5 Ways Thinking Like an Entrepreneur Can Grow Your Career

(U.S. Air Force/Trevor Cokley)

When we think of entrepreneurship, we consider business ownership, self-employment and perhaps thought leadership. So what if you thought of your career the way an entrepreneur thinks about their venture, product or service? Sure, there's lots of risk and initiative required to start a business, but there's also a need to be proactive, take chances and persevere to grow a career as well.

When you think like an entrepreneur to grow your career, you will:

1. Clarify Your Offer

An entrepreneur knows the value of what they sell, promote or share.

In your career, you are responsible for identifying and reinforcing your value to your employer and prospective employers. While you're hired into a job to perform tasks and work up to standards, strengthening your value is important. In the same way a business owner needs to help customers understand the value they offer -- from pricing, availability of products, quality of service, etc. -- you do, too.

In a way, your employer is your investor (in your company, if you were a business owner). Your boss will be evaluating your performance as well as non-tangible aspects of your work. How well do you get along with others? Do you elevate the team? Are you leadership material? Clarify, and then reinforce, your value today to ensure future opportunities are afforded to you.

2. Focus on Your Competitive Advantage

If you were a business, you'd understand what makes your product, service or offer different from other businesses who do or sell the same thing.

As you grow your career, also focus on what makes you unique and different. You may have a resume that looks like every other project manager with a military career, but there are ways you approach your work, experiences and skills you have collected and passions you live for that set you apart.

Be clear on what makes you unique and how that's of value to the employers you seek to partner with. Focusing on strengthening your personal brand empowers you to clarify and then build your differentiation in ways that matter to the people you serve.

3. Know Your Customer Base

An entrepreneur studies their customers. They know who they sell to, what that customer needs from them and what keeps them coming back to buy.

Similarly, for your career, you need to know who the decision makers and influencers are who will advance, support and endorse you. Your current boss is likely a "customer" of yours as you grow your career at the company. Beyond that, consider how your colleagues, staff, clients and people you know in the company and industry can serve you.

Next, consider what you know about them: What do they care about, dream about and fear? What makes them angry? What makes them smile? Are they analytical and like a lot of data, or do they relish in talking about big-picture ideas? Really get to know them so you can map your value and ideas to their communication styles.

4. Measure Your Results

If you ran a business, you'd monitor how the business is performing; are you growing, stagnant or shrinking?

And with your career, you should do the same. Are you growing, learning and developing your skills and interests? Have you hit a plateau? Monitoring your progress throughout your career is very good practice. Set goals for your work at the beginning of the year and see how close you are to achieving them before the calendar year changes again. Set big-picture goals for your career and check in on those from time to time to see where you might need to upskill or pivot in your direction.

5. What's Your Vision for the Future?

Entrepreneurs often think five or 10 years down the road and have a vision for what their business will look like? Their business plan and strategy drives whether they want to grow in visibility and reach or stay niche and small.

What would you love to see your career look like? Do you see yourself in a high-visibility leadership role in your current company? Is there a dream job in another company that calls to you? Let yourself think about possibilities way off into the future. Then, if those ideas keep gnawing at you, figure out how to make it real!

And if your vision for your future includes becoming an entrepreneur, know you're in good company -- prior military members make outstanding business owners!

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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