You’re not a Businessman, but You’re a Business, Man!

“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man. -Jay Z

There remain too many people among us who do not see themselves as being involved in business. I’m not talking about stay-at-home parents or volunteer workers. I’m talking about the millions of people who go to work everyday with an underlying sense that they are “just” an employee.

“My boss is a businessperson, but not me. I’m just a worker.”

There are some who even feel proud of this mentality. They imagine themselves to be above the petty and superficial concerns of business if they don’t spend lots of time thinking about money.

“I don’t really think about business. I just don’t focus on that kind of stuff. I show up. I do what I’m told. I mind my own business. I don’t make any trouble.”

Unless you’re an independently wealthy person who doesn’t engage in any kind of labor for hire, you’re in the business of selling something to customers. You may not be inclined to think of yourself in this way, but it’s true. If you receive a regular paycheck, however small, that’s not an act of charity. You’re getting paid as a reward for the perceived value you’re creating. You’re not getting paid just because you got dressed in the morning and showed up to work. You had to do some very specific tasks to earn that paycheck. Those specific tasks are the services you’re in the business of offering. You may not be very impressed with the work you’re doing, but the work you’re doing makes enough of an impression to warrant a paycheck.

Let’s say your job is to clean up the office everyday. Well, you get paid because you’re in the business of helping your customers maintain an orderly and organized environment. Yes, that’s right. Your employer is your customer. They pay you for a service you provide. That’s what customers do. I know that’s not the way we’re conditioned to think about our jobs. We tend to look at our employer as the person who has the power to fire us if we’re late to work or if we fail to pay attention to important details. But that’s something that self-employees and entrepreneurs have to deal with as well. In business, you get fired every time a customer chooses to stop doing business with you. And just like some of the bosses we’ve all worked for, customers can seem unfair or unreasonable at times too. We’re all servants to our customers. None of us can get paid unless we do a good job of satisfying our customers. Everyone has a boss and it’s the customer. That’s not some sort of special condition that applies to people at the bottom of a hierarchy. That’s the heart and soul of what it means to do business. If you get paid, you have a customer. If you have a customer, you have a boss. The idea that you have to be free to call all the shots before you can be a businessperson is simply not true. If you’re not accountable to the needs and wants of someone else, you’re not doing business at all. You might have a business card, but you’re not doing business until you’re dedicating time and energy to making someone else feel satisfied with your work.

I hear people say things like “I don’t have a product or service that I offer, so I’m not a business.” I get where they’re coming from, but it’s an attitude that significantly undersells the value (and truth) of what they do. When you look at yourself as some sort of slave to “the man” or as a powerless errand boy/girl who’s professional life is dictated by some great overlord you call “boss”, you unnecessarily deprive yourself of the psychological and professional advantages that come with marketing your skills and experiences as they truly are.

Whether you get paid as much money as you’d like or not; whether you own the building where you go to work or not; whether you answer to a supervisor or not; whether you have filed paperwork for an LLC or not; whether you’re proud of your job title or not; whether you own a business in the textbook sense of the word or not, you are a personal brand and you are in the business of satisfying customers with whatever skills you bring to the table. Some people respond to this kind of message by saying “I’m more than just a brand.” You are. You are infinitely more than a brand, but you’re not less than a brand. You are at least a brand. And if you’re going to be a brand, it might behoove you to start describing your professional services with respect, pride, attention to detail, and a sense of enthusiasm.

No one can love, appreciate, respect, or get excited about what you do for a living if you don’t even think the value you bring is worth more than mumbling a few words about some building you have to go to.

You may not be a businessman, but you’re a business, man. You might as well have some dignity about it.