My journey from 'Mark the Employee' to 'Mark the Business'

June 25, 2021
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When I was 25:

"I want to start my own business because I want ca$h mon€y in da bank!" 🤑

When I got a big promotion at 30:

"I want to start my own business so I am accountable to me and only me. Not the 8,362 bosses I seem to have..." 🥸

When I became a dad at 32:

"I want to start my own business because I want more time and the freedom to spend it how I like. Babies don't follow a corporate timetable..." 🍼

Me, straight after having any of these thoughts :

"Starting a business means low/no pay in the early days and financial uncertainty. 🥴
It means late-nights and early-starts. 🥱
It means investors, employees and clients demanding things from you. 😡
That's enough daydreaming, get back to that powerpoint you were working on..." 👨🏻‍💻

I must've been around this mental loop every day since I first discovered the internet and the lure of the passive-income, 4-hour work week and "10 Steps to Build a Billion Dollar Business in a Weekend".

Every time, the self-reflection on why I wanted to "start my own business" and evaluation of my options would be cut short. I would always end up carrying on with the day job.

Thinking about what I want from my career and my future could have long-term payoffs, but I always used my brain space on 'signing that next deal' or 'solving that project issue' which would pay-off right here and now.

Like any good homo sapiens, I always chased the short-term gratification.

If I ever did find the time to reflect - it usually didn't get me very far. A friend recently shared with me:

There is ample evidence that our brains don’t perform effectively in tasks like metacognition, self-reflection, thinking about others etc, when they are under stress. For most folks working in corporate settings, this is a common aspect of their daily existence. “I don’t have the brain space”

Even then, if you do begin to comprehend your own motivations, you are the worst person in the world to open your eyes to opportunities outside of your current perspective. It's not a solo-player game.

However a couple of months ago I was presented with an opportunity to take some time off. An opportunity to sit-back, reflect and explore. Two months in, here's the realisation I have come to.

Sod "I want to start my own business". You are a business.

Joining the corporate world as a graduate I worked my way up the ranks by making my managers and clients happy. I adopted the professional identity of "Mark the [insert job-title here]".

Everyday I woke up, trying to be the best version of that job-title, because early on in my career it was profitable for me. I was rewarded with promotions and praise for being good at my job.

I was my job-title and considered every career decision from that perspective. An employee's perspective.

Then circumstances started to change.

Firstly I reached a level of the organisation where planning my schedule was more about choosing what plates I could afford to drop, knowing I couldn't keep everything spinning. When having to drop things and disappoint people (even if their expectations of you were unfounded and unreasonable) it's always tempting to choose the option of "I can do that this evening". If you want to maintain your identity of 'great employee' this option gets selected often and it isn't long til you find every evening filled.

Secondly I became a parent. Before this my personal and professional identity co-existed 'relatively' nicely. But being a parent forces you to make regular trade-offs between family and work.

Who do I want to be now? The best dad I could be? Or the best Associate Partner?

What is my priority?

You might say "obviously dad" but the honest answer is I wanted  "to be the best I could be at both". But that didn't help with the 100's of decisions I had to make every week between the two.

Kid's be like...

Thirdly I reached a level of financial security where other elements of my work such as enjoyment and time to do other things started to become more important to me. "I must become a more senior version of my current job-title" was no longer top of my list.

Slowly my identity as "Mark the Associate Partner looking to improve and be successful" began to fail me as mental model for making decisions and considering the bigger picture.

But I couldn't have told you that at the time...

The past couple of months, having the space to reflect, I have been properly evaluating what 'starting a business' could look like for me and what it was I actually desired.

The world is heading in a direction where the individual has been empowered by the internet to act independently of the large organisations and nation-states of the past (the book 'the Sovereign Individual' talks about this in particular). This lead me to start thinking, not 'what business should I start' but 'what does 'Mark Colling the business' look like?

I wish I had done this sooner.

Working from this perspective gave me a structure to objectively think through the decisions I faced. What's my mission? What am I doing now in pursuit of my long-term goals? Is my cost too high (time & happiness) for the profit (income & knowledge) I am making?

It also allowed me to move away from this binary thinking of "I'm either employed at a company or I'm self-employed starting a new company with investors/employees/the whole shebang".

So based on this new perspective - here's what I want to do.

I want to build digital businesses and I want to help others build them too.

The opportunity out there, and the current technology available, means building digital businesses is no longer the reserve of startup founders with VC backing or deep development expertise.

I want to move away from selling my time and start to build assets that aren't reliant on the hours I work to generate income. Divorcing time and income gives me the opportunity for growth that isn't capped by the available hours in a week.

I want to build a portfolio of offerings/products to give me the option of stopping things that don't work for me, without 100% of my income ceasing.

So that's what I am doing.

Initially I have three areas of focus:

Freelance Consulting - Helping businesses understand what digital products they should build and how they should build them.

Digital Product Development - Researching, validating and building out my own ideas for digital businesses.

Newsletter & community - I am launching 'the Huddle' newsletter to share the information I find trawling the web and talking to other 'indie-makers' about building digital businesses.

My hope is to help others who don't have the time I have had to research what opportunities are available to them. In return I'm aiming to build a community of like-minded ambitious people who want to take advantage of the internet-economy.

So, now that Mark Colling is officially open for business (and aware of it), please sign up to my newsletter below and get in contact!