This week, America celebrated Independence Day.
Americans pride ourselves on going our own way, doing our own thing. And no group of Americans are as intent on being independent as entrepreneurs and small-business owners.
After all, no matter how risky running our own business seems, being in charge of our own lives is, to us, the route to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But while we started our companies to be independent, are we truly doing things our own way? Or are we captive to old ways of thinking?
Have we allowed ourselves to become subjects of the petty demands of our businesses instead of taking control of our lives?
If so, it's time for you to come up with your own Declaration of Independence.
Here are a few things to seek in your own Declaration of Independence:
• Independence to act on your own ideas. Through the years I've worked with entrepreneurs, the reason they mention most frequently for starting their own companies is how frustrated they were as an employee not being able to have their good ideas put in place.
In your own business, you have the chance to use your imagination and creativity. Yes, you are the one who has to take the risks, and if you're smart, you'll listen to and learn from other people.
But at least you have the chance to see whether your ideas can work.
• The independence to act on your own values. When I was an employee, I had terrible bosses. They believed that the best way of managing was to tightly control employees' behavior and micromanage.
They acted as though criticism and intimidation were the best way to motivate people. They paid the least amount they could get away with. It resulted in high turnover and low morale.
Those weren't the values I wanted in my company.
Instead, I wanted a company with an atmosphere of mutual respect and continual learning. I wanted a place where people could grow and use their minds.
I hire great people, pay them well, and empower them to make decisions. We have a dog-friendly and baby-friendly office.
The result? I have more freedom because I have a capable team. I can go away knowing that my employees will take responsibility even when I'm out of the office.
• Independence from one or two all-important customers. If all — or most — of your income comes from one or two major customers or one distributor, then you're not independent.
Your well-being and future depends on someone else's decision-making. I know a successful consultant who has one big client, just one. She's not really her own boss.
If you're overly dependent on one or two customers, it's time for you to diversify.
• Independence from a sour work environment. You started your own business so you could enjoy going to work. So consciously work to keep a positive and upbeat atmosphere.
And don't indulge in — or allow — malicious gossip, petty office politics and personality spats.
• Independence from bureaucracy and paperwork. You're not a Fortune 500 company, so don't act like one with all kinds of unnecessary procedures.
Yes, you have to prepare all kinds of forms and taxes. But set up simple systems to help you manage these easily or hire someone to help you.
Don't spend your days on paperwork; that's not independence.
• Independence from 80-hour work weeks. If you've given over your whole life to your business, if you're constantly checking your email on your smartphone while you're with your family or on vacation, then you've lost your independence.
Know when to close the door, turn off the computer, shut your phone, and go out and have a barbecue. Set yourself free!
• Independence to express your gratitude. With all the things going on in the world, with so many people who have less and who suffer so much more, Independence Day is a good time to remember how much each of us has to be grateful for.
We are fortunate to have the freedom to pursue our goals, build our companies, and to create good jobs for others. It's a terrific time to wave the flag in gratitude.