I don’t have the statistics pertaining to this, but I have a strong impression that many people dream about starting their own business, and many who do have this particular daydream are inspired to consider what this life would be like because they don’t like their boss. Or maybe they don’t like working for someone else in general.
All the late-night infomercials and spammy or scammy websites promising riches with tantalizing come-ons like “Work from home!” and “Be your own boss!” certainly point to the idea that there’s an innate desire to storm out of the boss’s office, slamming the door on the way out, with a huge grin on one’s face as one sticks it to The Man. Commercials like this appear on late night for an obvious reason: insomniacs and others staying up late at night are tired and more susceptible to misguided, illogical, or poorly reasoned suggestions.
Although I’ve known for a long time that I don’t mindlessly bend to authoritative figures, particularly those whose awarding of authority is based on something I consider unworthy, this wasn’t my particular driver for forming a business. I came upon my business by accident, spending almost all of my waking free time in a manner most would consider a waste of that time. It wasn’t a business at first; I wasn’t trying to make money. It just worked out that way, and I was able to fit that into my worldview wherein I don’t particularly care for working for others.
This in itself is the wrong reason to become an entrepreneur. But what does it mean when someone says he doesn’t like working for other people? It has to be a combination of the following:
- The lack of autonomy.
- Having responsibility without authority.
- Being part of a system that is not a meritocracy.
- Superiors who don’t have either the knowledge their position should entail or the people skills required in management.
- The lack of advancement opportunities.
- The lack of compensation growth opportunities other than incremental.
- A certain level of anti-social tendencies.
- The disdain for adhering to someone else’s schedule.
Perhaps this clip from the Coen brothers’ film The Hudsucker Proxy, wherein a green hire at the bottom of the ladder of a nebulous corporation receives his orientation in the mail room, epitomizes why working for a corporation can be anathema to so many people who have a mind tuned towards independent thinking and humane treatment of other people. Be sure to watch the entire excerpt.
There’s bad news for those whose sole reason for starting a business comes from the attitudes towards working described above. None of these attitudes would be beneficial to anyone, whether working for another individual or working for oneself, and if you disdain these types of situations in a corporate situation, working for yourself isn’t going to be that much better from a psychological standpoint — but maybe you’ll have more of the benefits for yourself, outweighing the potential annoyances.
An entrepreneur has more bosses than any other type of worker.
You can call yourself President, Chief Executive Officer, Owner, or Grand Poobah. Titles like these give the impression you answer to nobody else. The buck stops here, with you. They may well be accurate titles, too — well, except for the meaningless “Grand Poobah.” Those titles work best when you have other people working for you; without someone to order around, there’s really no point in having any title anyway. They imply you’re the boss, not to be trifled with, and they tell the world that you make the rules.
You don’t. If you want to own your own business, whether you hire people to help you or not, you have many bosses you’ll need to answer to. Your entire job will be based around making someone happy, or else your business won’t last long, and your days as an entrepreneur will be numbered.
Your new bosses could include your customers, your clients, your Board of Directors, market conditions, your shareholders, your private investors, and government regulators. They might not be telling you what time you need to open your email in the morning, but you’ll need to listen to their feedback and understand their needs in order to have a successful business. In many cases, the combinations of new bosses will be more demanding that have higher expectations than your former corporate boss in the corner office or the larger cubicle ever was.
If your new venture creates products and services — and what business doesn’t, in some form — you need to listen to your customers. In fact, doing so might alter the mission.
Personal finance start-up Budgetable started as a way to help customers create and stick to spending plans, but after determining that their customers were more interested in finding coupons and saving money through spending rather than actually saving — or determining that this is the more profitable route — they changes their focus towards finding the latest deals. I don’t know if this is a great example of listening to one’s customers, as it seems more like the customers they initially had weren’t profitable and turned towards those who are, but if you believe the press releases, they needed to listen to their customers.
Customers provide feedback in many ways — sometimes it’s as simple as refusing to buy the product, but a good entrepreneur can perform the research and adjust to the needs of their customers. This is best done by firmly believing that the customer, while perhaps not always right, is always the boss. Sometimes you have to convince the boss he’s wrong, and that can be a daunting task, but if you don’t listen to your customers as if they were making the rules, you won’t have your business for long.
If you create your business as a consulting firm or as an organization that provides some kind of service to other businesses, you have clients. The clients are your customers, and the same rules apply. It’s just a question of terminology.
Depending on how your business is organized, as an entrepreneur, consider yourself employed by your Board of Directors, investors, or shareholders. If you do not meet the expectations in your role as C.E.O., they will kick you out and replace you with someone who does listen to their demands. They may not care whether you work regular hours, but if you don’t like working regular hours and your stakeholders are doing their jobs, their expectations of you will be high enough that you’ll need to manage your time well.
Every successful entrepreneur I’ve known has put more time in than one might consider required. Those who put in extra effort and time in a corporate job answering to someone else are more likely to have the work ethic required to excel as a business owner. “Nine to five” as a concept for getting work done doesn’t exist when you own your own business. It may just be a question of motivation. You may hate being asked to work overtime when you don’t see the benefits (other than overtime pay), but working for yourself, you may be more willing to put in extra time. But in my experience, the best attitudes for successful business ownership carry over into other aspects of life, like working for other people.
It takes a special passion to be successful starting a business. You have to be ready to make a commitment and ready to prioritize the needs of that business. The needs of the business relate directly to the needs of the new bosses, the customers, clients, and investors, as mentioned herein. The same traits that prevent a person from overachieving while working for some other company might cause problems when that same person decides to become an entrepreneur. Many of the same skills that allow a worker to impress others in a corporate setting will translate well to owning a business.
It’s a myth that people who can’t function well in corporate settings due to the lack of desire to work for others have what it takes to be successful entrepreneurs. There are exceptions, of course; I know a good number of bloggers, for example, who were able to quit their day jobs, but in the grand scheme, that is very rare. Starting your own business won’t necessarily help you excel if you are unsuccessful in a corporate setting.
Updated February 5, 2013 and originally published January 31, 2013.