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This came from Gary V and whether you love or hate him (or whether I badly summarized this quote and forgot his exact words), it’s 100% true.
There have never been more resources available and a lower cost to entry for people who want to start their own business.
Almost three years ago I bought a $100 Blue Yeti mic off Amazon, watched free tutorials on how to start a podcast, and three months after releasing The RV Entrepreneur Podcast episodes each week, a company offered me $250 to put an ad on my show.
It wasn’t much money, but at the time it felt surreal. Someone was actually going to pay me for this thing I was gladly already doing for free.
What started out as me wanting to interview fellow nomads about their business to learn how to grow my own business has since turned into a conference, new client relationships, an ebook, and other opportunities that have netted us over $100k in income. (Not to mention I still love it.)
And it all started by chasing one single curiosity: “What if I started a podcast and interviewed other people about life on the road?”
Another example I love sharing is from our friends Kara and Nate, who we just spent the past two weeks caravanning with in Canada.
In 2015, Kara and Nate Skyped us, wanting to get some advice about camera gear. They were planning a year of traveling the world and wanted to document the adventure. While they had zero experience in film—Nate was running his own t-shirt business and Kara was a pre-school teacher—they wanted to try video and figured why not go all in?
They took their savings and spent a year traveling and documenting their trip via daily vlogs on Youtube. Along the way, people started following along and their Youtube videos started producing a small income (not enough to live on yet, but enough to see the potential).
Flash forward to 2018, Kara and Nate took home a Shorty Award for best travel vlog on Youtube (which is insanely amazing!) and will make a modest six-figure income from Youtube. All this from something they had never done before!
I’m convinced that if you’re willing to learn new skills, work your face off, and are willing to constantly tweak your approach — there’s never been a better time to make a living doing what you love.
And you may be reading this and thinking, “Cool story Heath, but I have zero interest in starting a Youtube channel or a podcast. Also, I’m not rich and can’t afford to take a year off and travel the world.”
Here’s what I would say in response:
Yes, there are a lot of opportunities to make money as a creator, but virtually all businesses have a lower cost to entry than before.
For instance, to invent and start your own product line in the past and source items from manufacturers, you actually had to visit those manufacturers across the globe. Now, you can log into Alibaba and have product samples delivered to your doorstep within weeks or days. Then, your Amazon store can be launched within hours (I dug into how to start an Amazon FBA store recently with Tim & Fin here on the podcast).
Plus, you don’t have to be rich to travel or create paid opportunities for yourself, only resourceful and a little bold.
Alyssa and I had less than $20k in the bank before we hit the road and no existing client business or income to rely on during our travels. Instead of coming up with the excuse that we couldn’t afford to travel for a year, I sent a cold email to a job board and pitched them on an idea I had for working jobs in all 50 states. I brought them on as a sponsor for our travels and they even sent us the equipment we needed to film our documentary.
I want to dedicate today’s blog to the people who are interested in making a living by doing their own thing.
And like with all business/self-help style advice, you’ll have to take this with a grain of salt. Because what has worked for me, might not work for you.
Regardless, I wanted to share 9 lessons with you that I feel have been incredibly helpful for us as we’ve worked to build a six-figure business, doing things we love:
#1 Don’t waste time in a job that isn’t pushing you to become a better version of yourself (unless that job gives you enough freedom to pursue your own thing on the side).
While you need to make enough money to survive, there are few things as soul-sucking as being in a job you hate. My biggest fear is wasting my precious time here on this Earth doing something I don’t really care about or that doesn’t really matter.
Unless a job pays so well you can make a full-time income and have enough time to spend working on and growing your own thing, I would look for a way out. It’s too easy to become complacent and drift further away from what you want to be doing. And then all of a sudden two years have passed and you’re wondering why on Earth you’re still in the same place.
Life is way too short to settle for mediocre.
#2 Identify a profitable skill that you’re willing to learn over the next 3-5 years and practice daily.
Working my first year out of college, I realized that my only two profitable skills were selling software and moving furniture. Ultimately, I could only do so much with those two skills that would directly impact my future. I wanted a skill that I could potentially monetize, but also one I could do forever and not grow tired of it. I already hated my job in sales and moving furniture was exhausting.
I’ve always loved writing and the idea that I could actually be paid for it was nuts. So I spent mornings and evenings after my day job writing blog posts that nobody read and trying in vain to not end my sentences in prepositions. Alyssa was doing the same thing on her blog and we both proofread each other’s work (and probably were the sole readers of our blogs).
It took years, but eventually, we built up enough experience in writing to be paid to write for companies. Alyssa and I have both written books and have to pinch each other that we’re able to make money doing something that we would do (and have done) gladly for free.
If you’re just getting started, find something that doesn’t feel like work and that would make you ecstatic if someone ever paid you to do it. There’s an endless amount of free tutorials on Youtube for almost any skill you can think of (design, development, photographer, video, etc) plus most local libraries offer free access to courses on sites like Lynda.com.
#3 Set realistic goals.
I used to be terrible at goal-setting (and sometimes I still am). It’s embarrassing. I once told my mom I was going to drop out of college, but she shouldn’t worry because I’d be a millionaire soon. I know, I deserved a good backhand.
If you’ve never made money at something, it’s unlikely you’ll make six figures at it within the first year of trying it. It’s possible and you’ll see success stories shared on social media, but it’s highly unlikely.
It’s important to remember that every single person who makes a decent living at something they love started out doing it for free or next to nothing.
For our first video client, we charged $1,400 for three months of video + consulting work. In the moment, I was terrified that I was overcharging. In hindsight, it was a steal for our client and we ended up working almost full-time for pennies on the dollar. We also learned more about handling client expectations, coaching, time management, and how to wow your clients so they give you referrals.
It’s better to start small and get as much experience as you can than to aim for making a ton of money right out of the gate. As long as you deliver your product or service, you’ll be able to scale prices and earn more over time.
Alyssa and I have a Google spreadsheet with over 30 different streams of income on it from 2018. Some of these income streams are really small ($10 – $50/month) and others, like Alyssa’s book sales, are in the thousands.
While we’ve worked hard to diversify our income streams, I 100% expect any of these income streams to go away tomorrow (because they could and have). That’s why we keep 30 options.
I’ve seen too many people who have heavily relied on one platform, one affiliate, or one client, only to lose that income stream and scramble. While some income streams would hurt more if they disappeared, the odds of all of them going away at the same time are significantly small.
#5 Spend money on only what is necessary.
I had terrible spending habits before I met Alyssa. When we started shooting videos, those habits carried over. I wanted to buy the most expensive equipment, even though we were making very little money. My rationale to Alyssa was that if we had nicer equipment we could charge more for our services. While not completely untrue, her logic was more sound.
Alyssa’s strategy was that we should get more paying clients and then if there was enough profit left over, we could maybe buy a nicer camera.
Her strategy has kept us profitable from early on and we’ve taken this same approach with everything we do.
For instance, instead of hiring a designer or professional web developer to build our website, we learned WordPress and did it all ourselves (while it’s far from perfect, it supports over 100k monthly page views and ranks high for a lot of keywords in the RV space).
By spending as little money on possible we’ve been able to keep our overhead low and survive during slow months.
Before going out to spend money on something new, ask yourself if it is 100% necessary to your existing business. If it’s not, save it.
#6 Remember that trust means everything.
This one is a bit more relevant for content creators, but really applies to every entrepreneur.
The number #1 asset in 2018 is trust. If people don’t trust what you have to say, nothing else matters (even if your product/service is great).
Here’s what I’ve seen over and over again: Someone starts a blog, they get five followers, and promptly launch a $500 ecourse on how to build an audience. Or they start RVing and instantly say “let me teach you how to make money while traveling…even though I’ve only been traveling for a week.”
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with creating products or services for a community you’ve created. However, trust has to come first and it doesn’t come overnight. People can tell when you aren’t being genuine and are just trying to make money versus actually providing real value.
If you’re about to sell something to your audience, I would ask the following questions first:
1. Is the goal of selling this thing to benefit you or your audience?
2. Have you built up enough trust and rapport with your followers?
3. Do you wholeheartedly believe in what you’re selling?
If the answer is no to 2 or 3 or if it’s more to benefit you, it will never be worth it. As a creator, there’s always going to be opportunities to sell out or make an extra buck, but what you lose in trust won’t be worth what you gain.
The best feeling is getting an email from someone who bought something we recommended and loves it. The worst feeling is the opposite of that happening, which as hard as you try will always happen at some point.
Trust is crucial.
#7 Master the art of the proposal.
If you’re in a service-based business, proposals are everything. My approach with proposals is pretty straightforward. I listen a ton and talk very little in the first meeting or two. Next, I think about whether or not I’m a good fit for solving their problem (or if I want to actually work with them). If I’m not a good fit, I’ll tell them so and suggest someone I know who would be a better fit.
A couple of years ago a friend recommended us to a potential client and during our call I realized they were actually better equipped to do themselves what they were asking of us. I told them they were welcome to hire us, but that with their experience, they probably wouldn’t feel like we knew much more than they did.
Even though the bump in income would be nice, creating a reputation as someone who was honest would be better. Plus, I didn’t think they would have been as satisfied hiring us, so it wouldn’t have been worth it in the long run.
If the client is a good fit, there are two things I make sure and do in every proposal:
First, I write down why I’m the best person to solve their problem or why it makes sense for them to work with me.
Second, I write down what would be the next actionable steps we should take to get started.
I’ll also include costs and project timeline, but the “why” and “next steps” are really what every client needs to know. This is what convinces them to hire you over whoever else they’re vetting. Including reasons why the client should hire me shows them I’ve thought through why this makes sense from their perspective.
#8 Create a bridge business.
In the book The One Thing (one of my all-time favorites), Gary Keller talks about finding the fulcrum. It’s essentially the “one thing” you can do next that is going to make everything else easier. A similar term I really like and have used a lot is called “a bridge business” (a term I heard first from Bryanna Royal, who is speaking at our Summit in March!).
A bridge business is where you create revenue while working toward a bigger long-term goal, like quitting your day job or creating lasting passive income. Often this looks like starting a service-based business using your skills and then leveraging that into a product-based business or whatever your dream business is. A great example of this my friend David who spent his days building websites with customers and then created website themes and plugins (AKA products) that allowed him to make money without investing so much of his time.
Products often take longer to develop and monetize, while a service is something you can charge for relatively quickly. This is the beauty of the bridge business. You build up your experience and reputation through clients while you build your products on the side. Then once you’re ready to sell, you’ve established authority and have an audience.
For instance, a few years ago I decided I wanted to be able to spend more time blogging and podcasting. However, those things weren’t generating enough revenue to be my full-time gig yet. I needed to pursue client work to bring in revenue in the interim and I needed enough time to focus on growing my blog and podcast.
Creating a bridge business was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it was worth it. I would do all of the work for our paying clients first and treat blogging and podcasting like a side hustle. Essentially, you’re running two different businesses (one that is paying the bills and one you hope can eventually pay the bills). This way we were able to be practical and pay off our student debt without giving up our dream of running a profitable blog.
If you want to be successful at building a bridge business, there’s a good chance it will be slightly miserable (or overwhelming or confusing or feeling like you’re being pulled in two different directions) for a while. The upside is that done right it offers you freedom while you’re working towards your long-term goals.
#9 Know when you’ve reached your goal and what your runway is.
While there’s never a right time to take a chance, quit your job, or go travel — there’s actually a pretty straightforward time for when you should go all-in on what you love doing most: when it’s making enough money support you.
We stopped taking on client projects in March of this year, waiting until our student debt was paid off and our blog was consistently making $5,000/month.
Before that point, we never considered the idea of dropping client projects. It was too risky. Plus, if you don’t mind the client work, why would you turn down the additional income?
Instead, we doubled up on work for another six months (juggling multiple clients while planning our Summit, launching a book, and running our blog). It was a crazy few months, but it enabled us to pad our savings and make a comfortable transition into running our blog, podcast, and Youtube channel full-time.
There’s a nice appeal to drop everything and go all-in on your passion from the get-go, but that’s not always realistic. There’s a time for big risks and there’s a time to keep your head down working and crunching the numbers until you know you can make something work. As much as I love being the guy that tells you to go all in and leap before you look, creating a sustainable business requires a bit more thought and probably more time than you realize.
I could have included a lot more here, but 3,000 words is probably enough for today. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned in the past year while working on your business? Drop a comment below, would love to hear from you.