I used to think that, as an entrepreneur, being your own boss and being the CEO of your own company were the same thing. I was wrong.
By definition, the CEO, or Chief Executive Officer, is someone who is the most senior corporate officer in charge of managing an organization. Depending on the legal structure of the company, the CEO also reports to the board of directors and has other high-level duties to keep the company up and running.
Although “being your own boss” means you also get to make all of the high-level decisions for your company, a lot of times, especially for those who have just made the switch from working for someone else to working for themselves, being your own boss means doing most of the work yourself. In other words, you’re wearing all of the hats.
A CEO does not wear all of the hats, and in order to grow and succeed as a business owner, even if you’re just working alone, you need to learn how to adopt a CEO mindset. If you don’t, you’re bound to plateau and potentially burn yourself out.
How do I know this?
For the first six years of my entrepreneurial journey, I was my own boss. But I was far from being the CEO. And since adopting a CEO mindset, I’ve been able to more easily and quickly grow my business.
Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:
A CEO Does Not Do All of the Work
As I said earlier, you can be your own boss but get stuck doing all of the work, and when you do all of the work, you drastically limit your ability to take the bolder actions required of a CEO to grow the company.
In the beginning, however, doing all of the work is typically your only option, and that’s okay.
When I started building my online business in 2008, I did all of the work myself. This was both for GreenExamAcademy.com, which included creating the website, publishing my first ebook study guide, and learning how to manage business finances, as well as all that was included with the beginning of SmartPassiveIncome.com, which started later in the same year.
And you know what? I was glad to do all of that work! Actually, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. My business was my baby, and I wasn’t going to let anyone else touch it.
However, waiting until 2014 to focus on building my team and finding the right people to perform specific tasks for me was a huge mistake. I couldn’t trust others to do the work, and there was a certain amount of pride involved in doing it myself in my own special way, so I continued to edit my own podcasts, do all of the graphic design work, and even manage my own website and servers. So what prompted my decision to finally start reaching out for help?
It was a couple of things.
First, when Chris Ducker is your best friend and he happens to own an outsourcing company and one of the top virtual staff providers in the world, he hounds you time and time again when you’re doing everything yourself.
I kept saying, “I know, I know,” but never took any action. And yet it was always something that was in the back of my mind. I was just waiting for the “right time.” One thing I’ve picked up as an entrepreneur is that there is never a “right time.” Typically, when you’re waiting for the right time, that time has usually passed. All you can do is GO.
What brought me over the edge was when I wanted to expand my business and create a new podcast called AskPat. After realizing what it would really take to get it done, there was no way it was going to happen unless I had help from the outside.
It was either that or two other options:
- Don’t do the show at all.
- Tap into the time I had reserved for the family.
Since family is a top priority of mine, option two was out of the question, so in order to see this project through, I had to get outside help.
In February 2014, AskPat launched, and since then it’s earned over six million downloads and over six figures in advertising revenue. The tricky thing with AskPat is that it’s a five-day per week show that answers a voicemail question from the SPI audience, and to manage all of that on top of everything else was going to be impossible.
After utilizing help for AskPat, I became addicted to finding out what else in my business could be shared with others, and a lot of amazing things happened as a result:
- I found amazing people who could not only do a lot of the work I was doing but also do it a lot better and faster than I could.
- It opened up several hours a week that I could use on more high-level work and planning for the business.
- I don’t miss the work as much as I thought I would.
- Even though I spent money on hired help, the return on investment made it absolutely worth it.
You can start small. You don’t have to go all-in at first, but you’ll see that once you learn to allow others to help, whether that means outsourcing one-off projects to people overseas, or building a more permanent team for longer term positions, it’ll open up a whole new world for you, and your business will have a lot more room to grow and flourish like it should.
To sum this one up, a CEO learns to let go.
A CEO Focuses on the Future
Not all CEOs may be as in love with Back to the Future as I am, but if you’re going to grow your company, you HAVE to think about the future—and not just what you’re doing tomorrow or next week, but at least twelve months ahead of time, and hopefully more.
In my early days as “boss,” because I was involved in every aspect of the company, all of that work kept me so busy that it narrowed my vision to what I was doing in the short term only, and because of this, I plateaued often—both in terms of the growth of my blogs and businesses, but in my energy levels too. I found myself, even as boss, working for my own business, instead of having the business work for me.
After expanding my team a bit, I got some great help from several people with more big picture planning; zooming out from that weekly calendar and looking three months ahead, six months ahead, and even a year ahead of schedule.
Thanks to inspiration from people like Amy Porterfield, I picked up my first twelve-month wall calendar and started to color in when certain events were happening, everything from launches to speaking engagements, and even vacations with the family. This way, in one snapshot of the year, I can see exactly how things were spaced out, if events were too close together, and most importantly, if there was time for me to get out of the house with the family for a few hours or days.
Focusing on the big picture also helped me focus on what I did during my day to day, including what content to publish, who to interview, and other things of this nature. Because I knew what was coming up, I could plan ahead and get moving on marketing and promotional efforts leading up to those events.
It seriously put the entire business on a treadmill. Since using my bigger picture, twelve-month calendar, as well as hiring my amazing editorial manager, Janna, SPI has been a machine and continues to pump out quality content throughout the year regardless of what’s going on elsewhere in my personal life or in other facets of my business.
A CEO focuses on the future, and in order to grow and keep your well-oiled machine running, and running well, you have to know what’s coming so you’ll know what to do next.
A CEO Gets Into the Numbers
Numbers don’t lie, and CEOs know this. From traffic to income and even time, tracking becomes a method by which a CEO can better understand how to adjust and decide on which actions to take.
In the early days of SPI, the only numbers I looked at were traffic and income, and I think I did a good job at focusing on these items. As most of you know, I’ve been keeping track of my income each month in my income reports, which date back all the way to October 2008. Doing this has kept me motivated and always helps me understand growth (or shrinkage) in various elements of my business.
Unless you keep track, there’s no way to know what’s working, and what’s not. The only item related to numbers that took me a while to track and pay attention to was time. Time is, more than traffic and money, the most important metric to keep track of. Traffic numbers will go up and down, and you can always lose money and make more money, but once time is gone, it’s gone. I only wish I realized this much sooner.
It wasn’t until December 2009, when we had our first child, that my drive to become more efficient and keep track of my time came in. The baby effect was very real for me, as our first born truly made me want to spend less time working, and more time with him. But, because I still wanted to grow and expand my business, it was all about time and where I put my effort, as well as how well I performed.
One of my favorite exercises is one that I do at the end of each month, which all of you can do right now if you’d like. It’s a simple question you can ask yourself based on the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule):
What was the smallest thing you did last month that gave you the biggest results?
In other words, where are the 20 percent things that you do that earn you 80 percent of the results? For me, this often changes every month, and when I think of this in relation to all three of the previously mentioned factors—traffic, income, and time—it becomes very clear how I should continue to move forward, and it also helps me think about the things that didn’t produce results that I should no longer do, or try to do in a different way.
Practice having this monthly check-in with yourself if you can!
A CEO Knows When to Say No
Another big lesson learned as I grew into an CEO mindset was learning how to say no.
Saying no is one of the hardest things to do, especially when you’re in the beginning stages of entrepreneurship, and especially if you happen to be a people pleaser, like I am. I want everyone to be happy, and for the first four years since starting my own entrepreneurial journey, I said yes to almost every opportunity that came by.
Why do we do this?
We say yes to most things for a couple of reasons. First, we just don’t like to let people down, but the more prominent reason is because we’re a species who hates to miss out.
FOMO: fear of missing out. It’s real!
FOMO controls our decisions quite a bit. We hate to say no when an opportunity is presented because we don’t think this opportunity will come our way ever again, or perhaps someone else will take it before us.
It took me a while but I finally learned what real CEOs do, and that’s learn how to say no. A better way to put it is I learned when to say yes. Each opportunity that comes my way I give myself time to think about. I weigh the pros and cons and decide first if I say yes, what am I actually saying no to.
The way I think about decisions is sort of like the law of conservation of energy. This law states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another. My energy, my time, and my focus can neither be created nor destroyed. It just transforms from one area to another, and so if I say yes to one opportunity, it means I’m also saying no to something else.
Taking away the FOMO is the hardest part, but trusting yourself to make the right decision for the company and for your own life will help guide you through those decisions. In many cases, thinking about what I would be saying no to, especially if it relates to the kids and the ROI isn’t there, then the decisions become so much easier, and FOMO isn’t even an issue.
Are You Still Your Own Boss?
If you are, that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. For many, including me, it’s the only option you have when starting out on your entrepreneurial journey. I only wish I had someone tell me these things earlier, which is why I wrote this post for you.
And when I think about it, many people did tell me, in different ways, to stop being my own boss and start becoming the CEO. But for whatever reason, I got caught up in thinking that CEOs were for large businesses and those entering the competitive startup world; that if I were to become CEO I’d have to wear a suit and tie and attend meetings all day and be totally disconnected from my audience, but that’s not true. This CEO stuff is all about the mindset, and in reality it can help you get closer and better serve your audience too.
I hope this post motivates you to start thinking differently about how you approach your business, no matter how big or small it may be at this point. Cheers, and thank you again for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate you, and if you have a moment, share any thoughts you have about your own business and where you fall on the boss to CEO spectrum.