his business partner Harry run a company of more than 30 writers pumping out PLR articles.

“I quit.”

I pronounced the statement firmly (or as firmly as one can get over IM). It was my company, after all. I could certainly do whatever I felt like.

“You can’t quit.” Harry’s statement was just as firm, but it held a note of panic. “You need to run the business.”

I complained. Then I ranted. I eventually lapsed into what I refuse to call whining. A lot of patience and love from my business partner and I didn’t quit that day, but I wasn’t very happy. I had too much work. Those of you who have never been there, don’t scoff and envy me. This is a sucky place to be, when you can’t keep it all together no matter how hard you try. After all, shouldn’t working for yourself be a pleasant affair?

Making a choice

I loved the act of running our business. I loved seeking out opportunity, seizing it, and making it mine. I gloried in negotiations, new contracts, and hitting the mark just right with clients. Most of all I loved writing. I could do it all.

That’s what entrepreneurs do, after all, don’t they? Freelancers, the self-employed… They “work for themselves”. They wear many hats and have hundreds of faces. They do everything…

Or so I thought.

I wasn’t really an entrepreneur; I just thought I was. I was a writer who owned his own job. “You have to choose,” Harry said quietly. “What do you want to be?”

That was the crux of the moment. I’d built myself an over-glorified job. My job created jobs for others, but without me, everything crashed and no one worked.

If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.

Unwittingly, I’d effectively squashed not only my own growth, but the growth of the business.

“I want to be an entrepreneur,” I concluded. Not a writer, not a manager… a true, full-fledged entrepreneur. Someone who takes calculated business risks. Someone who builds a business that runs on its own. The question was how to go from self-employed (ever notice how that sounds a lot like you own your own job?) to business owner.

If you want strength and room for growth, don’t renovate. Rebuild.

Changing a few aspects of the business or my day-to-day tasks didn’t achieve much. In fact, the more changes Harry and I made to turn the job into a business, the more we had to dismantle our current way of doing business. The root of the problem was not in our day to day business activities, it lay in the 6 inches between our ears.

We eventually tore down every inch of what we’d built. We had to rebuild from the bottom up. Sure, we saved some pieces, we got rid of others, but we started over. When we began putting the structure of our business back together, we built it to accommodate what we wanted right now and we made sure that our business was flexible enough to accommodate change in the future.

If you’re a one-person show, a lone freelancer or individual entrepreneur, be cautious of getting stuck in the rut of what you do. We label ourselves – writer, designer, programmer, manager, self-employed… whatever suits our fancy. Most of us have built ourselves a job – not a business.

In The Technician and the Entrepreneur, Shane wrote: Your job as the owner is to prepare yourself and your business for growth. To educate yourself sufficiently so that, as your business grows, the business’ foundation and structure can carry the additional weight. To make it survive you.

Rethink who you are and what you are. Allow for the possibility that you may want to grow. Prepare for it. Plan for it. Strategize long before it happens – and trust me, that moment of truth will happen.

If you were like me, you own your job and want to make the change. Now what? Check out Amanda’s post on the 5Ws and pick up a copy of the E-Myth Revised. Another good post is Christine’s How I choose a business model.

Your first step is a shift of focus. What is your plan? Shane interviewed a number of business owners recently, and almost none of us had clear exit strategies. That’s not the end of the world, but most successful entrepreneurs we meet have a long-term plan for their business. It sure isn’t, “Get old and maybe retire.” (Sound familiar?).

Take some time out and ask yourself those questions. Otherwise, like I was, you might end up stuck in a job you don’t like. And guess what? You built it for yourself.

15 Responses to Do you own a business or a job?

  1. James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises says

    I think I was supposed to write a small bio yesterday…

    Better late than never:

    James and Harry (the heart and soul of JCM Enterprises) provide high-quality, affordable web content, copywriting and copyediting services for small and medium-sized online businesses that need to make a big impact on a tight budget. The JCME team consists of James, Harry, and an average of 10 Canadian and U.S. writers at any given time.

    The JCME blog, Web Content Writing Tips, recently rated #4 out of 10 in the Top Ten Best Blogs for Writers 2007/2008.

    Contrary to popular belief, the JCME team does not promote, encourage or write (at least to their knowledge) PLR articles. Been there, done that, and it’s not very ethical.

  2. Your 8th Grade Grammar Teacher says

    “Someone who builds a business that runs on it’s own”

    Shouldn’t that be ‘its’, not ‘it’s’ (it is)?

  3. brandon says

    I often visit this idea myself… perhaps because I am obsessive compulsive about not ending up in a dead end job and staying ahead of the tech curve, but you’ve assured me that it’s just my natural Darwinian survival instinct to constantly question whether what I do is a job (easy to eliminate) or a business.

    You’ve really brought up a great point that, as a lone independent contractor, it’s so easy to fall into a niche where your clients begin to expect certain types of work from you. Here’s some of my own thoughts:

    From my own experience, this is especially a problem for designers because of the visual nature of the work that we do. Clients tend to look at your portfolio as if they are looking through a menu. Client: “Uh, yes, I’ll have the #3, hold the pink, add some extra blue”. That type of client request is natural of course (they are paying us to be creative, not the other way around). What matters is your response. The “employee” response is: “yes boss”, which is just fine for some projects where the task is simple. However, the business response is, “yes, but is there anything else that we can design that will work even better by providing more value to the client.

    This is a problem because when you start being defined by 1 or 2 styles, you relegate yourself to those types of jobs and clients stop asking you to join on other types of projects. In business terms this is limiting your product mix to a dangerous few salable items.

    I just read a great hint in Computer Arts magazine this past month that said (paraphrase): a designer can dictate the type of work that he/she is given by clients by what they put in their portfolio. I think this principle can be taken to another level the way you are suggesting: if you don’t like the way your business is being defined, then change it. Advertise the types of products that you DO want to sell.

    Great post as usual!

  4. shane says

    Dang – where where you when I needed you in 8th grade!!!!!

    and straight up – in full disclose, that vile comma was introduced by me in a pathetic attempt to be helpful. Sigh – maybe I shouldn’t try to fix a professional writer’s grammar.

  5. Jarkko Laine says

    These sure are some important things to keep in mind when starting a business.

    To me what has recently made me think more about this topic is the fact that I’m building my business while still working full time for someone. So, the time I can invest in building my business is limited.

    Just a week or two ago I realized that I was filling all my spare time with just some more work that anyone could do, a second job so to say. And that didn’t feel good. One reason why I want to build a business of my own is so I would have the power to decide how much work I do.

    So, now I’m trying to focus better and concentrate on what makes my business a real business instead of just a job… Let’s see how it goes :)

    Thanks for the inspiration and encouragement!

  6. Peter says

    “If you want strength and room for growth, don’t renovate. Rebuild.”

    That is music to my ears. So true. Shane and I went through what i like to think of as a burning phoenix maneuver earlier this year.

    It’s funny, but i suspect great businesses require an element of destructiveness to instigate the reconstruction. If everyone on the team is too interested in the status quo, then there will never be a spark to detonate a controlled explosion. The only explosions that can happen to a status quo company are uncontrolled explosions. That’s when you find your self saying “I quit”.

    Great article James.


  7. Harrison McLeod - JCM Enterprises says

    Excellent article, bro!

    @Peter: It’s true, destruction is a part of the process and very important to growth in both business and in our personal lives. Duct tape may bind the universe together, but it can’t fix everything. Sometimes you just have to trash it and start over.

  8. Naomi Dunford says

    For God’s sake, James, can you please email me when things like this come out? I get lazy, I don’t check my Bloglines, and then here you are and I’m the eighth freaking comment. How the hell am I supposed to steal traffic with a comment this far down? I mean, seriously?

    Awesome. But you knew that.

  9. Jarkko Laine says

    @Peter: Thanks for linking to that older post of Shane’s. It was a great discussion, and one that got me thinking about growth once again…

    I’m one to think that growth needs to be done really carefully so that everyone in the company still feels part of the team and culture and the whole thing. No one feels left behind, if you know what I mean. Because of this thought it’s (too) easy for me to come to the conclusion that you shouldn’t grow at all.

    But in that IM discussion between Shane and the good (but nameless) friend there was something that made me realize that there are more options than just grow / don’t grow. There’s also the well managed growth that the friend was advocating.

    (Sorry for getting carried away and commenting on an older post, but growth is such an interesting topic… And vaguely related to this one as well)

    @Naomi: Yeah, you’re right: Most people have an attention span of just seven items, so they’ll stop reading just before they notice your comment… ;)

  10. James says

    @ Naomi – I know, I know, cripes, I’m trying to control my life now that I’ve hit ABSOLUTE FAME! Hell, I’m still trying to email those ten people to come look at my blog, and I was supposed to do that last week! (Ha, and I’m more updated on feed reading than you are, nyah-nyah!)

    @ Jarkko – A big reason why our team has made it so successfully is the fact that not only do Harry and I believe in what we’re doing, so does everyone else behind the scenes. They trust us to make good decisions, they believe that even though there may be hard times, there are good times ahead to make up for that three-fold. That’s complimentary to us, certainly – we’ve obviously shown we’re able to manage, and manage well.

    It’s all about faith and trust. In yourself, in others.

  11. nurasto says

    Whoaaaa, nice nice … another food for my hungry mind about entreprenuer, freelancer and what so ever we call it.

    It’s important to stay focus and do the job side by side. It’s never easy for beginner (may I say that, dude?) who never been involve in any business. I try to renovate what I had been done in several past years, trying to gather people to the subject which I couldn’t handle by my self like web-design.

    Preparation meet opportunity. Thanks James! :).

  12. shane says

    Wow – I went back and read that article. Thanks for reminding me of that Peter – I should read that every so often. I think we actually took our own advice. In fact in respect to our 2008 goals, the biggest discussion on our end has been how do we do controlled growth, because hitting a million dollar only to blow up isn’t appealing. Our growth only has value to me if it is sustainable.

    Out of curiosity – for those of you who run teams: what are some of the things you use to stabilize and solidify your foothold? To make you revenue sustainable?

  13. Sonia Simone says

    For me it keeps coming down to reminding myself (multiple times are always required) that there might be other right ways to do it. In fact, there are definitely other right ways to do it, and those ways aren’t going to be discovered if I keep guiding everything back to my version of the right way.

    Yes, you have to build systems and processes, but if you can’t get out of your employees’ way, systems and processes are not going to help you.

  14. Amanda Gladden says

    Thank you for the mention. Great article – you are so good at story telling and drawing people in!

    Shane & Peter, I am really digging this blog and will be visiting more often for sure. ;)

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