Owning your own business. It’s the American dream, and today’s economic realities mean that even more people are pursuing it.
The number of people who reported themselves to the IRS as self-employed has doubled in recent years, says Carl Muehleisen, a self-employed human relations consultant who owns True North Dynamics in Ewing. But the shift from employee to employer can be a difficult adjustment. “The mindset of the cubicle is different than the mindset needed by the business owner,” Muehleisen says. “Whether the person is a sole proprietor, a professional who employs only himself, or has employees, learning to think in this new way is an important part of becoming an entrepreneur.”
Muehleisen will share his thoughts on “Getting from You to You Inc.: You’re Not Who You Used to Be,” at the next Business Leaders lunch sponsored by Team Nimbus on Wednesday, July 8, at 11:30 a.m. at Camillo’s Cafe in the Princeton Shopping Center. Cost: price of lunch. Contact Lorette Pruden at 908-359-4787 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Muehleisen opened True North Dynamics about five years ago after many years as a personnel officer with the human resource department of the Mercer County Board of Social Services. He continues working with county government agencies throughout New Jersey to design and deliver training and workshops in the areas of leadership development, performance management, employee relations, labor relations, management and strategic planning, and workforce planning and development.
He received his bachelor’s degree in English from what was at the time known as Trenton State College, where he also received a master’s degree in education in 1979. He is active in the International Public Management Association for Human Resources, where he has been a board member and president of the New Jersey chapter, as well as the Princeton chapter of the Human Resources Management Association, an affiliate of the state HRM, where he currently serves as treasurer.
Leaving the safety of the corporate environment for self-employment is “going from the known to the unknown,” says Muehleisen. The corporate world provides a support system for its employees. The corporate worker doesn’t work alone. There are other team members, an administrative assistant, even such simple things as office supplies are usually easily available.
Then, of course, there is the security of a paycheck that appears regularly in the bank account. “Going from employee to self-employed is leaving all of that comfort and safety,” adds Muehleisen, “and for many people it also means learning not only what they are good at, but how to market that skill to other people.”
Know who you are, not who you used to be. People who have been in the corporate world for many years know who they are in relation to the job that they have. When they leave that world, which is harder for people who are laid off than for those who choose to leave, one of the first things they often have to do is “get over who they used to be and think about who they want to be now,” Muehleisen says.
While that discussion can lead into many areas, Muehleisen suggests new business owners pay particular attention to four questions: What are you good at? What do you want to do? With whom can you do it? How will you promote what you are offering?
So what are you good at? “When I worked with the government for 30 years I was a generalist in human relations, because that is what was expected of me,” Muehleisen says. “I was exposed to a wide array of problems and reacted to a wide variety of situations. I needed to be an expert in leadership development, in employee management, in health and safety, in labor relations, in compliance. When I left the government and became a consultant I could have chosen to specialize in any of those areas.”
What do you want to do? As with most people, Muehleisen did not love each of the areas of his expertise equally. “In translating my skills from employee to self-employed I was able to look at what areas of the human relations profession I really wanted to work in” he says.
“Before I could decide what to offer potential clients I needed to find out what I wanted to do.”
For Muehleisen that soul-searching led him to the area of leadership training and performance management. “I work with managers and small business owners to help them find their voice, to learn how to communicate more effectively with their employees and with their customers,” he explains. “Many areas of leadership training carry over for business owners who want to develop excellent relationships with their customers.”
With whom will you work? Knowing what you have to offer potential customers and clients is only the first step in the process of moving to You Inc., says Muehleisen. Your product or service might be the best in the world, but if no one wants to buy it, you don’t have a business. “You have to make sure that people want what you are offering,” he adds. “You need to design your offering according to your clients’ needs. What are your clients’ pain points? More importantly, what are their aspirations? If you can develop an offering that gives your client a lift — that helps them to reach their goals — then you really have something.”
How will you promote yourself? “When you are a business owner you are your brand; that’s one of the reasons I call it You Inc.,” says Muehleisen. “You aren’t just promoting a product, you are promoting yourself — your expertise, your reliability, your service.”
Be warned, though. Self-promotion is one of the hardest pieces of the entrepreneur puzzle for many former corporate employees to learn, Muehleisen says. For the small business owner promotion means more than “finding the right message and the right strategy for delivering it,” he says. It means realizing that every time you deliver a service or make a contact with an employee you are promoting yourself.
The process of moving from employee to entrepreneur is one of “ongoing self-discovery” says Muehleisen. “It’s a journey and I don’t claim to be an expert at it. I’m just a fellow traveler who may be a little farther along the path.”