By Steve Pavlina
Take command of your life
As an entrepreneur you decide which goals, projects, and opportunities to pursue. You don’t have to waste your time working hard to achieve someone else’s goals.
If you have ambitious dreams and if you like working on your own projects, you’ll probably enjoy running your own business. There’s nothing quite so sweet as spending decades of your life setting and achieving your own goals — and getting paid to do it.
As an entrepreneur you can guide your business to help you achieve your personal goals. Many years ago one of my goals was to write a book and to see it selling in bookstores. Thanks to my personal growth business, that goal pretty much fell into my lap. The business made the goal easy to accomplish, much easier than if I’d tried to accomplish that goal on a purely personal level. It was as easy as saying yes when a publisher offered me a book deal. No agents. No submissions. No rejections. That offer only happened because of my business.
Another personal goal was to travel in Europe, which included subgoals like exploring Paris, London, Berlin, and Amsterdam. What does that have to do with my business? Very little at first glance. But thanks in large part to my business, I’ve visited at least a dozen European cities in eight different countries. Thanks to my business, I get invitations to speak at other people’s events in Europe, and they cover the travel expenses. Once I’m in Europe, I usually stay for a while and explore. I could have achieved this goal on a personal level, but it would have been more costly and difficult. With my business it’s as easy as saying yes to an invitation.
You won’t always be able to align a personal goal with your business, but at least as an entrepreneur, you can prevent your business from getting in the way of your other goals. My computer games business didn’t help me run the L.A. Marathon or train in martial arts, but at least it didn’t get in my way. If I wanted to train in the morning, afternoon, or evening, I could do that.
If you’ve never had the freedom to pick your own projects, let me tell you that it’s even more wonderful than you realize. It’s easier to do your best work when you can pick your projects. You can favor projects that you’re motivated to do, that fit your strengths, and that align with your personal growth interests. Many people find themselves working harder as entrepreneurs than as employees, and one reason is the motivational boost that comes from picking your own projects.
The freedom to choose your own work gives you command over your life. No one tells you what to do… or if they do, you can ignore them. This may seem like a lot of responsibility, and it is, but this isn’t Spiderman. You’ll get used to calling the shots within the first year or two. Then it will just seem normal to have command over your time, and it will probably bother you when you don’t.
When your motivation and energy is surging, you can hit the accelerator and work longer hours. At other times when you’re feeling too distracted to work productively, you can intentionally take time off to recharge and renew.
Many entrepreneurs don’t work steady 40-hour weeks. They may put in 60+ hours one week and less than 25 hours the next. Entrepreneurs often adapt their workflow to suit their energy and motivation. Some love to maintain steady pacing week after week, but many enjoy working in powerful bursts of enthusiastic effort followed by extra downtime for rest and rejuvenation. Many entrepreneurs like to switch things up for extra variety, sometimes working with a steady pacing and other times cycling between bursts and rest.
When you’re in command, you no longer have to follow anything resembling corporate rules or standards. If you want to work in the middle of the night, you can do that. If you like sipping martinis while you work, put a bar in your office. If you want to exercise in the late morning or early afternoon, go ahead. If you want to work every other day, every other week, or every other month, enjoy yourself. You’re in command.
If you like variety, you can select a business model that lets you work wherever you desire. If you feel like working at a coffee shop, grab your tech and go. If you want to climb a mountain in the morning, work on the mountaintop, and climb down in time for dinner, you can do that.
If you slack off and mess around too much, you’ll hurt your business. Otherwise if you can find creative ways to be productive, it’s all fair game. There are many ways to be productive that you’ll never find in an employee handbook. If you have such a handbook, burn it before you start your own business.
After you’ve been an entrepreneur for a while, being in command of your life will seem so normal and natural that you’ll wonder how you ever could have taken orders from someone else. You may even want to rescue more people from that fate. Or you could enslave them to come work for you instead. Your choice.
Get paid to grow
Business pays you to grow. The smarter you become, the more you can apply what you learn to your business, so your own learning and growth can translate into higher income.
If you want to give yourself a raise, you can do that, but you’ll probably need to grow your business to make that possible. This usually means that you’ll have to grow too, such as by gaining new knowledge, skills, and habits.
What’s especially wonderful about this is that since your business benefits from your personal growth, your business can justify covering many of your personal growth expenses, such as your educational and training expenses.
I can’t say what the tax laws are like in other countries, but in the USA the general principle is that your deductible expenses must have a reasonable business purpose. If you’re spending money with the intention that it will eventually help your business, such as by reducing costs or increasing revenue, then in many cases that expenditure will be deductible. There are many nuances to this — business meals are only half deductible, for instance — but if you spend a lot on personal growth already, it’s downright foolish not to have your own business. Even a small side business could be deducting those expenses, meaning that you’d be paying for them with pre-tax dollars instead of after-tax dollars. This is like receiving a permanent discount on your personal growth expenses for the rest of your life. What growth enthusiast wouldn’t want that?
One reason I decided to run a personal growth business is that I was already spending significant sums of money on my growth and learning each year, such as by purchasing books, audio programs, seminars, and training programs. By creating a for-profit business that could financially benefit from these ongoing investments, I turned a lot of otherwise personal expenses into tax-deductible ones for my business. This also allowed me to justify spending more money on my personal growth since much of the time, those expenses could easily be justified as being financially beneficial for the business.
Even if I spend hundreds of dollars on supplies and materials to research and write a single article for my blog, the extra traffic and income generated by that one extra article will likely justify the expense, even if the article isn’t directly income-generating itself.
What are you already spending money on now? Technology? Travel? Fitness equipment? Please tell me you’re not spending thousands of dollars on purchases with after-tax dollars that you could easily be deducting if you had a small business aligned with your hobby.
Do you realize that your business doesn’t even have to be financially successful for you to make these deductions? You do have to try to earn a profit, so your business can’t be a sham, but if you try to make money and don’t earn as much as you’d like, you can still deduct many more expenses than you could without a business. Even when you have a bad year and lose money, you can typically punt your loss to a future year and use it to offset your income during a good year.
Tax laws can be extremely biased. In the USA you’re going to be penalized with extra taxes for earning regular W2 employee income. As an employee, you pay the highest taxes and enjoy the fewest deductions relative to your pay. Running a business makes it easier to redirect some of the money that would otherwise be going to taxes and to reinvest it back in yourself.
One reason for these biased laws is that governments generally want to encourage more people to start businesses. Another reason is that businesses have the resources to lobby governments to bend the tax laws to favor businesses (sometimes just big business, but often to the benefit all businesses). If and when your business makes money, you’re going to generate a lot more tax revenue anyway, especially if you hire other people. And hopefully your business will create other positive ripples for society as well.
Another unfortunate reason for this bias is that regular employees are generally the least financially savvy group in the business world, so they get beat up the most by the tax code. They pay higher taxes than necessary because they don’t know any better. The game is rigged against them, and they don’t even realize it. If these same people did nothing more than start a side business, they could run many expenses through it and save a lot of money on taxes every year for the rest of their lives.
Explaining what you can and can’t legally deduct is beyond my ability. In fact, it’s beyond the ability of even experienced accountants and IRS agents. That’s because the U.S. tax code is so ridiculously labyrinthine that no human being actually understands it. Even when you ask qualified experts, you’re going to get different answers. Why such complexity? An overly complicated tax code benefits large businesses that have the resources to mine it for endless deductions, so they can deduct almost everything they buy — a private helipad, massage therapists, launch parties, alcohol, etc.
I decide what to deduct and what not to deduct based on following the law as best I understand it (such as knowing that business meals are only 50% deductible), and then within the law, I apply the standard of reasonableness. I ask, “Is it reasonable for the business to cover this expense based on the expected benefits to the business?” Every year or so, I discover new things that I could have been legally deducting, if only I’d known better.
Another simple rule of thumb you can use is to ask, “Would a big corporation cover this expense for their employees?” If a big corporation would deduct it, a small business can often deduct it too. This isn’t always true because some deductions only kick in for businesses of a certain size, but for smaller purchases it’s often a reasonable standard to use.
With the right business model, you’ll surely find a way to expense that helipad you’ve always wanted.
Explore your strengths
Many people have unusual combinations of skills that make them less desirable as employees because employers don’t know how to extract the value from those combinations. A hospital that wants to hire a doctor might not care that the doctor is also an accomplished musician and architectural engineer; the hospital only cares about the medical subset of the doctor’s skills. Real human beings aren’t usually so mono-skilled, but many corporations treat us as if we are.
As an entrepreneur, you’re free to pursue opportunities that leverage your unique package of strengths as far as you can push them. The same qualities that might be useless as an employee could be turned into business advantages.
I know a lot about personal growth, but so do many other people. I’m an author and professional speaker, but that’s commonplace in my field. What’s less common is being proficient in writing, speaking, and computer programming at the same time. Sometimes being able to code my way out of a problem is really helpful, and I shudder to think of what a pain it would be to solve certain problems if I didn’t know how to program.
There’s a tendency in business to try to run your operation the same way everyone else does, which is generally a mistake because then you aren’t differentiating yourself much. It’s more intelligent — and often more lucrative — to draw upon your other strengths to give you an edge that others don’t have. This can be difficult to do as an employee, but entrepreneurs have the flexibility and freedom to do this well. A good example is Steve Jobs using what he learned in a calligraphy class to give the original Mac different fonts, which helped differentiate the Mac from other personal computers.
As an entrepreneur you’ll connect the dots between your skills in surprising ways, thereby gaining access to opportunities and experiences that would otherwise be inaccessible. This can enrich your life tremendously.
Explore your values
Building a business is like creating a work of art. As you paint your business, you also paint yourself.
Obviously it’s good for your business to turn a profit. But for an experienced entrepreneur, making money is often the easy part, not to mention one of the most boring. The bigger question is: What do I really want to build?
Lots of people will tell you what you should build. You may have some shouldsof your own. But you’ll still have plenty of freedom to choose your own brush strokes.
If you want your business location to be filled with unicorns and rainbows, you can decorate it however you like. If you want to run a carbon neutral business, make it so. If you want to create an all-vegan version of Costco, please invite me to your grand opening.
You can design your business to focus on making money above all else, or you can create a purpose-driven one with a mission statement that makes you cry.
You can build a business that’s an island and work alone, or you can go poly and build a network of partnerships.
You can use your business to learn, grow, create, and explore as much as you want and in whichever direction appeals to you. You can floor the accelerator when it feels good, and you can hit the brakes when you need to slow down.
Business is full of value-based decisions. You’ll need to decide when to work hard and when to rest, when to pursue a timely opportunity and when to stick to your original plans, when to seek help and when to solve problems alone, etc. Facing such decisions in seemingly endless variations will help you explore, understand, and refine your values. After a few decades as an entrepreneur, you’ll have a strong sense of what it means to be you, and you’ll probably like the result.