Maybe you’ve been here…
You’re scrolling through social media seeing the lives of freedom other people are living.
No 9 to 5.
Extra cash stashed away.
Traveling the world.
There’s at least a certain element of that lifestyle that everyone wants.
In the meantime, you’re bombarded with “good advice” telling you to:
- Start a business
- Hit the gym
- Eat properly
- Believe in yourself
- Pursue your dreams
All good advice. Makes sense. Don’t want to be a loser.
But then you check your bank account and you think…
- “Is starting a business going to pay my rent THIS month?”
- “Should I really be working out when I can barely afford to eat?”
- “I know I need to dress better, but I can only afford thrift store clothes right now.”
I know because I was there.
Income has a way of demanding your full attention when it’s lacking.
From Responsible to Desperate
When I first lost my job, I tried doing the “responsible thing” by learning to code.
My wife was happy with this decision and, based on the approval of my family and friends, it seemed like the right path.
Until it wasn’t.
The urgency of needing money now made it difficult for me to learn properly.
Plus, it turned out there were only 4 companies in my city that hired new programmers. And they all gave preference to college graduates with degrees in computer science.
My degree was in Music Theory. And my professional experience was in writing.
No luck there.
After that, I tried buying into some business opportunities that seemed like I could monetize quickly.
But after unsuccessfully cold calling a bunch of business owners (some of which were quite annoyed to hear from me), I realized an important lesson about business:
The biggest barrier to business is NOT finding a product or service to sell; it’s establishing trust with a marketplace. And this takes time.
Well, I didn’t have time. I needed something to pay off NOW.
These early setbacks made me realize that freelancing was my only viable option for survival.
The Inner Critic
Even though I knew freelancing was the way to go, I still resisted…
Somehow, it felt irresponsible.
Conventional wisdom says searching for a “real job” is the safest and most responsible thing to do.
My wife HATED what I was doing.
And I would get the occasional concerned questioning from friends.
Freelance income is inconsistent… especially in the beginning. It feels riskier.
But at the end of the day, I had to accept reality:
There’s only so many job openings. Only so many local companies that hire new employees.
And starting a new business (e.g. website, product) has unknowns. Even if you’re smart, you’re not going to get lucky enough to pay the bills THIS MONTH from a new venture.
So I reluctantly went down the freelance path.
I’m not going to lie. It was a struggle.
But in retrospect, most of that struggle could have been avoided if I had known what I know now.
I wasted a tremendous amount of time because I didn’t know what I was doing.
And “time is money” as they say.
When you’re struggling for survival, wasted time hits your bank account hard.
After a year or so of struggling, I finally realized the two root causes of failing to survive in the freelance world.
Failure Point #1: The Minimum Viable Profit
“Minimum Viable Profit” (MVP) is a term I learned from the (excellent) book Company of One by Paul Jarvis.
The concept is simple. But we rarely take the time to think it through.
The basic idea is this:
Your MVP is the number at which money coming in exceeds money going out.
The lower your MVP, the faster you can become profitable.
All the money you make above and beyond your MVP is money you can use to buy freedom and build and upgraded life.
To illustrate this, take two scenarios.
The first man has the following obligations:
- Car payments
- Home repairs
- Health insurance for himself, wife and kids
- Life insurance
- Student loan payments
- Credit card payments
This man might have at least $3,000 per month or more in obligations. That’s his threshold for survival. His operation isn’t even a success until he makes $3,001.
That’s a lot of pressure on a man.
Contrast with a man in different situation. He has the following obligations:
- Partial rent payment
His monthly obligations are maybe $800.
He doesn’t skimp on food. He eats high-quality meat.
He shares a two-bedroom trailer with three other guys. He doesn’t spend much time there. He only eats and sleeps there.
He rides a bike or uses public transportation to get around.
Since he’s renting, he doesn’t have to worry about property tax, home repairs, or mortgage interest.
He doesn’t pay for internet because he uses the public library. He doesn’t pay for phone service, because he tells people to schedule a Skype call if they need to talk… or maybe his parents pick up the tab for their own convenience.
He doesn’t need car insurance because he doesn’t drive. He doesn’t need health insurance because he’s young and healthy (due to eating quality food.)
He doesn’t need life insurance because there’s no economic consequence if he dies.
He doesn’t have student loans because he didn’t go to college.
Maybe he pays $50 a month on a credit card for some online courses he bought on copywriting, LinkedIn prospecting, etc.
See the difference?
One guy has to make $3,000/m to survive.
Another guy has to make $800/m to survive.
Heck, the second guy could survive just by taking 10 day labor gigs from Craigslist. Then he’d have 20 days a month to build his own assets!
The trap of modern society is to burden a man with financial obligations and raise the price of freedom so high that he gives up.
The solution to this, of course, is to say “fuck you” to society.
You’ve got to put yourself first.
Keep your obligations absolutely minimal.
If you already have extra obligations, pay them if you can, but if you have to skip a month or two of payments to get your feet on the ground? Do what you got to do.
Oh, the student loan company wants their money?
Next time, don’t make a 5-figure loan to a naive 18-year old kid with no income.
Can’t make the car payments?
“Come impound the car, I don’t care. I’ll get a bike and keep going. I’m fucking unstoppable.”
Can’t make your credit card payments?
What are they gonna do? Ding your credit score so you can’t get a mortgage (i.e. more debt?)
It’s a ruthless world out there. And you’ve got to be ruthlessly “selfish” if you want to survive.
At the end of the day though, it’s not about selfishness. You’re going to pay off your obligations. You’re going to take care of your family.
You’ve just got to put your own oxygen mask on first.
Go through your expenses. Ruthlessly purge any obligations that are not necessary to your survival. Or at least make them “second priority” – if you have the money, you’ll pay. If not, too bad.
Failure Point #2: Jobs-to-Be-Done & Timing
OK. We talked about minimizing expenses, now let’s talk about getting money.
Money is exchanging hands all the time. There are billions of dollars in transactions happening all around you every day.
And money exchanges hands for one simple reason:
Person A had a job he needed done. Person B offers to do the job.
Someone needs a Facebook page set up for their business. They go to Fiverr. They see someone who sets up Facebook pages. They look credible.
Boom! Money exchanges hands.
A family needs a bigger vehicle to transport their growing family. They go to a car dealership. The salesman shows them an SUV they like.
Boom! Money exchanges hands.
You don’t want sticky leftover food sticking to your trash can. You go on Amazon and order a box of trash bags.
Boom! Money exchanges hands.
If there’s one thing you take away from this, get this:
Money exchanges hands when the right offer (job-to-be-done) is presented at the right time.
Most people are too self-absorbed to make money. They worry about their credentials. They worry about their “track record.”
People don’t give a shit about that.
Sure, if you’re applying for a full-time salaried position, they might care a bit.
But when they just need something done?
Wasted Time = Broke
When I started out in freelancing, I wasted a tremendous amount of time.
I thought I needed a website to look more professional.
I thought I needed more training to be qualified to make an offer.
I was contacting businesses that didn’t have an immediate job-to-be-done need.
I was applying for gigs with business owners who didn’t even understand what the job was.
All of this was a waste.
You know what did work?
Putting out ads for specific jobs I could do to an audience who regularly needed those jobs done.
Talking to referrals who had a specific job-to-be-done.
Proposing jobs-to-be-done by picking up on someone’s problems through chance conversations.
It’s never about you. It’s all about timing.
If they need a specific job done in that moment, and you can do the job, very high chance you’ll get hired.
If they don’t have a job-to-be-done, they’ll politely decline.
Simple as that.
So, to sum it up, the key to surviving on the free market looks like this:
- Avoid (or eliminate) as many financial obligations as you can
- Only make offers to people who need a job-to-be-done NOW.
Follow these two principles and you’ll survive just fine.
If you want some more specialized help, I’ve got something for you on the next page.