riding the Ferriss wheel…

Hands up how many of you have read The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss?

Most of you.  As I thought.  Me too.

And now hands up how many of you have successfully created passive businesses which take up almost none of your time yet which generate enough monthly income to indulge in exciting leisure pursuits and world travel?

Nope, me neither.

Now, I ain’t knocking Mr Ferriss.  Not by any stretch.  I like him and his books.  In fact, The Mack and I have a shared fantasy about which one of us he would choose to marry if he had the choice.  Let’s just say I’m edging it.

a pied-piper for the 21st century 

For those who haven’t read the book, here’s a quick recap.  Tim (I feel ok calling him Tim, after all, we are to be married) says that it’s possible to escape the 9 to 5 grind, to outsource the admin side of your life to overseas virtual assistants and to develop businesses which run themselves, freeing you up to spend your life taking adventure holidays and learning new skills.  And in his book he shares his very detailed blueprint for how you do all this.

Wondrous, I hear you say.  Where do I sign?

I know.  Revolutionary.  I felt exactly the same way.  In fact, Tim was probably the single biggest catalyst for me leaving my job and adopting my new attitude towards the work/life balance (ditch the work, get a life).  He is smart, authoritative, engaging and his vision is hugely compelling.  Who wouldn’t want to follow him to the promised land?

I still think that the book is essential reading for anyone wanting to get more perspective and flexibility into their working life.  It’s just that in the intervening years since the first edition of the book came out (2007), an awful lot has changed in the world and I’m not sure whether the lifestyle oasis that Tim’s guiding us towards isn’t a bit of a mirage.

the abridged version

From a business perspective, it doesn’t make sense for Tim to scrap his existing template and revise his whole book to bring it bang up to date (and I appreciate that the 2011 edition does try to do a bit of that).  But I don’t have anything invested, so I’m going to do it for him.  It’s what any good wife would do…

Chapter 1.  Time Management and Productivity

I, like Tim, do not read newspapers (I’m a happy ignoramus).  I try not to spend hours on the world wide waste of time unless I’m actively looking for something I need.  I also try to limit my consumption of the general pointless amount of white noise and dross that makes up most of the (social) media nowadays.

Update:  The amount of blah blah seems to increase year on year.  Stop trying to ingest all the information that is available to you.  Be uber-selective.  If it really is news, you’ll hear about it.  Limit yourself to one Daily Mail Showbiz binge a month – any more than that and you might as well repeatedly smash your head against the nearest wall – research has shown it has the same effect on your brain.  

I also try to do important tasks in the morning, before I’ve found too much time for procrastination and diversion.  And I try to do them in chunks, so that there’s a greater chance I will complete them.  The alternative is a sorry trail of half-finished projects looking at me reproachfully as I try to slink out the door unnoticed at the end of the day.

Update: Everything nowadays is billed as urgent.  Don’t fall for it.  There is a world of difference between something that is important and urgent and something that is just urgent.  Be disciplined and stick to your guns.  Do your most important tasks before midday.  Then mentally take the rest of the day off.  You’ve earned it.

However, unlike Tim, I don’t find it necessary to limit responding to email only twice a day at allotted times.  I haven’t set up automated voicemail systems and email bounce-backs with instructions to my correspondents.  Nor have I bothered to set up timers that kick me off the internet if they feel I’ve been spending too long looking at dogs for adoption from Battersea.

Update: By all means, if you are an email/internet/facebook/twitter/angry birds addict and your attention span without Ritalin is that of an ADHD gnat, then might I suggest the radical move of not opening those applications until you’ve finished your work.  But unless you are a really, really busy important person (and, in fairness, Tim is probably one of those), I wouldn’t bother with installing a fortress-like time management regime – it mainly makes you look pompous and, ironically, like you have too much time on your hands.

Chapter 2.  Outsource the Boring Stuff

When my younger sister was out of work and I was working crazy hours, I used to pay her to do those errands that I never had time for.  It was the perfect arrangement.  She got a bit of cash to tide her over, I had dry-cleaned clothes and food in the house and my bills were paid on time.  It was what I imagine having a wife must be like.

So I am all in favour of paying someone to help you with tasks if your time is taken up elsewhere or if it is better spent doing other things.

Tim recommends using a virtual assistant.  Mainly based in India or increasingly the Philippines, you pay your VA company an hourly rate (you can bulk-buy time to save money) and you are assigned an assistant who will perform admin, research or similar tasks for you.

Great idea and, back in 2007, probably quite exciting places for a young, bright graduate in those countries to work.  Fast-forward 5 years and it seems as though those graduates are being funneled into jobs with Google and Apple instead.  Hmmm.

Update: Recent experience with some of the big firms (AskSunday, Brickwork) has been underwhelming.  The assistants have struggled to cope with anything but incredibly basic web-research and cut-and-paste tasks, one explaining that he “was not skilled in summarising or tables”.  Okay then.  Unless you get lucky and find a good one, at around $12/hour, I don’t think it’s worth it for all but the most routine and boring research tasks that you just cannot make yourself do.

Some of my friends use Elance, oDesk and 99designs to find freelance contractors.  Again, reviews have been mixed, so I wouldn’t rely on these outsourced services for anything that is commercially important or time-sensitive.

Chapter 3.  Passive Aggressive Business Building

I really want to believe that it’s possible to create a business that isn’t resource heavy, that can just live on in the background, quietly raking in the money whilst you sun yourself in Acapulco (erm, wasn’t that the plot to that weird Phil Collins film, Buster…?).

And believe you me, I have dissected the step-by-step guide on how to do this, from researching a niche market, picking your product, testing uptake, figuring out how to automate the fulfillment process etc.  And I think that all of this is really sound advice for any start-up business.

But the bottom line is, I think the concept of a passive business is pretty much a holy grail situation.  If found, it’s a happy accident and you’re going to be rich and famous.  One example I came across recently was a former sports fan forum site that made millions for its owners when they added affiliate links to betting sites.  Genius.  But pure fluke.

Most businesses take years, time, money, commitment and aggressive focus to deliver any sort of real return. This isn’t a get-rich-quick solution, no matter how it’s presented.

The way I look at it is through Tim’s own path.  He learned the lessons presented in the book through doing things the hard way.  He’s developed some sensible principles to shortcut many of the hurdles he encountered.  But the fact is that he now makes his money on the back of his books, which required huge amounts of research, time, effort, promotion etc., etc.  So don’t expect instant success on an £11.99 paperback investment.

Update: Read Tim’s book for overall inspiration and to get a feel for how you might build out a business.  Take the building blocks from 4HWW around ideation of your business (it’s always easier to sell what you know, so what are your interests? what opportunities do you spot within your interest group?), assumption testing (cheap marketing and advertising tools, the basics on adwords, launch pages etc.), the 80/20 rule (focus on the 20% of customers who represent 80% of your sales), but expect to put some hard graft in too. 

Epilogue

4HWW is a best-seller for a reason.  It’s an easily digestible introduction to engineering a better working life.  I think it’s particularly helpful for us corporate-whores who struggle to see a life outside of the big box.  So if you’re looking to make lifestyle resolutions this New Year, then get a copy for Christmas.

Just keep in mind when you’re reading and dreamlining that it’s not a miracle overnight prescription.  Tim makes it sound so easy, but I can promise you that it’s a bit of a slog on the other side.  However, given that I’m writing this from a beach bar in Goa, I’d definitely agree that the section on mini-retirement definitely has something going for it…

putting off procrasti-nation: part II

Part I in this series focused on the positives of procrastination as a way of allowing ideas to germinate in the headspace you create when doing very little.

Which is great, until I remember that just sitting around having ideas without acting on any of them is basically loafing. And it’s not helping my cash-flow.

But what to do? I am preternaturally disposed toward hibernation. Yes: in October. How then to motivate myself to get my arse in gear and start a business, when winter is practically upon us and I should probably concentrate on keeping warm..??

3 task challenge

Well, over dinner the other night, I casually mentioned to my gentleman friend* (as my great-aunt Lizza calls him) that there were a few things I wanted to get done this week for my business stuff. He shared a few of his own.  We decided it’d be a good idea for each of us to email the other with our top 3 tasks each Monday, with a deadline of Thursday to complete them or chase their progress.

If that sounds a little too 90s New Age self-help:

Bleurgghh.  Don’t worry.

This is gamification, baby.  You versus me.  Boy against girl.  Pure, raw, primal competition. Type A against Type A+ (me, natch). Grrrrrrrrrr. Bring it.

See. It works. You’re already feeling pumped up and ready to take on the world. Or at least to send that email you’ve been putting off for weeks.

Let me tell you, I got more done on that Monday than in the two weeks prior. And a Monday following a boozy, lost weekend, no less … unheard of.  And the gentleman friend*?  Well, last time I checked, he was consoling himself with his first loser podium place.  Better luck next time, punk.

So post your 3 tasks for this week on this blog. Then pick yourself a mutual motivator – it needs to be someone who will be merciless in their mockery if you bail – and set that weekly email.

You need to send your list of 3 tasks by 11am on a Monday and follow up with your buddy on Thursday.

Let the games begin!

* Ps.  I asked him what he’d like to be called for the purposes of this blog and he said “The Mack Daddy”.  Class.  Who am I to deny a man such a simple pleasure…?  So from now on, “The Mack” it shall be.

I refused to add a photo of Mark Morrison.

For those of you unaware what “Mack Daddy” means, here’s a helpful definition:

© MerriamWebster

putting off procrasti-nation: part I

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty certain that if I were even half as good at any one thing as I am at putting off doing stuff, then I would probably own half of Europe by now (the half that’s still worth something).

Instead, it’s taken me nearly two weeks to write this post.  And I’m still in the motivated “honeymoon” phase of blogging.  I’m doomed.

I know folk who always do what they say they’re going to do.  Who take themselves off quietly to apply themselves to the task and deliver it in good time with no drama or histrionics.  Come on guys, cut it out.  You’re giving the rest of us a really bad rep.  I honestly don’t know how you can sleep at night.

Me? I’m grateful if my procrastination takes any vaguely constructive form.  If I get as far as cleaning the bathroom or having some food in the house, I’m mentally high-fiving.  My own brand of procrastination usually involves a 4Music 50-most-identikit-songs marathon.  But, man, have I learned to bust some moves….  If anyone out there needs an expert in sitting-down pop video dancing.  Call me.  I am ready.

If someone could please teach me how to stop procrastinating, I will pay good money (and, if you’re thinking of this as a business idea, you’re also going to need to get me to sign up for the course, attend the lessons, do my homework and apply it in my daily life…).  Derren Brown, are you listening?  I’m relying on you, man.  You’re the only one who can save me now.

productive procrastination

There is another school of thought.  That says that in those moments when you do something trivial or nothing at all; when you stop forcing yourself to think, or focus, or try so damn hard, you give your brain the space to be creative and that’s when the ideas will come to you.

 “It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.” 

― Gertrude Stein

My clever mum bought me an incredible book before I quit my job.  It’s written by an amazing woman called Brenda Ueland and it’s called If You Want to Write: a Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.    It was first published in 1938, but you wouldn’t know it.  Ueland’s advice and philosophy are timeless.  The basic premise is that we all have creative ideas and ability.  But we stifle creativity by wanting it to generate success or financial reward.

enjoy the process

I was a lawyer for a long time.  Creativity is not wildly encouraged in the legal profession.  I came out with my creative-confidence severely dented.  I really had no idea how to generate business ideas.  Then I read Ueland’s book.  And I realised that the key is not to judge your productivity or your output.  The key is just to have a go and to enjoy the process of creating.

That’s what I’m doing here.  Watching reruns of Fresh Prince and eating frozen food.  And I have to tell you that the ideas have started to come a little easier.  And I’m not judging them.  I’m just writing them down… and I’m enjoying myself in the process.

olympic fever

I went Olympics and Paralympics-tastic this summer.  It was no coincidence that I gave up work just before London 2012 started!  My daytime freedom meant that I was everyone’s chosen +1 to events.

my sis and I flying the flag for Team GB

I went to the beach-volleyball, football, weight-lifting, athletics, road cycling, triathlon, wheelchair basketball and hand-cycling and I watched the TV coverage all day every day and all of the round-up programmes at night.

I whooped and held my breath and cried several times a day.  And I was inspired.  Massively inspired by the athletes, their sacrifices and their commitment, all for a shot at glory four years in the making.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think they’re all bonkers, but there is something in that unrelenting pursuit of goals that struck me as a universal truth.

keep clear goals, track progress

Keeping your goals clear and tracking your progress is, according to all the gurus on success (be it measured in weight loss, wealth, sporting prowess, political influence, pairs of Alaïa shoes), the surest way to achieve those goals.

Some people shy away from setting goals, especially if their dreams are financially motivated.  If your goal is to make loads of money, then go for it. There’s no crime in making money. Unless you’re making the money from crime. In which case this leads to an awkward moral dilemma and makes me question if I even want you reading my blog.

my goals

My goals right now are below.  In my own to-do list, I use these goals as a header and list out the steps I need to take to achieve each one (see first example below), with a deadline.  I find this helps my focus, which otherwise tends to wander.

Note that one of my goals is a “pleasure” goal.  To me, the whole point of this lifestyle change is to enjoy experiences.  I don’t use these pleasure goals as a reward for doing the business stuff.  Instead I just try to build them into my life, so I get the balance right between focused activity and focused inactivity.

1.   Set up the first simple online business that’s still at ideas stage now, before India trip in November.

  • interview web developers – by 30 September 2012
  • compile brief for site functionality and look and feel – by 14 October 2012
  • test projected site traction and SEO – by 21 October 2012

2.   Relax on the beaches of Goa and the backwaters of Kerala.

  • bit of yoga
  • pakora o’clock, followed by fresh tandoori red snapper and the best Bombay potato known to man

3.   Earn enough from the first business in the 6 months from launch to finance next business idea.

accountability

I’ve chosen to blog about my progress, as a way to keep me on course. Other people prefer to use personal finance markers or task completion milestones that they’ve set for themselves. Personally, I need the accountability that comes with making a very public commitment.

If an idea dies in a forest but there’s no-one around to see it, etc., etc.

You get my drift. Tell a handful of people who you respect what your goals are. And be as specific as you can. Trust me, it’ll make it much easier to keep them, when they’re not just your dirty little secret.

Alternatively, you can post them here in the comments section, if you want to, and I’ll do a little cheerleading for you.  Just please don’t post anything that you need to keep secret.  Or that is moronic.  I have a reputation to maintain, after all.

Team GB, Team GB, Team GB, Team GB!!!!!!

the art of esc-apology

3 signs that you’re ready to escape your city job:

  1. your anxiety dreams always involve a lot of corridors, large rodents and only being able to run backwards in slo-mo
  2. you quiz the servers in Starbucks or Waitrose on their hours, pay and general job satisfaction
  3. your pee is hazchem yellow, courtesy of Berocca, but you’re still ill every time you take holiday

I knew I wanted out pretty much from the in.  Sure, I was seduced by the free Monday night bar, the mid-week softball games and power dressing.  But that stuff wears off.

Maths was one of my strong subjects and it didn’t take me long to figure out that:

Then you realise:

Are they hiring us for our brains or gullibility?  But don’t worry, it all makes sense because of the career satisfaction and the quality work and the job security.  Oh wait……

my escape route  

Ok, so I’m still feeling my way through this business lark and I can’t claim any financial success yet (give me a break, it’s only been 2 months and I spent most of that time partying in Ibiza and watching the Olympics…).

But here’s how I did it and some tips if you want to come join this brave new world.

  • Big firm pedigree:  I started my career at a big, prestigious firm.  That tells people that I must be incredibly smart, well trained in my specialism and know how to be professional.  Which helps my credibility nowadays when I turn up for client meetings in denim shorts and floral trainers.
  • Small firm experience: I never ultimately wanted to work for major banks or corporates.  My target client base was fashion designers and other creatives.  So I downsized after 3 years to a firm with these types of clients.  The benefits: massively increased client contact and autonomy and no real salary drop once you factor in tax.
  • Industry expertise: I wanted to be in business, but not in the business of providing legal services to lots of clients.  So I stepped sideways with a twist.  I went to work for a fashion comms agency in a hybrid legal/commercial role.
    • I set up a new company division doing licensing deals for fashion designers/celebs using the commercial experience (deal structure, royalty rates etc.) gained from doing exactly that whilst in my small firm; and
    • I was global legal counsel for the company, which meant that I was intimately involved with the running of the business and helped the founders with their decision-making.  That meant I got to practise business skills with someone else’s money and reputation.
  • Financial independence: I saved some money to cash-flow me for a set period of time without a salary whilst I’m starting up my business.  Let’s face it, when you’re working all hours, you don’t have time to spend it, so that bit should be relatively easy.  If it’s not, then you need to take a good, hard look at your ridiculously frivolous lifestyle and trim the fat.  Gents, ditch the gadget addiction.  Ladies, stop kidding yourselves that shopping is a legitimate hobby.
  • Safety in numbers: Before I quit, I spoke to loads of people who don’t have a conventional office-based working life, to find out how they cope.  Weirdly, practically all the new people I’ve met since I decided to escape the slog are part-timers, freelancers, semi-retired, remote-workers and business jugglers.  The fact that none of them are living on the bread line and all seem to be enjoying quite a nice lifestyle, thank you very much, encouraged me to join their ranks.

There are lots of resources/communities online for non-traditional working lifestyles.  Check out Escape the City for information and inspiration.

  • Tell everyone: There’s nothing like announcing your plan to quit to actually force you to do it.  So tell your friends, your family, your colleagues, your bosses (that last one kinda counts as no going back).  I gave my employers 6 months’ notice.  It gave them time to figure out how to replace me.  It gave me time to get used to the idea of not working and to plan for it.  It meant that I left on great terms with everyone and with a lot of people wanting me to succeed and who can possibly help me in my business down the line.

And that was it.  I left my job with nothing to move on to.  It felt like the right time for me to do my own thing and give freedom a whirl.

And in the words of Dumb and Dumber: “I like it. I like it a lot.”

hello hello

Hello and welcome to my blog all about quitting my job and starting up my own business.

First blog posts are a bit strange.  You know that no-one except your mum and a few of your mates are going to read them.  So you feel a bit silly and self-indulgent writing great swathes of advice and anecdotes.  But that doesn’t stop you putting in hours of effort, just in case anyone else stumbles across your posts. 

Then you have that anxious anticipation, wondering how many followers you’ll get (and persuading your mum and mates to sign up from various random email addresses to boost your numbers…. ahem).

so why am I making myself do this..?

Mainly, to give me something to do whilst everyone else out there is making an honest living.

But also because even though I’ve been quite successful in my career, I always admired people who started up their own thing.  And even though I’ve helped run and shape businesses, I’ve still always had the sense that “starting a business” is this mystical thing that only natural born entrepreneurs can do.

I don’t feel like an entrepreneur.  I definitely don’t look like an entrepreneur.  Hmmmm, maybe I’m not cut out to be an entrepreneur….

how hard can it be?

I think that a lot of us (me included) are scared off by this idea that in order to be successful in business, you have to be this dynamic, well-connected, wheeler-dealer with big, game-changing ideas and ready-made speech bubbles of marketing spiel coming out of your mouth.

But then you look around and realise just how many people are starting and running their own businesses.  Your hairdresser, the local shopkeepers, your friend who does freelance graphic design.  And none of them look like Richard Branson.

So I’ve decided to write this blog to give myself a focus for starting up my own thing.  To jot down tips and advice that I find along the way and share that with you, my 3 loyal readers (thanks guys!).

I’m not a natural entrepreneur, but I am a natural encourager and if I can encourage just a couple of people to have a go at doing something for themselves, then it’ll all be worthwhile.

I would love to get feedback on posts (please play nicely!).  Also, if there are topics you’d like to know about, then shout and I’ll do my best to cover them.

Thanks for reading and hope to see you again soon.

Caroline x