I recently gave a talk at the Melbourne Entrepreneurs Club. It was full of current and aspiring entrepreneurs – so I thought I’d lay out the top 10 things I think matter if we want to lead an independent life. Read here, one where you determine your own destiny, are not reliant on a corporation to feed you, and you have enough money (that little reality checker we have in our modern market place) to serve yourself and your family. It was just 10 ideas I wrote down on a piece of paper. I didn’t write an actual speech or have any slides. I just spoke from my heart after I wrote these 10 things down. Some of the ideas I had around the 10 things I thought had value, so I wanted to share them here, but also write down the thoughts so I didn’t lose them in the ether. Here they are:
1. The word Employee: If you’ve ever wondered why you don’t like how it feels to be an employee, it’s because you were never meant to be one. In fact, employees have only existed for a tiny portion of human existence – around 0.1%. If we look at this graph, you’ll see the word was hardly even used before the Industrial era. It’s totally normal to not want to be one.
2. Boss vs the Market: In a corporation our fortune is determined by our boss. If there is a mismatch, it makes it very hard to progress. There is nothing more frustrating than having a career thwarted by a manager who isn’t supporting us regardless of the quality of our work. In fact, the entire problem is that a sample size of 1 is not very robust. It’s a far better bet to place our skills on the market – to put what we do in the hands of many and let the true value of our work be judged by quantitative sample rather than a single opinion.
3. The Consumption Cycle: Often when we get trapped inside the corporate enclave, a sense of dissatisfaction occurs. I personally believe that we seek refuge through consumption. We buy things to justify the time, effort and pain being directed by others. We enter a consumption cycle to assuage the emptiness of working openly for the pay.
4. Savings and greatness: 20th century industrialist W. Clement Stone said that if we cannot learn to save, then the seeds of greatness are not inside us. It is the ultimate test of patience and delaying gratification. But more than that it opens up the door of possibility. I’ll go one step further and give you my ultimate savings hack. If you can save 50% of your income, you only ever need to work 1 year in every 2. It really is that simple. And during that ‘off year’ who knows what we might become.
5. You’re already an entrepreneur: It doesn’t matter whether we work for ourselves, our startup or a fortune 500. You are the CEO of your own personal services corporation. If you’re an employee, then you are simply an entrepreneur with one really important and big customer. Once we make this mind flip, we do better work and realise we need to invest in ourselves and deliver for others. That’s the start of more independent living.
6. Side Project Power: Side projects often become the front projects. How we experiment with our time invents new unforeseeable and unexpected revenue streams. I now make a living doing things I used to do after work. So the real question is what are you doing from 9pm-12am? If you’re watching TV, then you’re missing the greatest informal education opportunity humanity has ever had. Right now the market pays a premium for informal knowledge because quite frankly formal education is way behind.
7. The Woodchips: Often the wood chips have more value than the table. But we only ever find this out if we endure and make the table. The side effects of what we do has value, but we need to presence of mind to look behind us and see what we have left behind. This blog was a bunch of woodchips from when I left the corporate world 10 years ago. It was the seeds for my new book. You have wood chips. We all do, locate them and see what they may become.
8. Freelance Friction Removal: I’m starting to believe that anything we can get paid for as an employee, we can do as a freelancer. The recent revolution in freelancing websites has taught us we can find people to do for us what we can’t afford to pay for 5 days a week. Maybe we can pay them 2 days pay for 1 days effort, and result in 3 days output? The freelance friction is being removed and once the tasks are taken from the corporate HQ the time wastage also gets removed. The best advice I can give anyone trying to escape their cubicle for the first time is to start as a freelancer. From accounts payable, to marketing director – we can all do it now.
9. A Tools Revolution: We all now have the same super powers that were once the domain of the worlds most powerful corporations. We can connect with anyone, we can access a factory without owning it, the worlds information is available and free on line, we can do e-commerce with zero cost set up, we can advertise to a specific audience with zero wastage. It’s never been easier to start a business at low cost with the gift of free tools. Go.
10. The DNA of Australians: If you’re reading this in Australia (where I live) then entrepreneurship is in your DNA. The fact that you are here, means your forefathers crossed oceans in search of a better life. They probably came with nothing but their wit. We all have entrepreneurship running deeply through our veins. Best we make those who came before us proud.
The journey we are on is often associated with some goal at the end point. But what if the end point was now? What if we took a thought experiment and pretended the journey was unnecessary? Let’s do that and ask ourselves these two seemingly unrelated questions:
- How would you spend your time if you had 6 months to live?
- How would you spend your time if you were a billionaire?
I won’t try and answer these for you, but I’m reasonably certain you’ll find two things. Many of the answers overlap, and that many of the things cost very little money. In the end we remind ourselves that the ultimate asset is time.
Ok, I couldn’t resist to give personal answer here: I know I’d want to invest more time with my family, immediate and wider, and do those projects were the business model is fun and not financial. Oh, and all those billionaires we hear about…. they’re probably off on treks riding motorcycles across China. Something which requires very few zeros in a bank account.
I feel like no one should be permitted to call ‘busy’ anymore. If everyone is busy, then it is as if no one is busy. In classic algebraic form, we can strike it from both sides of the equation and just call it equal.
But it does surprise me that people don’t employ the oldest rule in economics when they get too busy:
Put the price up.
Economics 101 tells us that increased prices reduces demand and equalises supply. And believe it or not we can do it with our time, our job, our freelance work and even our startup.
It seems as though the first rule in economics is the one everyone always forgets.
While success is in the eye of the beholder, I heard an interesting fact recently about intelligence and financial independence. And that fact was that the vast majority of financially independent people have average or below average intelligence. We are talking here about raw intellectual capability. This would seem counter intuitive to everything we are taught to believe in school, the corporate world and life. That we have to be ‘smart’ to accumulate financial advantage. Turns out the opposite is true and social researchers put it down to one simple thing:
“People of average intelligence are not overly impressed with how clever they are.”
Sounds like a silly thing to say, but it gives average people like you and me a big advantage. It means that we know we have to work hard, and maybe even a bit harder. And it also means that we don’t think we know everything already and so we have on open mind to learn new things and methods.
Turns out that some of the key factors in the success equation are about being average.
I recently did I podcast with a friend Murray Galbraith who runs Dads.co – a place for dads to share and celebrate being a rad dad. I was particularly happy with the chat we had as it covered many of the important parts of being a dad, and being independent economically. I really think it’s some good ear candy. You can listen to it here.
Also, this Wednesday night I’ll giving a talk at the Entrepreneurs Club in Melbourne, about how to transition from employee to entrepreneur. I’m really excited about this one as I’ll be sharing my top 10 “Hacks of Independence” to help you escape the drudgery of corporate cubicle life. It’s free and you should totally come and share some ideas with other like minded individuals. Details are here.
I’m going to tell you quite a personal story about how changing one simple thing last year changed my earnings and work life dramatically. It starts with a story I heard from an old 1960’s business coach called Bob Proctor. I was listening to a podcast of his where he described the following situation. A gentleman was the owner of a medium sized, $10 million dollar enterprise. He was the sole owner of the business and employed a large number of staff for the time. It was during the 1980’s. Unfortunately he passed away unexpectedly and all of the staff members and senior management were worried about what his wife (who inherited the business) would do now that the founder and CEO was gone. Some thought they’d lose their jobs, some thought she’d sell the company, some even rubbed their hands together and hoped for a management buyout. What she did do, no one expected. She had never had anything to do with the business before his death, but came in for the first official meeting to tell the staff and board of directors what was going to happen. This is what she did.
She asked all of the Directors to tell her the following 3 things:
- What are you doing in your division at the moment.
- What is working well.
- What is not working well.
She went around the room and let all of them tell those 3 simple stories. After that was done she gave them all a very simple instruction. She said. “I want you to stop doing all of the things that are not working. I don’t care if we lose revenue, or what happens as a result of this. I want you to only do the things that are working. Anyone who doesn’t follow this rule when I come back and ask the same questions in three months, will be dismissed.” She then told them she wasn’t selling the business, and the benefits of any growth will be shared accordingly.
One year after she undertook this strategy the business had grown from a $10 million enterprise to a $30 million enterprise.
It got me thinking at the time I heard this about what I was doing with work. What parts was I doing that were actually working well, and which bits were not working out so well. I came to the conclusion that the things that always worked out best for me were Writing and Speaking. I was doing a portion of that as part of my work at the time. I was working in advertising and in some startups on the side. Whenever I did a keynote speech or did a pitch I smashed it. My writing for journals and blogs was getting good credence. It was probably about 20% of my time on the average week. So I wondered what would happen if I only did those two things. Even for the startups I work with – only write and speak about them to help them grow. I wondered what kind of an income I would earn as a kind of ‘thought freelancer’ on technology, startups and business strategy. So instead of just wondering about it, I decided to do it. My new mantra would be to ‘Think, Write and Speak’ for a living.
Since this decision – which was around a year ago – I’ve published a book and started doing keynote speeches through an agent. And this is the personal bit. After about some months getting organised (pitching the book & getting an agent for speaking), I’ve earned well over what I earned for the entire previous year in just 5 months. What is super cool about this, is that I’m managing to do this in only a small portion of my week. It then forms a kind of underwriting strategy, so that I can invest more time in some killer startup ideas I’ve got, but haven’t had the capacity to get done. I say this not to impress you, but to impress upon you. I’m pretty sure all of us have a muse like this. That small portion of what we do in our company, job or startup which we excel in. A muse we have natural talent for, and naturally put more effort into. I’m pretty sure if we all focused on this, we’d get the same results that I am seeing. Remembering of course that this is not some passion fantasy, but real work we already get paid to do.
Another thing which is really telling with this story is this simple fact: I am no better at these things than I was 1 year ago or even 3 years ago. I am the same person, with the same capacity. I simply sowed my seed in more fertile soil. Which also makes me wonder why we all act like trees, waiting for the environment around us to change and help us flourish. When we can instead choose to change our environment. Unlike trees, we don’t have roots, we have legs, we can use them to go elsewhere and change where we do our work for a more fruitful return. I think the biggest determinant of our income is taking the work we do to a place where that is valued at its highest.
Maybe the thing we need to change, isn’t ourselves, but where we do our work.
While I’m a firm believer we can achieve more as entrepreneurs than we can as employees, there are some damn good lessons we can learn from corporates. One such thing that large companies tend to do is strategy planning. Annual or quarterly events, where time is taken out to sit down and plan the future. So my question is this:
When is the last time you did this for your most important startup: Your household?
Yes, the startup that is the people who live in your home. It seems ever so weird that we spend an inordinate amount of time doing strategy for the companies we work for, and yet fail to do it for ourselves and our family. My household is a 5 year old startup which is clearly the most important in my portfolio – the capstone of all the matters to me. Within it, we have two other startups, otherwise known as children. So my wife and I are investing a few days where our entire focus is what we want out of life for our family, and how we might go about achieving it.
So what might we include in such a day? Our approach to health, loving, learning, sharing, housing, career, finance and our community. We’ll ratify our guiding philosophy on how we invest the 24 hours in each day. We’ll decide how we allocate our resources to maximise happiness. We know that the major asset in life is time, and the people we love. The financial part of our strategy day – our plans for income and investing – is last on the agenda. This should serve what we want as people, and so setting numbers before we know what we need, would be back to front. The outcome will be an operations plan for a happy home.
We often go through life thinking that if we earn enough money, and do well in our career, the other life stuff will be ok. Turns out the opposite of this is true.
I remember growing up having people tell me it’s all about who you know in life and business. I always thought it was kinda weird that it could work in your favour by just knowing people who could help you, especially if you happened to be a fool. Surely domain knowledge mattered more? And here is what I found out, they both have value.
But what has even more value is when we use which ever we have more of to improve on the other. This tends to happen when we learn from those we’re lucky enough to know, or use our knowledge to help whoever we meet.
The order of events in our careers and entrepreneurial endeavours is particularly important.
Let’s take the resume. A truncated tiny nano percentage microcosm of a persons capability. And yet people put it in front of decision makers to sell themselves. The moment we do this the person reading the resume is looking for a reason not to like what they see. We are just one of possibly hundreds of the same thing, and the natural inclination of the reviewer is to ‘cut the numbers’.
On the flip side, when we meet someone in person, we are a human. They are also a human. Neither of us are words on a piece of paper or screen. We have a 100% monopoly on the on each others attention. Our humanity takes over and we are both looking for a reason to like each other. Once we’ve met, and our credentials need to be reviewed on paper, they are then looking for a reason to justify doing business with the person they already like.
It doesn’t matter whether we are looking for a job or selling our business to new clients, a human always trumps a bunch of words, pictures or videos. While we need to have both in a modern world, it’s the order they’re presented in that really matters.