What I’ve Learned as a Self-Employed Entrepreneur (and didn’t know as a corporate executive)

It is often said, “If you love what you do – you’ll never work a day in your life!”

Here are my thoughts on owning my own business…

1) There are more great business ideas out there than great businesses. The difference is in the people, the execution, the timing, commitment and passion to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

2) At a big company, you can say you spend your company’s money like it’s your own. You don’t spend it like it’s your own until it’s your own.

3) Enterprise sales always take longer than you think. Finding the decision maker(s) can be tough because many don’t have “decision maker” taped on their shirts. And sometimes the head guy is not the real decision maker, no matter how many times he says he is.

4) You’ll finally miss your big company when your website goes down and “the guy” responsible can’t fix it. And there aren’t 400 other “guys” lined up behind him. Asking “the guy” again and again when the site will be back up doesn’t get it back up any more quickly.

5) It all takes longer and costs more than you forecast… until it doesn’t.

6) Selling Sucks and Marketing is Sexy! No one wants to be sold – EVER!

7) Keeping your own calendar sucks up hours a day. Making travel reservations takes up even more. I mess this up far more often than I would have thought.

8) There is an extremely fine line between “entrepreneur” and “small business owner.” Extremely fine.

9) At the big companies at which I’ve worked, all faces turned to the CEO, and seniority mattered. But I’ve learned much more from the quite-a-bit-younger-than-me entrepreneurs I’ve met over the past couple of years than from the CEO who spent an entire business review “talking at” his directs about how to run their businesses.

10) Every small SEO PR firm tells you they are a social media expert and a LinkedIn expert. (Every big firm too.) The vast majority aren’t.

11) After a business lifetime of thinking of competition as “bad,” as an entrepreneur, it actually can be a great thing because it can validate and expand the market. “As the pie gets bigger — so does your piece of it!

12) You can make a lot of moderately-sized mistakes running a big business, and even a few big ones. You can only make a finite number of mistakes as an entrepreneur. Many of them involve recruiting and hiring the wrong people and choosing to work with the wrong clients because you (really) need the business which translates into you really need the money. Just plain dumb!

13) There is a lot of talk about how important one’s network can be inside a large company. This can be even more true in a new venture, where it can be one’s lifeblood; it has been shown to be a key determinant of success for entrepreneurs.

14) No monthly business reviews, operational SWAT (risk) team meetings, hundreds of staff meetings and quarterly annual off-site review/planning meetings. Note: off-sites can be enormously freeing and fun if you play golf – but that can mean fewer guard rails… and very few others to blame when things go wrong.

15) Worthy of a Wall Plaque #1: “Keep the main thing → THE MAIN THING!”

16) Worthy of a Wall Plaque # 2: “Only do Business With People You Really Like!”

17) Worthy of a Wall Plaque # 3: “Develop Referral Advocates and Groom Client References”

18) It’s sort of nice not to wear a suit every day.


Mark James, CPC is the founding president, executive recruiter and career management coach with Hire Consulting Services (HCS) HireConsultant.com Established in 1999, HCS provides valuable services that optimize the fit between people and companies. HCS specializes in Executive Search and Career Transition Coaching for middle to senior level executives and professionals in multiple disciplines and industries.

Mark has been blogging since 2006 at The Career Catalyst. This blog is for business executives and professionals who are currently in career transition, planning to make a career change or start a new business. It’s all about “Hire Education” and it’s designed to be a collaborative compass to help you calibrate your true north. Every post is made with the singular purpose of allowing you to choose the right career path by discovering trends, tools and knowledge to secure a more fulfilling, rewarding and productive career. In today’s market, “Job Security is the Ability to Secure a Job!”

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