The 4 Fundamentals to Growing your Business by Referral

If you’re trying to grow your business, and you’re self-employed (a.k.a. all alone), it can be very overwhelming trying to figure out all the ways to get your name out there and build your brand. There are a so many different types of marketing…online, direct mail, social media, door knocking, you name it. But I have found, time and again, the clients I enjoy the most are those that came to me by referral. We can easily find ourselves spinning wheels trying to market our business, and avoid the activities that matter most. So in my efforts at time management and eliminating the non-essential, I find myself back to the center, growing my business by referral. I thought I’d share the basic fundamentals that were passed onto me, in the hopes they may help you!

1. Know your clients: If you haven’t taken the time to write out your database, now is the time. Personally, I like an old-school Excel Spreadsheet. Include your clients, colleagues, and loved ones who support you. Put in as much information as you have (names, address, email, etc.) But this is just the beginning…writing a list of your contacts is not the same as knowing your database. Knowing your database means two things: (1) maintaining contact with them, and (2) learning more about their lifestyle, wants and needs, so that you can aim to serve them above and beyond the product or service you offer. More on this below…

2. Build a network of trusted service providers: This is huge. When you’re self-employed, especially when you’re just starting out, you’re an island. Personally, I spent the first few years of my career grasping at straws when it came to my marketing plan, doing a little bit of everything but not doing anything especially effective. Once I started focusing on building a network, everything started to change. My network is valuable for two reasons: (1) they inspire me, teach me, and help me become a better version of myself, and (2) they help me serve the wants and needs of my database. If you’re truly getting to know your database, you’d better have the resources available to help them when a need arises…and this is where the network comes in.

3. Provide value: This is the #1 key to success in business and life. If we operate with an intention to be of value, above and beyond the service we provide, we’ll attract the success we’re seeking. It’s law of attraction. (Yes, I believe in all that mumbo jumbo!) What does this look like? It’s two-fold: (1) if you’re learning about your database on a deeper level, you’ll discover how you can help them in their personal and professional lives, and (2) if you’re connecting your network to your database, you’re providing value to your network. It’s a big ol’ love fest. And the result? Everyone will want to help you back! It all comes full circle. And frankly, it’s always a good day when you’re helping someone else.

4. Show gratitude: Almost as awesome as helping someone is telling someone you appreciate them. It just feels good. And I’m not just talking about business here. Tell your spouse you appreciate them…send them a thank you card in the mail to your own house. Let them be surprised and acknowledged. Send a thank you card to a sibling, a parent, a friend. And of course, send thank you notes to your clients and referral partners. Let people know your appreciate them! If referrals are the core of your business, people need to know it and know how much it means to you. Plus, when you’re intentional about finding reasons to be grateful, you’ll start to recognize how great your life actually is, which helps you get through the inevitable ups and downs of being a self-employed island. Gratitude is an all-natural pick-me-up. Give it a shot.

If you’ve ever wondered if you can make it in business…I tell you, you cannot fail if you operate under these principles. Success in sales (we’re all in sales if we’re growing a business and ‘selling’ our brand) is not a result of self-serving activities. I’m sure it can be…but I’ve found that when I operate with an intention to serve others, magical things start happening. Visit your database daily, find people to help, find people to thank, and be consistent. Good things will come your way. Let me know how it goes!

“The 4 Hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferriss

“‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you…If it’s important to you, and you want to do it ‘eventually’, just do it, and correct the course along the way.”

This is one of my favorite quotes from The 4 Hour Workweek, written by Timothy Ferriss to inspire you to live out your dreams today.I just finished reading it for the second time, and probably not the last, and am already putting into practice the principles in the book. Are you a former traveler like me? Someone who used to live in a bubble of spontaneity, flying by the seat of your pants, until “the real world” snuck in somewhere and took over? I’m not sure exactly when it happened for me, but if you read my journals during my adventuring days, I was living in my own “real world”, the one I had designed, and it was friggin’ awesome! I want to get back to creating my version of “the real world” and inspire others to do the same.

I think there are a lot of people out there like me. In fact, I know it. Many of us are caught in the rat race, the “American dream”, wondering if this is it. I for one built a successful business, only to find myself working all the time, super-stressed, and feeling trapped…yet trying to convince myself to be grateful. My heart and my mind were in conflict. My brain trying to convince my gut that working 50 hours/week and making good money was a great life. But my gut has known better all along.

The 4 Hour Workweek is about lifestyle design. It’s not about working your butt off until the elusive retirement that you may never realize anyway. “$1,000,000 in the bank isn’t the fantasy. The fantasy is the lifestyle of complete freedom it supposedly allows.” Nobody knows how long we have on this planet, so why not live out your dreams now? My goal isn’t necessarily to work only 4 hours a week…but it’s a valid intention to work less! “Work smarter, not harder.” Work to live, don’t live to work.” These mottos have become cliches because people are starving for more balance, and we envy those who seem to figure it out. Don’t envy them! Emulate them! “What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”

The best part of this book is it’s not just full of words to inspire you, it’s full of resources. He doesn’t just say, “go follow your dreams.” He gives steps on how to make practical changes to achieve your goals, and resource upon resource to facilitate whatever you may need, whether it be outsourcing to a virtual assistant, or links to blogs on how to travel extensively with small children. (Thank you http://mylittlenomads.com/!)

My point is this…if there is a little voice inside of you yearning to be heard, read The 4 Hour Workweek. Then read it again. It will awaken your spirit. It will inspire you. And it might just change your life.

Passive Income Rocks

If you’ve been here before, you know my mission in life is to find balance between financial freedom and living free. I don’t believe in spending my life trading all my time for money. I’m constantly studying the habits of successful entrepreneurs in an effort to learn how to create a life where I have time to do the things I enjoy, with the people I love, without sacrificing the paycheck. And the bottom line is this: it’s all about passive income, income you earn even when you’re not working.

If you haven’t read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki, I highly recommend picking it up. In it, he outlines the importance of creating passive income, and the different methods of doing so. I read it for the first time in 2006, and a handful of times since, little by little absorbing and putting into practice the philosophies behind making your money work for you.

I’ve already talked about one of these methods in my post about passive income through real estate. But many people have responded that they don’t have the money to invest in real estate. A fair point. So today I’m going to share another method of generating residual income for life with minimal investment, and it’s through Network Marketing. Wait! Don’t close the page just yet. I’m not your average tupperware lady, so listen up. Network Marketing has been endorsed by financial experts as one of the smartest ways to create residual income, with minimal startup cost. Check out this video of Robert Kiyosaki, or read “The Success Principles” by Jack Canfield for more inspiration.

Let me explain more. There are two primary ways of purchasing products: through a retail chain or straight from the manufacturer. Network marketing, also known as direct sales or multi-level marketing (MLM), is simply a more efficient and affordable method of distribution than retail. It cuts out the middle man, and by default, the advertising, warehousing, inventory, distribution, the list goes on…millions and millions of dollars spent getting products from the manufacturer to the consumer. Network marketing uses word of mouth, first-hand endorsements by people who love their products, to get products directly from the manufacturer to consumer. And those who do it well are paid handsomely.

Think about it. The world has never been more connected thanks to the internet and social media. And we constantly make recommendations for the things we love, restaurants, service providers, hotels, you name it. When have you ever been paid for it? The industry of network marketing, by design, allows you to find a legitimate company you can stand behind, spread the word, and get a kickback. And if that sounds awesome, why wouldn’t you want to share it with others? Build a team, and get a kickback when they refer the products too. This is where you multiply your impact.

It’s not about sales. It’s not about recruiting. It’s about building a life of choices. This business model is a vehicle for you to do whatever you want with your life, and help others do the same. Work part time, train others who want to work part time, and get paid on the efforts of the multitude. It’s called being a business owner. There’s nothing cheesy or schemy about it. And the best part is, most of us are doing this to some degree already. If you’re a hairdresser, you’re making recommendations for products all day. If you’re a personal trainer, you’re recommending weight loss supplements, protein shakes, etc. Why not find a company you can stand behind, sign up, and get paid for what you already know and love? The tupperware ladies were on to something, but home parties aren’t the only way to do this business!

Here’s what I see. Network marketing can be the missing link for the free spirited entrepreneur, as well as all of you overworked employees out there, sick of the daily grind. For those of us who are self employed, we’re either trading time for money, or money for time. And for employees, it’s even worse, because you have no control over how much you make, or when you work. And chances are if you want to work a bit less, you’ll have to make less too. This is about taking control of your financial destiny. Everyone deserves to be financially free. And you can do it! Want to learn more about ways of incorporating this business model into what you’re already doing? Message me to learn more.

“The Go-Giver” by Bob Burg and John David Mann

Yay! I’m so excited to be adding this section to my blog. As you might have guessed by now, I’m a bit of a ‘seeker.’ I’m on a quest to find balance in life, reach my highest potential, and hopefully inspire others to do the same. And a huge part of staying on track is reading books that teach me, inspire me, and motivate me. This list is as much for me as it is for my readers…a little place to be reminded. Many of these books have tattered edges…proof that they’ve loved and valued! I hope you enjoy my little reviews…

The first one I want to mention is called “The Go-Giver.” Honestly, this is a must read for anyone looking to grow as a person, in life and in business. And by business…I mean, whatever you do for a living. The principles in this book can be applied to just about any relationship, and will not only benefit YOU, but everyone you touch. Plus, it will make whatever you’re doing more FUN! Joy and generosity are contagious, and when you’re spreading them around, your life is guaranteed to improve. It was given to me by a great friend and colleague, a partner in business, and a generally awesome guy. And there’s a reason he’s had such huge success in his career…it’s because he is the ultimate go-giver.

“The Go-Giver” is an easy read, a short parable. And the message is simple…be willing to provide value above and beyond the basic services you provide, and whatever you are seeking in life will arrive. By focusing on giving, you become a magnet for what you’re hoping to receive. Think about it…have you ever encountered a cheesy salesperson? One who is so aggressive in trying to get what they want that they leave you feeling dirty? Pretty sure you know what I’m talking about. It’s gross and uncomfortable to be around a go-getter, the type who is clearly only interested in what you can do for them. On the flip side, do you know anyone who is so genuinely interested in helping others that they seem practically driven to be a resource to everyone they meet? My guess is you’ve met one of each. And I bet in both cases, you probably know what they do for a living. The question is, which one would you rather do business with?

This goes beyond the self employed person who gets paid on every ‘deal.’ I’m talking about everyone. Family members, friends, colleagues at the office…when people are go-givers, you want to be around them, you want to help them, and you want to see them succeed. It’s SO SIMPLE, yet so often overlooked. And it is so perfectly applied in business. If you’re reading this, and you are someone who is self-employed and trying to figure out a way to grow your business, but you hate feeling ‘salesy, THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU! Don’t be ashamed to make money doing what you love! Financial freedom is available to anyone who desires it and works for it, and everyone deserves it. This book provides a simple philosophy to live by, so you can grow your business while remaining authentic, and most important, helping others. I hope you love it as much as I do…leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Money Matters

Have you ever heard a little voice inside your head say, “I don’t need money to be happy?” Guess what…that’s a lie. True, different people desire or require varying amounts of money to be happy, but we all need it. I’m currently reading “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind’  by T. Harv Eker, and it’s fascinating. In it, he explores the idea that we each have our own money blueprint which determines our abillity to generate and accumulate wealth. And he says, “Money brings freedom- freedom to buy what you want, and freedom to do what you want with your time. Money allows you to enjoy the finer things in life as well as giving you the opportunity to help others have the necessities of life. Most of all, having money allows you not to have to spend your energy worring about not having money.”

I love this…especially the bits about having the freedom to do what you want with your time, and not having to spend your time worrying about not having money. This is so huge for me. I spent my early 20′s gallavanting around the world, totally broke, but perfectly happy, or so I say. How happy do you feel when your best friend is getting married, and you literally don’t have the money to buy the plane ticket, the hotel room, or even a gift…but you do it anyway? You feel the pain of charging it to your credit card, then try to convince yourself not to stress, and plan to pay it off later. Maybe I shouldn’t generalize here, but something tells me many of you have been there. So you rack up some debt, then realize it’s time to get your sh*t together, get a good job, and get on track. Next thing you know, you’re trapped in the rat race, with a “good job”, making great money, and fantasizing about those days when you were “totally happy” and totally broke, living on Ramen noodles.

So let’s face it…money matters. But so do your dreams. And so does being happy. So let’s not accept that it’s one or the other. It’s time to dust off your dreams and figure out how to make great money doing what you love. It actually can happen. If you’re the free spirit, already pursuing your passion, but stressing about money, it’s time to put some systems in place. Yes, systems. May sound dreadful, but accept it as necessary for your happiness. And if you’re trapped in a job you hate, but making great money, and telling yourself you don’t have options, you do. It’s time to explore alternative career paths centered around what you’re passionate about, and figure out how to generate huge revenues doing what you love. It’s all there for the taking, if you’re open to receiving it.

Live the Life of Your Dreams

I’m back!

Writing went on hiatus when I had my second child. Exhaustion, and the chaos that is my day to day, totally knocked the wind out of my sails for a while there. (Does that sentence ring a bell for anyone?) But I haven’t given up on pursuing the life of my dreams, and you shouldn’t either!

I think and talk, a lot, about how anyone can do anything they set their minds to. But it’s easier said than done right? When we’re little, we have ideas of what we want to be when we grow up. And then we grow up, and life gets in the way. We become RESPONSIBLE, whatever that means. This isn’t the case for everyone, but for me at least, I’ve felt trapped in the “American Dream” for some time now, caught up in the rat race. Busy, busy, busy. Making money, spending money, in and out of debt. But always in my head, pursuing this idea of freedom. I keep envisioning what my life would look like if I had a more balanced life…more time each to enjoy my children, to prepare nutritious food, garden, make time for exercise, and to have the financial freedom to enjoy it all. But that’s the catch right? You can make good money, but you won’t have time to enjoy it. Or you can make more time and cut your paycheck. There seems to be a disconnect there for those of us who want to design a life of time and financial freedom.

Have you ever looked at your current career and thought, “So this is it?” Do you find yourself unsettled sometimes, yearning for something more? But when you start daydreaming about what you might do, the little voices in your head start telling you all the reasons you can’t or shouldn’t pursue your dreams?

Well, I have some news for you. You can do it. Shocking revelation, I know. But it’s true. Personally, I’ve spent the past year and a half making people’s ears hurt with my complaining, and I’m sick of it, and surely they are too. So I’m done complaining, and I’m just going to start doing. Have you ever heard the question, “If money were no object, what would you do for free?” I’ve heard it again and again, and my answer is, I’d help people who are living the life of their dreams create the link between pursuing their passion and achieving financial freedom. In one of my favorite books, The Go Giver, the basic message is to provide value above and beyond the services you are paid for. Currently, I’m paid to provide mortgage services, and one of the big reasons my business is successful is because of some amazing coaching I received early on. So I want to share what I’ve learned with anyone who is thinking of pursuing their dreams. If that’s you, then you’re in the right place. Subscribe to this blog, and stay tuned for resources, book recommendations, tips on money management, and positivity to inspire you to stay on track and never give up on your dreams. Life is short. Dream BIGGER!!!

Retirement Planning: All the Cool Kids are Doing It

I hate planning. I mean, I really do. I’m the queen of unprepared, and I thrive on spontaneity. I actually showed up for a safari in Africa without sunblock. Planning ahead- not my forte. In my younger days, the extent of planning was looking ahead to my next adventure. In November, 2001, I signed up for a NOLS course (National Outdoor Leadership School), and sent payment off for a March kaying expedition down the coast of Mexico. That was a whopping 5 months of planning ahead. Before I left for Mexico in March, I sent payment to a school in Barcelona for a one month course in August to get certified to teach English as a second language. Voila- another 5 month plan. Two years later, as I was getting ready to leave Spain to move back home to Philadelphia, I made a half-assed plan to bartend my butt off and move to Brazil to teach English and learn Portugese. I think it just made me feel better (or less boring) to have something to look forward to while I bided my time saving money in Philly. Instead I met my husband (another adventure in and of itself!) and convinced him to move to Colorado on a whim. Ahhh… the good ol’ days, footloose and fancy free. And eternally broke.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, adulthood, and the dreaded ‘responsibilities’ that come along with it started to interfere. It wasn’t long before I heard myself talk about boring things like ‘finances’, and ‘debt’ and ‘retirement.’ But even as these words were thrown around, I didn’t quite grasp their meaning. It’s not that I didn’t understand them from an intellectual perspective. Heck I majored in Finance and Operations at a great business school, and I do mortgages for a living. I understand the concept of money, I just couldn’t connect to the idea of future planning, or at least financial planning. It’s as if my genetic makeup is missing the chip that  allows me to see more than five minutes in front of me.

A big part of the ‘problem’ is my desire to live in the moment. Planning for the future has always felt like a trade off for enjoyment of the present. And looking back, I think that’s due in large part to losing a number of friends at a young age. I went to the funerals of 5 close friends before the age of 23, and that awareness of the reality of death sparked in me a desire to live every day to the fullest, or live it like it could be my last, perhaps (or probably) to my own detriment. I remember in my early years as a loan officer, I was taking an application from a young couple in their mid twenties who had a significant amount of money in savings and retirement accounts. I was only a few years older than them, and I was shocked, and impressed, but it also made me sad. I’m kind of embarrassed to say it, but I actually felt the emotion of sadness for them because I assumed their financial security came at the expense of really living, when the truth is, for all I know, they could have travelled the world, but done it with financial intelligence and planning, something I knew nothing about.

Well folks, as lame as it may be, I’m beginning to snap out of the dream world that is the life of Erin. I’m starting to realize that the people I viewed as boring in my younger days may not be such dummies after all. In the past few months, I’ve started paying more attention to the baby boomers, and the varying degrees of their financial security. I take loan applications and analyze people’s finances for a living, and the baby boomers are all hitting retirement age, but only a fraction of them are actually ready to enjoy it. Many of them have zero money other than what little they may have in a retirement account here and there. It’s shocking. They’ve worked their whole lives and many of them have a financial picture that’s similar to, or in many cases worse than our own, and that scares me to death! We’ve been on a mission to clean up our act- pay off debt and start preparing for the future, but it’s been so hard for me to actually connect with the idea of the future until now. To think how easy it would be to keep ‘living on the edge’, spinning our wheels and working hard, only to find ourselves in the same place in 20-30 years? Yikes.

Well, just yesterday, I had the pleasure of getting to know a 60 year old couple as I took their loan application. They were more than financially prepared for their retirement (which by the way they’ve been enjoying for four years already.) And they were full of energy and passionate about making a conservative move with their next home purchase, all in an effort to remain free to enjoy their adventures.

And that, my friends is the life I want to emulate. No more spending ALL our money on living for today. We create a lifestyle that we can afford with a fraction of our income- a simple-ish life- that allows us to free up the rest for investing in our future, and having some fun along the way. Adventures are important, and so is living in the present. But if we don’t get connected to an idea of the future and the long lives we hope to enjoy, we won’t be able to enjoy it very much at all. I think I’ll write a thank you note to this couple for the inspiration they’ve provided me. And I’ll keep you posted on our progress…we’ll see how this new adventure goes.

3 Money Management Tips for the Self-Employed

Let me start by saying that I wish I had been given some money management tips before I took the leap to 100% commission income, but planning ahead would have been a complete contradiction of my personality in 2006. Hell, it’s still not my forte, but I’m working on it…

I am pretty sure I’m not the only person out there who decided to give up a steady paycheck before ever really contemplating the financial implications. I mean, before I made my move, I was working in the field, and saw people around me achieving success and enjoying the ‘freedom’ of self-employment, and I knew I was at least as capable as they were if not more so. And I wanted that freedom! I wanted to work from anywhere, where my comfy clothes, do yoga in the middle of the day, and travel without asking for permission. And from the get go, it seemed like it was all going to be a piece of cake. During my first few years as a loan officer, my business grew ‘organically’, with no plan other than to do good for people, and assume they’d tell their friends. I often spent anywhere from 4-8 weeks out of state. I’d work while watching the boats go by in the Florida Keys, or while hanging out with my nieces and nephews in Philly. Because I could work from anywhere, I did… I just wasn’t exactly using my mathematical skills to figure out how or when I’d pay for all the plane tickets I was charging!

After a few years of fun and ‘accidental’ growth in business, I finally took some business coaching, and boy was it valuable. See the problem with seeing signs of improvement in my business was the false sense of security it gave me, which led me to justify spending beyond my means. I had no PLAN for managing my income, or preparing for the inevitable ups and downs. I took the highs and ran with them, and rode out the lows worried and stressed.

I often wonder if I’d have done things differently, had I started the business with the proper tools, but then…I probably would’ve been too naive to listen. Nonetheless, I’m sharing them here, in case it helps an adventurous soul or two avoid the the unwanted financial stress that often accompanies the initial leap of faith into self-employment.

1. Budget: What a dreadful word! And often times, over-used but under-utilized. In other words, people talk about ‘staying within budget,’ ‘going over budget’…budget, budget, budget…you hear it so much, it loses all its meaning. And while we blab on about our imaginary budget, we’re rarely doing anything at all. Why?? Because we create a ‘budget’ that is completely unrealistic, and barely resembles our actual spending. I know I’m not the only person who has created a spreadsheet, and even tracked spending each month, only to look at it and say ‘Shit…I spent that much?…Next month I’ll be better.’ So if you are going to do this, do it right, and be HONEST. This is not a blog post about how to save money, it’s a post about how to manage commission income. If you lie to yourself about what you really spend, you will always fool yourself into believing you only ‘need so much money to survive,’ and will continually fall short and be stressed and confused about why you’re going into debt. I know. I speak from experience, remember? So…create a budget- there are plenty of free downloadable samples online, just search ‘free budget template’…and complete it as truthfully as possible. You can worry about where to cut back later if necessary.

2. Pay yourself a Salary: So your realistic budget tells you your life costs $3,000/mo? That means you need to make a net income of $36,000 to break even. But don’t do what I did and forget about paying taxes! That sure bit me in the arse the first year in business. You can figure out your tax bracket by looking online, but let’s just say you are going to pay 25% in taxes. That means you need a GROSS income of $48,000/year. This needs to be your FIXED salary, regardless of whether you have a great month and make $8,000 in commissions. When the excess comes, you need to pay yourself the SAME salary, and leave the rest in your business account for the next dry spell, which leads me to #3.

3. Separate your Bank Accounts: Whether you decide to create an LLC or an S Corp (talk to your accountant about the benefits of doing so) you still need to separate your personal and business banking. I didn’t do this for years. Big mistake. Think about it. When you are paid a salary or hourly wage, you’re paid from the company’s bank account, not your boss’s personal account. Same goes for self-employment, only YOU are the company, so you need to open a separate bank account for the company. Treat your commissions as ‘business income’ and create the new habit of only paying yourself your base salary. Eventually (hopefully,) reserves will build up in your business account, and you will never have to turn to credit cards or loans again when you have a slow month, take a vacation, etc. And if you want to pay yourself a ‘bonus’ at the end of the year, do so, but keep some reserves in there.

Don’t ride the wave of ups and downs, because the result is always the same…we spend when we have it, and stress when we don’t. This kind of system will create peace and calm, and allow you to ENJOY the freedom you are creating! It’s taken me years to make up for my lack of direction at the outset of my career, and I wish less money woes for all the rest of you adventurers out there! As always, feel free to email me directly for more info on this topic. Enjoy the journey.

The Debt Trap for the Adventurous and Self-Employed

Some people were raised to be cautious with money. Save a certain amount of everything you earn. Don’t overspend. Live below your means. The question is, how do you apply this advice when you are risking it all in the hopes of becoming a self-made success? I often think, (realistic or not) that if I made a fixed salary, whether it be $25,000/year or $100,000/year, I would invariably know exactly how much I’m going to make each month, and be better equipped to follow all the money rules. But I chose the path of self-employed, 100% commission, and I did it with no money in the bank to begin with. The result? A mountain of credit card debt.

I was raised by two entrepreneurs at heart. My father risked everything to go back to school and enter the world of the 100% commission income when he had 2 small children at home (and 3 more eventually coming down the pike.) My mother also had her own business. Neither of them took the cautious path, and I’m sure that’s why I’m wired the way I am. My siblings and I were raised to believe we are capable of anything we put our minds to, and I’m so grateful to my parents for this. I don’t think any of us ever considered not trying something simply because we didn’t believe we could do it. We’ve all been risk-takers at one point or another in our careers, and we couldn’t have done it without the belief our parents instilled in us.

My question is: how do you take this path without falling into the cycle of debt? I’m sure a lot of people out there do things differently, and start with money in the bank. But for me, it became apparent very early on that I wanted to work for myself, and I’d already spent too much time adventuring to save any money. Heck, the whole purpose for wanting to work for myself was to have the freedom for more adventures. And isn’t this the case with most of us? How many people do I know who are freelance graphic designers, photographers, electricians, you name it, who want the freedom of being their own boss, but have no foundation for financial security, and no plan for it once the money comes in? The issue isn’t just that we start out broke and then have the instability of commission income. We also have no training whatsoever on what to do with the money once we actually make it!

It usually looks something like this: you believe in yourself enough to go out on your own. Often times, you even close some business quickly, and gain false confidence that this is going to be easy, so you start enjoying your freedom (aka, spend your money.) Then a slow month comes along, and you have nothing in the bank, but still need to pay bills, so you turn to your credit card. While you’re living on credit, you scrimp on things as much as you can. You don’t buy any new clothes, you don’t go out, you buy just what you need to survive, and save any other expenditures until you can “afford it.” Next thing you know you have some deals going again, and some paychecks return. As soon as you get paid, you first have to buy the things you’ve been waiting for money to buy. So you get some office supplies, buy some much needed household items, pay for the plane ticket to a friend’s wedding that’s next weekend (now paying triple), and of course treat yourself to some luxuries you ‘deserve.’ You know where this is headed. Once you’re done taking care of all the things you’ve been depriving yourself of, you have just enough left for the minimum payments on the credit card, NOT enough to pay it off in full. And so the cycle begins. The only solution? Work harder and harder until you achieve major financial success that will provide the windfall of money necessary to finally pay off the credit cards.

Of course, this last sentence is the goal of every entrepreneur right? Sure, but there’s a cost in getting there. You know what you sacrifice to attain that kind of success? FREEDOM! It’s a catch 22! For me, the credit card debt became an albatross, so making more money didn’t mean more adventures, because all I cared about was paying off that pesky debt. And the only reason I made any progress on that debt to begin with was because I finally took business coaching, and learned some valuable financial tools for the self-employed, which you can read here.

I sometimes wonder where I’d be if I had a plan in place to begin with. Learning things the hard way is never fun, but hopefully others can learn from my mistakes and apply some kind of system to their finances from the outset of self-employment. And of course, I’d love to hear your success story if your path to freedom looks different than mine! I’m still learning how to make it work, and always open to new ideas.

 

Is the Grass Really Greener on the Other Side?

I struggle with this metaphor a lot. I’m a dreamer. I am constantly fantasizing about what’s next in my life, career, location, you name it. One day, I see Tony and I opening a coffee shop in the neighborhood. Then I realize we can’t travel if we’re tied to the neighborhood, so we are teachers with our summers off, and we’re driving our kids around the country in an RV. Then I remember I don’t want to work for anyone else and realize I already have it made, self-employed as a loan officer. But when my business is slow, I strive to be busier. When business is booming, I’m stressed and yearn for something simpler. For someone like me, it seems the grass is always greener on the other side.

But a funny thing happened recently. I realized, the grass was literally greener on the other side, on both sides of our front lawn! We bought this new house and seem to have the ugliest front yard on the block. We live in Denver, a high desert, so it’s not exactly natural to have a lush green lawn, but both our neighbors have managed to accomplish it, even through a major drought! Whether keeping up with the Jones’, or out of sheer embarrassment, I’m not sure which, we started asking for tips on how to get our grass green like theirs. So for the past few weeks, Tony’s been working his butt off to get our grass green. Fertilizer, weed killer, water, you name it. The end result? We have green grass. But it’s costing us more money in water bills, it’s not ecologically friendly, and frankly, it’s a pain in the ass. I’m already envisioning replacing the lawn with a low water xeriscape plan.

The point is, to get from where you are to where you want to be takes work and often sacrifice, and a lot of times, once you get there, it may not be all it’s cracked up to be. I have to remind myself of this and reel it in when I start getting crazy about all the things I’d rather be doing than what I’m doing right now. I spent years flying by the seat of my pants, and encouraging Tony to do the same. No thought really to the financial impact of our decisions. I mean, I don’t regret convincing him to go back to school full time the day before our first child was born, but we ‘maybe’ could have planned that a little better. Getting into, and almost out of, a ton of debt (for the second time) has taught me I don’t want to go there again. So maybe my innocence is lost, which is somewhat bittersweet. There’s a big part of me that is still dominated by the free spirit within, the willingless to quit and start anew in search of the ‘greener grass on the other side’, whatever that may be. But there’s another side of me, maybe the older/wiser side, that tells me to obtain financial freedom FIRST, and then make decisions from a place of freedom, rather than perpetuating the cycle of the cash-poor free spirit.

I was told in a personality profile test that some people see money as something tangible, and the more they have, the better they feel, so the drive for security motivates them to work harder and save more money. While others view money as intangible- it’s merely a means to an end. We get money to spend on what we need (or want), but we don’t see it as tangible- it’s not something we consider stockpiling. We don’t think beyond what the money can do to serve our immediate needs. Clearly no surprise to me I fall into the latter group. And being aware of this has taught me a lot. I’m in a career that’s 100% commission, so I’m surrounded by people from that first category. Being extremely busy and making money fuels them and fires them up. I, on the other hand, start to feel trapped because being busy takes away from the ‘freedom’ I sought in self-employment to begin with. The busier you get, the harder you work, the less time you have for your family. So I tell myself, I’d rather work less and have more freedom, but then I remember…the grass isn’t always greener! I have to constantly check myself and remember that until we achieve financial stability, I won’t be able to enjoy the freedom. Actually, we’d probably just end up enjoying it anyway, and find ourselves back in debt!

There seems to be a conflict between living for today and preparing for the future, and incorporating the latter into my life is not an easy transition. So I use this blog as a place to ramble on, and hopefully give myself a place to reflect and maintain clear perspective during my personal pursuit of freedom. In the words of Ice Cube, “You better check yo’self before you wreck yo’self.” Thanks Ice Cube. You’re speakin’ my language. I’m gonna keep dreaming, enjoy mini-adventures along the way, and try to stay present while preparing for the big adventures that lie ahead.