Why mastering the art of service is the essence of entrepreneurship

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If you are not in it to serve then there is going to be a limit to how far you can grow your business as a creative entrepreneur.

The word service used to evoke a somewhat negative reaction in me. I think it is because for some reason I likened service to slavery or service to being a follower or service to belittling yourself for the benefit of someone else.

At least in the Western world I'm sure I'm not the only one who has thought of service in this way. We think of the people who typically work in the “service” industries as low income or uneducated or bottom of the barrel: the boy flipping burgers at McDonalds, the girl with the waitress job, the executive assistant who also picks up the boss' coffee and dry cleaning, etc.

But if you take this perspective into the work that you do as an entrepreneur you are going to run into some significant issues connecting with your audience. Because if you are not in it to serve then there is going to be a limit to how far your business can grow.

If you do not approach your business from a place of service then you won't be in business for much longer. So in this article I want to discuss how to master the art of service so that you can get in the habit of creating value for your audience.

I’d like to approach this by tackling some of the myths associated with service. By challenging these false beliefs, we can redefine what service is and have a more open relationship with it.

Myth 1: When you serve others they always get to be right

Service does not mean your customer is always right but that you graciously correct them when they are wrong.

Living in Berlin has opened up my mind to the myriad ways in which service providers and patrons interact with each other depending on the cultural undertones in play.

In Berlin the customer is almost always wrong. If the sales associate or waitress, or whoever it is, is not completely ignoring you then they are often providing an excuse as to why they can't fulfill your request.

They love to push back, just because, and while I may appreciate the manner in which the service provider stands up for themselves, it can be exhausting to the customer. Simply asking for a glass of tap water often turns into an ordeal.

Alternatively, living in New York helped me to see the absurd sense of entitlement that customers had. Particularly when I worked in finance and saw how wealthy bankers treated service providers as if they were their minions.

It’s the playing into these two extremes that constitute the distorted image we have of service. It’s the belief that service provider and patron must always be at odds with each other or one has to subject themselves to the other.

But does it have to be this way? I’d like you to imagine a more healthy relationship between your business and those you serve. Sure, as a brand you may take on authoritative roles in the lives of your customers (counselor, educator, etc.) but the relationship should entail mutual respect.

You are in business to solve a problem or meet a specific need or desire that you are qualified to meet. You are the expert at fulfilling that desire so, in a sense, you know better than the customer when it comes to your focus area.

However, a customer may demand something outside of the scope of your offering or challenge your expertise. If so, gently open their eyes to the error of their thinking. If they remain blind, they are not your perfect customer and you should part with them, amiably if possible.

Myth 2: To do work you love you can’t serve the whims of others

Some creatives and entrepreneurs tend to have the perspective that in order to truly be creative or innovative they must be at odds with popular sentiment.

It's as if your work isn't really creative unless you somehow isolate yourself from outside influences and only push forth ideas or products that challenge the status quo. But service doesn't have to water down your work.

I’ve found that when you are doing work that you love to do then it is easier to develop a service mentality. Because there's no better feeling than producing something that is actually useful and appreciated by others.

I derive a deep sense of fulfillment from writing and coaching because I know someone is benefiting from my work every day. Even better when a reader or client takes the time to give me feedback. This acts as positive reinforcement that what I do matters and motivates me to continue pursuing creative service.

That said, I have a process in place that helps me stay true to my personal and business purpose and ensure the work I produce comes from a genuine place. This allows me to balance service with creativity within my work so I don’t skew too far left or right.

If you are just engaging in a hobby or something you don't care to earn a living from then perhaps you can afford to work in solo and disregard the reception of your ideas. But if you are running a business then your creative output must serve — and with the right process you can serve authentically.

Myth 3: You can’t prioritize your own needs when you serve other

I have many clients who fall on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their view of giving. There are those who selfishly don’t want to give because they believe it will exhaust their reserves. Then there are those who pride themselves on their ability to give freely without boundaries or limits.

Both of these imbalanced perspectives lead to challenges with personal and business growth. The selfish can’t see that you must give first in order to receive. The over-givers can’t see that depleting their resources will leave them with nothing more to give.

Believe it or not, both perspectives are rooted in scarcity thinking. The more obvious is the selfish person who thinks giving will leave him without. The less obvious is the over-giver. I’ve found from my experience as a coach that people who over-give are either trying to fill a personal void or are assuming they alone have what it takes to fill the voids of other.

Either away, the intention behind selfishness or over-giving is based on a scarce view of the world and the outcome, in both cases, is less.

But there is a balance that is centered around abundant thinking and as a creative entrepreneur you must find that sweet spot. When you serve from a place of abundance you are fixated on creating value and you give according to the value you know you can add — no more, no less.

You don’t need to hold back out of fear of exhausting your time, money or energy when you are a savvy manager of your resources. With an abundant mindset you know the value that each act of service generates — for yourself and others — and invest in the creative process accordingly.