As a self-employed business consultant and software instructor for the past ten years, I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked “What do you do on the days that you aren’t teaching a class?” For some reason, people have the perception that when I am not teaching, I sit by the pool and drank margaritas all day. Believe me, as nice as that sounds, I could not have built up my business to the steady client base that I have today if I had done that!
Self-discipline is a key trait that self-employed business people share. People who are self-employed business are not “on-the-clock” in the sense that they are punching a time clock as they go to work each day. However, you must maintain regular office hours if you want to be taken seriously. Once you begin working for different clients, getting their work done on time should be your highest priority. Another part of being self-disciplined is being aware of how and where you spend your own time and realizing that nobody is paying you for certain activities.
Two years ago I sold a car. The young woman who bought it was just starting college, and her mom accompanied her to look at the car and help her with the buying process (I would want to do the same for my own daughter). The mother asked me if I would mind submitting the car for a “used car inspection;” meaning would I take it down to the local shop to have it inspected by a mechanic?
I did indeed take the car to a shop to have it inspected. As I expected, there was nothing wrong with my car, and I ended up selling it to the young woman. However, looking back on the situation, I might’ve handled it differently.
How so? Well, first off, nobody paid me for the time it took to take my car and have it inspected. The mother paid for the inspection, but I am talking about my own time. As a self-employed business person, I did not have an hour or two of vacation time that I could mark down on my time sheet so that I could go and take care of that little chore. Although it was an inconvenience for me, ultimately I did it because as a mother, I would want my daughter to have the same reassurance when the day comes that she buys her first used car.
My father has had his own engineering firm since 1973. Growing up, we belonged to a church, and all of the other kid’s fathers would get up early on Saturday morning and mow the church’s yard, and trim the bushes, etc., among other chores. I always wondered why my Dad was not interested in helping out, so one day I asked him. He explained to me that he worked on Saturday mornings, and that he made more money by working in his business, and that he would rather hire an able-bodied teenaged kid to mow the yard in his place.
My Dad’s answer was my first understanding that there is a “highest and best use” of a person’s time, depending on their skill level. In other words, my Dad had a choice between earning a high wage doing engineering work (which not many people can perform) for one of his clients, or working for free mowing the church’s yard.
As another example, let’s look at the same thing when you are cleaning your house. What is the highest and best use of your time? Cleaning the house, or writing an article that nobody else can write (or working on a client project, or doing some marketing work for your business, etc.)? You may want to consider hiring someone to do your house cleaning for you.
When you are self-employed, you need to consider carefully any request that takes time away from your business – whether it be volunteer work for a charity or a non-profit organization, sitting on a church committee or city board, or organizing a community event or fundraiser, babysitting for a fellow mom, whatever!
Cynthia Long, one of the case study chapters in my book – Full-Time Woman, Part-Time Career – says that, for her, “One of the hardest things to learn was to limit my outside commitments. When I first started out, I was on City Council. I lost a lot of income by giving up what could’ve been billable hours to the City Council. In hindsight, I don’t think doing civic work and starting a new business are a good mix. You have to choose. Especially when you’re just starting out, you have to spend more time on your business.”
When you are a self-employed business, you must learn to guard your time carefully. Think about what you are trading – your time and income – for whatever it is you are being asked to do. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” Your time is valuable. Learn to use it wisely.
Small Business Ideas
The United States of America is a unique nation in the world in allowing individuals the freedom and opportunity to start a business using small business ideas they have collected for years. If done right they can increase their standard of living and overall standing in life. Individual ambition, motivation, and determination, combined with hard work, will lead you to your own rewards in life, but the U.S. provides the place to do it. No other nation on earth guarantees individual rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press for its citizens.
So what’s wrong with our country today? More and more, I am disturbed by what I see on the news. It has been said that there are two types of politicians. Those who are altruistic; who truly fight for what’s in the best interest of the American people and the constituents they represent. Then there are the others.
Our wonderful economic climate and land of opportunity is systematically being ruined by politicians who, once they are elected, do whatever they need to do to please their campaign contributors (businesses) instead of the people whom they are elected to serve. Nancy Pelosi is a perfect example. She granted a special favor by excluding American Samoa from the recent minimum wage hike, because that is the home of StarKist Tuna, one of her biggest campaign contributors. Obviously this exemption benefits StarKist Tuna Corporation, rather than its employees who are individual citizens.
I believe that our elected officials have either forgotten or don’t care that they are elected to serve the public. But politicians rarely do what’s best for the public and the interests of the American people anymore, do they? You may have to go all the way back to the days of Teddy Roosevelt to find a President who truly did what was best for the United States as a country and its citizens.
The United States provides opportunity not only for us, but also for future generations of Americans. Call me naive, but why on earth can’t all politicians do what’s best for “we the people” (as in all the people), rather than just what’s best for their corporate contributors?
What has happened? Many politicians today are just that – politicians – not leaders. They are beholden to their campaign contributors rather than their constituents, and it is destroying this country. I see it in the small businessman who can’t get a SBA loan because the tax money that previously supplied grants or loans isn’t available anymore (because companies have moved their corporate headquarters overseas to avoid paying those taxes). I see many non-profit and governmental entities competing for the same shrinking pool of grant money. It doesn’t matter what your small business ideas are, the political climate makes it difficult to achieve success.
I see the governors in Texas and Illinois trying to sell off their respective state lotteries, assets which were originally funded and built with taxpayer dollars. I see it in New Jersey, where the state is considering selling off the New Jersey Turnpike. Yes, the one made famous in the Simon and Garfunkle song. Other states are also trying to sell off their roads, or have foreign companies collect tolls on new roads so they can keep the profits for themselves. Today (2/21/07) I heard that the cities of Austin, Texas and Chicago, Illinois are trying to sell their city-owned airports (ABIA and Midway, respectively). What will become of us when foreign companies and countries own our assets, infrastructure, and ultimately our land itself?
I see it in NAFTA, CAFTA, GATT and other so called “free trade” agreements that have set up the United States for record trade deficits with other nations and disastrous national trade policies. NAFTA alone has caused nearly 1 million jobs to leave this country. Did you know, that through our own tax code, corporations are able to defer and sometimes never pay taxes that are earned on overseas profits? Moreover, some companies are actually subsidized with federal tax dollars as an incentive to move their operations overseas to cheaper markets!
You may be asking exactly what does this have to do with career (what my column is supposed to be about)? In my last two columns, I tackled the issues of starting your own business and also offshoring (the devastating practice of shipping American jobs overseas to markets that have cheaper labor costs). All of these things are related. You can’t create a climate that provides opportunities (economic, career, or otherwise) in a country where the elected “leaders” are not looking out for the people.
Economists were surprised when the American economy did really well in the fourth quarter of 2006. It grew by 3.5%, mainly due to consumer spending and business activity, even in spite of a slight housing slump. But it’s too easy to believe that the good times will go on like they always have.
We have inherited a great legacy in this country. Businesses and nations want to sell their goods and products in the American market, regardless of where they were manufactured. Why? The American middle class and the United States economy have created a unique marketplace. Nothing like it exists anywhere else on the planet for small business ideas. Let’s take care of it, shall we? Understand the basics every business needs with coaching.