When I launched my Seattle-based law firm in 2012, it was because I loved the work that I did, and I needed a “container” in which to do it. I had no idea how to run a business.

However, having worked in other law firms prior to starting my own, I had learned how not to run my own business. I wanted to avoid cultivating a toxic environment and make the work the focus.

I had no desire to build a business. I just wanted to do the work. This is something I hear from small business owners all the time: We want to “do the work” and not “do the business.” The business entity is not our passion — it is just the vehicle through which we can do something we enjoy doing.

But passion for the work is not enough to make a business sustainable, which is something I didn’t realize in the beginning. I believe many small business owners end up in similar positions: fueled by passion, but aimless about putting a vision into action while turning a profit and managing people.

Soon after founding the firm, I moved to Mexico, where I spent the next two years running my law practice remotely. I figured I only needed to earn just enough pesos to get by. I traded long hours in the office for watching beautiful sunsets on the beach while writing briefs. By all appearances, I was living the dream.

The truth is, despite the tropical bliss, the way I was handling my law practice was actually stressing me out. I had no idea how much money I was making or whether there would be enough in my bank account to pay the few bills I had. I had no idea who was paying me and who wasn’t because I didn’t want to worry about the financials and I “wasn’t in it for the money.”

I was working an unhealthy number of hours, yet I always worried about being able to squeeze out some semblance of a salary. I avoided answering the phone because I was either too busy or too stressed out.

Getting a paycheck was necessary to survive, but I insisted that it not be my obsession. Yet living without enough money creates a money obsession anyway: You are always worried about running out.

Though my cases were organized, my firm was not. It was only in fumbling with my finances and suffering through the stress of constant overwork that I finally decided to take the step that has made all the difference in my business. After two long years in this battle with myself, I realized I wanted to love more than just my work; I wanted to love my life.

I realized I needed to promote myself from employee to CEO of my business.

I began to hold myself accountable so that I could make a real, tangible plan for empowering myself to gain control of my business and my finances.

To transition from employee to CEO, I developed a CEO mantra. I believe this is the first and most important step in designing a small business that serves both your clients and your own dreams. I recommend any small business owner devise a similar mantra that establishes what you will and will not do in business. Place it on your wall to remind yourself every day of what you’re trying to accomplish.

Here are the absolutes I maintain as part of my CEO mantra:

- My life does not fit my business, the business fits my life.
- I know that great work has value and getting paid is an exchange of value.
- I work the hours I desire because I am in charge of my life.
- I will delegate masterfully because I know I cannot do it all.
- I will hire the right people who can perform the work well.

Once I started thinking like a CEO, things took off quickly. In my new role as an executive, I started making small, incremental changes within my law firm. Three months later, my firm was earning six figures. In less than a year, my firm’s revenue had doubled. Now, we are well on our way to earning seven figures, and I am coaching others to do the same.

The good news: It’s never too late to learn the skills you need to become a successful CEO.

Ally Lozano is the CEO of Ally Lozano, LLC, founding partner of Alexandra Lozano Immigration Law, and author of Be the CEO of Your Law Firm: Gain Control, Turn a Profit, and Reclaim Your Life.

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