This post is a little different from what we’ve done so far. That’s because even though we can give you tons of great resources for getting your product off the ground and getting your business running, you won’t get very far if you don’t have the right mindset.
The life of an entrepreneur looks a bit different than that of a typical person. Not to say entrepreneurs are better, just that an entrepreneur prioritizes different things, sometimes to an unconventional extreme. We’ll tell you all about that in a minute.
First though, we released an Entrepreneur vs. Employee Mindset video recently to help explain the differences between employees and entrepreneurs. Go ahead and watch it if you’d like – that’s our starting point for this article, but you’ll still understand this post without watching it.
After the video, we started thinking: what else really sets an entrepreneur apart from a typical employee? For many people starting out in eCommerce, you probably have a day job. Do you have to start a business in order to have an entrepreneur mindset? Not at all.
The entrepreneur attitude is something that spreads into all aspects of your life, so it may help to look at these in the context of your current role. Since we’re talking about entrepreneurial employees, let’s talk about the first and perhaps most foundational difference.
To put it another way, entrepreneurs think beyond their own role. An employee does what they’re told, fulfills the tasks assigned them. An entrepreneur looks at the bigger purpose of their role, and figures out what they’re able to contribute. Thinking like an owner means always thinking about how to make the business better, and never limiting yourself to the scope of your job description.
Sometimes this means seizing new opportunities to help the business grow. Other times, it means learning to prioritize: cutting out the inconsequential busy work so you can focus on the tasks that deliver the most value. It means recognizing that just because something seems urgent, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily important.
People frequently cite the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule (where 20 percent of your work is delivering 80 percent of the value). The tricky part here though is first developing the ability to judge what is truly important or high-value and what isn’t, then having the discipline to delay or delegate the rest.
Additionally, entrepreneurs don’t “live for the weekend.” When an employee clocks out, they leave it behind completely. Their brain forgets about work. When an entrepreneur calls it a day however, they’re never fully “off.” The business is never far from their mind, and they’re always absorbing new knowledge to help it grow. This might take a toll on other areas of your life, and because we only have so much time in the day, you may have to make some hard decisions about what matters most to you.
As long as we’re talking about discipline and hard decisions...
While saying “yes” to everything can bring you some great opportunities, the real progress comes when you learn to say “no.” Time is a precious resource, and we only have so much bandwidth in a day. Conserve your time and energy for the things that matter most.
This means removing the pointless stuff from your life. The Netflix binging, the constant scrolling on social media, the excessive online shopping – whatever your thing is. It’s easier and more fun to give in to distraction, but when you practice the discipline needed to let these things go, your days will have that much more time and potential.
This extends to requests too. From family and friends to coworkers, people will always have something to ask of you, and this can create all kinds of distractions. This isn’t to say you should stop being generous, but be more mindful of when you can say no. Free yourself up to take action on your more important tasks. Speaking of action...
If there’s a defining characteristic of an employee mindset, it’s this: waiting for someone to tell them what to do. In the face of uncertainty, they freeze up, and look to others for instructions. Without guidance, they’re afraid to take a step, because it might be the wrong one.
When faced with the unknown, an entrepreneur will take action. They’ve chosen to create something where nothing existed, which is already an act of venturing into the unknown. While an employee is afraid of breaking rules, getting “in trouble,” or creating something imperfect, an entrepreneur knows that no amount of planning is going to lead to perfection, especially not on the first try. They start with the prototype, or the smallest testable unit, and see what happens.
The data you gather from taking action is infinitely more valuable than the data you gather while planning. No plan holds up in the face of reality, so take a step and learn as you go. The actual risks are usually smaller than you think.
Regardless of whether you’re a founder or CEO, or just someone trying to take your company to the next level, the most successful people are Opportunity-Oriented. That means you’re more willing to take calculated risks and do what you believe is best for the business, even if you might fail.
Someone who is Risk-Avoidant however is more likely to keep their head down. They define success not by “did I contribute enough?” but by “did I do what was asked of me? Did I check all the boxes?” They focus on avoiding punishment, rather than adding value.
The difference isn’t always obvious, but developing this kind of initiative is what sets apart an entrepreneur from other employees. When you run a business of your own, this means focusing more on how much value each potential investment can bring you, and less on what happens if you get it wrong.
When it comes to Avoiding Risk, the preoccupation for most employee-minded people is weakness. They spend most of their time trying to make their weaknesses less... weak.
Entrepreneurs meanwhile can acknowledge that there will always be someone to help out, to fill in the gaps of their skillset. They recognize that the value they bring to any organization comes from their strengths. This means they focus on pushing their strengths to the next level.
When running your own business, this means focusing on the areas you’re best at. To fill in the gaps, it means figuring out where you can hire or contract someone to do a better job. Your time is valuable, so don’t waste days on a task someone with the right skillset could do in hours.
No entrepreneurial discussion is complete without talking about a Growth Mindset. Mistakes can be discouraging for anyone, but people with a Growth Mindset know that no failure matters as much as the way you respond to it. Mistakes are inevitable. Use them to learn, and to clarify what matters most to you.
Meanwhile, an employee mindset tends to align with a Fixed Mindset, where failure is a reflection of who you are. It sounds something like: “if at first I don’t succeed, maybe I shouldn’t try.”
Persistence comes from knowing what matters most to you, and recognizing every failure as a necessary step to achieving it. It means you know things are not going to go perfectly, but you’re willing to forego comfort and contentment until you’ve gotten what you want. In other words, you’re willing to sacrifice an easy life this week or this month for the freedom and financial comfort you’ll get in return.
Success for an entrepreneur means continually adapting to failures. An entrepreneur is always pushing forward, even when the work is dull and unsexy and unsatisfying, even when there’s constant temptation to call it a day. This isn’t to say pain and discomfort have to be constant, day in and day out, just that you need to know when the thing you’re working for is worth today’s struggle.
Is there anything wrong with just having an employee mindset? Not at all. It all comes down to what makes you happy. If you’re content to check out of work and leave it behind each day, to go home and spend time with friends or family or doing whatever you love, that’s fine! You need to do what fulfills you.
Starting a business is a pretty awesome endeavor, but it’s a huge commitment. It’s hard, and because it’s hard, we instinctively respect people who’ve put in the effort to make it happen.
But there’s a difference between living like an entrepreneur because it’s how you choose to live, and trying to be an entrepreneur because it’s what you want people to see you as. If you’re doing it because of the way you want people to look at you, it probably won’t be enough to keep you motivated, and it definitely won’t be enough to make you happy.
So take a good look in the mirror, at your life, and decide what’s most important to you. What do you live for? What drives you? Is it freedom? Is it money and the freedom it provides? Or maybe it’s just the intrinsic reward of creating something entirely your own. If it sounds like the entrepreneur life is for you, then you already know what to do next: take action.