Many years ago, I listened to an audio program by Brian Tracy, where he said that everyone is essentially self-employed — and that even if you’re an employee, you should think of yourself as the President of your own personal services corporation. Call it Your Name, Inc.
This mindset makes a lot of sense. Even if you seemingly work for someone else, you still work primarily for yourself. You have your own company with one employee — you — and you’re in the business of selling your employee’s labor for profit.
I’m sometimes accused of writing too much from the entrepreneurial perspective when I cover career development, seemingly ignorant of the fact that most people are employees.
I intentionally favor this perspective because I know that you can be nothing but self-employed, regardless of how you generate income. It’s not because I’m trying to push you to start your own business. The more important issue is to help you avoid the mistake of giving away your responsibility for your personal career results.
The only true boss of your work is you. Any external boss is just a customer of your personal services business. Maybe you’ll do a great deal of business with a single customer, but you’re always free to fire a customer you don’t like.
Saying “I quit” to your boss is essentially the same as saying to a customer, “I’m sorry, but apparently our business is unable to serve you. Perhaps I can recommend a competitor who may be better equipped to meet your needs.”
What if you fall prey to the illusion that you aren’t self-employed and you yield control of your career to your employer or boss? A lot of people try to do this, but viewed through the entrepreneurial lens, it doesn’t seem to be a very sensible approach.
Imagine a business saying to its biggest customer, “We’re going to drop all our other customers and serve only you. Just tell us what you want done, and we’ll do it. Pay us whatever you think is a fair price. Invest in our growth however you see fit. Tell us when we can go on vacation. You command; we obey.”
While it wouldn’t be impossible to run a business this way, it would certainly be very risky and unstable compared to the alternatives. Yet this is how many people choose to run their personal services businesses. If I were an investor, I’d think twice about investing in such a business — I’d be more likely to invest in their competitors.
Like it or not, you are self-employed. If you produce output and get paid for it, you’ve got a business. You are no more or less an entrepreneur than any established business owner.
Assessing your personal services business
How well is your personal services business performing? Are you getting a strong return on your investment? Are you seeing a nice increase in the rate of return?
What investments are you making to improve your business? Are you investing in training? Morale improvements? Productivity upgrades?
How does your business stack up against the competition? Are similar businesses outperforming you? Can you provide a better service at lower cost? Or are you such a perfect fit for what you do that you really don’t need to worry about competition?
Are you charging a fair price for a quality product or service, or are you bilking your customers and hoping they won’t notice?
Is your market expanding or contracting? Are your future prospects rosy or gloomy?
Are you doing a good job of marketing your business? Do new potential customers seek you out, eager to do business with you? Are you getting plenty of referrals and enjoying viral marketing? Or does your business wallow in relative obscurity?
Would you buy or invest in your business if someone else ran it? Given the current performance and expected future performance, would buying your business be a wise choice?
Do you like your business? Does it enable you to do interesting work, make a meaningful contribution to others, and enjoy an abundant lifestyle?
Whether you generate 1099, W2, or some other form of income matters only to the tax man. You are self-employed. You can attempt to yield control of your business to someone else, but you’re always stuck with full responsibility for the results.
This article was first published on November 30, 2007