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Chapter Ten

Career Psychology is copyright © Dan Joseph Cavicchio. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be republished, reproduced, or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the author. The material in this book is provided solely for informational and educational purposes. It does not substitute for professional counseling or therapy. Information in this book does not represent clinical advice for treatment of psychological disorders.


Chapter Ten
Self-Employment

In my career counseling practice, I've had the pleasure of working with a large number of entrepreneurs. It's always enjoyable to help people launch and grow businesses.

If you're considering self-employment, this chapter will help you begin that process. I'll be sharing ideas about selecting products and services to offer, reaching out to new customers, and the value of specializations.

Let me begin by revisiting what I wrote earlier in this book.

When I have a client who is interested in opening a business, I usually check a few things. I ask her if she will be comfortable engaging in sales, marketing, and other outreach activities. I ask about her tolerance of rise-and-fall income cycles. I ask her what she will do if her business doesn't turn out to be viable.

I also sometimes share a few stories to see how my clients react to various scenarios.

For example, in the first year of my recruiting business, I completed one job with a corporate client and a second job with a fellow recruiter. I sent each of them invoices when my work was done.

When I didn't receive payment after a month, I called to follow-up. Each of them said to me in so many words, "I'm not going to pay you. You can sue me if you like."

What a shock that was!

If an employer decides not to pay you, there are labor laws that will back you up. But if someone decides to not pay your business after you've completed work—well, you're somewhat on your own. You can hire an attorney to do collections, or take other steps, but in business-to-business transactions, labor laws aren't there to protect you.

I share stories like these because it's essential to approach self-employment with wide open eyes. Part of my job as a career counselor is to help clients understand both the benefits and risks of running a business. Self-employment is a journey that will have challenges at times.

Having said that, self-employment can also be enormously rewarding. It can give you skills that you might never have gained in traditional employment. It can help you learn and grow.

In those two non-payment situations above, I ended up negotiating to get paid around half of what I was owed. It took months of back-and-forth conversations, but I found a way to proceed.

That was a valuable learning process. In my mid-twenties, being a sensitive guy with a sheltered work background, I was not prepared to go head-to-head in negotiations over payment for jobs I had completed. But I learned how to do it, and it was a strengthening experience.

In this chapter, I'll share some of the practical steps I discuss with my clients who are considering self-employment. My goal is to help you set the groundwork for a business, even if you have no idea where to begin.

There Is No Failure

One important idea I share with my clients is that there is never any failure in the world of self-employment. There is only learning.

The first business you set up may not last forever. It may not make a great deal of money. But that doesn’t mean that anything failed. You will still learn an enormous amount from the process of launching a business—knowledge that will remain with you.

Your self-employment experience may turn out to be a stepping stone to a completely different chapter in your career, even if your business doesn't last. Most successful entrepreneurs can share stories of multiple early businesses that didn't work out, but led to later successes.

Let me give an example of this from my own life. Shortly after I graduated from college, I taught myself HTML, the scripting language behind websites. I then set up a website design company and began creating sites for local businesses and non-profits.

My business didn't earn much money. However, I enjoyed it. It felt like the right thing to do at the time.

After a year, a client of mine introduced me to a company in Brooklyn that developed intranet systems for an investment bank.

I had a conversation with the CEO of the intranet company that went like this:

"So Dan," he said, "I looked at your portfolio. It looks like you develop websites in HTML. Is that right?"

"Yes," I said. "I'm wondering if you need help with overflow work."

"We actually use a language called Perl to create our sites. You don't know Perl, do you? We're having trouble finding Perl programmers."

"No, I don't know Perl," I said. "But I've done some recruiting work in the past. Would you like help finding Perl people?"

"You can do that? Sure, that would be great. We can't afford typical recruiter fees though."

"How about this," I said. "I'll charge you a third of what many recruiters charge. And you only have to pay me if I find someone you like. Would that work?"

"That works!" he said.

The very next day, I stopped looking for website clients and opened a software recruiting business.

Was my website business a failure? Not at all. It was an interesting experience, and led me to a next step.

Did it make a lot of money? No, but it was still a success as a stepping stone.

In the same way, you might set up a business that leads you to another business, job, or career path. A non-viable business is still a learning experience, and a step to something else.

I encourage all of my clients to make peace in advance with the idea that their first, second, or third business idea might not pan out. Even if that happens, these business ventures will provide valuable lessons.

"But Dan," some people say, "I'm planning to sink my life savings into my business. If I fail, I'll be ruined."

I respect everyone's choices. However, I always encourage people to travel down the self-employment path in a way that is enjoyable. Ventures that risk financial ruin are usually extremely stressful, and often end in painful ways.

I have worked with numerous clients who came to me for counseling because they had invested all of their money in an unsuccessful business idea and were now in a state of financial strain. That can be a very difficult emotional experience.

Because of that, I encourage people to proceed along the self-employment path in an enjoyable, peaceful way. It can be done.

There are many people who disagree with my approach. They say, "You only live once! Put it all on the line! Go big or go home!" But I've helped numerous people pick up the pieces after shutting down a business, and I encourage a less stressful approach to self-employment.

Having said that, I do know people who poured everything they had into a venture, and experienced great success. Although I vote for a peaceful approach, I respect everyone's choices.

Starting with a Need

Whether you plan to take a gentle-and-gradual or a big-and-bold approach to self-employment, you'll need to choose a product or service to offer.

Let me share some wisdom that I once received on this subject. When I was young, I told my father that I planned to set up a business. I was going to sell something that I was very excited about.

I don't remember the details of my business idea, but I do remember vividly what he said.

"Danny," he told me, "don't set up a business simply because it excites you. Make sure that your business also provides something that people want and need."

I remember the conversation because I was incredibly disappointed to hear that. It was like a splash of cold water. Who cared what people needed? I wanted to do what was exciting to me!

Over the years, I developed an appreciation for his words. Eventually I realized how very few people approach self-employment in this way, and how many businesses close down because of it.

Many entrepreneurs start with a product that excites them. They set up a business to offer that product. Then, as a final step, they try to find customers.

Although that approach can be successful, I've met many business owners who never found a market for their offering. There simply wasn't a need for their product in the first place.

It can be far more effective to go in the other direction. You can first explore the needs of the people and companies around you. Then you can brainstorm about exciting products to meet those needs. That approach has a far greater success rate, in my experience.

Let me return to my story. Did I start with a vision of recruiting Perl programmers? Not at all. I had never even heard of the language. But right in front of me was a company with a need, and it seemed like a great way help them.

I went on to recruit software developers who used all sorts of strange languages: Fortran, Delphi, MATLAB, and others. I never planned to build a business recruiting those people, but those were the needs that presented at the time. As needs (and programming languages) changed over time, I changed my focus and offerings.

I encourage you to begin by looking around and listening. What are people and companies around you struggling with? What do they need help with? What needs and desires are not being met?

Once you identify several needs, you can come up with wonderful ideas about how to meet those needs. You can choose something that's exciting to you—something you're passionate about. But starting with the assessment of needs can be a helpful first step.

As trends change over time, you can continue to ask: What do the people and companies around me need now? Can I help them with their new needs in a way that will be enjoyable?

I have known successful "serial entrepreneurs" who took this approach and created one new business after another to meet changing needs. These entrepreneurs' ability to listen and respond gave birth to numerous great businesses.

Choosing What to Offer

"OK, Dan," you might be thinking, "I know a bunch of needs. I'd love to create a business to meet those needs. But where do I begin?"

To help you answer that question, let me share a three-dimensional model that can help you choose a business offering (or several). This model is designed to creatively stretch your imagination.

For this discussion, I'm going to assume that you're only considering a journey into self-employment, and haven't yet decided what to offer in your business. However, if you already have a business set up, you can still use this model to expand your current offerings.

The first of the three dimensions in the model involves the choice of services and products.

Some self-employed people offer only services. When you get your taxes done by an accountant, the accountant is providing a service to you. She is spending her time and skill to work on your taxes. She isn't selling you a finished product.

Doctors, landscapers, attorneys, pet sitters, electricians—all these people are offering services. You pay these people for their time to do a specific action. Their services are custom-tailored to your needs.

By contrast, other businesses offer products rather than services. My region in Colorado is known for its specialty foods product companies. We have many small businesses that produce organic salsa, granola, coffee cakes, snack bars, chocolate, and numerous other tasty things. The entrepreneurs who started these companies are offering packaged products—not services.

There are other businesses that create blends of products and services. For example, if you hired someone to design and print business cards for you, that person would be creating a service/product mix: working with you to create a design (service), and then printing up the cards for you to use (product).

When clients of mine are considering self-employment, I encourage them to explore various points within this service/product dimension.

Would you be interested in offering a service? Or a finished product? Or perhaps some type of mix or blend? Try to get a sense of what appeals to you. See what your inner compass pulls you toward.

You may want to consider a mix of offerings as you're starting out. If you're leaning toward a service, is there a product that you can offer as well? If you have a product offering, is there a related service that you can add on? At the early stages of a business, it can be helpful to have a diversity of offerings.

To illustrate this first dimension, here are three examples along the service/product continuum:

The piano teacher is offering a service. The cupcake maker is creating a finished product. The portrait painter is somewhere in the middle; he provides a service to custom-create a finished product for you.

No matter what need you're planning to help with, you can probably create multiple solutions along this service/product continuum.

Let me return to my Perl programmer story. I provided a service to the company. I helped them actively recruit programmers. I offered my time, effort, and recruiting skill on a per-job basis.

However, I could have offered a product instead of a service. For example, I could have set up a "Perl jobs in Brooklyn" website and sold that website to the company. Or I could have written a book called How to Recruit Perl Programmers and sold that.

Or I could have offered something blended between product and service: I could have provided recruiting for the company (service), and also created a "Perl recruiting tips" manual (product) for their own HR people to use internally.

If you identify a need, and are interested in creating a solution, you can ask yourself whether a service, a product, or something blended appeals to you.

If you have decided to offer something at one point in that continuum, you can consider a few other offerings at other points. You might be surprised at how many business offerings you can come up with.

Pros and Cons

Before moving on to the second dimension, me discuss a few pros and cons of service and product businesses.

Service businesses often require very little money to set up. In essence, you are offering your labor; you are not required to manufacture, store, and ship products. You can generally take on assignments as you wish. There is usually a great deal of flexibility.

However, service businesses (especially solo businesses) only run when you do the work. They are often difficult to scale-up in size, and it's sometimes difficult to sell the business if you want to exit the company. After all, your service is the business.

Product-oriented businesses, by contrast, often require an initial financial investment. If you are creating a food product, you will need a commercial kitchen and a storage facility. If you're creating clothing, you will need a place to sew and ship the products. If you're manufacturing something, you might need a specially-zoned manufacturing facility.

The benefit of a product-oriented business is that the business can run without your direct involvement—and therefore, can be sold more easily. If your granola product is great, it will be great whether you own the business or someone else does. The value of the business is in the product itself, not the service provider.

Some entrepreneurs like to provide services; others like to offer products. There is no right or wrong decision. As I mentioned, you might be able to fulfill any type of need with a service, a product, or some type of blended offering.

I always encourage my newly-started entrepreneurs to stretch their imagination in their offerings. We never know what will catch on until we begin to offer it. Having multiple products and services can be helpful at the beginning.

The Second Dimension

Let's now move onto the second dimension in the model. The second dimension involves business offerings that are concrete versus those in the realm of ideas.

Your business can offer concrete, physically-oriented services and products. Or you can offer services and products that are more ideas-based. Let me give a few examples.

Lawn care companies operate in the physical world. A lawn care professional will bring beauty to your property not by sharing ideas about it, but by actively planting, shaping, and modifying things. It is a service business, but a physically-oriented one.

Counseling and therapy businesses, by contrast, operate in the world of ideas. When I conduct a counseling session, I am discussing thoughts and feelings with my clients. The service is a series of conversations. The business is a flow of ideas.

Products can also be either physical or ideas-oriented. Most products are concrete: cars, cookies, treadmills, phones. These products are manufactured, stored, shipped, and eventually consumed, recycled, or thrown out.

Cloud-based software products, by contrast, are far less tangible. The only physical manifestation of a cloud-based product is digital code stored on a distant server, with output loaded onto your screen. There is no "thing" to be manufactured or shipped from a warehouse. The product is a set of ideas, images, and calculations rendered in a programing language.

When we combine these two dimensions, we find a whole world of different business types emerge. Here are nine examples, in their different positions:

In the left column of this chart, we have service-oriented businesses. In the right column are product-oriented ones. At the top are businesses that are more focused on concrete, physical offerings. At the bottom are ideas-oriented businesses. In the middle sections we have various blends.

An important thing to note is that only the upper-right part of this chart involves expensive logistics like manufacturing, storage, transportation, and physical returns. These concrete product businesses often require the most financial investment.

I share this because when many people think about opening a business, they automatically jump to the upper-right section. They envision creating physical products, or opening a store to sell those types of products. As they begin to see price estimates for facilities and logistics, the business begins to feel daunting and they lose steam.

Because of that, I encourage my clients (especially those new to self-employment) to consider service-oriented businesses, or products that are less tangible. This can help ease the move into business ownership.

The lower-left section usually requires the least financial investment. People who provide services in the world of ideas—for example, academic tutors, marketing consultants, graphic designers, IT troubleshooters, executive coaches, sales leads generators, and so on—often require nothing but a phone and computer.

This can be an easy, affordable place to get started in the world of self-employment.

The Third Dimension

Finally, let me add a third dimension: the number of people involved in the business.

If you're planning to launch a sole proprietorship where you are the only employee, you're in good company. This is how most small businesses start.

However, some people don't want to go it alone; they begin by forming a partnership. In this case, you may have two or three people in your company.

Other people begin a business by immediately hiring contractors, consultants, or employees. In this case, you might have a team of people. Restaurants, for example, generally need a group of workers right up front.

If you'd like to dip your toe into the world of self-employment, you might want to focus on sole proprietorship businesses. Even if your business idea doesn't generate a great deal of money right away, you will be free of the pressure of paying employees.

Partnerships can be a fine way of starting as well, especially if one partner is the "financier" and the other partner(s) actively run the business. With partnerships, you'll feel less alone and will have help with growing the company.

And of course, there are many businesses that raise money and hire employees right off the bat. Generally this approach is taken by experienced entrepreneurs. However, your business might require a team in order to function.

Here is how the three dimensions form a "cube."

I've included four examples in different locations. There is a solo freelance writer, a pair of people developing software, a small plumbing company, and a large manufacturer of products.

As you can see, your business idea can fall anywhere within this cube: service or product, in the physical world or the world of ideas, with anywhere between one and many employees.

This three-dimensional approach is designed to help you expand your scope of consideration as you think about business ideas. If you have only been considering one corner or side of this cube, you might want to explore what a business in another section might look like.

Are you thinking about offering a service? If so, you might want to consider a product offering as well.

Are you considering a physical product? Perhaps there is a digital or ideas-oriented additional product that you can offer.

Are you planning to go it alone? If so, perhaps you can consider involving a consultant, a contractor, a partner, or eventually an employee.

Again, the best place to start is to identify needs that companies and people have. Then try to hold an open mind as you consider solutions for those needs.

Exploring various places in this cube—even just as an imagination exercise—can help to open up new business offerings. Especially at the beginning of running a business, it can be wise to have a diverse mix.

Marketing Your Business

Once you have chosen a product or service to offer, you will need to let your audience know what you are offering.

This is where newly self-employed people often get stuck.

I have had many conversations with my career counseling clients that went like this:

"So Sven," I say, "You've recently launched a massage therapy practice. How is it going?"

"Really slow," says Sven. "That's why I'm here to talk to you. I'm thinking about shutting it down."

"Not enough clients?"

"No, not at all. One a day maybe. Some days none at all."

"OK. Let's talk about what you've done to get your business visible. Do you have a website?"

"No. I'm not great with computers."

"Got it. Have you reached out to people who can give you referrals? Perhaps physical therapists?"

"That's a good idea, but I really don't know any PT's."

"Perhaps you can tell me what type of marketing and outreach work you've done."

"Well that's the thing—not much. I'm not good at marketing. I figured that I'd get word-of-mouth referrals from clients. That is happening, but it's very slow. Perhaps I'm just not cut out for running my own practice."

This situation is extremely common. I've had this type of conversation many times.

Especially for direct-service providers, there's often a tendency to believe that marketing will take care of itself. We have all heard, "If you build it, they will come"—but it's very difficult for an audience to find you if they don't know about your offering. That is where marketing and outreach comes in.

For clients of mine who dislike terms like "sales and marketing," I simply describe the outreach process as communication.

We are communicating about your products and services. We're not going to pressure or aggressively sales pitch anyone. We are simply going to let people know how your business can help with their needs.

Are there people around Sven who could use massage therapy? I'm sure there are! But they need to know what he is offering, and how it can help them in a beneficial way. Sven will need to devote some time to this type of communication.

Of course, he doesn't need to do this alone. Recall my cube from earlier: Sven is in the lower-left-front.

I would ask him to consider moving a bit deeper in the cube, perhaps by hiring a freelance website designer to develop a site for his practice. Or a graphic designer to create brochures. Or an internet ads consultant to help create some online ads. Or he can simply ask his friends to help him spread the word.

Sven doesn't need to do the marketing for his business alone. But he probably does need to devote some time (and possibly some money) to getting the communication flow going.

Specialization

As part of the communication process, a powerful step that can help your business stand out from the crowd is to create specializations.

Let's continue with our massage therapist. Sven, like many people in the healing arts, describes himself as "holistic." This means that he draws on many different traditions in his massage therapy work, and he's flexible in his approach.

While being holistic is great from a practice standpoint, it's not very helpful from a marketing perspective. If you describe yourself as "holistic," there's really no way to distinguish your offering.

One of the first things I'll discuss with Sven is creating a specialty.

For example, might he consider offering massage therapy services for corporations, on-site at the office? If so, that's a very unique specialty.

Or might he work with elder clients in their homes? Or with people returning from rock climbing injuries? Those are unique offerings.

Sven can have multiple specialties. Each one will help him communicate his business offerings in a way that is memorable, colorful, and specific. He can still remain open to all types of clients, but his specialties will help him develop his customer base.

As I've mentioned previously, the best way to start your business is to create custom-tailored solutions based on needs. Sven can talk to people and companies, and see if there are specific needs he can fill. Then he can create specialties based on what he learns.

I encourage you to think about specialties. It will be far easier to get the word out about your business if you have a colorful set of unique offerings. Specialties will help people to remember you.

As a personal example, when I launched my counseling practice, I had a number of conversations like this:

"So you're a counselor?" someone would ask me.

"Yes, I specialize in both career counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on practical therapy tools," I would say. "I also work on a sliding-scale."

Now, that covered three different specialties:

  1. Career counseling
  2. Cognitive behavioral therapy, focusing on practical tools
  3. Sliding-scale therapy

Almost every time I would say that, I'd get a strong reaction to one of those three:

"Career counseling? Hey, my son could really use help with his career. Can you help him with his resume?"

"Cognitive behavioral therapy? I read about that recently in a newspaper article. I actually have a friend who is looking for that type of therapy. Can I have your number?"

"That's great that you work on a sliding scale. My coworker could use help, but she doesn't have much money. Perhaps I can tell her about you."

By contrast, if I didn't have any specialties, the conversation might go like this:

"So you're a counselor?"

"Yes, I take a holistic approach."

"Holistic. Hmm. OK, sounds interesting. Good luck with your practice!"

Without the specialties, there's not much for the person to react to. She may not even know what "holistic" means. Even if she does, I'm just another person using that general term.

A large number of my self-employed clients fall into this trap. They don't have specialties, and so there is nothing for potential customers to grab on to.

Specialties will help you market your offering. Your specialties will stick in people's minds, especially if they are unique.

As I mentioned previously, it's best to start by talking to people and companies about their needs. Then you can consider which products or services you can offer to help with those needs. If you carve out specialties as you do this, your products and services will be much more memorable.

Marketing Action Steps

Getting to a point where "word of mouth" builds your business is a great goal. That was Sven's plan, and it's a wonderful place to aim for.

It's worth celebrating when your business grows to a point where people are singing its praises, and you don't have to work very hard (if at all) to get the message out about your offerings. However, to get to that point, you might need to invest some time, energy, and money to get the word out.

There are two primary ways of doing this, and I recommend using both:

  1. Advertising (which I'm going to define very broadly)
  2. Outreach to potential customers and also to referral sources

Let me start by discussing the value of advertising. Many of my entrepreneurial clients say, "Dan, I don't have money to run ads. I am barely covering my basic expenses."

I understand this. Advertising, as I'm using the term, doesn't need to involve expensive paid ads. There are countless other ways to communicate about your business offerings to a broad audience.

As an example, let me share what I did in the weeks before launching my counseling practice.

I created a counseling website with therapy information and self-help worksheets. I wrote an article about "mindfulness" practices and mentioned my counseling business at the end of the article. I created a blurb about my company for the place where I rented my office. I announced the opening of my practice in a newsletter of mine.

The total cost of all that was around $100. None of those were traditional ads. However, those advertising efforts immediately began to generate some client inquiries. In fact, I had two or three clients lined up before my office was even ready!

In the same way, you can think about ways to get the word out about your business offerings. You can write posts on social media sites. You can generate articles for websites related to your field. You can create a series of videos. You can make yourself available to be interviewed by journalists or podcasters. All this can be powerful (and free) advertising for your business.

For a small amount of money, you can also create a simple website. You can put together a tri-fold brochure and begin to hand that out to people. You can create a postcard and add it to a tackboard at a coffee shop. You can create a flyer and post it. There are countless ways to get the word out about your business.

"Dan, I might do all that work and only get a handful of clients," some people say to me. That's true. But those handful of clients can form a nucleus, and begin to generate the word-of-mouth buzz that you're seeking.

You can consider paid ads as well. Print ads in newspapers or magazines are usually quite expensive. Digital ads, by contrast, are often cheaper and allow you to target your message to particular audiences.

Digital ads often let you view exact metrics—the number of people who viewed your ad, the number who clicked on it, even demographics like age and location. This can help you to understand your audience and refine your message further. I know several businesses that were successfully built by using Google or Facebook ads.

You can also consider approaching a website owner to ask about "sponsoring" a site with an ad of yours. I have had people approach me to do this with several sites that I own. This can funnel visitors to your own site.

Outreach and Referrals

Let's now turn from advertising to an even more powerful form of marketing: direct outreach to customers and referral sources.

Let's say that I have a client named Elisabet who just opened a dog day care business. She has ten clients, but she would like to attract twenty or thirty more.

Advertising may be helpful. But Elisabet can also have direct conversations with dog owners—and people who cross paths frequently with dog owners. That second group of people can be a great source of referrals for her.

In our sessions, I would brainstorm with Elisabet about who these path-crossing people might be.

What type of person interacts with a large number of dog owners each day? These are people who might give Elisabet numerous customer leads.

Here's the type of list we might come up with:

  1. Veterinarians and vet techs
  2. Volunteers at animal shelters
  3. Dog walkers
  4. Pet sitters
  5. People who run clubs for specific dog breeds
  6. Employees at pet stores

There are plenty more options, but this list is a good start.

Elisabet can begin by developing a custom message to each of these types of people.

Vets and vet techs could be a great source of potential referrals. For them, Elisabet can clarify how safe and professional her daycare facility is, and explain how she cares for the dogs. She can describe how she and her staff members are trained to prevent injuries and resolve conflicts.

Volunteers at animal shelters are probably very sensitive to animal happiness. Elisabet can describe to them the enrichment and play activities that she provides at her daycare. She might invite these people to visit and observe how much fun the dogs are having.

Dog walkers are tricky, as these people might see a day care facility as a threat to their dog walking businesses. Perhaps Elisabet can form partnerships with these people, or offer to trade referrals. She might create an offering where walkers come by mid-day to take the dogs on neighborhood strolls.

And so on. Each of these people can become a referral source for Elisabet. If she is seeking to add twenty or thirty new clients, she might only need two or three enthusiastic referrers in order to hit those numbers.

Elisabet can also reach out directly to individual dog owners by meeting people at dog parks, volunteering at shelters, and chatting with neighbors and friends about her offerings. This one-on-one relationship building can be very impactful for small service-oriented businesses.

Product-oriented businesses can also reach out directly to potential customers. The best ones are very good at doing this.

For example, twenty years ago a friend of mine was hired to hand out free snack bars to people at a local fair. That snack bar company now sells around a billion dollars of products each year. Back when they were building their brand, they hired people to give out samples to individual people. They developed customers by handing out one free snack bar after another.

The long-term goal is to get to a point where your clients and customers sing your praises to others. But in order to get to that point, some outreach, marketing, and advertising efforts may be needed.

The Importance of Empathy

Let me conclude this chapter with a few therapy concepts that are related to self-employment.

One of the most important skills you can develop as an entrepreneur is what we therapists call "empathy."

In the world of psychology, empathy doesn't refer to compassion or sympathy. Empathy, as we use the term, is the ability to see the world through other people's eyes.

Almost every successful entrepreneur I've worked with has high empathy skills. They are able to view their business offerings through the eyes of their customers, suppliers, employees, and partners. They are able to adjust their messaging, products, services, and approaches for specific audiences.

When you're employed as a part of a company, you have a supervisor and a team of people who can give you feedback. But when you're self-employed, you may not have anyone to guide your decisions. Therefore, it's essential to learn how to perceive your business from the outside, as if you were a customer.

Empathy skills can make or break a business. I've worked with many highly intelligent, technically gifted people who were fairly tone deaf about how their communication style and activities impacted others. When some of these people started businesses, they made one "market reading" mistake after another. They were not skilled at viewing their business offerings from other peoples' perspectives.

The good news is that empathy skills, like any other skill, can be developed with practice. To help with this, I encourage you to relentlessly seek feedback from others as you start your business.

You can ask the people around you:

"What parts of this product appeal to you?"

"What changes might make it more appealing?"

"How does my website feel to you?"

"Does this product name grab you?"

"What do you think of the package design?"

Every time that you ask questions like those, you will be gathering real-world information of how your business looks to the public. Each new data point will help you to understand how people are responding to your business. You can then adjust things, and ask again.

The more you do this, the greater your capacity will be to see your company from an outside perspective. This will help you enormously in the process of marketing, developing new products and services, and responding to changing needs in the marketplace. These empathy skills can contribute to business success more than anything else.

Seeking the Win-Win

Finally, let me share what I consider to be the most important (and enjoyable) part of self-employment: the daily search for win-win solutions.

Self-employment can be like a giant game of hide and seek. You can spend your days seeking creative solutions that will benefit everyone that your business touches.

These mutually beneficial solutions are a "win" for you and a "win" for other people as well. It can be a great deal of fun to seek these win-win arrangements as you go through your day.

I spend a great deal of time with my entrepreneurial clients brainstorming win-win solutions. How can we bring happiness to employees, customers, clients, suppliers, landlords, and anyone else touched by the business? What creative arrangements will help everyone?

When you're working for an established corporation, there is usually a strict set of policies and procedures that you need to follow. But when you're running your own business, you're free to come up with endless unique solutions.

I find this to be the most enjoyable aspect of running a business: the freedom to bring happiness to people in limitless ways. I will cover this dynamic in the next chapter as well, as win-win solution finding can be a powerful method of improving your work life whether you're self-employed or not.

For now, let me answer some questions I've received about the path of self-employment.

click for Chapter Eleven:
Self-Employment: A Deeper Look