Employee to Entrepreneur: Make These Mindset Changes

We don’t need to make becoming an entrepreneur something mythical, because it is not. But it is decidedly different from being an employee. If you’ve delayed starting a business because you can’t quite figure out how to make the mental leap to that of an entrepreneur, this article is for you. Here is what is necessary to get into the right mindset.

1. Learn to think horizontally rather than vertically.

I’m speaking mostly to people who have been in jobs in large corporations. Large companies have people doing acute jobs with plenty of electric fences. It is very difficult to think holistically if you’ve worked long enough in a large corporation or even a government institution. You are trained to think about how to do one job rather than how an entire organization runs.

If you’ve worked as a plumber under a company, you are probably good at doing plumbing work, but do you understand the importance of customer service, billing, human resources management, etc.?

I often recommend people start with their own one-person business, so they have time to learn how to think in an integrated, rather than a role-based, way. Also, there is a lot of good literature that you can read that will help you start to think more broadly when you start your own business. I really like Paul Hawken’s book, Growing a Business.

2. Learn to be alone.

This is another vague point, but it is a crucial one. When you work in a company, you work around other people. You are affiliated with something larger than you. This is similar to being in school, when we had reference points. I’m not sure how to remedy this, but I mention that it will be part of your reality, so you can be mentally prepared.

I always recommend that people join entrepreneurial groups or chambers of commerce to allay the feelings of isolation that you get from being on your own. Similarly, getting a mentor who is an entrepreneur is also very important.

3. Know what to focus on.

This seems like a platitude, but if all you ever do is get customers and keep them happy, you have a pretty good shot at being successful. When I was an employee, it’s not that I didn’t appreciate a paycheck, but I just assumed one would be there. Customers, on the other hand, can never be assumed.

4. Realize that you are your primary source of energy.

This is a tough one, but it is profound and accurate. This is not to say that, as an employee, you can simply go through the motions, but you can definitely be an employee and come with less energy than is required as an entrepreneur.

As I am writing, this subject makes me want to take a nap because, as an entrepreneur, you have to be “on” at all times. Your customers and employees are looking to you for energy and mission. The truth is this can be really draining at times, and it’s very difficult to understand unless you’ve lived it.

The reason I sold my last company was because I began to feel like a battery with little charge left; I felt like I was becoming a liability for my own company. Entrepreneurs don’t have much opportunity for off-days. This is why starting a business that you’re really passionate about is so important. As a practical measure, if it helps, I’m a big believer in exercise to stay charged and smooth out the times when you are “just not feeling it.”

If you are feeling it and you’re ready and willing to make these changes in your mindset, you’re ready to start your business.