6 Steps to Creating a Great Employee Culture, When You're Your Only Employee
Over the last decade and a half, I've worked freelance and in-house at various companies. I will be the first one to tell you that "Being your own boss" isn't all it's cracked up to be. May folks strive for this and it's a worthy goal, with a ton of up-side, but there are some aspects that can seem missing from your professional life when you're the boss and the employee all in one.
This post isn't going to be about all the wonderful things you get to do when you work for yourself, but rather, how to treat yourself as if you had a team of support around you.
Here are some things you can do to create an atmosphere for yourself that will make you want to come to work every day... even when you only work for yourself.
1) Stop thinking you're a superhero for working 14 hours a day
This isn't the 80's and you're not Gordon Gekko. The entrepreneur culture, even today, seems rife with stories of one-upmanship. "I started my day at 6am and didn't finish until 11pm!"
When I hear this, I don't see a person with a great work ethic. I see someone with a crappy work/life balance who is setting him/herself up for burnout.
Even if I love what I'm working on. Even if I'm really keyed up about a project and want to work into the wee hours of the morning, I force myself to stop. Because it ALWAYS catches up with me, and frankly I look back at the work I did on hour 13 of my day, and it's garbage.
You should be capping your day at 8-10 hours, no more. Log off, shut down, decompress and just stop. Countless studies have shown that working past 10 hours per day is actually detrimental to your success and efficiency.
Life is for living. Go out and have an adventure that has nothing to do with your job, you'll be grateful when you get back and a better, more inspired worker for it.
2) Set a Bonus Structure based on Clear, Reasonable Goals
Bonus structures are put in place at companies to encourage meeting goals. Why? Because we're dumb animals. Seriously. That's it. We like knowing we've reached a finish line, even if that line just means you can start looking towards the next one.
You should already be setting a goal structure. If you're not, how do you know you're doing what you need to do? "By the end of the month, I'd like to achieve _______", is a great place to start. Make the goal reasonable yet challenging, and worthy of your time.
But you should go further than just setting goals for yourself. You should have a clear reward system in place. "If I meet my goal this month, I will ________".
It can be anything. But our favorite is: Give yourself a half-day on the following Friday. If you're horrified because the world will fall apart without you being "available", see #1 above and #6 below. And P.S. No one, not even your clients, want to "talk shop" after 3 pm on Friday.
3) Find a Way to Get Outside Input on Ideas
One of the big upsides of having a boss or other employees is that you're not working in a vacuum. It always sounds wonderful to be the only one to "call the shots", but in reality, most of our decisions are subjective, and being able to get a group consensus will a) Make your decisions easier and b) Probably lead to a better result.
Find a community, either in person or online that you can run ideas by. Making every decision on your own means you'll make yourself happy. But it doesn't mean you're actually making the right decisions.
There are a lot of great entrepreneur groups out there on just about every social media platform. Without revealing any confidential information about your project, client or customer... you should bounce ideas off others.
4) Take a Damn Shower and Get Dressed In the Morning
This is more for the freelancer crew who work from home but it's a huge pitfall. I've done it more times than I can count - my wife is always the first to notice.
If you suddenly realize on Wednesday at 3 pm that you haven't bathed or changed clothes since Monday, you're not only gross (and yes, I was gross), you're hurting your productivity.
Getting up, showering, and getting dressed - jeans and a tee shirt are fine (just don't stay in that bathrobe), sets your mind up for the idea that "My work day is beginning". It's a great tool to start things off right. When you don't draw that line between your morning routine and getting down to business, you don't have the benefit of refocusing your brain into a productive direction.
BONUS TIP: Make the Shower the last thing you do in the morning before starting work. It's a great place to shift gears because there's no external input. I get some of my best brainstorming standing in the shower until the hot water runs out.
5) Turn Off Work-Related Notifications on your Phone After Hours
This can be a tough one. Even if you DO work for someone else, there is a pervasive feeling in the work world these days that we must be "on call" at all times. This is not only inaccurate... it's terrible for business. Thankfully, more companies are discouraging email on mobile devices. They can/will text you if there is a true emergency.
Be available and responsive during your work-day, but don't let work issues infringe on your personal time after-hours.
For me, it all starts with mobile notifications. I'm on the west coast and work with a number of folks on the east coast. So by 8 am, they're already 3 hours into their day, and have likely sent me a couple (or twenty) emails already. But if I started getting those alerts at 5 am when I am either still sleeping or enjoying my coffee in my bathrobe, my brain would have no choice but to start thinking about work - even if I'm not responding. And at that point, I might as well just work.
If you run a 24/7 on-call business, this obviously isn't an option. But many self-employed on-call folks set up an after-hours number that a customer must CALL if they need help. Calling is a deliberate act and most folks won't use it unless it's a true emergency.
6) Use an out-of-office responder and reference a fake colleague
This one is a little bit weird. But it works. When you're out for a day, be out. Be focused on whatever you're doing - whether on vacation or at a work event like a conference. But we get it... you don't want to leave emails hanging out in space with hours left between replies. So here's what you do. Set up a typical out-of-office responder.
"I will be out of the office on Monday, March 5th with limited access to email. If your matter is urgent, please email Sonny Crocket at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, I will return your email when I return".
95% of people won't feel their matter is urgent. So you can safely wait until the next day to get back to them. But if they do feel it's urgent. Set up the Sonny Crockett email on your device. Read the email and respond from your own account. As in "Hey Mark, Sonny told me you reached out... I wanted to quickly get back to you..." Again... 95% of the emails will wait until the next day, but they'll KNOW not to expect you until then.
There are a lot of upsides to being a one-(wo)man-show. But there are some downsides. Collaboration, getting a pat on the back for a job well done, having back-up when you're not available, etc. Do your best to find or create these items for yourself. And hell... if you do some great work and want to share it... send it to us. We'd love to tell you it looks awesome!