Ask an Expert: Be a Good Boss – to Yourself!

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Q: Hi Steve. One thing I never expected when I started my own business is that I would have to work so darned much. Sure, I thought that at the beginning – when I was in the startup phase – that it would require a lot of time, and it did, but who knew that I would be working 50 hours a week ten years later? Not me. There must be a better way. — Benjamin

A: One of my favorite books ever about being an entrepreneur is The E-Myth­, by Michael Gerber. In it, Gerber shares the myths and truths about starting your own business.

One way he gets his message across is by telling a tale about a woman named “Sarah” who started a pie shop because she loved baking pies and was great at it. But what Sarah never anticipated was that she would end up not only making pies but bussing tables and handling taxes and figuring out marketing and all the rest. Was the dream of being an entrepreneur just a big myth Sarah wondered?

It can be, as Gerber points out, if you fall into the easy trap of spending too much time working in your business and not enough working on your business.

According to the latest edition of the Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, 85% of small business owners routinely work more than 40 hours a week

That a lot of us work a lot of hours is borne out in a recent survey conducted by Bank of America (with whom I do some work) called The Small Business Owner Report. According to the spring 2015 edition of the Report, 85% of small business owners routinely work more than 40 hours a week, and a whopping 55% said that they work more than 50 hours a week.

That is probably both good news and bad news.

My take is that many entrepreneurs work long hours because they love what they do. They are willing to do what it takes to see the venture succeed, and if that means working a lot, so be it. But it also can be bad news when small business owners are like Sarah and are working so much, too much, because they feel they have no choice. No fun, that.

Look, if you are going to be the boss, then be a good boss. Especially to yourself.

This is a mistake I see far too many small business people make. People start their own businesses for many reasons, but a big one is that they didn’t like their old job and their old boss. So they strike out on their own, only to become a slave driver – to themselves.

Let me suggest that this means three things (at least) you can do if you want to be a better boss to yourself:

  1. Get some help: The lesson that Sarah learns in The E-Myth is that she doesn’t have to do it all; that in fact she shouldn’t do it all. A real business is created when owner brings in the help he or she needs to do the job right. That is how you grow.

Maybe this means hiring your first employee, or getting some independent contractors or consultants to help you, or bringing in interns, or hiring a bookkeeper.

  1. Take some time off. All work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy, it makes him a grumpy, ineffective, resentful one too.
  1. Give yourself a raise: Here are some other surprising statistics from the Small Business Owner Report:
  • 54% of respondents said that they have never given themselves a raise or haven’t done so in more than two years.
  • 62% of Baby Boomers have never given themselves a raise or haven’t done so in more than two years, compared to 38% of Millennials and 59% of Gen Xers.

Yes, you may be nervous that if you raise your prices you might lose some customers, but I bet not. People become your customers for all sorts of reasons and it is safe to assume that your fees and/or prices are only one of many reasons they like working or shopping with you.

So go ahead, consider making a few smart changes in your business. You will be a better boss to yourself and everyone around you if you work on your business and not just in it.