Recently, I had coffee with a potential client. She said she wasn’t “thriving” in her work. “Maybe,” she said, “it’s simply time to find a job.”

Like many of us, she had creatively figured out a way to have flexibility in her life, to attend to the scheduling needs of family but, through her own business, also bring in money and stay connected to her career identity. She wanted to find a way to have it all while not being bound by the constraints of a corporate role.

Many individuals fall into entrepreneurism haphazardly, not by choice. It’s a default, an alternative to corporate America.

I dug into her “thriving” concern. “Do you see yourself as a freelancer or entrepreneur?”

She didn’t hesitate. “Freelancer.”

And that, I surmised, was the crux of the issue.

When we have our own businesses yet view ourselves as freelancers, we park our career identity in limbo. What does it mean to own the entrepreneur label? When, if ever, does the switch happen and we see ourselves as business owner by choice, not by default?

The coaching she and I are doing together amounts to a relaunch of her business, if for nothing else than to shift her mindset. She confirmed that she did not want to go back to traditional work. Given that, this identity she’s been running with needs to fit, with confidence.

When we don’t see ourselves as focused business owners, we fall prey to taking on anything that comes our way. Often, we find ourselves grateful someone knew to call us, that someone knew to refer us to a friend or colleague. We are not thinking about marketing our services strategically or even what an ideal client looks like, we’re just focused on obtaining anything we can get. The idea of turning down work because it’s not in alignment with the services we choose to offer sounds crazy when you’re in the freelancer mindset. But trust me, this mindset shift is imperative both to our own sense of self and to actually make decent money at what we do.

I remember making this shift myself. It was March 2013, and I was six months into “playing” at leading greyzone. I was doing work that fell in my lap through business contacts and friends, still not sure if I wasn’t biding time until I went and got a “real job.”

I’ll never forget the conversation. I was talking to my dear friend and outstanding executive coach, Gerry Valentine, when it became clear that I had to make a choice. I had to either commit to growing my business or I needed to pack it up and get a job. The limbo state that I was operating in had run its course.

Nine months prior, June 2012, I was unemployed by choice. I had left my last role in April and was taking some time to figure out my next career move. I thought I had a good shot of landing as HR director for a company I had worked for. The company decided to move forward with another candidate. A few weeks after learning that I didn’t get what I thought was my dream job, my husband and I decided to move back to Chicago. We had been thinking about leaving Colorado for a while and the timing aligned that summer for us to make the move.

So from July into the winter of 2013, I declared myself project manager of our cross-country move. While unemployed during that spell, I took to editing resumes and doing a bit of freelance career coaching in between packing and caring for my then-3-year-old.

But then it was March. We had moved in October. I hadn’t had a regular job for nearly a year. We were settled. Our daughter in full-time pre-school. It was time for me to establish my own set of roots and pick my camp. Was I business owner or an employee? Indefinite freelance was not the career identity I was seeking.

Gerry’s frank conversation was just what I needed. encouraging me to think long and hard about walking away from what I was so clearly enjoying. My marketing consultant, Kevin Horn of twentystar, was strongly encouraging me to add a blog to my site and get my thought leadership out there. I am a writer, after all. Why didn’t I have a blog?

So, that fateful day, I made the decision. I was no longer a freelancer, playing at business, having a bit of fun. I was an entrepreneur, and I was going to build something.

Now, in my tenth year of running greyzone, it’s hard to imagine not having chosen this path. I’m so deeply fulfilled by the identity this business has offered.

Here is a sampling of the questions I ask to help clients understand how to go through this decision process:

  • Why did you start your business?
  • How do you describe your business to others?
  • What do you identify as your passion in life?
  • Do you have a sense of your purpose and, if so, how well are you fulfilling it?
  • Describe your ideal client. How many of your current clients fit that description?

These questions are a great starting point to dig into the “Why” of your business and recommit to a vision.

If this piece resonated with you, and you’ve realized you too need to make a commitment to your business in a refreshed way, reach out. I’d love to talk through these questions (and others I have) and help you build a clear vision of why you’re doing what you’re doing and brainstorm the possibilities of how you can grow what you have created.

And, since I’m a coach who comes at things from a life coaching/career coaching/career therapy perspective, I recognize that I’m not a business coach. When you’re ready to look at pricing strategies, brainstorm multiple revenue streams, learn more about how to scale, get funding, and find strategic partners, I will introduce you to my business coach, Kim Kleeman of Accelerate Successfully. Kim has helped me and, because of our work, I’m seeing record revenue I didn’t think was possible. She calls out my blind spots and pushes me for growth.

Between Kim and I, we can get you from treading water to surfing. It’s all possible. Focus, intention, commitment, confidence: These are the traits we can harness through coaching, and help you transform from freelancer to entrepreneur.

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