10 Qualities of the Self-Employed Mindset

Maybe I?m painting with a very broad brush here, but I think most people would like to be self-employed?if not now then ?later?. At a minimum it?s a dream, even if it?s not being actively cultivated. What keeps that pursuit from coming into being varies by person, but I?m sure that fear of the unknown ranks real high on the list.

That fear, I think, often comes from the misguided notion that chance plays a primary role in the success or failure of a business venture, and people who have never had their own business might be unsure that Lady Luck will smile upon them should they decide to venture out on their own. There?s often the tendency to believe that the self-employed get to where they are by having special skills or talents, by being in the right place at the right time, or because they have the ?right connections?.

10 Qualities of the Self-Employed Mindset
10 Qualities of the Self-Employed Mindset
Maybe luck does play a role in some situations, but speaking for myself and for other self-employed people that I know, mindset plays a bigger role in entrepreneurial success than anything else.

I came to that conclusion while writing How Blogging Solved My Mid-Life Career Crisis, where I described my journey to go from internet idiot to professional blogger status in under three years. Special skills or talents? Nope, I was a mortgage guy before I did this. The right connections? Didn?t have any on the web?all my ?connections? were involuntarily retired mortgage people. Being in the right place at the right time? Maybe, but I can tell you for certain that my failures far outweighed my successes in the first year of the venture.

No, it isn?t luck or anything special. It IS very much a mindset–how you process what?s happening and how you?ll react to it. But that mindset isn?t a single thought, but a tapestry of thought processes that drive you forward even when it seems there is no way forward. I?ve identified ten of them, but I?m sure there are more.

1. I am responsible for my own future. When we work for someone else, we might unconsciously transfer this responsibility to our employers. This can include not only a paycheck, but also promotions, bonuses, benefits and retirement security. When you work for your self you must understand that none of that can exist unless you make it happen.

2. No one owes me anything. This is actually true no matter what your professional status, but it?s impossible to ignore when you have your own business. It isn?t about waiting your turn or going through the right channels until you?re properly recognized and compensated, but about understanding that nothing good happens without your dedicated efforts.

3. My income is somewhere ?out there??I need to go get it. A self-employed attorney friend said to me over lunch one day, ?salaried people don?t understand our situation because they get paid no matter what; in our world we only eat what we can kill.? Your income and success are out there for you to find and acquire. You?re either a hunter, chasing down your paycheck, or a farmer, patiently planting and tending the crops that will eventually yield a harvest of riches. You?re never on cruise control waiting for the money to come rolling in.

4. I will learn what ever it is I need to know. You want to start your own business, but you?re certain you don?t know all that you need to know to make it happen. No problem! No one ever knows all that they need to run a given business?trial and error is a constant traveling companion. You should never let that stop you! You have to have the spirit of a permanent student, always prepared to learn what it is you don?t know. The internet, and YouTube in particular, make it easy to get what ever information you need. All you need is the commitment to learn and you?ll be fine.

5. I will network with others in the same business. It?s been said that each of us is the average of our five closest friends; what that means, if you?re going into business, is that you may need to find some new friends. This is especially true if all or most of your friends are employed by others. Keeping company with people who are already in the business you?re going into is probably the best way to fast-forward the process. The learning curve on a business can be brutal, so get some help.

6. There will be problems?and I?ll overcome them all. Self-employment is often a process of solving a perpetual string of problems?get used to it. Embrace problems as ?technicalities to be overcome? and part of the price to be paid for being an entrepreneur. Yes, you?ll probably face more problems in your own business than on a job, but your ability to deal with them will be much greater. Eventually, solving problems becomes ?part of your job description?, and it?s no longer the boogeyman it once was.

7. I will have both bad luck AND good luck. As human beings we can easily obsess on the ?power? that luck has over us. Nonsense! Yes, you can have something unfortunate happen in your business, but you?ll also have more than your share of good luck (what we think of as ?breaks?). Your business needs to be driven by effort, not by perceptions of luck, whether good or bad. To a large degree, we make our own ?luck?!

8. There is no security. There is no security in a job or a business anymore, nor is there any in life itself. We?re born and we die, and what we do with the time in between is mostly up to us. We can cling to the perception of security, or we can step out and try to find who it is we?re meant to be. (Guess which one is more fun?)

9. I will focus only on that which is most important. This is probably the biggest discipline issue for the self-employed. A business means a multitude of responsibilities and it can get overwhelming. Many businesses never get off the ground because the owner spends most of his time ?majoring on the minors?–taking care of the urgent at the expense of what?s truly important. How do you know what?s truly important and what you should focus on most? Hint: it?s the activities that have the greatest ability to put money in your pocket. Do that enough, and you can hire virtual assistants to take care of the rest. (True confession: I haven?t mastered this one yet, but I?m working on it.)

10. I will never quit. I?ve said in previous posts that this is the single most important indicator of success or failure. It?s one thing to quit a job, but when you quit on your business, you?re quitting on yourself. Where do you go after you?ve done that??? No matter what obstacles you face, resolve that you will go forward no matter what. And here?s something I?ve discovered about forward motion?as long as you?re going forward, your biggest obstacles and problems will kind of go away. Embrace this philosophy and the deck will be stacked heavily in your favor.

No matter what else you may think about self-employment, it is very much determined by psychology. To be self-employed, you have to think differently than your old salaried self. If you?ve never been self-employed, you will need to change your thinking. These 10 thoughts have helped me not only to get through the rough patches, but also to see a better future.

If you don?t have any of these philosophies now, don?t sweat it. If you?re determined to have your own business, you?ll begin to take them on one by one. Actions can control and change thoughts?resolve to go forward and it?ll all become obvious.

Are there other thought processes that you think are necessary to develop the self-employed mindset?

( Photo from Flickr by michal_hadassah )

8 Responses to 10 Qualities of the Self-Employed Mindset

  1. This is a great list and I definitely see this fitting me well so I have that to look forward to.

    One thing I want to consider is procrastination. Procrastination is pretty dangerous and I often see it in self-employed people. What do you think are the implications of that? Are we just different or is it a problem to work on?

  2. YI–Yes, that’s an excellent one! Procrastination is often easier to do when you have your own business becasue you don’t have anyone to report to directly. If you can comply with #9 in the list, procrastination shouldn’t be an issue. But my thought is that, being human, we can find a way to procrastinate no matter how much we might know better.

    “Creative avoidance” is the term I’ve heard many times in connection with procrastination. We have to find ways to avoid justifying putting off what’s really important to the success of our businesses. A friend of mind likes to say “do the dreaded job first”–which is usually the most important one! It’s good advice.

  3. Great article…I am saving it to read again Monday morning,….as opposed to a Friday evening 🙂 Now where is that tweet button….. Thanks for the share!

  4. Hi Ciaran–Thanks! The longer I’m self-employed and the more I know others who are, the more I’m realizing how much it really is a mindset. How you view everything–money, business, survival, life–has a deep affect on your ability to be self-employed. And I don’t think this is a situation where some people are born with it. Maybe there are a few, but the rest of us can develop it. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. A good article indeed.

    A positive mind-set is also one of the most crucial element in succeeding in business and in life.
    Always looking at the glass-half-full view in life.. will get everyone and anyone a long way.

  6. Hi Jake–That’s so true, it works in life as well as in business. Setting the right expectation not only improves your chance of success, but it also guards against expectations that are set to high and the disappointments that follow.

  7. Kevin, I just came to this from the link you posted in your recent success/fail article. I wish I had seen it before I responded. This is EXCELLENT. Truly. It explains everything and emphasizes the importance of that mindset…about work, survival, money, etc. This is a very well written article. Number 1 really hit home for me about being responsible for your own survival and having to make it happen. I have to go back now and re-read it. For what it’s worth, Kevin, this came at a remarkable time. It’s late at night, and I’ve had a hellish week at work, so much so that I want to sell it all and quit. I’m arguing with my husband about all of it, and this has helped me to calm down and get back on the proverbial horse so to speak. It’s like you’re “out there” as my own personal networking counselor. Thank you!

  8. Wow, that’s a high honor Bev! Yes, even the self-employed have those times when we want to bail. I think it’s normal. Just like a job holder frequently wants to quit his job. A real estate agent friend of mine put this in perspective. They’re basically self-employed since they’re on 100% commission. She said she wants to quit – on herself – every week, and she’s been doing this for many years. It’s normal. I’m still sometimes plagued with the question “can I make it doing this?”. Which of course is absurd since I’ve been doing it for eight years and can’t see myself doing anything else. But those “moments” are bound to happen.

    I’ve learned that adversity is a constant traveling companion in life. We like to think that calm and happy is normal, but it isn’t. We have both and need to get comfortable with that reality. When I think about the problems I had on various jobs, I quickly get over any negativity about being self-employed and refocus on how to move past the latest bump in my road.

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