Some really amazing things have happened in my life over the last four years. While everyone else was focused on the wallpaper of life, the news, social media, current events, etc., I’ve had my head down focused on my goals, my business, and my life. I’ve been a selfish guy over the last four years. And it’s paid off.
Today I was featured on a LinkedIn’s ProFinder blog as an example of a Six Figure Freelancer. And this basically means that I’m making a great living, and living life on my own terms. And I have to admit it, I’m a happy guy.
Four years ago I was in Edmond, Oklahoma at 7am on a hot, sticky summer morning signing up my first client, a moving company of course. They knew they needed someone to help them with Google AdWords, I knew I could do it, we agreed to terms in their apartment that was functioning as an office, and I’ve never looked back since. I remember that morning vividly. After I got my first real client I drove across town to a job that I hated, and I was euphoric. I’m not a drug user, but I can’t imagine they have a drug that makes you feel as euphoric as getting my first taste of success made me feel.
I’ll never forget that morning, and it’s been win after win since then, but it wasn’t always this way for me. About six years ago I was the furthest thing from a “six figure freelancer.” In fact, I was probably a loser.
Just six years ago, I got conned into being a door to door cable package salesman. That’s how stupid and misguided I was just six years ago. I was literally conned into a job that netted me $25 a day. A little background… prior to getting conned into this position, I had quit a good job to pursue a stupid business venture. Then business venture was doomed from the start, and I’m glad I tried to make it happen because I learned a lot, but boy was it a stupid idea. And after that business venture didn’t workout, I was jobless. So I started looking at the job postings online and found a business-looking kind of job, something to do with sales or something. I don’t even remember what the posting said. But they sold me alright. I showed up at the basement of this office building, they sat me through a couple interviews, and they even took me out for lunch. And by the end of the day, I still didn’t really know what the job was, but I was young, confused, and desperate, and they made me feel like it was an important, interesting job. So then a few days later they call me, offer me “the job,” and I guess I accepted. Because the next day I was back at this basement office for training. And after a couple hours of training in the morning, they told me to get in a car with them, and there we were, on our way to a south Oklahoma City neighborhood to knock on people’s front doors, annoy them, and try to sell them a new cable television package right there on the spot.
So all morning that winter morning, I walked around this one neighborhood like an idiot knocking on doors. By the time we hit the last house of the day, it was dark outside, and a young mom and her kid answered the door with the dogs barking in the background. She was probably getting dinner ready. As we were talking to her and she’s trying to figure out of way to get us off her property, the husband pulls into his driveway and looks at this truly fucked up scene. His wife is at the door, a big, young man is standing in his entryway along with a seriously overweight woman (the person training me), his wife is holding his kid, she looks exasperated, the kid is crying, the dogs are barking, this guy looks like he just got done with a 12 hour shift at a job he hates, all he wants to do is get inside, put his feet up and a have a beer, and here we are on his front poor annoying his wife, and he’s trying to figure out who the hell we are and if we are criminals or not.
I felt sick to my stomach. I felt like scum.
Obviously, we didn’t get the sale. The guy walked right by us, couldn’t even muster enough fake-respect to utter a word to us, went inside and rightly slammed the door on us. I was scum.
On the drive home in the trainer’s car I remember looking out the window at the night sky, the traffic, the restaurants, the big-box stores, and feeling defeated. I finally realized I had been conned into this joke of a job, and all I had to show for a 10 hour day of work was literally $26 pay and feeling like scum. This was also a drive across town I’ll never forget.
When we got back to the office it was ten at night, I thought about the feeling of what it would be like coming in a noon the next day, I couldn’t take it. I went to the boss, and I quit. She tried more sleazy sales tactics to try and make me feel guilty, and she asked me why I was quitting. I said, “you conned me.”
And that was that. Back out on my own, yet again, hungry, desperate, but determined.
I tell you about this most embarrassing, shameful day of my life, not to wallow in self-pity, but to truly show that just six years ago, I was a shadow of my current self. I’ve always had a high self-confidence, I think I’ve always had strong self-awareness, and I’ve known forever that I can accomplish what I set out to accomplish, but at this point six years ago, something had gone terribly wrong. I had made a series of stupid, misguided business and career decisions, and I was at the point where I just described.
I never felt like a loser, but from all outward appearances, just six years ago, I was a loser. I mean really, how can the above situation, and getting tricked into that situation, be anything other than a loser.
But here’s where the good news comes in. I remember going home that night and thinking to myself, “look, I know I’m smart, I know I always have had a strong self-belief system, but really, something with my thinking must be messed up. I’m not thinking clearly. I’m not making good decisions. I don’t know why I’ve messed my career and business life up, but I have, it’s undeniable. This is clearly rock-bottom. I’ve got to start thinking better. I’ve got to improve and start making better decisions.”
And I did. From that point on I found a good job at an accounting firm, then I transitioned to a digital marketing agency, and six months into that I got my own client and was driving to downtown OKC from Edmond on that summer morning feeling pure euphoria because I had signed up my first AdWords client.
So that was the two year evolution from that day where I got suckered into being a door-to-door salesman for $26 a day to being a businessman, signing up my first client, and well on my way to a life of success after success. Loser to winner, in just two years.
The key question to study here is what the hell happened during those two years? How did I got from such a loser, to a freelancer winning my first client, to eventually landing on this LinkedIn blog post as a six figure freelancer.
The answer is a lot happened, and maybe one day I’ll write a book about that period of my life. I studied a lot of successful people, I read thousands of articles online, I listened to hundreds of podcasts, and read dozens of great books. I learned a lot, and there are a ton of factors that played a role in me turning my life around and starting to win.
But a few of those factors constantly stay at the top of my mind, they’ve had outsize impacts on my success, and I wanted to share them in this article.
Those factors consist of four strategies that I got from two books. Let’s break it down.
Book 1 – Choose Yourself by James Altucher
The two strategies I learned from this book are the daily practice and writing down ten ideas a day.
The Daily Practice
Choosing Yourself is a book about taking control of your life and having the life that you want to live. And part of choosing yourself is doing the daily practice. It’s essential.
The daily practice is about having daily routines that you do to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It sounds like hocus pocus standard “self help” stuff. But you know what? It works for me. And that’s a serious understatement. By “it works for me,” I really mean it saved my life and is everything to me.
It’s about looking at your overall health as a four peg stool. Physical health, emotional health, mental health, and spiritual health. If one of the stool pegs is missing, the stool will fall over. So you’ve got to be take care of yourself in all four of those areas in order to be able to choose yourself and live a healthy, happy, and successful life.
You can read more about the daily practice here.
Writing Down Ten Ideas A Day
The mental health aspect of the daily practice is writing down ten ideas every day. To this day I still write them down on the recommended waiters pad. I have a closet full of these waiters pads that James recommends, and I’ll do this until my last day.
The idea behind writing down ten ideas a day on this waiters pad is that it builds up your “idea muscle” in your brain, just like you would build up your biceps if you lifted weights. And this idea muscle is what drives your business success. You come up with ideas on how to help people, you come up with ways to make your life better, your come up with businesses to start, you come up with solutions, and on and on. And having a strong idea muscle makes you ready to come up with solutions when life brings you problems. You start to think differently. You think better.
The idea muscle and writing down ten ideas a day is where I came up with the idea to provide AdWords services as a freelancer. For months and months I would routinely use my ten ideas list for something like “10 ways to work for myself.” I would do this all the time at the agency job and finally I had a great idea and it worked.
Book 2 – Zero To One by Peter Thiel
Choose Yourself led to me thinking clearly, coming up with my AdWords freelancing business idea, and was pivotal in my first true success in life. Then onto the next level, the book Zero To One by Peter Thiel taught me how to think about my business, and when I implemented two ideas from this book into my business, my success as a businessman zoomed. I caught fire.
The two strategies I learned from this book are that initial business success comes from niching down and that competition is a bad thing. Both of these concepts were antithetical to everything I had traditionally learned about business.
Success Is In The Niche
Peter Thiel in this book teaches you to think small, not big. He makes a strong case that business successes are born by niching down as small as possible where no one else wants to be. Instead of being a hungry rat going after the same cheese as everyone else and not getting very much, be a little cockroach with a full belly making a profit in the dark corner no one else wants to be in.
Thiel gives his example of PayPal. PayPal initially started as a way, and only as a way, for eBay users to make payments to each other. Instead of creating a virtual payment system to compete with Visa and MasterCard on a global level, PayPal instead aimed for the easy win of being the only payment system specifically designed for eBay users and to make eBay users happy by solving their payment problem back in the day. And from that initial success they were able to grow and then branch out into new areas. But it all started with that one initial focus. It’s a fascinating case study and it opens your eyes to new possibilities.
I used this “get your initial wins by niching down” theory to focus not on being an “AdWords freelancer” or “AdWords agency” who services all business-types, but instead in my early days I focused on just one industry, and even within that one industry I focused on a certain part of that industry. I offered my AdWords services to a very small niche of the business world who needs AdWords services, and because of that I gained reputational assets, efficiency assets, pricing assets, and so on, and I was able to zoom past where most other freelancers would be during their first couple of years and I fast-tracked my business success.
When in doubt, niche, niche, niche.
You do graphic design? Okay, now you do graphic design for specifically plumbing company websites.
You’re a CPA offering bookkeeping and tax services? Okay now you’re a CPA focused specifically on motel franchisees.
You’re a personal trainer in Houston? Okay now you’re a personal trainer focused on specifically three zip codes, women age 25 to 38 who want to get back in shape after having a child.
Read Zero To One, and then pull out your waiters pad and write down ten ways you can niche down your business. Or ten niches you’d like to be in.
Competition Is A Bad Thing
Honestly, I was on the toilet when I read this article titled Competition Is for Losers by Peter Thiel in the Wall Street Journal. I’ll never forget it. It seems so obvious knowing what I know now, but at the same, the article and even the title itself was mind-shattering. It was the opposite of everything I had ever heard and been taught about business.
Competition is a good thing.
Iron sharpens iron.
Competition drives me.
And on and on with the common thinking about competition. But it’s all nonsense. For a business, for profits, competition sucks. And in the article and in the book Thiel makes a hugely convincing case. When I read the article and the book, Thiel teachings about competition made sense to me instantly, and at a gut level. I just got it. Similar to when I heard Warren Buffett talk about investing for the first time. It’s just a gut level you either get it or you don’t kind of thing.
Thiel makes a very a convincing case about the evils of competition on your business, and how to think about. And I wouldn’t do it justice by even trying to describe it. So I recommend you get it straight from him and read the book.
But the point is that Thiel taught me that competition is bad, and all of a sudden I had a new way of thinking about competition.
So how did this change my business life and zoom my success?
I quickly got to the higher levels of the AdWords freelancing game. And I noticed a top freelancer on the freelancing websites who was everything I wanted to be. He was confident, he was professional, and he was successful. He was who I wanted to be.
Instead of just staring at his profile for years and wondering how many clients I lost to him and so on, I decided to take the Thiel approach to my top competitor and see if we had something of value to offer one another instead of just madly competing against “that other guy” our whole lives. And it turns out we did indeed have value to offer each other in terms of having interesting conversions and giving each other advice about the business we were in. We learned from each other and becoming friends instead of enemies made us both better at our jobs. We have both learned a ton from each other, we are both better at our jobs because we give each other advice, and that new level of skill has made both of us more successful and in demand. And not only that, I gained a friend too.
Thiel’s teachings on niching down and how to think about competition immensely sped up my business learning curve, and led to fast, exponential business growth for me. I think about his teachings on these two areas all the time, and I see them play out every day in the world around me.
Improvement Is Possible
Improvement through reading books, studying ideas, and forming new habits and clearer thinking is possible. I’m an example of it. I went from a loser to a six figure freelancer.
I never felt like a loser, and I always believed in myself. But six years ago, for all intents and purposes, I was a loser. Only a loser would get conned into a door to door sales job. But the beautiful thing about life in this country, is that with an extreme amount of determination and some luck, as long as you stay healthy you’ve got a chance to turn your life around and stop being a loser. And I was able to do that. It may not be a big feat to the world, but to me, it’s been everything. I cry when I think about the transition I made. I’m so proud of myself, and I swear I’ll never take this second chance at business success for granted.
And I’ll never forget the two books and the four strategies that played huge roles in my turnaround. They’re burned into my soul, and they impact everything I do.