My Path to Location Independence
Wake up and smell the new economy. Old scripts, such as getting a mortgage based on a job for life in a fixed location, no longer apply. In order to thrive you need to flip yourself into an entrepreneurial mindset.
It took me over three years to become location independent. Back at the end of 2009 when I quit my job, I regarded working from a laptop anywhere in the world as a lifestyle choice, as a cool thing to do. Now, as a Brit writing this preface from Ozo Coffee Co, Boulder, Colorado, surrounded by other laptop workers, my opinion has changed; it’s inevitable and the best way to thrive.
In his book Choose Yourself, James Altucher talks about the fact that there are no more booms coming anytime soon and that the jobs that have been ‘lost’ in recent years are not coming back. I share the view that the era of the full-time job is ending due to companies outsourcing as much as possible (to cheaper / higher value regions) and therefore not needing as many people, or buildings, to be as productive.
The job I left back in 2009 was as a bid-writer for a charity where I was winning six figure grants and contracts. Myself and fellow anti-corporate colleague Sean, who quit just before me, had built the charity over the previous year from £1MM income to over £2MM and from 40 people up to over 70 people. Four years later and I’ve recently received an email from an ex-colleague saying that she, as one of a literal handful of ‘survivors’ has just been made redundant and what to do. The funding that supported the work and her job – all their jobs – has gone and it’s not coming back. My advice to her is the same advice as set out in this book – focus on the life you want and work back. Money is still out there but it’s being distributed differently and the old rulebook no longer applies.
Job security (followed closely by the value of non-scientific university education) for me is the biggest fraud going and having one income stream that someone else can turn off is, in my opinion, irresponsible. Dan Andrews from Tropical MBA considers the job skill set as a “system of security that has a single point of failure” and considers the entrepreneurship skill set as a lot less risky as we have control of our cashflows through creating “intelligent, adaptive assets” with exponential potential / upside.
Sean Ogle, from Location 180, talks about job security 2.0 – about creating lots of different income streams so that no one external factor (or person) can bring you down. Tim Ferriss in the epic Four Hour Work Week states that to be rich you need both money and mobility. If you are earning a lot but the income is based on a fixed location this is now neither sustainable nor an enviable position. Dan Andrews goes further by talking about building businesses that generate a wider range of currencies including time, personal freedom, access to information and excitement. That last one is critical for me as I will trade off a lot of cash for excitement – it’s my compass for life.
This book gives 6 principles or more accurately heuristics (enabling someone to discover, learn and solve problems for themselves) for thriving in the new location independent economy. I back up each principle with events and life lessons that happened to me as well as interviews with other coffee shop entrepreneurs about their lifestyles and how they became location independent. It’s hard to keep yourself motivated when you take all structure out of your life. Whenever I need to kick my own ass I just need to remind myself that the alternative is far worse – a life as a wage slave.
Lifestyle design, for me, is the ultimate thing to work at – I regard achieving (and keeping) financial and location independence as the ultimate state of self actualisation and the most worthy win. This lifestyle has only been achievable to the masses over the last decade. I am truly thankful to be alive and productive in this digital and social age – we’ve never had it so good. Screw anyone who’s negative or who talks about the recession; there’s no personal recession when you only need to get to 1000 true fans, 100 customers or 10 clients (as Dan and Ian from the Lifestyle Business Podcast eloquently put it) from all over the world to love your work and buy your ideas.
I’ve been massively inspired by people who are living and traveling round the world such as Colin Wright, Natalie Sisson, Sean Ogle and Cody McKibben (check out his video below) financed by their online businesses.
I think it’s imperative that you find the people living the lifestfyle you want and then study how they do it – read their blog posts, buy the ebooks, listen to the podcasts and reach out. People really are happy to help.
FIRST PRINCIPLE: LEARN TO TRUST YOUR GUT
Do you recognise any of these scenarios? Feeling stressed and worried Sunday evenings. An even worse sick feeling deep down in your gut whenever you sit down at your office desk / cubicle? How about this one: drinking more water than is necessary just to have more genuine toilet breaks where you spend at least 10 minutes in a private cubicle on your phone?!
I’ve done and felt all this and it sucks.
I was ridiculously stressed out from the last 6 months of going insane at my office ‘pod’ where I had ended up being the only one left working at a charity I had helped build, after it got taken over by a corporate-styled housing association which was seemingly intent on letting it all fall apart. One-by-one, management either walked or were pushed, until it was just me, the only pea in the pod. On the day my request for flexible working to go down to 4 days a week was being considered at board level and the day where I had been asked to put together a presentation on how I could be more motivated at work (seriously) I had enough. I paid £50 to set up a company online and handed in my notice. (Note: this is definitely not the best way of starting out; validate your business products or services by getting paid customers first!).
Your brain will always try to rationalise your current predicament, no matter how much you hate it, as we are inherently risk-averse beings. The good news is that the hypothalamus can kick your nervous system into gear and generate a flight or fight out of there.
You need to become fully aware of your feelings in order to thrive in the location independent economy – there are limited rules for your conscious to apply so you need to listen to your subconscious which can manifest the correct answer through your body. Should you take on a potentially difficult or dull new client who could piss you off and kill your creativity even though you could use the money? You have to trust your gut feeling and if something is wrong then listen to your body; it can let you know (by unsettling my sleep in my case).
I have really learned to trust my gut on business and life matters. Rather than previously spending days thinking and trying to rationalise a ‘critical’ business decision, I now try to spend no more than a few seconds and go with my gut. Should I outsource this client to this person or agency? Do I trust them? What’s the downside? What’s the upside? I’ve learned to make this call very quickly and to own the decision, even if it’s ultimately the wrong one. As a solopreneur you have to make countless decisions like this a day. If I gave it any more (conscious) thought I wouldn’t be able to get any of my own work done; whilst opportunity is abundant, attention is a finite daily resource.
We’re led to believe that logical thinking is more reliable than emotions or hunches as it happens in the neocortex, the newest part of the cerebral cortex (which plays a key role in memory, awareness, thought, language, and consciousness) to evolve.
However it’s the more incorrectly labelled ‘primitive’ areas of the brain, such as the cerebellum, that are equally important in human intelligence and have up to now been underestimated.
Serge Prengel, from proactivechange.com, states that the cerebellum is responsible for fine-tuned muscle movements, balance, implicit memories and ‘street smarts’ – for getting a very quick ‘sense’ of a situation which we call a ‘gut reaction’ from emotions rather than our intellect. Our cognitive brain processes this feeling as thinking which means that our ‘rational’ decisions are built from our gut feelings whether we recognise them or not. Therefore learning to tap into our gut feelings before they manifest sometimes days later in rational thought is a more direct and faster way to make a good call. If you let yourself make decision from your gut then over time these decisions will become more reliable.
The cerebellum is always on guard to protect your body from danger and prepare you for ‘fight-or-flight’. It is only 10% of your brain but holds over 50% of your neurons and is directly linked to a feedback loop with what is called the vagus nerve which keeps heart rate slow and gives you grace under pressure (practicing mindfulness meditation puts the cerebellum at peace).
The vagus nerve is constantly sending sensory information about the state of the body’s organs ‘upstream’ to your brain. When people say ‘trust your gut’ they are in many ways saying, ‘trust your vagus nerve.’ Gut-instincts are literally emotional intuitions transferred up to your brain via the vagus nerve.
In mind-body feedback loops, messages also travel ‘downstream’ from your conscious mind through the vagus nerve signaling your organs to create an inner-calm so you can ‘rest-and-digest’ during times of safety or to prepare your body for ‘fight-or-flight’ in dangerous situations.
Christopher Bergland on psychologytoday.com states that the vagus nerve’s reflexive responses can backfire and turn it from comrade into saboteur. Anytime you psyche yourself out before an important event, feel intimidated, or insecure, your vagus nerve interprets that you are in real danger which exacerbates these negative responses.
The way to achieve in business and life is to practice until you feel confident. When you practice something you create a non-thinking state of automatic muscle memory; these implicit memories are stored in the cerebellum. I’ve recently been learning ‘slacklining’ which is a flat rope you ratchet between two trees and balance on. To start with you can’t even keep one foot on as the rope manically twitches side to side; however after a few days you can balance and make a number of steps. Indeed physical exercise can actually exercise the cerebellum and speed up the processing of information, making it much easier to learn and remember skills.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink, states that the legendary investor George Soros relied on his gut for important decisions. His son is quoted as saying that his father made decisions to change his positions in the market when his back started to spasm; his subconscious gave him a warning sign that manifested in his body.
I’ve learned that my body can make me ill to tell me to stop doing something; I either quickly come down with a fever or I wake up with fluid in my ears and have to meditate and recalibrate to feel ok again. This has happened from being with both the wrong clients, friends or girlfriend.
Learn to trust your gut; it’s not perfect but in a brave new post-employment world it’s all we’ve got and over time your decisions will improve.
SECOND PRINCIPLE: SWITCH YOUR THINKING FROM SCARCITY TO ABUNDANCE
I first learned about the concept of paradigms on my undergraduate business management degree which subsequently turned me anti-business for the next decade, hence ending up working for a charity.
Paradigms are distinct models of viewing the world within which ‘good’ knowledge is produced through shared beliefs and assumptions. These shared beliefs are institutionalised in us through university, government and corporations. For a paradigm to exist – for conventional thinking to be conventional – other paradigms or coherent ways of viewing the world such as ‘radical’ must also exist so that they can be compared to each other. Revolutionary ways of viewing the world can displace conventional thinking to become the new normal.
As such I believe that viewing and choosing a job as the best way to achieve security is currently under attack by the new location independent economy paradigm and will be replaced by an understanding that becoming entrepreneurial and having multiple income streams not reliant on any one person is the best way to thrive.
You can either believe in an externally objective shared real world, existing independently of people and available to everyone’s observation or (and this is where it gets fun):
View that the world is socially constructed, a product of individual meanings and, therefore, subjectively real, and that we gain knowledge of the world through our experience of it, so that, potentially, everyone’s knowledge of it is different.
(Rethinking Organisational Behaviour: Norman Jackson and Pippa Carter).
If you experience the world differently and embrace randomness and uncertainty, then the knowledge you accumulate will be different to other people’s reality.
The author Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder makes the argument that things benefit from shocks. People and businesses can thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness and chaos. He argues that you want to use and not hide from adventure, risk and uncertainty and this is the type of behaviour and response you need to become location independent. He states that there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile and so calls this state antifragile which is beyond resilience or robustness:
The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.
The author coincidently also works from coffee shops due to ‘stochastic resonance’ which is the idea that a weak signal becomes easier to detect by adding white noise in the background; that it is easier to maintain a train of thought in the presence of a certain amount of random background activity rather than silence.
In Gareth Morgan’s book Images of Organisations he describes the ‘radical humanist’ paradigm, in relation to businesses, as ‘the psychic prison’. Corporations and governments are socially constructed; however we tend to treat them as if they are real, independent of our awareness. We learn to experience them as oppressive and accept this repression as necessary and inevitable when in fact it is us that creates the (self) repression. If we move outside of the panopticon then we can start to see shared assumptions of the working world for what they are – other people’s memetics.
An existing model of reality such as “I need a job, jobs give security” can be replaced with an equally valid paradigm of “I need a life that’s not tied to just one income stream”.
How we think, view and experience matters, creates our own reality and manifests people and events. If you can replace fear with excitement and scarcity with abundance as your starting point then remarkable things can happen.
For example I did online dating when I thought it was hard to meet women. Good friends helped me to remove my blindspots and make me realise that women – both beautiful and interesting – are in fact everywhere (in coffee shops, supermarkets etc) and that you are actually allowed to talk to them (if you allow yourself). This realisation changes your perspective from scarcity to abundance and changes your reality and how you feel.
This process starts the second you do something outside of your current reality, such as opening up a conversation with a guy or a girl in the queue behind you, as awkward as this first is. Again practice becomes memories stored in the cerebellum until, eventually, it is the most natural thing to do; it becomes the new normal, the new you.
Your personality, like your beliefs are not fixed – you choose them.
Everything is vibration, your thoughts, feelings and actions. What you signal is mostly unconscious which comes from what you’re feeling and thinking.
A hilarious example is the YouTube video with Russell Brand on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ who reduces the female co-hosts to nerves and acting from a state of feeling and desire. One calls him “Willy Brand” and with the other Russell remarks: “What do you think that gesture means, the way you’re touching that bottle? What does that indicate? What’s the subtext of that?”!
Belief that you will achieve something coupled with action generates success; dwelling on negative thoughts compounds your current reality. There will be so many setbacks and people that will piss you off in your first few years of business, that if you react negatively to such events you will become a negative person. And when you instinctively react negatively to events then you become closed to potential positive interactions. You may end up swearing on your laptop in a coffee shop just as the man or women of your dreams or ideal customer sits next to you.
Resonance is the natural frequency of a system. In order to resonate with people you have to resound the same note and when you do there’s a transfer of energy between you. A surfer has to swim hard enough in order to catch a wave but if too slow or too fast they will miss the energy of the wave and stay in the same spot rather than picking up vibrational energy and ripping it.
Our vibrations do not end at our bodies but emanate out and we both attract and repel things that we are in vibrational resonance with. The human body generates an electromagnetic field which is affected by our moods when you are happier, your field is said to act at a higher state of vibration, a higher speed of motion or energy. We are both a transmitter and a receiver of energy.
When you resonate with someone, the waves combine and become several times higher than the sum of their parts – this is called constructive interference. You can create something that is bigger than yourself; now I’m in Boulder I’m on the lookout for a potential business partner to build great products with. Likewise if you are not on the same wavelength you can destructively interfere with each other.
We manifest and attract what we want (people, experiences) by our frequencies which are a result of our thoughts and our feelings. The more positive feelings you have about yourself and what you want to achieve, the higher your vibration and the quicker you will achieve and experience what you want.
This is why it’s important to be conscious of what you are feeling (as in the previous chapter) so you can choose to be positive through thought. Engage in activities that enable you to feel how you would feel when you’re achieving your goals.
Excitement is said to be the highest vibration and fear is said to be the lowest; vibrations attract like for like. If you continue to surround yourself with signals that reinforce your current state, i.e. people who do not have the lifestyle you want, then that state will persist indefinitely.
Focus on excitement which is an abundant source whereas fear is more of a zero-sum game. And if you can’t find excitement, it’s up to you to create it. There is opportunity everywhere if you remove the blinkers and social conditioning. Be the 1% that stands out and does different. Say hi to everyone in the street, approach that guy or girl you like the look of. Swing the bat as Gary Vaynerchuk says:
I beg you to take a shot. Roll up on that hot chick in the bar, and ask her out. On that good looking dude, and ask him to get a coffee. On that business idea, and make it happen. Because being 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and having regrets that you didn’t swing that bat? That’s the worst of them all. Our at bat is in front of us. Take a swing.
As Dan Andrews states, the entrepreneurial, location independent people in the Dynamite Circle community have an abundance mindset. This is not by accident or a genetic disposition – it is crafted through necessity in order to do and be what most people are not.
If necessary you can do neuro-linguistic programming on yourself. NLP is about manipulating one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour through words, images and physical gestures designed to influence the subconscious. If you did not get a good outcome from an activity, focus on how it should have felt and come up with different words you’d use next time. Use images that represent your ideal life to make your subconscious believe you can attain dreams that were previously thought impossible. If the skills of successful people, such as the ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Steven Covey, can be modeled using NLP methodology, then anyone can acquire them through effort and reframing events and actions in your mind. The second habit states that if you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize what you want in life then you empower others to shape you, similar to the lyrics from the song ‘Make Yourself’ by Incubus:
If I hadn’t made me, I would’ve been made somehow. If I hadn’t assembled myself, I’d have fallen apart by now. If I hadn’t made me, I’d be more inclined to bow. Powers that be, would have swallowed me up. But that’s more than I can allow.
(Great songwriters notebook app)
The successful internet marketing entrepreneur Clay Collins wrote an awesome post about the concept of ‘abundance 2.0’ which is ‘the kind of abundance that doesn’t produce megalomaniacs’! It is about leading a ‘radically authentic life’, where you get paid for being you, quit the things that hold you back and have enough materials possessions to be happy. He argues, and I agree, that there is a cult around the concept of abundance put out by vehement proponents of The Secret’s interpretation of the law of attraction.
The phrase ‘positive thinking’ is linked to Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking who states that it’s about training yourself to see the world from a whole new perspective and creating your desired outcomes from focussing on positive thoughts. He states that it’s scientifically-proven that thoughts have a direct effect on feeling which, in turn, has a direct effect on behaviour and performance; if you think positively you will get positive results.
For the blogger Dave Navarro, positive thinking is more simply choosing thoughts that create positive feelings that make you take action. He states that when you believe your actions can make a difference, you’re more likely to act and that ‘looking on the bright side’ is simply using NLP to reframe a situation in your mind so that it makes you want to take action.
For the writer Jonathan Fields, for us to take action towards attaining a goal, we need to believe we can achieve the goal. He believes that repeatedly visualising accomplishing a goal has a profound effect; that repetition creates belief and the momentum to act.
When you believe in your potential and see an abundance of opportunities to achieve your goals you will start to interact differently with people. The confidence you give off will mean that people respond to you differently and be attracted by your energy. You then have to learn the fifth principle in actively choosing who you do business with.
THIRD PRINCIPLE: FIND AND REACH OUT TO PEOPLE LIVING THE LIFE YOU WANT
I’ve grown up and lived in Norwich, a slightly isolated city on the east coast of England, for most of my life. The trouble I’ve had since quitting my job and going it alone is that I’ve not met one person locally whose life I wanted and I’ve been told I’m a good networker.
I’ve found people setting up and growing agencies for the big win that I find inspiring and respect, but no-one who isn’t doing the ‘deferred life plan’ by creating and living the lifestyle they want now rather than in the future.
Fortunately we have Twitter – the best medium for both discovering awesome people and reaching out to them. Living in Boulder, CO I’ve met up with so many positive, entrepreneurial and creative people that I’ve created context with, to coin a Gary Vaynerchuk phrase, through conversations on twitter, Facebook, Skype and communities such as the Dynamite Circle: in fact a member met me from the bus station, took me out and connected me with other entrepreneurs.
If you feel stuck in your life, it’s likely due to the fact that the closest people to you who you spend the most time with are also stuck. If you surround yourself with successful, happy, healthy, positive, creative, entrepreneurial people then you will naturally develop these abilities and mindset. It was impossible for me to achieve this in my hometown.
For example the person who has massively inspired me to grow and work on my business (rather than in my business) is Dan Andrew from Tropical MBA. His and co-host / business partner’s podcast is my go to source for motivation and inspiration and so I reached out and asked the following question which he kindly answered:
Me: What advice would you give to finding a partner like Ian who shares your ambition / direction? I’ve done my 1,000 days myself and have built my biznass to over $5k/m mainly through SEO and now want to build something meaningful and think it would be way more productive with another one of me. Or perhaps it’s better to find an opposite that complements? Cheers, Richard
Dan: In general I recommend against partnering for skill sets or resources for people who are bootstrapping into new businesses. There was a great interview on Mixergy a while back where the founder described starting a new business as “going to war” and as a process that requires total focus. To that end, Ian and I have zero side projects (and if we demand one, like this blog for example, it gets rolled up into our primary holding company). “Going to war” generally requires some deep level of personal or professional affinity and that’s tough to find. Partnerships are like relationships, so it helps to put yourself in an environment where you are bumping into other entrepreneurs regularly, whether that’s something like DC or getting on a conference circuit etc. When you do decide to get down to biznass, I recommend a limited contract with clear timelines spelled out if you still have side projects or other businesses.
Equally only take advice from people whose lives you actually want. Don’t talk about business to your family if none of them are entrepreneurs and don’t sit there whilst being given unsolicited advice from friends which often happens when you’re unsure of your next move.
This book wouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting and useful if I hadn’t reached out to other coffee shop entrepreneurs to get their stories.
FOURTH PRINCIPLE: START BY MAKING MONEY FROM YOUR EFFORTS AND NOT PASSIONS – aka location independent business ideas
Neil Strauss, on an interview with Tim Ferris, said if you want to live your passion you have to be willing to not make money out of it to start with: “You either choose money or passion”. I agree which is why I advocate starting with what makes money.
Your passions by default are very active in terms of consuming time and it will be hard (unless you are one of the best in the world at something) to instantly monetise to make a good living. I think the initial goal should be to create as many income streams as possible to free up your time to then pursue your passions. And ironically the fastest way to achieving a lifestyle built on passive income (either websites converting traffic or outsourcing others to do your work) is through starting with the most active of income streams by trading time for money doing what you’re best at.
Marc Cuban is famous for saying that following your dreams is “horseshit” and instead you should follow your efforts as what you’re good at will make you happy. I totally agree with this – I’ve found out I’m good at understanding search engine optimisation (SEO) and that getting results for clients is very motivating. But it’s not my passion. My passion is living a location independent coffee shop lifestyle and SEO client work has helped create that for me.
I did a ski season in Whistler, Canada back in 05/06 as was super passionate about snowboarding. I considered training to be an instructor but decided instead to make money in a ski shop; my thinking was that turning my passion into a job could kill the enjoyment fast.
Then for the next three years I was super passionate about poker which I learned playing every night in the condo in Canada: I was in fact ‘all-in’. I decided I was going to make a living being an online professional poker player. I read every book, was on the forums for 6 hours a day, studied the math working out expected value calculations and tracked every hand. I ended up playing 30k hands a month over 6 tables a time and knew what my win rate needed to be to replace my salary. However I ran terribly (way below expected value) and lost my bankroll (the amount you have to play with; the asset to generate income from).
When you are losing in poker but playing ok the only thing you can do is to keep going – things theoretically will even out, over an infinite number of hands. Unfortunately, as my favourite economist John Maynard Keynes famously said, “In the long run we are all dead.” I wrote a blog post called ‘Choose your passions wisely’ and have been living this advice since.
To start making money online, start by offering services for other people’s businesses based on what you’re best at or most interested in improving in. I also totally advocate getting paid to learn a new skill, however this takes confidence in your ability to learn quickly and deliver when you say. I’ve been paid to learn and deliver for clients print publications (In Design), logo design (Illustrator) and web design (Photoshop). You get 30 days free trial with Adobe Creative Suite so you don’t even need to shell out on software first.
Make the most of these free trial opportunities to figure out 1) what you’re best at, 2) what makes the best money and 3) what is the least hassle. I no longer do web design as I’m not great and although it may pay ok it’s a major hassle dealing with clients changing their mind throughout the process; I would much rather deliver objective results such as SEO.
For me, faking it until you make it is a key skill and major part of transitioning from the 9 to 5 to a location independent lifestyle. The confidence being able to do this gives you can transfer into other aspects of your life such as approaching women if you are an ‘average frustrated chump’ like I used to be. In order to win over clients and potential partners, you need to be completely sincere in your ability to succeed, even if you are not completely confident in your abilities at that given moment.
So how do you actually get your first paying client? Well first up you’re likely going to have to do a few projects for free to build up your portfolio (as well as confidence). I created my first client website for a local coffee shop for free (it was far from great but they were happy as didn’t have one). Once you have some examples you can point to and talk about, then it’s time to create your own business site and create some leads. Your own site doesn’t have to look great, it just needs to be designed ok and have good enough content so that a potential client would feel confident giving you money. As Noah Kagan from AppSumo says, you need to validate your business idea, your service in this case, before you spend any money or invest much time.
I don’t want this to be a ‘how-to startup an online business’ book as there are too many of those and Google has all the answers anyway (check out the great post by Sean Ogle titled The five most essential online skills for starting your first business online such as copywriting, wordpress, SEO, design, and coding) but a lot of friends ask me how to get started and this is my advice:
Buy your own name domain, such as www.richardpatey.com – I use www.123-reg.co.uk
Get a low cost web hosting company with the ability to do one-click wordpress installations and point your domain at their nameservers – I use www.dreamhost.com
Install WordPress and then setup Gmail on your domain – Google how to set up the DNS, in particular MX records (not easy first time but you need to know how if you offer this service to others).
Purchase a decent drag and drop wordpress framework where you don’t need to do any coding other than basic CSS and copy & pasting HTML – I use headwaythemes.com
On the homepage, put a decent photo of yourself with a short bio linking to an about you page where you list your expertise. An expert is someone who knows slightly more than someone else so don’t get hung up on the fact that you don’t think you’re good enough.
Read the Moz.com beginners guide to SEO and use the google keyword tool to find exact match search phrases that you can target and promote to your audience such as skill+location i.e. [seo norwich] which my friends at Square Social are currently crushing. You won’t need to rank for now (it will be unlikely you’ll get your first client that way) you just need to know the basics.
Spend the day walking around your home city going to all your favourite businesses. Check out the coffee shop’s website, does it suck? Do you think your favourite restaurant’s logo could be better aligned with the brand / experience? Does your local clothing shop use social media? Does your local snowboard shop which also sells on its site target the best keywords for search traffic?
Come up with a list of 5 businesses that could benefit from design / online marketing improvements.
Come up with 5 bullet points for what you would do to improve their ability to reach and convert more customers. You need to present your work in money terms – i.e. by paying you £500/m you believe you will bring them an additional £2000 per month.
Email them and make the tone warm. Make it sound as if you really don’t need the money, you just wanted to help them.
The cold emails I sent below converted into an initial £500 a month retainer:
This was the first email (I’ve since got a ton better at writing copy and think this is actually pretty poor but still worked):
Dear Graham / Rachael
I’m currently emailing from the Warings Café which I have been frequenting / working from with my MacBook (great chai latte!). I offer digital marketing services for small businesses with a focus on search engine optimisation as well as creating and sharing content through social media to direct targeted traffic to websites that convert into sales.
I have taken a look at your site and notice a number of ways which content could be altered and created to pull in more visitors through search engines and social media.
It would be great to meet with you both (apparently you are in the café early most days?) and to have a brief chat about your website and whether you have Google Analytics running to track traffic and what keywords you want to appear for in search. For example I could create content to generate backlinks so that when people typed ‘contract furniture’ (which gets over 12,000 searches a month in the UK) into Google your site would appear on the first page. Please take a look at the attached screenshot of where the site currently ranks for a number of keywords.
I didn’t hear back so exactly one month later I sent a follow up:
Hi Rachael / Graham
I’m currently sitting in your café (another chai latté!) and thought I’d just send a friendly reminder to the email I sent last month about SEO on your site.
I really think I could add a lot of value through search and social and make you more money. From doing further analysis I can see that your highest value back link is from http://www.channel5.com/shows/the-hotel-inspector/suppliers/series-8-suppliers-bodkin-house that most sites link to you with the word ‘restaurant furniture’ and that your homepage has had 8 shares on Facebook.
It would be great to meet with you.
This got a meeting with the directors where I closed a monthly retainer at £500/m which I got up to £800/m four months later after upselling additional services. So how did that go down? At the meeting I talked about the services I offered, they asked about my career to date and existing clients and whether I had the time and resource to take them on (yes and yes). I brought my MacBook and showed them the aspects of their site I recommended improving, where they currently ranked for search terms and how much additional traffic I thought I could generate.
You need to build rapport and trust quickly and also impress on the potential client that it’s actually more of a risk not to take you on than to take you on, that the upside is so much greater than the potential downside that you may not do what you say. You also need to know when to show your hand, i.e. your price. This was only discussed at the very end of the meeting and is based on a gut feeling of the most they would be comfortable to pay. I said £500 a month and they said yes. If this were Groundhog Day I’d start with £750 next time and so on. Gary Vaynerchuk has a great video on YouTube from a keynote called ‘Supply and Demand’ about how to price your services using this approach!
As soon as you get your first client you’re making money. It’s not like building up passive income from ad or affiliate revenue which can take 6-12 months of creating content; it can be the case that just 3 clients can replace your previous income from a job. It’s the quickest way I know to start and build an income.
When starting up it’s critical to manage your cashflows, to get payment up front and not to be paid on results at the beginning, rather on your efforts. Some things are just out of your control. New Google search algorithms can destroy online businesses overnight. Don’t promise first page Google or let your initial income be dependent on if you can get a client site to rank. Don’t offer a fixed price web design with unlimited changes that can run for months and be a time sink that crushes your cashflow. When you’re trading time for income you need to make sure you do it effectively, especially at the start of your journey.
Having said this, in order to start picking up clients an effective strategy is to offer a guarantee, if you need to, by saying something like ‘in the event you feel I am not meeting the standards described in this agreements / based on our mutual conversations and agreements, I will refund your entire months fee upon such notification’ which is adapted from the successful search & social agency Square Social who I partnered with, outsourced and sold my clients to (more detail in next section).
Only when you’re able to make a living from online business would I recommend figuring out how to make a living from your passions. Right now for me it’s this book.
FIFTH PRINCIPLE: CHOOSE THE PEOPLE YOU WANT TO DO BUSINESS WITH
After you get your first few clients or customers you will need to actively choose what opportunities you convert and which people you deal with both in business and in life.
You will have problems with clients, you cannot imagine. After an initial meeting, a new client asked to be my friend on Facebook, but because I have a policy of only having actual friends on Facebook; (through regular culling and by capping it at 100 to get the ticker) I didn’t accept him. He then followed me (previously called subscribing) and left a negative comment on one of my posts. I didn’t respond, so to then get my attention he followed up by saying he wasn’t happy with the amount of work I’d done in the first month and that I needed to make it up before he would pay me any more money. I replied, breaking down the value I had given, and said I would not be able to do anything else on the SEO / social campaign until I received all of the next month’s money up front. He agreed. After reading The Game by Neil Strauss, I’m aware that the pick up community would call this a ‘congruence test’ – a test to see whether you are aligned with the value you are representing. I would have walked away, and this emotional detachment is necessary in business, as it is in poker and in life, to achieve the outcome you want.
For your first (anchor) client you will likely be happy with almost anyone (as you are starting from a scarce position) but over time you need to weed out the ones who don’t value your work, don’t pay on time (or up front) and who are just plain needy, by focussing on your ideal client and putting filters in place to prevent the bad ones from reaching you. I’ve previously allowed bad clients to burn me out and make me ill; to be the last thing I thought about lying in bed and the first thing in the morning. That state is almost worse than working a job.
You need to avoid anxious people as anxiety is contagious; your vagus nerve can pick up on uptight vibes. As the athlete and son of a neurosurgeon, Christopher Bergland states that because anxiety is catching, he will remove himself from proximity to people who are ‘negative, cynical or doubtful of my ability to hit-it-out-of-the-park in a high stakes situation.’ (The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure | Psychology Today). Look out for warning signs that a potential client may struggle to pay or may be too needy. The best clients are business-like; are willing to pay good money for good results.
When you build your confidence in picking up client work, you start to see opportunities everywhere. It does not matter whether you believe you create these new opportunities or whether it’s just that you’re more observant; what you need to start doing is to actively be selective in choosing the ones you convert or close.
If you deal with people as they come to you, it can and will often be overwhelming, especially when you’re used to coming from a scarce / desperate mindset that is more familiar. You need to learn to say no to opportunities as tempting as they may appear; you only have so much time and attention and you may miss out on far better opportunities more aligned with who you are and what you want to achieve.
Great entrepreneurs always focus on the product and not the money. As a solopreneur your product is yourself, your brand, so focus on what you want rather than what other people want. This is completely different from saying hold out for the ideal client or partner – it is about actively choosing rather than taking what comes next or holding out for perfection that will never arrive.
You need to be aware of, and understand, your behaviours and tendencies. Playing online poker was destructive for me as I could not moderate my behaviour – I got so absorbed that everything else just didn’t seem as important. My thinking was that every hour I wasn’t playing to make money was an hour wasted. I’ve had this same feeling after reading The Game by Neil Strauss and finally understanding the signals that women put out when they are attracted. I was previously clueless and actually thought it was rude and uncomfortable to maintain eye contact; however it was me that was uncomfortable internally.
After working on myself, my natural state is to now look out for all opportunities, be that friendships, business opportunities, relationships and I do this by being in the present (meditation has helped massively). When you remove the blinkers on life you need to moderate your own behaviour otherwise the opportunities that present themselves everywhere can consume you.
Rather than it being a complement, or feeling like a positive thing, getting indicators of interest from an attractive girl (who I would never have normally noticed or not normally received having previously walked around with my eyes averted) has made me feel as if the only thing that matters is getting a phone number, and that if I don’t it’s not only a loss but that I am also the loser. As Clay Collins says in his excellent post about the ‘goal auto immune disorder’, our goals can be our worst enemies and the goal of seeking attraction started to own me like poker did and led me to an unbalanced internal state.
As Clay states, after we free ourselves from the 9 to 5 or repressive relationships we often fail to find true freedom due to the repressive nature of the ego-driven structure that we replace this with:
‘A goal that was supposed to empower you made you feel like a loser, it became a little tyrant running your life. All this really has everything to do with the screwed up tactics of…The Goal Goblin’
Developing awareness, being in the present and having a positive outlook (from feeling positive inside) really is powerful stuff and traditional institutions don’t teach you how to handle this new reality as they don’t help you create it in the first place.
Often the only thing holding you back is your perspective. Once you switch this you have to learn far more self-discipline than before. As Natalie Sisson says about her book ‘The Suitcase Entrepreneur:
“Develop the freedom based mindset to truly live life on your own times. If you’re prepared to put in the work, hustle and commitment it takes then there is no better time than now to choose your own adventure and make it a reality”
As a solopreneur, you will reach a point when you have taken on too much work than you can personally do. This happened when I took on my sixth client and subsequently had so much correspondence that I had little time to actually work on the SEO campaigns which resulted in me becoming too stressed to cope. I was incredibly anxious in even looking at my client email, so something big had to change.
The simple act of paying someone else money to do your work for you can be a big stumbling block for solopreneurs. You feel that you could do the work better than others (not necessarily true at all) and it feels as if you would be just donating money away that would otherwise be in your pocket. But going back to the concept of having multiple currencies, getting more time back has a cost.
Once you start paying to get your time back, you just may continue until you have outsourced everything; the time you free up can be spent on your passion projects such as writing this book.
It’s hard paying someone for the first time; up to that point, other than dabbling in ecommerce and Adsense, I had spent my whole life being paid to trade time for money in jobs and from clients. I was used to being the employee: I’m even an employee of the company that I own!
Moving from an employee mindset to an owner mindset is a necessary transition to be able to thrive in the location independent economy. Once you remove yourself from being the bottleneck in your business, from being the person that limits capacity, that is the single point of failure, you really start to be in business. You can focus on bringing in new clients which are serviced by others.
Right now, for me, I don’t see taking on employees as congruent with my definition of freedom. The path I took was to outsource and then ultimately sell.
A local agency in my home city of Norwich, UK, Square Social was set up by a four hungry university graduates looking to build a big SEO and social agency and go for the big exit. Whilst this approach is not for me or the classic location independent way (as it’s deferring obtaining your ideal lifestyle) I have massive respect for anyone growing a business and it’s great to be able to work with others who are ambitious in different ways. The agency was looking to pick up as many new clients as possible and knew that I had a number of clients on monthly retainers and so offered to do all the work for me, and do the client management (be the contact for the client) for just half of what I was being paid.
This was a super attractive offer as it meant that I could free up all of my time to work on creating other income streams, albeit on half the income: a great trade! However I had to trust them before I gave them my client contacts, so we started for a couple of months with them doing all the work and me continuing to be the client liaison and get paid directly. After I felt (again all I had was my gut) that these guys were winners and trustworthy, I then gave them the client contacts to run everything and take me out of the equation – I had outsourced the outcome.
I knew, however, that they would prefer to have the clients themselves and would be better motivated receiving 100% of the money to produce the best results, and I wanted to build my cash runway (a concept Dan Andrews talks about which is how many months cash you have as an entrepreneur before you have to get a job!) so I proposed that they purchase my clients from me.
We agreed that I would get paid 1x, 2x or 3x monthly multiples dependent on whether we could get my clients into 3, 6 or 12 month contracts with them. I set up meetings with the clients where I brought the guys in and explained the proposed transition and amazingly every single one agreed. I ended up with an additional £5k to my cash runway and am now their international business development guy, where I bring in new SEO clients for them from the States. Real life interactions have the best affiliate deals!
SIXTH PRINCIPLE: REALISE THE GAME IS SOCIAL
The mobile lifestyle can be a lonely existence, so you need to develop your social muscle.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test is a questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. I was forced to complete this a number of times in jobs I’ve done (and therefore thought it was bullshit) but always came out the same; interestingly after being in business for over 1000 days my makeup has not changed. I am apparently more extroverted (E) than introverted, I act on intuition (N) more than sensing, I act on feelings (F) more than thinking and I go with what I perceive (P) (and with the flow) more than I judge.
Apparently people who prefer extraversion draw energy from others, which is certainly a big reason why I need to work from coffee shops, and they tend to act rather than reflect which is the essence of entrepreneurship. As the previous chapters show, I truly believe you can change your personality (as well as your reality), however, according to the psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung, one type of attitude (feeling or thinking) is inherently used in a more conscious or confident way.
You need to understand and be aware of who you are, how you act and what thoughts you focus on in order to start rewiring and optimising yourself to play the social game. Remember, opportunities are everywhere, and rather than being detached in an office, your customers can be sitting right next to you in coffee shops.
Equally, becoming social is critical to achieving your own passion projects and thriving in the new economy, such as writing your first book. You need to build a community who cares about you and the best way to do that is to genuinely care about and become interested in others: about the people around you in the coffee shop, at the supermarket etc. You need to build interactions and reach out everywhere; you need to approach people and open up as many conversations as possible.
If you can become fully relaxed in your own skin and can look someone in the eye with warmth rather than fear, you will become incredibly attractive and interesting to people.
People will start to approach you as you become more approachable; you become interesting by being interested.
Building community can, initially, be most effective offline and starts with where you are. Build off the positive and curious energy of others you are attracting, i.e. why is this dude looking so happy working off his laptop?! Recommend to others content on your site they may find useful and encourage them to like your Facebook page.
Back in the online world, if someone reaches out to you for advice, you should feel obligated to respond, more from a business sense than moral. If someone asks you to guest post or interview for their site or review their book on Amazon, this actually becomes a priority. You have to pay it forward when starting out and build your network by being as helpful as possible. Come across someone you respect and see how they could improve their operation? Reach out and ask for nothing in return. As Dan Andrews says, in the Tropical MBA podcast, it takes a lot of time (x-axis) before the hockey stick of success kicks off. And as Gary Vaynerchuk says you need to stay patient and humble.
Outside business you need to connect with people that build you up and move you towards optimal performance in life. I’ve spent the last six months going deep on fitness and nutrition. I’ve been on the Tim Ferriss slow carb diet, the ketogenic diet and I’ve been working on putting useful muscle on and becoming more supple. As the awesome Kelly Starrett from MobilityWOD states, you can’t break down the tissue in your bicep or tricep by yourself, you need a partner and you need to reciprocate to keep it at a friendly level (clue: it’s painful).
Be sociable in your new office environment: the coffee shop. As a solopreneur I’ve tried co-working spaces and considered renting space a couple of times, but the allure of espresso and the social dynamics of coffee shops wins every time.
Unfortunately, members of this new mobile community (and I would hope it’s more remote job workers than entrepreneurs) have not been playing nicely. The terms ‘laptop hobo’ and ‘laptop squatter’ are now frequently used on news sites and blogs; coffee shop owners are having to take action, through limiting wifi and power outlets, against people who take up space all day and only buy a coffee.
I’m never at coffee shops during lunchtime, not so much out of respect, but as it’s a busier and less productive environment to work in. The strap line of the ingenious startup coffitivity.com is ‘increase your creativity’. This site plays background coffee shop noise whilst you work from your laptop at home, as it’s scientifically proven that a certain level of background noise can aid concentration and creativity.
Chris Ward, in his ebook Out Of Office, states that he likes to be immersed in the buzz of people in coffee shops and advocates the concept of ‘flow’: moments where there is no distinction between work and play. Since reducing client work to a bare minimum, the whole process of writing this book and researching the publishing process has been a state of flow for me. Long may it continue.
This is from the Location Independence Resources Hub