Who do you work for?

How many times have you been asked, “Who do you work for?”

Unless you haven’t graduated from high school yet, my guess is that you have heard that question at least once in your lifetime. It is a common question that people use to engage in small talk and it is an easy way to start to know someone.

If you are like most people, you probably answered by giving the name of your employer. That’s not a bad answer since it is the truth, but it isn’t the whole truth.

In reality, you work for yourself. You may have decided to sell your own personal services to one employer in exchange for a certain degree of comfort, experience, benefits, money, position, time off and other things, but you still are selling your services. Someone who is self-employed may sell their own personal services to many buyers, whereas you sell your personal services to one buyer. In effect, both the self-employed and the employee work for themselves. Each sells their own services.

While you may be employed by someone else, you should consider the work that you do as a service that you sell to your employer.

… but, why should you care?

You should care because when you think of your employment as “selling your services” instead of “being employed” you can look at all of the gains that your employer offers in exchange for your services. When you “sell your services,” you find a way to make work profitable for you. When you are “employed” you get only what the employer tells you that you can have. That small distinction creates a vastly different outcome.

I find that most people who work as employees will judge their success by their title or by their compensation. These are good things, but there is more to the equation.

How does a business sell their services profitably? They do two primary things. They try to reduce the cost of selling their product or service and they try to increase the price and quantity of services sold. In other words, the business wants more total money coming in and less of anything that goes out (time, labor, capital, etc.)

You should do what the employer does, not what most employees do. You want to work towards situations where you spend less time and effort in a position AND are paid better. Being paid more is good, but working a lot more for it is not that good. Working less is good, but not when you lose most of your income.

Why is the phrase “to work towards” in the last paragraph? Well, you cannot make changes to your employment instantly. In some cases you might, such as finding a better job, but if you are with one employer, it may take a while to position yourself for a promotion or apply for a better paying position. It may take time to create a work environment that benefits the employer but isn’t so stressful or time consuming. It may take time to become a person at work who everyone looks up to.

Some things do take time, but there may also be opportunities available now that you are passing up. You might have an opportunity to configure a desk, office or cube to be more private and comfortable. You might have the opportunity to get your employer to pay for education that you are not taking advantage of. You might pay for additional education on your own, so that you can sell higher quality services to your current employer. You might have the opportunity to take on a new project that will result in comparably less stress and less demands on your time. You might have the opportunity to take on new work that positions you for an increase in compensation. You might be able to change your start time and shave 20 minutes from your daily commute.

When you understand that you work for yourself, your success becomes a function of you. When you believe you work for the employer, your success is largely controlled by the employer and what the employer tells you you can have. So, look for ways to improve your knowledge and experience, increase your comfort, decrease your time and effort AND increase your compensation. That is gainful employment.

Take Advantage of Free Education

Do you want free education? I know that there is recurring talk in the political realm about the debate over whether higher education should be free or not, but that’s not what this is about.

This is about the free education that is all around you that you could take advantage of, but that you pass by.

When I was in high school, I was offered the chance to go to a technical school to learn a trade. I planned to go to college, but I saw something good in learning a trade so that I would have employment before I went to college. I went to a vocational technical school while I was in high school, aside from my college prep classes, and learned how to repair computers. That technical training in my junior and senior years gave me a very early start into the computer field. I would eventually complete an undergrad in information technology and then go on to attain an MBA, but I know that I made my career entrance a lot earlier. The vocational education gave me the ability to become a computer technician at the age of 17, and start gaining experience (and income). I did not have to wait until I graduated from college.

Additionally, when I was in high school, I was offered the chance to take college classes at significantly reduced rates (I believe a few were free, and others were nearly free). I chose to take the classes, and they were credits that I did not need to pay so much more for when I went to college.

You might be thinking… “that’s high school. I’m not in high school anymore.”

Well, continue on.

Not long after high school had ended, I was offered the chance to teach a class on computer repair. I wasn’t going to get paid. I was going to have someone help me prepare for the class so that I would know how to format a lesson and teach the content. I decided to do it. It cost me some time, but I learned how to teach in an academic setting. It gave me knowledge and experience for later opportunities when I would teach for local colleges.

Just a few years after high school, I got into real estate investing. As I did so, I found that I needed to learn about wiring receptacles. How did I find out how? I initially got a book from my local library on the basics of home wiring. I read the instructions and looked at the wiring layout and followed what I read.

At another time, when I wanted to learn how to drive a manual vehicle (I needed to buy a truck and I found an affordable one that was not an automatic) I went onto the Internet and looked up “how to drive a manual vehicle.” It might sound ridiculous, but it worked. I bough the vehicle and I knew just enough to get the vehicle home. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but once it was home I had the ability to get better, and in short order I learned to drive with no issue.

Then, I worked for an employer who offered a very small amount of money for workplace training (it was less than $500 per year) but I figured I would take advantage of it and get a certification in my career field.

At another employer, I was offered a larger annual sum for education. It wasn’t enough that I could go get a degree (I had two degrees, and didn’t really want anymore) but it was enough that I could learn a new skill. Looking around, I realized that one of my biggest challenges and expenses as a real estate investor was HVAC work. Since the EPA requires certifications to be allowed to buy refrigerant, and since HVAC services are expensive, I figured I would dramatically benefit my own investing by getting the certification. My employer was paying, but I would reap significant benefits from it.

Lastly, I will mention that most times I go dancing (many of the dances are free) I find that there is a free lesson taught. If you wanted to learn to dance, you could very likely look for places in your area where dances are held and find out which ones are at no cost and which ones have lessons. While I’m primarily self-taught, I did learn quite a few things from the free lessons before dances.

As you read all of this, consider how much opportunity I would have passed if I never decided to take advantage of the free education that was available.

What kind of education are you passing up? Are you in high school and able to benefit from learning a trade before you go to college? Are you working for an employer who offers tuition or education reimbursement? Is someone else willing to apprentice you?

Free education is all around. You only need to start looking and as time passes you will find more and more opportunities. If you have never thought of how much you could benefit by learning without paying, hopefully this has given you a different perspective.