10 Things I’ve Learnt About Staying in Business

Today I’m celebrating 10 years of being completely unemployable.

A decade ago I jumped off the corporate treadmill, kicked off my shoes and began treading my own path.

What follows are the 10 things I’ve learned about (a) staying in business (a feat in itself), and (b) making money.

Some people will be turned off by the ruthlessness of my rules, which is to be expected. These rules are harsh, but true.

1. Swing on the Trapeze

“You are absolutely relentless”, says my mate Andrea.

She’s right. I’ve been hustling every day for the last decade. Scratch that. Make it 12 years. For the two years before I left corporate Australia I swung on the employment trapeze: I was a mild-mannered stockbroker by day and a start-up streetfighter by night – often till midnight, six or seven days a week.

I only let go of my day job when I knew I could reach out and grab the next income source. That’s not only the smartest, safest way to start a business – it also prepares you for the daily grind of going it alone.

2. Don’t Drink at Starbucks

The idea of starting a ‘lifestyle business’ – where you can work a four-hour week from your laptop in Starbucks – is the equivalent of crack cocaine for corporate cubicle farmers. It’s a load of rubbish.

The smartest internet entrepreneurs I know all have a desk in an office that they chain themselves to for at least 12 hours a day (generally more).

3. Make a Commitment

Being in business requires a deep and lasting commitment.

After all, it’s much easier just staying in the workforce. As an employee you don’t have to worry about business conditions, making payroll or doing your BAS, and you can turn your brain off at 7 o’clock and watch The Block.

Starting a business is a commitment to yourself – and what you’re creating.

4. Prepare to Be Humiliated

When I first started Barefoot (and began getting attention in the media) there was a bunch of bitter old stockbrokers who’d take it in turns to publicly dress me down, snigger at me, and generally rob me of my confidence.

It was fantastic training for being in business.

Every successful person I know has at one time or another been totally humiliated. The wealthier they are, the more it happens (and the more public it is).

Being in business is about putting yourself out there, creating something unique and taking a risk. And you can be sure that’s going to threaten people who don’t have the balls to do the same (bullies behave that way because deep down they lack self-confidence).

The internet is the worst example of this – haters don’t even have to put their name to their bile. So if you’re afraid of what people will say about you, just bare in mind that Mother Theresa has hate websites dedicated to her.

5. Do this first

Don’t worry about renting a fancy office, building a website, printing business cards or designing a freakin’ logo. Your first – and only – priority is to make a profitable sale.

6. Be a Tightwad

There are two common business cost-killers: debt and staff costs.

Regular readers already understand my fear of debt – and you can double that when it comes to borrowing for a business. That’s why I favour trading your time and sweat to start a business rather than borrowing from anyone – least of all a bank. (Never, ever, put your house on the line for a business.)

To control staff costs, keep your headcount low. One way of doing this is to send jobs overseas (gulp) to cheaper, but highly educated, $8-an-hour contract workers, using sites like Freelancer.com and oDesk.com (send all complaints to scott@test.barefootinvestor.com).

Most businesses fail, and when they do they tend to wipe out the business owner’s wealth. It’s a tragedy. And the only way to guard against it is to consistently focus on cutting your overheads and transferring those savings into a cash account. You owe it to yourself and your employees to do it every month.

7. Rip People Off

Steve Jobs has a lot to answer for. Being an inventor is wonderful if you have Apple’s resources, but for anyone else it’s a hard, costly and mostly unprofitable way of doing business. It’s far better to look around and see what your competitors are doing right and knock off their best ideas.

8. Don’t You Dare Share

I can count on one hand the businesses partnerships that have worked out. But I’ve lost count of the number of friendships, families and businesses that have been destroyed by partnerships.

Someone always gets screwed in a partnership. So, long term, you’re better off doing it yourself. And besides, the way to get wealthy is to own 100 per cent of a business. That may sound a little vulgar, but it’s the truth.

Instead of sharing, pay your potential business ‘partner’ a generous commission for any business they bring in – after you’ve factored in your running costs – and don’t feel bad about it for a second. You deserve the lion’s share because you’re the one operating without a safety net.

9. Make Your Mark

Building a business is one of the most creative and practical ways to make a change in the world (forget politics – I’m convinced that if more of our politicians were small business owners the country would be in better shape).

As a business owner you have the opportunity to do something that matters to your customers – to create something new, make your mark and live life on your terms.

10. Make it Big in 2017

Huge things can happen in five years – but generally not any sooner.

The harsh reality is that most of the businesses that start this year will not be around in 2017. But even if you fail, you win – it’s one of the best things you can possibly have on your résumé, and you always learn something from going into battle.

And if you use these ten rules, maybe, just maybe, you’ll make it big in 2017 – having fun creating something unique that you’re passionate about – and making plenty of coin.

That’s the essence of my opening comment: I’m proudly unemployable because I can’t think of doing anything better with my time than educating people about commonsense financial principles.

So here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits – and the totally unemployable.

Tread Your Own Path!