Business Coaching: You need mud and guts to build a log cabin

Log Cabin - Martin Brossman

Photo by Anora McGaha

Moving from salaried to self-employment often takes some core behavioral changes.

In my business coaching practice over the years I noticed a pattern with very smart salaried professionals who left the corporate world and went into business for themselves.  They generally would not know where they had to have their work close to an exact fit and where they could fill in later, having a plan for refining that area when needed.

Carrying over corporate workplace “rules”

My observation was that there is a sort of unconscious legacy from the employer-employee brand of productivity. When you are an employee on a fixed salary, your employer does not mind if you work 40 hours on a project or 80 hours on it since it costs them the same. But when you are the business you can’t run a business that way and succeed.

Part two of this corporate carry-over is not realizing how much time in a “day job” is spent avoiding the possibility of criticism. I was working with a newly self-employed client who got their first very bad review on-line and was devastated by it. I told them this was the best thing that could happen to them because learning how to respond and learning how to stay centered in the presence of real criticism occurs to help us develop the muscle of recovering faster the next time.

These two examples are common challenges of someone transferring from working for someone else to working for oneself. Your time really is MONEY and if you want to have it all together you will miss the market. A mentor said to me once when I was reviewing my own shortcomings,” What do you have when you have your stuff all together? Tightly packed stuff ready to blow.” Look at history, the more you study famous people that made a real difference, the more you will find some aspect of their life that was just not all together. And chances are if they had it all together they may have never had the time to make the difference they did.

If you build it you’ll need mud

To build a log cabin in the 1800’s you had to use clay or mud to fill in the cracks, and you were always at risk of the elements destroying it. It took courage to build something like this that could be taken away quickly with a big enough storm. If you wanted the wood to fit perfectly without the need of mud it would take an infinite amount of time to find the perfect logs. Not to mention the rock foundation needed to make sure the logs were kept off the ground to keep them from rotting (very bad at the bottom of your log cabin).

Now I am not encouraging you to just be quick and sloppy; I simply want you to choose what level of precision is needed to move fast enough in your business to not lose all the competitive advantage of getting your offering or product out. One of the points that Bill Davis of Team Nimbus always promotes is that the biggest competitive advantage of a small business is speed of execution. If you want to change how you greet people on the phone, for example, you just do it. But if McDonalds wants to change their greeting it will take some time at a global level.

The secret recipe for guts

Many ex-corporate people damage their competitive advantage because they don’t understand how their corporate jobs may have taught them skills that are counter-productive to being self-employed.  Also, maneuvering through the new transparent social media-driven marketplace, they can be derailed by public criticism on the Web. This is where guts or courage will grow if you let it. Courage is developed in healthy people by taking thousands of micro risks, not just big reckless ones. You almost need to get some real criticism where you get knocked off your horse enough so you can develop the muscle to see what occurred, learn fast from it and get back on track.

Changing your vocabulary for success

So where are you trying to “get it just right” instead of getting it good enough so you can focus on the few key items that need to be very accurate?  Instead of saying I can never be “that expert”, ask yourself what smaller part of your field you can claim some expert knowledge in. (This does not mean I am encouraging more self-proclaimed experts, we seem to have plenty of them.)

Here are two questions to help recharge your goals. Where can you contribute a useful perspective from your own experience that may be of value to someone else instead of trying to be an all-knowing expert? Are you taking enough risk that someone might criticize you? if not, you are probably not playing big enough to make a business successful.

I’ve heard that people at the end of life do not say, ” I wish I did not do X. They say, ” I wish I had at least tried and even failed X, Y and Z”. My friend, Pat Howlett, has a gem of advice for new businesses:  fail fast and fail often. To that I’ll add, don’t be reckless, but alter your relationship to the word failure. This will make you more powerful than those who try to “admit failure”. Saying “ I failed” is different than ” I am a failure”. The former can be said with power: “I failed, what can I learn, let’s move on.”


by Martin Brossman – Success Coach – Call for your coaching session (919) 847-4757



  1. That is probably one of the most valuable pieces of advice one can give to a self-employed person. Unfortunately, and I speak from experience, it is not possible to take that advice and run with it. For far too long, I tried to learn as much as I could from books, partly in an attempt to avoid failure. However, only after experiencing and feeling the pain of failure, rejection and criticism (many, many times), can one build an emotional defensive wall and consequently be able to quickly continue to move forward when experiencing failure and criticism. It is simply one lesson that has to be learned the hard way.

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