6 Signs You’ve Fallen Into The Employee Mentality Pit

the employee mentality pit

As the instructor of a best-selling online course teaching individuals how to work from home as a virtual assistant, I get plenty of questions.  A recent one reminded me of one of the pitfalls to avoid when starting and running your own business.  It’s entirely too easy to fall into the deep, dark pit of what I call employee mentality.

Employee mentality is when an invisible, but very important line is crossed between business owner and employee. This causes expectations to align with what would be expected of an employee rather than a business owner. That line can be crossed by clients, potential clients or even by you yourself.  The differences between providing a service to a client and acting as an employee can sometimes be so subtle that you fail to realize the border between them has been crossed until you’re struggling in your business and can’t quite put your finger on why.

The following are six signs you have fallen into the employee mentality pit:

1. Potential clients request a resume

A resume is something that is provided when applying for a job. Businesses don’t provide resumes.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t have information you can share about your business and your experience and expertise. Rather than a resume, consider creating an information packet that can be sent to potential clients.  If a potential client balks and continues to ask you for a resume, remind them that you are not applying for a job, you are interested in working together business to business. And give an example by asking them if they would ask an attorney, doctor or even a plumber for a resume.

2. Clients want to micro-manage or get upset if you don’t immediately respond to emails.

Many clients may feel like they need to somehow oversee your work. They may expect you to be immediately available to them during business hours. They may expect numerous updates in a day as to your progress on projects.  These clients are treating you as an employee.  Not only does this type of behavior make it hard to branch out and grow your business, it’s stressful, and puts you in danger of being considered an employee and not an independent contractor by the IRS.

3. You provide services only as outlined by client.  

If you are allowing clients to set your hours, dictate how and when projects are completed, you are essentially an employee without the benefits.  As a business owner, you should be providing services that you are skilled at and can complete projects with a minimum of instruction.  While it’s true that when you first start working with a client you may want to learn what their preferences are regarding their projects, when you do them and in most cases, what you use to get them done, shouldn’t be dictated by the client.  As long as you complete the project successfully within the time frame specified, you should be free to work on it when and how it fits your business best.

4. You would never make suggestions to clients on ways to make projects run smoother or use your own judgment regarding methods used to reach desired results.  

Or clients refuse such suggestions or become upset when you use your own methods to reach desired results. Part of providing excellent business to business services is being recognized for your expertise in what you do. You should consider it part of your services to suggest new ways of doing things that can help your clients businesses run smoother, or take the initiative to introduce new programs, ideas or options that can do the same.  If you feel like your services must stay within a client defined box and that your input is discouraged, one or both of you is stuck in the employee mentality.

5. You don’t feel you have any flexibility with your work schedule due to client demands or expectations.

Do you feel like you can take a few hours off on any given day, or adjust your work schedule to fit around things you might need or like to do?  Do you feel you can take vacations, observe holidays and rearrange your work hours if you need to?  While a business owner wants to be available to their clients as much as possible, it is still their right to make their own business hours and to adjust them as they see fit.  If you don’t feel you can do this, you’re operating more as an employee than the boss of your own business.

 6. You only do tasks related to your own business after hours and on weekends.  

Do you feel you either don’t have the time or shouldn’t be using normal business hours to do things like invoicing, business blogging, marketing, etc. for your own business?  You should.  Client work should never be so time-consuming that you don’t have time in your schedule to pay attention to the details of your own business. If you’re working overtime simply to get what needs to be done for your own business completed, you’re working with an employee mentality.

It’s important that you, as a business owner, identifies the line between employee and business owner for several reasons. First, as I mentioned earlier, working in a manner that suggests you are an employee can get your clients in trouble with the IRS and could even leave them paying taxes if the IRS feels you’ve been misclassified as an independent contractor. 

It’s also important for the health and growth of your own business, behaving as an employee will not allow you to build your business and can leave you dissatisfied and wondering why you started your own business in the first place. And finally, behaving as or allowing yourself to be treated as an employee doesn’t allow you to share what you know and do best freely with your clients in order to benefit them.  Insisting on being treated as a fellow business owner isn’t just ensuring your business thrives, but it opens the door to allowing you to help your clients do so as well.

The employee mentality is just one example of how a mindset can sabotage you both when you want to start working from home or when you’re trying to grow your home business. Be sure to join me in my private Home Business Jumpstart Facebook Group and attend the free livestream “5 Mindset Shifts You Must Make to Move from Employee to Entrepreneur” on Friday, September 10th at 7 pm ET where I’ll share actionable tips that can help you overcome mindsets that are holding you back.


Tina Marie Hilton provides online technology services to forward thinking businesses. She writes on her Tips from T.Marie business blog to share insight and information with other small businesses and entrepreneurs. It also makes her feel like that certificate in creative writing isn't going to waste completely.