Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lesson Two: Time

As an employee, one of my biggest regrets was that I knew I was wasting my life. Eight or more hours a day were spent doing work I didn't care about. During the course of my employment, I spent more than 16,640 hours under someone else's control, trading my free-will for money. String those hours together and it equates to two solid years of my life that I spent mostly being unhappy.

As a self-employed person over the last year, I've worked an average of eleven hours a day. Monday through Friday I wake up at 4:30 in the morning so that I can be to the gym at 6:00 to train clients. After the gym, I head straight to the shop to work on my cars, and then usually head straight back to the gym to train more clients. With travel time it's not uncommon for me to leave the house at 5:30 in the morning and get home around 7:30 at night. 

As an employee, I had lots of free time for hobbies. I didn't need to be to work until 7:00 in the morning, so I'd get up early, train Muay Thai at the gym from 5:30 to 6:30, go to work from 7:00 until 3:30, go home for a couple hours, and then head back to the gym to train Jiu Jitsu for another hour or two. I also had plenty of time to read, write, lift weights, play music, or do whatever I wanted to do in my free time.

As a self-employed person, I'm lucky to train Jiu Jitsu once or twice a week. I don't have time to train Muay Thai any longer, and it's difficult to find time to lift weights and work out. As for writing, the idea for these posts was initially "Lessons I've learned after Six Months of Self-Employment," but by the time I was able to sit down and write, I'd already been self-employed for ten months. 

As an employee, my time was worth about twenty dollars an hour, regardless of what I was doing. Often times I'd be on the phone, taking a ridiculously easy call from a client, and playing "Clash of Clans" on my iPad. Some days I called in sick and still got paid. My work day began and ended predictably. Even if work was extremely busy, I rarely needed to stay more than an extra fifteen minutes, and I never worked on weekends.

As a self-employed person, my time is worth what I make it worth. If I make smart choices and tackle a challenge quickly and accurately, I can make fifty dollars an hour or more. If I make poor decisions and have sloppy execution, I'll work for less than minimum wage, or worse, I'll lose money. I'm also working in some capacity nearly every weekend.

Looking back, life was so much easier as an employee, but there's nothing I truly miss about it. Every day I drive by my former place of employment and I'm unbelievably thankful I managed to leave. While I don't feel I'm changing the world by rebuilding wrecked cars, I know I'm not wasting my life. I'm working towards a goal that means something to me rather than completing menial tasks for someone else. If that wasn't enough, training clients at the gym is extremely gratifying, and helping someone lose weight and change the trajectory of their life is worth more than anything I could ever earn per hour. 

Suffice it to say, as an employee, I spent a large portion of every day hating my life, but then I had the rest of the time to do whatever I wanted. As a self-employed person, I haven't hated a single day over the last year, even when they were terrible. On the other hand, my buckets of time are mostly filled with work which doesn't leave time for much else.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

One Year Self-Employed!!!

November 21, 2015 is the one-year anniversary of my last day as an employee. As a self-employed person, the last year has taught me more than I thought I was capable of learning. While these lessons may not be valuable to anyone but myself, I want to put them down for my own sake. Over the next couple days, I'll be sharing some of the biggest lessons I've learned over the last year.

Lesson One: Great Days and Terrible Days

As an employee, my work life was mostly boring. I didn't care about the work I was doing, so I punched in, punched out, and collected my paycheck. Eventually I grew to resent this and so most days defaulted into crappy days simply because I was at work. The actual bad days consisted of getting yelled at by clients, reprimanded by the boss, and being bored out of my mind, which in the grand scheme, doesn't seem all that bad.

As a self-employed person, there seem to be very few boring days. Days are typically either great or terrible. Great days consist of working hard while singing at the top of my lungs (most days), having indoor snowball fights, taking impromptu breaks to go sledding, or selling three cars in a single day and making enough to carry me through the next three months. Terrible days consist of making stupid mistakes like forgetting to cap my transmission lines and spraying transmission fluid all over the floor of the shop, improperly mixing the sealer and having it run off the surface of the car I was trying to paint, working for a full month on a car and making less than $500 on it, and buying a car that looked good, only to find out it had a bad motor and was going to cost me thousands more than I expected.

I've never felt more stupid on a regular basis than I have over the last year.

As an employee, my employer shielded me from the ups and downs of the market. Things could be going poorly for them, but I still received my paycheck. There were even times I made mistakes that cost my employer money, but it never came out of my pocket. Of course, if things would have gone bad enough for long enough, I might have been fired or laid off, but that never happened, and I was never even worried it would happen. In exchange for this insulation and security, I did whatever my employer asked and in turn submitted myself to a life of boring drudgery.

As a self-employed person, I immediately absorb every up and down the market throws at me. If people aren't buying cars, I don't make money. If the market says my cars are worth less then I calculated they should be, I make less money. If I make mistakes, they cost me money. All of my decisions directly impact my bottom line. It can be unnerving to say the least, but despite the inherent stress, the last year has been one of the best of my life.

If you're considering striking off on your own, the first of many questions you need to ask yourself is "What do I value more, freedom or security?" Freedom comes with some truly great days, but it also comes with truly terrible days as well. Security is rarely great or terrible. It's comfortable, but it's also boring. The correct answer depends on you. For me, the resounding answer is freedom. I would much rather suffer the emotional and financial roller coaster of being my own boss, than suffer the boredom and restraints of being an employee. While I admit it would be nice to have great health insurance and paid vacation days again, those pale in comparison to the fact that I'm taking a week off over Christmas to spend time with family, and I didn't have to get permission from anyone.

You'll see over the course of the next few days that life was actually a lot easier for me as an employee, but the freedom I've gained from becoming self-employed is far more valuable than the comfort my cushy corporate job provided.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Like a Boss

I had two vastly different Customer Service experiences within the last week and it got me thinking about my past in Customer Service and my future as a Self-Employed Entrepreneur.

The first experience was at a new coffee chain here in Omaha called Green Beans Coffee. I have an overwhelming love affair with coffee and we had a $10 off coupon, so we decided to try it out for breakfast. Overall, the coffee was pretty good, but it was the girl behind the counter who created a memorable experience for me. It's hard to explain exactly what was great about her. She did the usual stuff really well. She was friendly, she answered questions, she made suggestions, she signed us up for the rewards app (yeah, not a rewards card, a rewards app on my phone), and she did the same for every single person in line without wavering. But there was just something else that made her stick out... There's only been one other Customer Service experience that struck me like this one. It was at least five years back around Christmas time and my brother and I were shopping for a pea coat for Mindy. The twenty something girl that helped us at Forever 21 was outstanding. She listened to our questions, she made suggestions, and she ended up finding us the perfect coat for Mindy (a coat that Mindy was actually wearing during our Green Beans experience). When we were done I told my brother, "If I owned a company, I would hire that girl to manage it right here on the spot. She was so good I felt like she was the owner of the store." "She is," my brother replied, "I went to high school with her. It's been her dream to own a clothing store so she worked really hard and bought this franchise."

That's what it was about the girl at Green Beans. She acted like an owner, not an employee.

In contrast, I just visited Lowe's yesterday to find a latch for our fence. I typically prefer Lowe's to Home Depot because the service seems to be better, but yesterday was an exception. I wandered around the Home and Garden department for a while but couldn't find what I was looking for. An employee asked me if I needed help and he sent me to Isle 15 for what I needed. Once at Isle 15, I walked up and down but couldn't find the stupid latch I needed. Three times I walked past the same employee but he didn't speak a word to me. Eventually he walked away and went to his computer. When I finally decided to ask for help I went and stood by his computer but he refused to make eye contact. Finally I said "When you have a second, I could use your help finding something." He looked at me and asked "What." "I need a latch for an outdoor privacy fence," I replied. He walked me to what I needed, pointed to it, and walked away. He did his job, but you could tell he hated it.

I'm not here to dog on this guy. Actually I feel bad for him. I was in his position just a couple months ago. I'm sure he doesn't like his job and I really didn't like mine. We both technically did our jobs but neither of us really put any extra effort into it. Neither of us were advocates for our company. I really tried to do my best and most of the people I interacted with on a daily basis were happy, but I was operating at less than 50% of my potential, and it was miserable drudgery day after day.

Contrast that once again with where I'm at today. Self-Employment is a dream come true for me. I work with clients at the gym that I truly care about and want to see succeed. Because of this, I'm more than willing to go the extra mile to help them reach their goals, and I'm pretty sure they can tell. I OWN my business with them. When it comes to working on cars, there's still a lot for me to learn, but I try to do the best I'm capable of every day and make each job a little better than the last. If customers have problems, I try and go the extra mile to help them out, and people seem to respond to it. One woman bought a car from me and was so impressed by the transaction that she sent her mom to me to do the same. I OWN my business with them.

Trust me, I've sat through countless motivational meetings at work where my boss tried to convince me to act like I owned my business there, but ownership is something you can't fake. You either own something or you don't. I don't know if the girl at Green Beans is an actual owner of the business or not, but she acted like an owner which tells me she's in the right place, and I think that's the key.

If you're in the right place, you act like an owner, and if you can't act like an owner, it might be a good idea to start looking for a place where you can.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

What I Do Now

I quit my job back in November and have been loving life ever since. I've been sitting on the couch, watching TV, playing video games, eating chips, and drinking soda while my wife goes to work and brings me home money and take out Chinese food. It's awesome.

That's a lie. Actually, I've been working a lot. Sometimes 12 and 14 hours a day. Sometimes I work on Saturdays and Sundays. But I love it. No joke. I absolutely love it.

So what am I doing? Well, a couple things.

First off, I'm a trainer at Mick Doyle's Gym. I started working out at the gym back in 2011 and quickly fell in love with fitness and martial arts. After a year or so I started teaching kids Jiu Jitsu classes, then some adult Jiu Jitsu classes, then Mick asked me if I'd ever considered being a personal trainer. The personal trainers at Mick's are top notch, which is why I hadn't thought much about doing it myself. I had a hard time believing I could reach their level, but once Mick asked me, it got the gears spinning. I got my personal training certificate earlier last year and have slowly been building a clientele since then. I've still got a lot to learn, but there's really no better place to do it. I'm truly honored to be a part of the gym. If you need to get in shape, give me a call. I'll put together a personalized and comprehensive plan to help you reach your fitness goals, and you'll probably even have fun doing it.

Second, I've been learning a new trade. Back when I was a freshman in high school, I worked for my friend's dad at his body shop. I hated it. I was lazy back then, which is probably why I hated it, but once I was done, I promised myself I'd never do it again. Nearly 20 years later, I'm doing it again. My good friend Michael heard that I was thinking of leaving my job and offered to teach me how to do auto body work. He owns his own shop and makes a living buying wrecked cars, fixing them up, and selling them. I debated his offer for quite a while but finally decided to give it a shot. I'm really glad I did because now that I'm not lazy, I really like it. Michael is being unbelievably generous in giving me this opportunity. Most people wouldn't take the time to teach someone an entirely new trade for free, but he is, and I'm very grateful. With is help, I was able to make more money last month flipping cars than I would have made at my old job, and this month is shaping up to be even better. Here is some of the work I've done over the last couple months. Needless to say, if you need a car, let me know. I can get you something a lot cheaper and in much better condition than you'll find on a used car lot.