Monday, February 8, 2010

4-Hours a Week.

Right now, it often feels like I'm spinning my wheels... I have been for a long time, and there's no foreseeable end.

As a self-employed composer & producer, I find I spend just as much time (if not more) each day looking for work as I do actually working.  Most independent contractors I've ever known experience the same situation - at least, they do for a long time... Years into the process, after they've developed a long-term client list and solid relationships with lots of consistently paying companies & individuals, maybe they get to just do the work and not work so much on advertising and selling, but I suspect that even then that will never change.

It's hard.  I'm not a great salesman to begin with, and in Entertainment & Media there is just NO feedback at all from anyone on what is working and what isn't.  I may send out a barrage of 200 emails in a week and hear back from just a few of the people I contacted.  The ones who don't respond are obviously also not sending me any notes on how I might appeal to them more effectively next time. 

So it's a continual process of trial and error and it's exhausting, time-consuming and eats away at my soul.  The biggest part of this struggle is merely finding the information of people who I might need to get in touch with.  To compile & organize information (something I am good at) is an extremely slow process.  I've eaten up days sorting out my own contacts and barely made a dent, all the while neglecting other aspects of my life & work that need attention.  Most days, there just aren't enough hours available to get everything I want to do done, and sometimes I'm splitting my time doing so many things that my distracted state makes all of my work suffer.

I know I'm not alone in all this...  And in fact, it was people like me that Tim Ferriss is largely talking to in his book "The 4-Hour Workweek".  I'll get back to that in a second... First a little background:

I've read a number of excellent books on business and personal economic development, my favorite of all time still being Michael Gerber's "The E-Myth" - which taught me right now that I own a "job", and not a "business".  The problem with owning a "job", is that basically anything you do that is *not* immediately working towards your business is a loss or a potential loss...

As it stands, I'm not working steadily enough - so anytime I do anything that isn't directly looking for new work & clients, isn't acquiring new contact information, or isn't working on professional development stuff in one way or another is dangerous... But let's say I was working steadily with clients beating down my door... Then what?

If I go on vacation, I lose money.
If I get sick, I lose money.
If I go on a date or go out to the movies, I lose money.

Every minute I spend not working on meeting clients' needs is money lost.  My business is me.  It's my work and my time applied towards a particular end, so there's no way for me to separate myself from the business without the business itself collapsing.

This is a huge problem.  I'm already tired of owning a "job".  I want to own a real business.

Michael Gerber taught me that, and he taught me the value of automated systems - but Tim Ferriss' picks up where Gerber leaves off and offers the kind of lifestyle that I want coupled with many very specific examples of how to achieve it.

So what's the goal?  First and foremost, the goal of a 4-Hour Workweek (and to a lesser extent, the E-Myth) is generating an income stream that is completely and utterly automated.  Gerber suggests that I should be able to take a vacation and have my business still up & running.  Ferriss takes it a step farther and suggests that I should be able to take a permanent vacation (or as he calls it, a series of "mini-retirements") and still have income filtering in each month.

Ferriss supplies the acronym "DEAL" with the following explanation:

Definition means to figure out what a person wants, get over fears, see past society's "expectations," and figure out what it will really cost to get where a person wants to go.
Elimination is about time management, or rather about not managing time. This is achieved applying the 80/20 rule to focus only on those tasks that contribute the majority of benefit. There's a difference, Ferriss says, between efficiency and effectiveness. The book's emphasis is on effectiveness.
Automation is about building a sustainable, automatic source of income. This includes techniques such as drop-shipping, automation, Google Adwords and Adsense, and outsourcing.
Liberation is dedicated to the successful automation of one's lifestyle and the liberation from a geographical location and job. Incidentally, Ferriss notes that if somebody has a regular job, the order of steps will be DELA, not DEAL.

I have some defined ideas about what I want and how I want my life to look, I'm not always the king of time management (having this penchant for blowing a lot of time writing blogs and other internet related activities), and I've been wanting to find an automated income stream for a couple years now and naturally... The goal is to be liberated. But how to make this happen?

Well, to some extent, in all the obvious ways...

Elimination is easy enough with some more self-control, but actually Ferriss suggests doing less multi-tasking and I think I have to agree.  I do too much of that now, and would benefit from focusing a lot more unilaterally on one task at a time and not splitting my attention between 5 things at once.  Automation is the tough part... What I need, fundamentally, is a product... More importantly, I need to stop being the product.  Instead of selling myself in a highly competitive field filled with talented people, I need to develop and sell a product that fills a market need.  Ferriss offers a number of ways to accomplish this, including some helpful ideas for testing products at little up-front cost.

But honestly, I've known most of that for a while, and I'm still working on how to make that happen.  I have a few ideas - but as they say, it's easier said than done.  I might be getting closer though, we'll see.

Free markets (and even, "mostly" free markets as can be found in some industries in the US) work amazingly well at providing for the needs of most people.  It works so well that most people take it for granted entirely (thus why many people fail to grasp why spontaneous order works and central planning doesn't).  It's really, REALLY hard work trying to find needs that haven't already been met.  Usually you just wind up entering into a world of already established competitors (I'm obviously not the first or only composer trying to get gigs on commercials & films) and all that does is force you to work twice as hard and charge half as much.  This is great for consumers, obviously... But it necessitates innovation if you want to really be successful.

So the most important lesson from the 4-Hour Workweek for me is that I need to figure out a way to develop an income stream that doesn't fluctuate with my availability.  Magical thinking?  I think not. Difficulty level? Expert.

Ultimately it's just a matter of being creative enough to come up with an innovative product that people actually want... A product that isn't actually just "me".  I'm creative, so I think I can accomplish this with some thought.  Fortunately, I didn't spend a few hours reading a book just to tell me everything I already knew - Ferriss offers some other interesting things as well.  For instance...

Earlier I mentioned hating to be a salesman and blowing countless hours looking up people to contact each week.  This is eating into my life, and it makes me somewhat miserable.  I don't like being miserable, so here's the way out:

My Man in India

I am going to have to experiment with this, but it seems to me that for a small fee (much less than what I would be paying for books compiled by companies like LA411), I will be able to hire a guy from India - or China, Malaysia, etc. - to do all this research for me and set it up in a format that can be easily imported into Gmail...  That would cut down on most of the most hated and time consuming things and let me focus purely on actual advertising.

What else can I outsource, I wonder?  Not a whole lot at the moment, but if this proves to be useful, some assistant duties might be worth hiring out for.  I'm in no position yet, but soon this might save me an immense amount of hassle.  Who knows though?

Right now I'm just in the "experiment with new options" phase and ultimately I need to be really getting a more steady stream of work to justify this sort of idea, so to some extent that just has to come first no matter what.  But I do need to work out a way to automate.  Naturally, Tim Ferriss kind of makes it look easy... He recommends informational products, which is cool since I'm a repository of information about a number of different topics, I have a good educational pedigree and I like writing & teaching... But just writing an eBook or putting together a DVD series (both of which I've regularly contemplated) doesn't guarantee a successful market showing.

Quite conveniently for Tim Ferriss, his "product" was a book called the 4-Hour Workweek.

No comments: