Five years ago I cut loose from my day job and launched myself into the adventure that is working for oneself. That was the start of my journey towards claiming my independence day, and I think there are lessons for you if you want to do something similar to what I have done.
I’m proud of where I am at but as well as talk about the successes, I am going to share with you the mistakes so you can avoid them.
If you just want the main lessons, skip to the end. Otherwise, see what you can learn from my journey …
I left my easy and relatively fairly paid job at a marketing agency to start a business. A real business, not the toy sidelines I had played with before. This one was going to be the sole income for our household. Knowing that your work has to pay all the bills concentrates the mind on what is really important.
State your intention.
The intention had been there for a while. You can see that I had been working up to the point for a little while in this image below. That image is taken from a site I used to frequent, I was defending blogging and saying why I did it.
This was April 2005. Shortly after I received a contract opportunity that allowed me to pull the trigger on my plans and finally leave. A few people have suggested that I achieved my goal because I wrote it out, I am not sure and I don’t think it matters if it was mystical or not. The opportunity arrived, I was prepared and well positioned for it, and I took that leap of faith.
Be prepared to grab the opportunity.
I see people get offered their ‘chance of a lifetime’ and not take it, only to live with the regret. It seems the sting of regret about something you did not do is worse than regretting something you tried. Our ‘what if’ fears tend to be overblown, and can cause us to not take risks that could be the trigger for wonderful outcomes.
Of course it was frightening. I had never been that classic “sold baseball cards in the playground” type entrepreneur. It’s still not a label I would associate with me, even though I am of course a business owner and investor. Crucial for us was that I was not putting the family at risk.
Like most decisions of this magnitude, you have to do a risk-reward analysis and crucially a game of ‘what is the worst that could happen? What is the best that could happen?’.
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Know what you want to gain and what you want to escape.
As well as paying the bills, and preferably gain far greater financial rewards than that, I had certain goals that were not financially motivated. For a start, I wanted to avoid all the annoying day to day stuff I was very motivated to get away from. Listing everything out showed clearly that what I wanted to move towards and away from were very much in tune. See if any of these resonate with you:
- Do work that got results, and see those results reflected in my rewards – In my old job, working smarter or harder did not get rewarded, plus it was rare I was dealing with a decision maker at the client.
- Work with people I actually liked – A handful of my former colleagues are still friends, and even a couple of former clients, but now I get to choose who I work with or not, and that transforms your work day.
- Direct my own work and schedule – Since working for myself I have never had to miss any of my daughters school events. We have had more vacation time, I have taken more breaks, and also worked longer hours when necessary. Contrast that with having to ask permission to take a vacation day for doctors appointments and even surgery a couple of times.
- Travel to new places, see new people – There was a little travel in the old job, but I have many more opportunities for travel, to cooler places, and I have influence over the logistics. If I don’t want to go I can say no, which is probably the most important and most overlooked aspect. I find the people who dislike work travel are the ones who are forced or coerced into it. Much as I disliked being away from my family, and I take them along where possible, it is definitely a perk of my situation to be able to see parts of the world I have never visited before.
- Have customers come to me without pitching, proposals or spec work – An annoying aspect of marketing consulting is the amount of potential clients who sting you for free ideas and advise via the pitch and proposal process. I made the decision I would never pitch or write proposals again. If a customer wanted me they wanted me. This has saved me countless hours and helped me avoid the worst of the abusive clients, while also taking a lot of the stress out of the work. Has this meant I haven’t won work that I could have? Sure, but if I have to ‘win’ it, then it probably wasn’t mine in the first place.
Only the other day I commented on a Facebook thread that I now get paid for stuff I would likely do anyway. That is awesome, but what is even more awesome is after five years I have finally categorically ticked all the above boxes.
It did take five years though …
Learn from your mistakes.
The first big mistake was that plum contract that arrived at just the right time. Don’t get me wrong, it was fantastic – it set me up, the work was challenging, I still have friends from those days who I value greatly.
I had made the mistake of agreeing to forgoe any other activity, to give 100% to the project. This is a huge mistake, do not EVER agree to that, and never expect someone else to do that either.
- When the startup ended in a bit of a tangled mess, I had no ‘Plan B’.
- My goals above were centered around me making my own decisions, being my own boss. Instead I went from one boss to another.
- I had no freedom, having to constantly report in. My wife still reminds me of the time she threatened to throw my pocket pc into Lake Louise because I was trying to check in while on vaction.
That all said, even though I had clearly gone against goal #3, I was closer to my dream situation and the contacts I made were incredible.
Right around the time the startup folded and got bought out, I started this blog, scrambled around and got some more contracts. I also made a bunch of new mistakes.
Are they clients or bosses?
When a freelancer or consultant needs work there is a smell of desperation. That desperation can often be exploited. I went from one contract boss to a whole bunch.
Things did become much better and far easier. My blog took off, and thanks to my friends in the blogging world I managed to attract the attention that paid off in terms of contracts, speaking gigs, and other opportunities.
The downside to this was I started to coast out of complacency.
As I said above, I am not that Donald Trump driven entrepreneur type. So long as I was paying the bills and enjoying my work, I didn’t have the hunger to hustle.
My growth stalled, I withdrew while I juggled competing demands for my attention from my clutch of clients, and then withdrew even further when my daughter had a couple of major health panics, and some less major but still worrying ones.
When you have a predictable income from super supportive clients who stick with you even during some enormous personal life crises, it is hard to complain or see how things could be much better. But I should have been pushing ahead, I should have remembered what I had set out to do.
Another mistake I made was pulling back on the promotion.
Out there on the interwebs there are some harsh critics. I normally do a pretty good job of working out who to listen to and who to ignore, but there came a point where I was been repeatedly attacked for being over exposed. And I was, to a degree. But it meant that I pulled back from guest posting at Copyblogger, Problogger and other places that had been very good to me. Most of the people complaining did not have my best interests at heart, I should not have given them that level of influence.
You must grow a carapace of protection around your ego and not rely on other people for your self esteem.
Good news, bad news.
The best possible news was we got through the health issues as a family, and my awesome clients stuck by me, even offering support.
Really we were very happy once we got through it, but it did highlight major flaws in my business:
- It only really ran when I was present.
- My business was never designed to scale.
- I was spreading myself very thin, my family was hardly getting to see me, and my own health was suffering.
Two business models.
At this point I had to choose my business model and re-engineer my processes around them.
- Charge more with fewer clients.
- Create products to serve a greater number of people for lower individual cost.
I started with #1 but there is a limit to what I was willing to charge. My financial thermostat kicked in and rebelled when I realized I could never get myself psychogically to a $22k day rate. Our plans to move to Canada also meant that my higher paying face to face clients would soon be having to look to alternative providers, and in fact that is what happened as our plans progressed.
Which brings us to #2, and the situation I am in now. You will notice I do not have a coaching and consulting page any longer and lately I have launched quite a few products.
Effort vs Reward.
In your business you can put your activities onto the Effort-Reward scale to see how they compare.
In my business, even though providing consulting is rewarding on a personal and financial level, over time the incremental effort of providing consulting stays level or increases. Contrast this with product creation where you do the effort once, then the incremental effort is far lower but the rewards keep coming in. This is scaling.
It’s not purely a monetary decision, reward also includes how enjoyable the work is and if you get to work with the people who you like to work with. I’m not going to cut off consulting entirely, but I am not going to take on any new coaching or consulting clients and will restrict that work to on-site workshop days teaching internet marketing, social media, copywriting, seo and so on. This will allow me to maintain the face to face client contact I enjoy without going back to all day every day that was unsustainable.
I’m glad to say this isn’t all theory, it has worked out in practice. It’s a great combination of more profit combined with more free time to enjoy it. Even better, I have a business that I can move to Canada without as much risk.
How I got from there to here – the big lessons.
I have learned far more in the short time I have had my own business than all the time I worked in other people’s businesses. Here is how you can learn from my last five years and what you need to build:
- Content and Audience – Content is the core to attracting the attention you need, and to build the reputation that will gain you customers. I have been continiously writing online since 1994, but it took having no other choice for me to focus and develop a real asset, which is the blog you are reading and the associated email lists. Really I should have developed many more assets than this by now. Something I am going to correct.
- Network – Without a strong network you will struggle to make progress and you will not gain the opportunities that take you further. Thanks to friends like Brian and Darren, back in 2007 when I thought my world had collapsed I was quickly put back on my feet. You need to know there are people out there who have got your back.
- Promotion – As anyone with even a small audience will tell you, content alone will not get you where you want to go, you need to promote. Much of my promotion was done through Guest Posting like a mad man, appearing everywhere at once.
- Partners – With partners you can create more compelling products, you will find it easier to build awareness, and you will have greater motivation to continue. All five of the books I have been involved in, most famously the Problogger Book, have been co-authored. Most of my products and courses are collaborations.
- Systems – While working in your business, work on your business. These systems help you scale, and are also assets that can be turned into products. You need systems for attracting, retaining, converting customers, and fulfilling your promises to them. Over the last two years my systems have improved greatly, and so have my profits. I have systems for putting sales letters together through to delivering online courses quickly and effectively using membership sites and webinars. You might want to concentrate on ebooks or group coaching, but you must develop systems.
With these lessons in mind, it is hardly surprising that the free ebooks I give away on this blog are about creating killer content and developing partnerships. These two elements are the cornerstone to my business. If you haven’t read them yet, go grab them now, they are free.
I have been wanting to share this journey with you for a while, ever since I found that thread comment featured at the top of this page. At one point I was going to share it as a free webinar, but I realized there were many tangents it could go in and I wanted to make sure I kept my thoughts organized. Then I had an opportunity to sit down with Chris for coffee and during our discussion I realized how similar our thoughts, experiences and ideas are on what he calls Escape Velocity. This is how I achieved Escape Velocity, and I think it is appropriate to think about on Independence Day.
If you are looking forward to achieving your own Escape Velocity and Independence, start now. Put your content together, start promoting it, network, partner and develop your systems. You will get there, probably faster than I did.
Most of all, enjoy the ride!
Do you have any thoughts to share on creating your independence and achieving escape velocity? Please go ahead and comment below …