When I ran an editorial studio, I was often approached by clients to join their companies full-time. I declined these opportunities and conversations, because I enjoyed entrepreneurship and thought it was the best way to learn, until one client approached me with a salary that I found difficult to say no to.
While money was the motivation, trying that opportunity had opened my mind a little more. I’ve since been increasingly open to full-time assignments, and I even discovered that my market rate in these full-time roles was much higher than what I earned as an entrepreneur. I’ve since found other full-time roles extremely rewarding outside of salary, in terms of meeting more people faster, and to focus on learning things without tending to the operations of a business.
Looking back, as it turns out, my approach to entrepreneurship was actually limiting my earning potential when it came to delivering good work.
A decade into my career, I’ve now come to appreciate the limits that my approach to entrepreneurship had on my learning. I’ll write the rest of this piece in second person to be more engaging, though this all reflects my own personal experiences.
If you find yourself struggling with entrepreneurship, and have a strong suspicion you’re earning less than your market rate would be as an employee, there might be some starting points to explore here.
One of the most significant reasons your earning potential is capped is because you don’t need to learn to work through difficult emotions. Because you’re your own boss, you’re also stuck with your own blind spots, which means you could be stuck in limited beliefs and constantly repeated limiting patterns of behavior.
Example 1: Perfectionism gets in the way of delegation, which gets in the way of scaling
For example, let’s say you run an editorial studio like I did. You’ve built a sterling client roster and are reliable delivering good work. However, you also struggle with letting clients down; the thought practically keeps you up at night.
Because you never learn to make peace with this extreme level of perfectionism and people-pleasing, you’ll also struggle to delegate. Your need for control will get in the way. That means you’ll struggle much more with scaling your business than if you were more comfortable with managing a client relationship, trusting your co-workers, and having the emotional capacity to salvage bad work.
Even if you’re consciously open to growing the team, when you’re subconsciously dealing with this resistance, it’ll be very difficult for your business to grow. You’ll constantly deprioritize recruiting and experience impatience, you’ll find it difficult to train and hire, and you’ll experience worry every time you think a client is dissatisfied.
Example 2: Scrappiness and resourcefulness mask a need to ask for help and open up with vulnerability
Another example: as an entrepreneur, you don’t have to ask other people for help. You can often get away with not putting yourself out there, and avoid making yourself appear vulnerable.
You might often feel like you don’t have other people to turn to. When you refuse to ask for help, you also aren’t able to recruit or inspire partners and future coworkers to suggest ideas to you and to open your mind to the possibility that you don’t have the best idea or the answer.
You won’t realize that your resourcefulness can’t cover up another person’s strengths. For example, you’ll probably think that you’re the only person who knows how to sell your product and services, when in reality there are probably many candidates who can learn what you do very quickly at worst—and at best can actually upgrade your process and improve your business.
Example 3: An entrepreneur doesn’t have a boss to remain accountable to
Particularly if you’ve bootstrapped your own company, you’re effectively your own boss. While that sounds extremely freeing, it also means that you can avoid a lot of the challenges of dealing with an actual boss. You can definitely avoid difficult emotions like powerlessness, intimidation, and humility.
That’s not always a good thing. When you don’t deal with an emotion like powerlessness, for example, you also buy into the illusion that you control more than you actually do. No person does, entrepreneur or employee. Sure, an entrepreneur won’t get laid off from their job, but they also experience other types of severed working relationships. Negotiations go sour, budgets get revised, clients get replaced or re-organized. None of that is within an entrepreneur’s control; each experience feels much more difficult without learning to deal with it.
Invest in emotional development to grow the bottom line
There are all sorts of other examples here. You might need to learn focus, patience, and finitude—which you aren’t actually forced to face as an entrepreneur. You would be forced to as an employee, because you’ll be staffed on projects you don’t like, and you’ll probably be doing a job that’s above your pay grade. (You may need to work that job for 6–12 months before it reflects in your title and salary!)
Several years ago, former Shopify CPO Craig Miller wrote, “Learn [how to] make money for yourself. Then when you have trouble scaling that, join a company in that role and learn how that company scales. Eventually re-start your own business once you know how to scale.” I believe that this emotional development is key to learning how a company scales.
For me, I only got to experience these changes once I started working full-time. As an entrepreneur, I was constantly spread too thin; I had no shortage of excuses to avoid doing this developmental work. As an employee, particularly in a larger organization, the opposite is true; it’s super clear that I need to develop the emotional capacity for this in order to do my job well.
There are few working experiences as rewarding as working at a place with a strong team culture, incredibly capable co-workers, and a product and brand that customers love. It’s very unlikely that you’ll have put all of these pieces together as a first time entrepreneur. As difficult as it may be to admit or accept, at some point, it could be worth joining a company—not as its leader, and still as someone who can make a greater impact as part of the team than remaining independent.