- It's true that there's no single key to success in any field, and hard work is no predictor of success.
- If I had to name the biggest factor in the success of my own business, it would be free time. Having free time is an absolute necessity for any new project, business or artistic.
- One of the reasons I believe in free time and avoiding hard work is precisely this: so that you have the ability to develop yourself in a rounded way and pursue your side projects.
It’s easy to say that there’s one specific reason why you might succeed or fail in business. Hacks and charlatans do it all the time to try and sell us unnecessary get-rich-quick schemes. I know for sure that we’d like to believe that there’s some kind of magic bullet that will solve your problems and make you instantly successful. The reality is that it's a lot messier. Luck, chance, and privilege - things we don't have any control over - all play a huge role.
There’s a lot to be said for being knowledgeable about all aspects of running an online business - figuring out a way to monetize your business, ways to use social media, SEO, and advertising to drive traffic to your site, figuring out good copywriting so you can create posts and sales pages that are compelling and effective at convincing people to spend money, finding a niche and a voice, and so on. There are numerous ways to approach every single one of these variables, and being an expert in any one of them is a challenge on its own.
At the same time, when I think back to the development of my own business, I realize that there is one, very clear variable that can explain my success more than anything else:
Here’s a quick story about the development of my business.
Almost six years ago now, I got my first personal training certification. As a result, I immediately sought work as a personal trainer, and found a job at a local gym. However, at this gym, my income was entirely commission based - if I could get enough clients, I could make enough money. I was also mostly on my own to find clients and this meant many unpaid hours at the gym, interacting with members, making myself visible. This is pretty standard practice in the fitness industry, although some gyms make it easier than others to find clients (better sales systems in place, a richer clientele, etc.) Personal trainers have to learn to hustle and sell from day 1 to make a living.
This also meant many hours at the gym where no one was there and there wasn’t much to do. As a result, I spent a lot of this time reading fitness blogs, finding out more about the industry, expanding my base of knowledge.
After a few months at that job, I had a small number of clients - enough to cover my expenses, at the time, because I was still living with my parents, but not enough to live on my own. However, one of the gym managers quit, and I was offered the position. This job paid $10/hour for 30 hours per week, plus commissions on new memberships - and still left me the option to train my existing clients during my open hours. This seemed like a sweet deal to me, so I took it. This allowed me to move out of my parents’ house and start paying off my student loans.
One of the great things about that job was that, when there wasn’t paperwork to file, clients to help, or other duties to attend to, there was a great deal of downtime. This was especially true during the morning shifts, where there were fewer people in the gym and a smaller possibility of someone coming in to sign up for a membership. I spent this time watching Netflix, reading more blogs, taking online classes, and more.
Around this time, I first started my blog, about five years ago. I didn’t really know what I was doing, (honestly, still don't) but it was a start. My posts were short and terrible, but at least I was creating. I put together the first, rough outline of my site in that free time, and posted about once a week. No one read it, but I wasn't too serious about treating it like a business, or a real source of income, either.
Fast forward a couple years: I took an internship, made several major career moves, and ended up briefly working as a delivery driver for a fitness equipment sales company. During all that time, I had picked up a couple online clients, mainly because I would move and clients from old gyms wanted a way to keep in touch with me. So, I saw it as a small source of side income and a way to keep in touch with friends, little more. Since I was busy with my day job, I had no time to focus on my website.
That job was intensely demanding, requiring sometimes 60+ hour weeks of stressful, physically intensive labor. Sometimes, I would work from 7:30am to 9:00pm and then drive home, cook something to eat, and do client work until midnight or later before passing out. At the time, I only had about five clients (maybe an hour of client work per day or less) and even then I struggled to stay on top of the workload. I had no time for developing my website, and it was the furthest thing from my mind.
Then, in early 2016, I quit that job for another gym job much like my old management job: desk hours, early in the morning, with plenty of down time to chat with members and do other work when I wasn’t directly needed.
As a result, I restarted my blog and put a lot more effort into it. I'd learned a few tips and tricks in the years since. I started writing more, and better, posts. I went from 5 to 15 clients by just posting regularly, sharing my posts on social media, and advertising regularly that I was looking for online clients. While my workload for my online business was effectively 5x what it was before, I had plenty of time at my existing job where I was already being paid. Effectively, I was finding a way to get paid double by working two jobs at once, so I was fine with the added workload.
In late 2016, my partner was offered a job here in Denmark - a job that she really wanted. At the time I was making about equal amounts of money from my day job and from my online business. So, I figured, why not take the leap. I switched over to focusing full time on my business, and have since tripled my number of clients in about one and a half years.
The biggest thing to realize is that at no point would I have been able to do this if I didn’t have the time to dedicate to it. Taking up a side job does mean work, and that means many unpaid hours you have to spend developing your business. If those hours aren’t hours you have available, then it can’t happen, period.
This is one of the reasons that I advocate for avoiding overwork in your day job. If you want to be able to succeed in any creative endeavor, this means that you have to have time to spare - something which is becoming a rarer and rarer privilege in our busy, overworked world. I was incredibly lucky to have jobs that allowed me to support myself while also giving me the free time that I needed to learn new skills, develop my business, and follow this side project to its ultimate, 5 year conclusion.
When I look back on the times that I was busiest with my day job, they were (unsurprisingly) the times that I also had the least amount of energy to put into my site. If you're busy at your day job, you won't have much time for personal business or artistic projects.
This may sound like pretty basic advice - "well duh, of course you can't do work if you don't have time to". At the same time, it's absolutely crucial, and amazingly often overlooked. You can't put the cart before the horse. You can't expect someone to be able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps if they're busy working 12 hour plus days for minimum wage just to scrape by. You can't tell someone to sleep less to have more time. Time is a commodity that not everyone has.
I believe in free time, in being a well-rounded individual, in having multiple passions, and in finding ways to maximize your sleep and minimize your stress. Part of living a long, healthy, self-actualized life means having free time to spend as you want - whether that means writing a book, learning a new skill, attempting an artistic project, or developing a new business.
If you're busy, that leaves no room for growth.
Enjoy this post? Share the gains!
- I Don't Think We Should Glorify Hard Work
- How I Learned Danish (And My Tips For Learning A New Language)
- Why I'm Tired of Writing About Fitness
- I Became An Entrepreneur Because I Had No Other Choice
- My Single Best Productivity Investment
- Flow State For Maximum Performance
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