Careers take many forms in our modern world and the variety is expanding as we speak. Most likely you work for an employer. Also commonly, you may be independently employed as a contractor to a variety of organizations, or you may own and operate a business – alone or with others.
Whether you work for yourself or for an employer, your career is a business enterprise, and you are the CEO.
Regardless of what you do or where you go to work each day, you have one primary product you sell: Yourself. The only real difference between working in a job and running a business is that as an employee, you usually only work for one customer at a time, that customer being your employer.
People who have the most successful careers as employees are people who realize this and run their careers like businesses. But most of us do not so that. We work 50, 60, even 70 hours a week; we take our work home with us, and we run ourselves ragged for companies who are all too happy to take all we’re willing to give. It is because if we do not toe the line, we do not get promoted and we do not receive raises.
And why is that? It is because we allow it. In fact, we are so accustomed to allowing it, that it’s become part of our culture. We have forgotten that we are no less businesses than the companies that employ us. But until you truly take ownership of your career and start managing it the same way successful entrepreneurs would manage their ventures, your career will be no more than your job and you will be almost completely at the mercy of other people and external circumstances.
We’re suggesting a paradigm shift that may involve challenging your company or risking your job by setting and standing by your terms and boundaries for doing business with this particular customer, the same way they do with you and other businesses do with their customers. Your employers will continue to take as much from you as you choose to give them – and why not? It’s not because employers are inherently greedy or evil; quite the contrary. It’s because they are businesses and they operate on principles of basic economics. Every business has an obligation to get as much value as possible for every dollar they spend, and one of the cost centres they exert influence over is you.
You do not have to be a victim. By managing your career as a business enterprise – regardless of what you do for a living – you can change the dynamic completely, and free yourself to control your own destiny, instead of leaving it to the whims of your employer. Here are four critical truths to help you re-envision your career as a business enterprise, and not only take charge of your career, but also maximize the value it contributes to your life.
- Your employer is really just a customer.
When you realize your employer is a customer, it’s suddenly pretty easy to see they aren’t the only customers out there, and you have the right and the ability to choose not only how you serve them, but which ones you want to do business with. That puts you in the driver’s seat. The first thing you can do is to “account manage” your primary customer to maintain your “preferred vendor” status. That takes some of the pressure off; it’s easier to develop strategies to serve a customer than to simply exist in a reactive state, hoping this entity you’ve become totally dependent on doesn’t hand you more than you can handle, force you into a corner by making some demand you can’t live with, or simply show you the door when you least expect it.
- As CEO of your career, you have choices.
Generally, as employees, most of us can only serve one primary customer at a time. Knowing that, and knowing we can choose which customers to work for, it would be insane to stay with any employer/customer when a better one comes along. A successful business owner is constantly developing a pipeline of potential new customers; likewise, a successful employee is constantly developing a network of alternative employers, not only in case the current employment situation ends, but as a proactive measure to constantly improve the value the customer relationship brings to the bottom line. If you have a backlog of prospective alternatives, it’s easier to evaluate whether you’re being compensated fairly in cash and non-cash value, and to negotiate with your current customer and other prospective customers to get what you need and want.
- You are responsible for managing the business of your career.
As the CEO of your own one-person business, you are responsible to maintain and manage the same functions as any other business: Staffing, Research and Development, Finance, Operations, Marketing. And remember: To be successful, your career requires constantly evolving investigation, objective-setting and action across all three time horizons simultaneously – Short-term Middle-term and Long-term.
Staffing — basically means you, but includes your immediate personal support team – your spouse, your family and others who closely support or depend on your career. It also includes the coaches, advisors and other professionals you hire in your life as well as mentors, clergy and peer support. Motivation and retention are as important in your business enterprise as they are in any company.
Research and Development — is the continual pursuit of training, education, certifications, skills and experiences that mold you to become ever more valuable in an economy that is always in flux.
Finance — refers to how you handle the money you receive from your customer. It deals with tracking expenses, establishing revenue streams and most importantly, determining where your greatest profit comes from. It also includes managing risk through insurance, tools to manage assets and savings, also known as retained earnings. If you don’t handle finances well, you will eventually be forced into decisions about your career that don’t line up with your long-term strategic goals.
Operations— means what you have to do to be as efficient as possible, to manage your time, your energy and your physical, emotional and mental resources. Just like other businesses, your career operations are critical to profitability and long-term success.
Marketing— includes everything you do to retain customers and replace them in a proactive manner that serves your bottom line. And product development refers to the things you do to constantly improve the value you bring to the market. Just like in any other business enterprise, if you skimp significantly on any one of these core business functions, your career will lose energy and will begin to stagnate, and it’s possible it can even collapse completely. As I always stress with all my executives: Just as no sane business would ever stop marketing for a minute, you must never, never, NEVER cease your job search.
- A CEO is leader.
A CEO’s real job is to lead his or her team to success. Even though your “team” is a party of one, your duties as CEO are essentially the same as if you were leading a large organization: Developing a sound business plan, a realistic driving vision and a strategy to get where you want to go. The business plan for a career as an employee is the same as for any other business; it clearly defines your value proposition, it documents what differentiates you in the marketplace, it outlines the resources you’ll need to access and allocate to achieve your goals, and it provides metrics to gauge progress. A driving vision involves what you want to create in your life through your career, and serves as a set of guardrails to keep you pointed in the right direction. Your strategy sets forth the steps you’ll take to achieve the vision that drives you. The disciplined pursuit of career success with a CEO’s leadership mindset will empower you to take charge of your career as a business enterprise, and create a life that is secure, satisfying and meaningful.
And remember, to be successful, your career requires constantly evolution and re-establishment of objectives and actions across all three time horizons simultaneously – Short-term, Middle-term and Long-term.
Kim Sawyer has over twenty years of diverse experience, with expertise in the area of leadership, professional, and business effectiveness, as well as entrepreneurship. He currently works as an Executive and Business Coach and Facilitator, and his firm is theWealthSource.
theWealthSource® has developed a powerful model and a tool by which to understand and implement these principles on an ongoing basis, along with a set of skills and practices to support managing your career as a business enterprise.
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