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Written by Eileen Parzek, © 2003

Everyone who has ever had a boss has probably had at least one moment that they thought "I could do better than THIS!" A fraction of those people set out to do exactly that - improve their work life, build a better widget, or do something as it has never been done before. Suddenly thrust into the role of boss, and employee, it is very easy to find yourself being the worst boss you ever had. And so I share a few entrepreneur-at-home lessons I've learned through experience.

1. Pay yourself

This seems so simple, doesn't it? But anyone who has freelanced or run their own business knows it is not. Clients sometimes don't pay on time - sometimes there aren't even any clients - and it takes some practice to learn how to juggle the unsteady income you might generate, especially at first. When money comes in, chances are there are a whole pile of bills waiting to be paid, and more than a few things you need to get the work done. If you immediately start paying the bills, it's a good bet you won't pay yourself and you definitely won't save. So, I present to you my fool-proof routine, which has worked for me for the last 7 years and made my accountant oh, so proud.

First, make sure you have at least 4 bank accounts - personal checking, personal savings, and business checking and business savings. When money comes in, deposit it into business checking. Then immediately calculate what 30% of that deposit was, and transfer that amount into business savings. DO NOT touch that money, until I tell you to! Twice a month, pay yourself a salary (this will probably fluctuate, of course!) by transferring money from business checking into personal checking, and pay your personal bills from that account. At the end of every quarter, calculate how much gross income your business took in that quarter. Using the percentage your accountant tells you is appropriate, figure out what part of that amount will need to be paid to the tax department. My percentage is usually between 20-23% of every dollar. Transfer that amount from business savings to business checking and write that check to the tax man. Next, calculate what 3-5% of the total income was, and send that to whatever you have set up for a retirement fund, for yourself. And finally, most importantly, take the same amount, another 3-5% and transfer it to your personal savings account.

Assuming you are bringing in money in the first place, if you follow this plan strictly, you will always have the money to pay your taxes, save for the future and cut yourself a nice bonus every quarter that is based on how well you did.

2. Go home

When you're the only employee of your company, you will undoubtedly find yourself doing nearly everything there is to do. If you're successful, you will often have more work than you can handle. And if your work is in your home, you will find it extremely hard to "go home." While, its part of the entrepreneurial expectation that you will have to work overtime fairly often, you have to discipline yourself to make it the exception and not the rule. There is no faster route to burnout, than to work 16 hours a day, for weeks - trust me! Set office hours for yourself, even if the office is in your bedroom and the hours are all in your head.

For example, I set a basic work day that runs between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. That's a reasonably long day - in which I do take a break to eat lunch, maybe another break to walk on the treadmill and read for a while. Occasionally, I bargain with myself - work until 7, and you can have that cat nap in the afternoon. But for the most part, I have learned that it is critical that you set a boundary on your work time - and walk away from it, just like you did when you had a regular job elsewhere. Otherwise, you never can find the boundary between work and home, personal and business life, and that's just not good for you in the long run.

3. Don't skimp

When you were an employee, you probably had to beg and plead to get the equipment, software, or tools you needed to do your work, right? You might need to budget for it, or save for a while but if the means are there, don't skimp - if you really need something, get it. Ergonomics are extremely high on my priority list - so I didn't think twice about indulging myself in a good mouse and keyboard, since I tend to type for hours and hours, days on end. Invest in a really comfortable chair; if you are going to be parking your tail in one all day you'll be glad you did! The key, of course, is to be honest with your boss - if it really will make you more comfortable, healthy, productive or able to do your work, put it on your approved list. Research what you need online, search for the best price, save for it, and get it.

Just be sure to revel in the fact that you don't need to justify yourself to anyone else, wade through red tape or sell your first born to get what you need - that's half the fun!

4. Train yourself

If your business does take off and you're suddenly busier than you have ever been in your life, it is hard to justify the "down time" necessary to learn new things. After all, you're learning by doing, and if you're like me, you learn well that way, so why do anything else? There are a number of different types of learning that take place in a business - I strongly advocate that you step away from the work at least periodically and invest time and money in one of them. For example, if you learn well by reading books, be sure to budget in your business for a book allowance. Perhaps once a month, you treat yourself to a new book that will teach you something you can apply to the business. But be sure to budget TIME for reading it! Make a commitment to yourself that you will stop working early one night a week, to give yourself a couple hours to read. Turn off the phone, step away from the computer, go in another room or out of the house and do it. If you work on computers, grant yourself two hours at the end of every Wednesday for play time - no work, just time to teach yourself a new trick or read a tutorial and see if you can do it. The same idea applies to seminars, or training classes - figure out what applies to your line of work, and budget the time and money for it.

You have to really discipline yourself but the rewards are bountiful. You don't want to be the kind of boss that only gives lip service to employee development, now do you?

5. Take time to smell the roses

When you work for someone else, you are probably chained to a desk or a cube for most of the day, looking longingly out the window, wishing you were a squirrel, right? Maybe thats just me. Still, for most employees, on those afternoons when your brain just doesn't want to punch back in from lunch, you are stuck, sitting there, waiting for something to change. But if you're the boss, you have an option - so exercise it!

Take a walk or a run. Get your grocery shopping out of the way. Nap a little. Putter in the garden. Or just go sit in the park and throw bread at those squirrels. It doesn't matter what you do - as long as its NOT work, and assuming you're disciplined enough to not make a habit out of it, and reel yourself back in eventually. You might even consider scheduling a weekly or biweekly outing for lunch with friends or old coworkers, to get you out of the house and socialized every so often! The best part of allowing yourself this time is that when you do come back, you're going to be fresher, sharper, and more ready to work than if you had sat there the whole day, waiting for the dryer lint to clear itself from your head.

I was recently working on a tough logo design project, and after getting up at 7 a.m., sketching all morning and coming up with 1-2 good ideas, I was stuck. I needed 4-5 thumbnail ideas, and I had NO ideas. So, my inner boss gave me permission to check out. I went shopping. Left the house, to go buy paper, and pens, and a few other things I needed at Office Max. I had to do these things eventually anyway and by going for a drive, and giving myself a break from logo conceptualization, I was being a good boss to myself. When I got home, I didn't even go right back to work - I fixed dinner, watched TV for a while and then BAM! Suddenly, it hit me. I had an awesome idea. wonderful ideas. and I went back in my office after dinner, to jot them down. Being somewhat self disciplined (see #2) I didn't work on them then - but sprang out of bed the next morning, and in a few hours, had a whole set of great concepts to show my client.

Creative people need this more than anyone but anyone who needs ideas, inspiration or clarity can benefit. The brain works best if it is given a rest, and allowed to go ponder other things. Have you ever tried to remember something, and couldn't - until you stopped trying to remember? It's the same idea. I've found that making the outing or the experience new or different can benefit even more - just people watching or wandering through the museum down the street provides enough stimulous to kick my brain back into gear.

Looking back across my five pieces of advice, I must admit that I know all of these are easier said than done. Be gentle with yourself and only try to force one new good boss behavior on yourself at a time. Really work at it because if you apply all of them, at least half the time, you won't wonder at times if a rotten boss that comes with a steady paycheck is a better option.


Eileen Parzek is an award winning graphic and web designer providing digital and print graphic design and web design services. Always found at the intersection of information, creativity and technology, her business, Business Design Studio (www.businessdesignstudio.com) helps small businesses make a big impression.

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