If you knew me back in 2007, you’d probably be dealing with a very different person than the one who’s writing this article. Back then I was busy commuting an hour (or two) each way in an effort to please my master. I was a lifeless drone, who, apart from making someone else rich, didn’t have much time for anything else, including myself.
In late 2007 I left the cubicle farm and haven’t looked back. (Ironically, the company that I worked for eventually went public and I probably could’ve made a pretty penny cashing in my stock after the IPO, but I have absolutely zero regrets.)
In the past five years my life has changed in immeasurable ways – ways that I couldn’t even fathom on that fateful day when I handed in the two-week notice. Since then I’ve lived all over Central and South America before finally settling here in Europe.
IT’S NOT ALL PEACHES AND CREAM
I really hate the term “location-independent” because it almost always conjures images of some incredible life where all you’re doing is traveling and seeing the world. And in those rare moments when you actually do work, it’s always somewhere poolside or from the beaches of Thailand, all while drinking cold Coronas.
The reality, as always, is very different. From a purely logical standpoint you can’t work if you’re traveling. Sure, you can pull out your laptop on the planes and buses and get something done, but to be truly productive, you need to sit down and actually work – which can be hard if there’re fifteen other backpackers in your dorm room.
There’s also no such thing as the proverbial “four-hour workweek.” I personally have worked harder and logged more hours working for myself, than I’ve ever done working for someone else. Most of my weeks have been much, much longer than four hours – my average workweek is roughly 45 hours, and some weeks prior to a launch have been as high as 60-70 hours. I know it’s something you didn’t expect to hear, so I apologize in advance for bursting your bubble.
Let’s say we’re competing in the same market niche, which, with the high competition nowadays, isn’t that uncommon, and you’re working four hours a week mostly out of buses, planes, or cheap hostels, while I, on the other hand, plant my ass down in work from the privacy and comfort of my comfortable private apartment, who do you think will build the better product?
Mine will beat yours every single damn time.
I want you, to instead of imagining a carefree life of lots of travel, tons of money and little work, begin to view your future life consisting of lots of work, occasional travel and little money, at least for the first few years or so.
BITS AND BYTES
The reason I can spend one week in Serbia, another in Spain, then disappear of the grid to Canary Islands, while my friend Joe, is anchored to his San Francisco office, is because I’m providing products and services that don’t require me to have face time with my boss (I don’t have one) or my customers.
While my friend Joe has to constantly meet with clients and report his findings to his boss in weekly face-to-face meetings, I’m at luxury to work on projects and then present them to my customers over the Internet. We’re both providing value by solving other people’s problems, it’s just I can do it without physical attachment to people or places, while Joe is required to meet certain people and report to a specific physical location.
Thus, in order to remove the dependence of other people your product or service must be fully developed, marketed, and sold over the Internet.
Can you do that with your current skill? It depends. If you can make a living selling people bits and bytes then yes, however, if you’re working with tangible things or real people then it’ll be trickier, although not impossible.
THE SECRET SAUCE
There’re two ways to cut the cord to a fixed physical location: you must be good at making something or you must be good at selling something. And if you’re a rare breed who can do both, congratulations — the world is your oyster.
1) Be Really Good At Making Something
Everything starts with a product or service that’s useful to someone else. Someone has to make it and it might as well be you.
But make what? Get off Facebook, turn off the TV, and lock yourself in your room.
What is it that you like? What gets you excited? Are you passionate about programming, paragliding, or traveling to exotic places? Or do you like fishing, cooking, and seducing women?
I’m going to use software as an example because that’s my background and it’s something I’m intimately familiar with. Let’s say you’re a really good at making mobile (e.g., iPhone, Android) applications. You’re passionate about this area and read blogs/books all the time and stay abreast of all the new trends.
That’s all nice and good but if there’s money in the market, you can bet a lot of other guys will be doing the same. Why would someone pick you to get a job done? The answer: you will be only picked if you’re an authority in a specific area.
An authority is an individual or a company who the majority in the community – customers or competitors — consider to be an expert. It’s a person or a company who has the most credibility as considered by one’s peers in the market segment.
There’s a very popular computer programming language called “Python” that’s used by major Internet and software companies like Google. The authority on that language is its creator, Guido Van Rossum. Below him exist other guys who’ve, over the years, also earned the reputation as authorities and semi-authorities.
This second tier of guys who didn’t directly invent the language didn’t become authorities over night. They’ve earned their reputations by demonstrating their immense knowledge and expertise in solving other people’s problems. Chances are you’ll find these guys anywhere other software developers hang out, especially on StackOverflow, the popular software developer community.
When you’re trying to solve a problem using that language, whom are you going to call first? Who will command the highest payout? The authority – that’s who.
And that’s exactly where you want to be.
How do you make yourself known to others? Easy – communicate. Spread the word. Start a blog. Write. Write more. And then write some more. Share your posts with others via social media networks (twitter, facebook, etc.,).
Research everything you know about a particular subject, whether it’s a programming language, the fastest way to grow a blog, or how to properly feed a goldfish. Make friends with guys in your market segment, industry and community.
If what you write adds value and solves others’ problems then over time more and more people will gradually discover you and begin to view you as an expert in the domain.
The key is to position yourself as the best in a particular field. You’re not selling your services – you’re selling and positioning yourself as the authority on the particular subject matter.
Don’t quit your day job just yet. It will take a while – several years – for your knowledge to spread and gain value in the community. Keep working at your day job that’s putting the food on your table while simultaneously growing your influence.
Imagine you’re building a castle. Every new blog subscriber, commenter, twitter follower, email feedback, etc., is like laying a new brick. Soon you’ll finish building the foundation and will start working on various levels. One day you’ll realize that you’ve built a very large castle with multiple floors each containing many rooms. It certainly won’t be overnight.
While I’ve used mobile app development as an example, you’re certainly not limited to that alone. Maybe you live in New York City and love to eat steak, then you can write and sell a small guidebook to the best steak restaurants in NYC. I know a guy who loves to train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and travel. So he built a blog about it and then wrote a book. Since no one else had the foresight to combine these two interests, his site and book quickly rose in popularity.
The best part of being an authority or a semi-authority is that people will come directly to you to solve their problems. That means never filling out a resume and begging anyone who might be hiring. You’re now the king of the knowledge kingdom and will solicit offers on your turf and in your castle. Should you become available to take on new projects, a simple tweet or a blog post will be all that’ll necessary to have people knocking on your door. And that’s exactly who you want to be – the king, not the peasant.
Being the king also allows you to work for someone under your own terms, negotiating what you want – and that just might include working out of your spacious beachfront apartment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
2) Be Really Good At Selling Something
Being merely knowledgeable at something, and by extension good at building something, is not enough to put bread and milk on the table. The software authorities and semi-authorities mentioned above won’t be able to feed themselves unless someone comes along and monetizes their knowledge and skills. And that can’t be just anyone – he or she must be really good at selling.
Marketing, advertising, and selling are different means to the same end: they are a type of communication by which you convince someone to give you money in exchange for something that you possess, be it a skill, knowledge, or even a finished product or a service.
There are countless guides and books that promise to teach you any of the disciplines above, but, even with all that material, I believe very effective selling is still somewhat of a black art. It’s certainly much more of an art than a science, regardless of many to tell you the opposite. For instance, I have a good friend who cannot build anything to save his life, but he is an ace at selling anything, including ice to the Eskimos. Having read countless books on the subject, I still don’t know the ingredients to his secret sauce.
The beauty of selling is that you get to interface with the living and breathing human beings directly. You know precisely what they want and you also know what they’re willing to pay their hard earned money for. This is also the part that many guys on the build side of things fail to grasp: anyone can write the next Facebook in their basement but whether it reaches the same level of success is another story. That’s because when you’re focusing on building something you’re not in contact with the very people whose participation is crucial in whatever it is you’re building. And if you can’t sell it to them, you’ve wasted all that valuable time and should’ve worked for someone else instead.
The flip-side, and what makes selling extremely challenging, is that when entering a new market it can take a long time to really get inside the heads of your prospective customers in order to learn what is it really that they’re trying to do and pay money for. A lot of time it’s just not very obvious.
There’s one very specific market niche that I believe I understand very well and know exactly what it is that the customers really want. Many years ago I started out as a customer myself by possessing a very specific problem and searching for a solution. While I eventually did find a solution, I realized two things: one, many other people had the same problem as me; and two, many of those people were willing to pay money in order to solve this problem. Those two reasons alone were enough to convince me that there’s a potential business opportunity.
That knowledge didn’t seep into my brain overnight; I’ve been learning about the customers by participating in their activities: visiting their forums, emailing them, having coffee with them, and also analyzing the current market offerings and my future competitors. It’s very challenging – not to mention time-consuming – to get a true understanding of what the customers really want, and the more competitive the market, the greater the chance your competitive have found out those things long ago and are already many steps ahead of you.
Selling is where you actually get the money. It’s the economics side of the business. You can have the best product in the world but without people who’ll hand their hard-earned money, you won’t have enough to put food on the table. On the other hand, you don’t even need to be good at building something yourself – you can just sell other people’s stuff, which is called affiliate marketing.
Four steps to cash:
- Research everything you know about your target audience. How old are they, how much money do they make, what are they like? You need to do everything you can to get into the shoes of your prospective customer. If you can’t “picture” a typical customer then you certainly won’t be able to sell to him or her.
- Interact with them. Once you know your target users, you need to be able to talk to them. You need to ask them and see if what you’re selling – your product or service – will benefit them in some ways. Email, Skype, and invite those people out for coffee.
- Build a product or sell someone else’s product. This part is covered in the first section of this guide.
- Sell to them. Once you know what it is they’re looking for and how your product or service will meet their needs, you can finally start communicating to your potential customers. This includes writing the sales page, reaching out to your peers for cross promotions, etc.
Unlike actually building something, which is a very straight forward and logical process, selling, on the other hand, operates on many assumptions because people typically do not know what they want until you put something in front of them. No one told Steve Jobs that people wanted a touchscreen phone with only one physical button. That is something Steve derived by using his intuition, which itself was formed due to his immense understanding of the market.
That’s why I refer to selling as a sort of a “black art”: you really need to have a sixth sense in order to read your customer’s mind – without them actually telling you – and deliver it to them.
3) Be Really Good At Making And Selling Something
If you can make something really good and sell it to the widest possible audience, you’ll be able leverage both skills in perfect synergy. Doing both efficiently is like having your mini monopoly without the middleman (another builder or seller) skimming your hard-earned money from the top.
If you know your market very well and there aren’t many (or any) high barriers to entry in that market segment, then there’s absolutely no reason for you to not be a good builder and a good seller. Let’s say you plan to sell an eBook that will teach anyone how to properly train his or her parrots. On the build side, you don’t need to outsource your production to factories or partner with other companies; you can write the whole thing yourself. On the sell side, you don’t need the service of various distributors; you can simply sell the thing via your website.
While it’s more difficult to being equally good at both areas than simply at either one, it’s certainly not impossible. The Internet is full of self-made guys that have turned their passions into profitable businesses. Tim Ferriss is good at building (he’s an authority on quickly learning various skills) and selling (everyone has heard of the 4-Hour Workweek). Roosh V is good at building (he’s an authority on seducing women in America and abroad) and good at selling (general pickup guides, country-specific guides, and memoirs). There’re countless other individuals who took their passions, and through a painstaking process, translated their knowledge into products and/or services thus helping others achieve theirs.
I’m not going to conclude this guide with the popular cliché, “if I can do it, you can do it,” that I’m sure you’ve heard many times before. The cold hard truth is that you need to be really, really good at either building something and/or equally great at selling something. There’s no shortcut because if it was easy then everyone would be doing it.
The most important question that you should be asking yourself is not whether you can do it or not but where do your strengths lie. Are you a builder, seller, both, or neither? I’ll go out on a limb and guess that most of you reading this article are probably neither, or, perhaps, are more inclined to the builder side.
If you’re neither then I recommend becoming a builder. Being a builder is easier than being a seller because all you have to do is follow down a very clearly defined logical road that has been charted by many others before you. The other major benefit with starting with the build side is that building allows you to learn about your target market, so that if and when you decide to sell, you’ll already have a pretty good picture of who your perspective customer is.
So before you resume your Facebook browsing, channel surfing, and similarly wasteful activities, take a moment and ask yourself if there’s something that you can do to make someone’s life easier with less pain and hassle. And if you can, then there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t have the lifestyle that you’ve always dreamed off: working poolside in some exotic location with that cold Corona bottle in one hand and that hot Brazilian chick in the other.