Sunday, April 18, 2021

Render unto Caesar – A businesslike approach to freelance business


[Roman coin*]

Max Weber, the great German sociologist, discussed the transition from status-based state management in which bureaucratic relations are keyed to the status of the petitioner, to modern citizen-based bureaucracies in which everybody receives the same treatment based on set procedures, at least ideally. He linked the transition, which occurred over the 19th century in Europe, to the increase in State power and efficiency. Freelancers and small business owners often face the same situation, i.e., personal vs objective, when running their business. While natural when people work outside their house for strangers, it is difficult to create a divide between personal and business when the distance between the kitchen and office is only a handful of meters. Yet, in practice, great success as an entrepreneur is dependent on this differentiation in that it determines our approaches to people, tasks and money.

[Anonymous people]
Effective business practices require entrepreneurs to ignore the “person” with whom they deal. B2B and B2C relations involve the exchange of goods and services, not friendship. While it is a pleasure to meet like-minded clients and even befriend them, that relationship is rare, unnecessary and sometimes even undesirable. Both purchasers and providers both essentially desire to complete the transaction as efficiently as possible, i.e., with as little effort and time as the matter allows.  It is clear that certain businesspeople and consumers are argumentative, overly suspicious or even antagonistic. Like modern government employees, business people need to provide the same level of service as they would to pleasant people, sometime even better. Often these challenging customers, once they are satisfied, provide the best source of references as they believe that if we satisfy them, we can satisfy anybody. By contrast, emotional reaction to obnoxious behavior only fuels the flames and loses the customer. Business is not personal.

[Donkey with load]
In business, to quote my father, anything task worth doing is worth doing well. Freelancers are obliged to wear many hats regardless of their initial ability and inclination. These essential tasks include accounting, marketing, bill collection and putting out fires. Without proper execution of these tasks, a business cannot fulfill its potential. Unfortunately, few of us are born with the natural skill for some or all of these nor truly wish to achieve mastery in them. Successful entrepreneurs perform these tasks as if someone else were paying them well to do them, like a clerk at the bank. Once of the tricks is to do them first so that you can go onto to more enjoyable tasks. Avoidance and half-measures directly lead to failure, including bankruptcy. Freelancers must prpoerly execute the tasks while suppressing their emotional reaction to them.

[Currency symbols]
As Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli sang in Cabaret, money makes the world go round. Furthermore, as accountants remind us, income and costs have to balance. Complicating the picture, nobody can predict the future in terms of economics and technology. Combining the three, a sustainable business invests in itself, controls its spending and provides for changes in fortune. Unlike personal finance, which is often a matter of individual whim, business financial decisions must be rationally based even if they are also intuitive. To paraphrase the song, “it’s my business; I can do what I want to” may be technically true but success is governed by hard (or not so hard) reality. A good technique for distinguishing intuition from whim is to consult trusted and knowledgeable outsiders. The entrepreneur may not like their answers but they can prevent much sorrow. The main purpose of any serious business is to make money for its owners, which of course does not preclude enjoying one’s work. Therefore, it is vital for entrepreneurs to astutely manage their business finances.

In Mathews 22:21, it is written "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's”. The quote is in reference to the issue whether paying taxes with coins with the head of Caesar stamped on them (no credit cards then) is a form of worshipping other gods. The answer is that every obligation has its manner of payment. Even if the office is only across the hallway, entrepreneurs need to render unto it the respect it deserves and separate it emotionally, as much as possible, from personal life. Granted, it is easier said than done but it remains one of the keystones for freelancer success.

* Picture captions help the blind access the Internet. Pictures via Pixibay.

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