‘The hardest part of the quest for financial freedom is that most of your friends and family think you’re insane,’ says Sam Priestley, experimental entrepreneur and one-time digital nomad. ‘When I was 27 years old I told my parents and business partners that I was retiring and quitting any business or job I didn’t like. They thought I was joking – then I went and did it and they called an intervention. Why would any sane person quit an insanely profitable business that was almost guaranteed to make them rich? My best friend flipped out at me: “Why do you hate money all of a sudden?” I don’t hate money. I just have enough money and didn’t enjoy the business. Nowadays I get contacted weekly with offers of consulting gigs. I turn down 85% of them and only take the ones that sound fun.’
Priestley – who runs a table tennis kit brand, a money-making blog (named Arbing, after the matched-betting system that’s one of his most profitable ventures), a non-profit coffee shop and a ‘small’ property portfolio – is one of a new breed of entrepreneurs for whom getting rich quick isn’t a top priority. ‘Rich just means you have or make a lot of money,’ he explains. ‘You can be stinking rich and not financially free because there is always more you can spend your money on – and the more you spend the more you need to spend to get the same level of satisfaction.’
‘You can be stinking rich and not financially free – there’s always more to spend on’
Instead, Priestley’s focus is financial freedom. ‘I spend my time working on whatever I want to without having to worry about money – whether that’s learning new skills, doing charity work, starting a business, or just watching Netflix. To me financial freedom has much more to do with the amount you spend than how much money you have,’ he says. ‘It means that you have enough money or passive income to live forever – or at least for many years – at your desired spending level. I spent the last 18 months traveling the world full-time, and I met many financially free people living amazing lives in amazing places with less savings than your average middle-class person spends on their first home.’ Sound appealing? Here’s the blueprint for success:
Step 1: Disassociate Your Earning From Your Spending
‘I’m a sucker for peer pressure,’ says Priestley. ‘It took me a long time to get over the pressure to spend what I earn. To be honest, I still feel that pressure, but no one knows what I earn so I don't get anyone disapproving of how much I spend. If you struggle with people expecting you to 'live your income', then I suggest lying or just not telling anyone what you make. That is one of the great advantages of building your own side income – everyone assumes you are earning a standard wage, they don't see that secret side income.
‘The biggest step I think you can take to become financially independent is to dissociate what is coming into your bank account with what you are spending. The two shouldn't be related. Everything above your desired expenditure level should go straight into investments or savings. If you start that with your first job it won't be long before your income has doubled and your expenditure hasn't changed. A few years of that and you're financially free.’
‘It’s very difficult to be creative when you’re worrying about paying bills; the monkey brain takes over’
Step 2: Think ‘Side Hustle’
Don’t quit your day job – not straight away, anyway. ‘What people don’t realise is that if your earning stops, you can panic pretty quickly,’ says Mark Leruste, host and founder of The Unconventionalists, a weekly podcast covering entrepreneurship and leadership. ‘When I quit my job after ten years at a corporate non-profit in the charity sector, I was in this position where I’d always had an income, and then the moment I quit my job I was drying out my savings. If you haven’t given yourself the leeway to breathe and test things with no financial pressure, it’s very hard. It’s very difficult to be creative when you’re worrying about paying bills; the monkey brain takes over. Unless you’ve got three to six months of income to sustain you, all you’ll be thinking of is: “Oh my god, how do I get money.”’
The solution, for most people, is to cultivate one or more ‘side hustles’ -– mini-projects that work as alternate revenue streams. ‘One of the fastest ways I’ve seen people do it is to take something they’re already into, and work out how to teach it to other people,’ says Leruste. ‘But it could also be a physical product – an ice cream or a protein bar -– or an information product: a book or a digital download or whatever. What do you do all the time? You probably take that for granted. There are always people who are better than you at anything, but you’ll always be one step ahead of someone. I’m a podcaster, I’m not a pro, but I teach a class on how to start a podcast.’ Think of an idea, then...
Step 3: Test Your Assumptions
‘Look for the cheapest, fastest, smallest way you can test your starting assumptions,’ says Leruste. Let’s say your idea is: “I’m going to start a protein cookie company.” The very fastest way to start is to say to people: “OK, I’m launching this company, do you want to place an order?” And cultivate an atmosphere of curiosity; if people tell you your idea’s shit, don’t get defensive, go: “Huh, cool, what’s shit about that? What sounds ridiculous?” Feedback is what you want in the early going.’
‘A lot spend a lot of time thinking about shit that doesn’t matter, like business cards or their website.’
Step 4: Start Fast, Do The Thing, Adapt Quickly
When Leruste launched a plant protein company, he gave himself seven days and £100 as a challenge. ‘I went to this festival – it was an epic experience – a guy called Alastair Humphreys got up on stage and told everyone he drank my shakes. Virgin Startup did a feature on me, there was a picture of me with Alexander Gustafsson and a shake… but then I realised I didn’t actually want to get up at 4am every day to make protein shakes. You prototype, you experiment, you test really quickly, and then you adapt and adjust. What a lot of people do is they spend a lot of time thinking about shit that doesn’t matter, spending, worrying about their website or their business cards, instead of actually going and doing the thing.’
Step 5: Do It Again
Maybe you’ll make enough money from your first venture to pay the mortgage – but maybe not. The trick? Keep the momentum going. Priestley, who has half a dozen ‘failed’ businesses under his belt alongside the successes, says that the key is to not be put off. ‘Keep being naive and keep trying stuff you shouldn’t. It’s the only way to learn.’ Leruste agrees: ‘Don’t let the fear of not knowing how to do things get in the way of starting. The biggest myth going is that people who are doing this stuff are smarter, or somehow more capable than you. All those guys; they’re super-sound, super normal, but the difference is that they’ve unswitched that fear thing that gets them to not take action.’ Go and take the first step today. You might not ever be able to afford a garage of Ferraris, but isn’t getting out of the 9-5 even better?
WHAT NEXT? Start with your ideas list. ‘The problem for a lot of ideas is that you have no ideas, or you have too many ideas,’ says Leruste. ‘Most of the time, having lots of ideas enables you to never start any of them. You don’t have to stop and commit. If you’ve got too many ideas, write down all the ones you have: are there two or three that stand out? If not, put them all in a hat and start with that one.’ Do it now.