Be Your Own Empire - Freelancing Your Way To Financial Independence | Dr. Isaiah Hankel | Focus, Create and Grow Your Way To Intelligent Achievement Be Your Own Empire - Freelancing Your Way To Financial Independence | Dr. Isaiah Hankel | Focus, Create and Grow Your Way To Intelligent Achievement

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Be Your Own Empire – Freelancing Your Way To Financial Independence

“Flaming enthusiasm, backed by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.”

Dale Carnegie

“The man who trims himself to suit everybody will soon whittle himself away.”

Charles Schwab

“Your real boss is the one who walks around under your hat.”

Napoleon Hill


Working stiffs have one fate. Being snapped in half.

Which is why anyone climbing any sort of career ladder dreams of two things: 1) being the boss, and 2) being financially independent.  Sounds like a simple plan, right? The problem is that most people define being the boss as achieving a job title with the word “Manager” in it. That or they think being the boss requires some slow ascent to a position right above middle management that takes 20-30 years to achieve.

What’s worse is that most individuals will only consider themselves financially independent when they have a nest egg of 1-2 million dollars. Some people don’t even have a number in mind, they just plan on working until they arrive at some magical realm where they never have to think about money again. Please know that even Bill Gates and Warren Buffet think about their money; they know exactly how much they have and exactly where it is going.

With these kind of definitions, its no wonder the American dream is to work a 9-5 job for 40 years, retire from a mid- to upper-level management position, and travel the world on a budget with your best years behind you. Do you really want to work your life away for an adequate vacation that will probably end with you going back to work because you’re bored? Do you really want your life to be a monument to the status quo? The truth is that you can be your own boss tomorrow and you can be financially independent in a few months to a few years. And you can find new ways to enjoy life while doing it. But first, you have to know what you are really aiming for and what will really fulfill you.

If you deconstruct your desire to be the boss, you will see that what you really long for is autonomy and influence. Being autonomous means acting independently or having the freedom to do so and being influential means having the capacity to have an effect on someone or something. In short, you desire to operate freely and to make a difference.

Now consider your desire to be financially independent: is it the 1-2 million dollars that you’re after or is it the multi-millionaire lifestyle? Most of us carry around some foggy abstract idea of a faceless multi-millionaire that we would one day like to be.  This multi-millionaire doesn’t have a care in the world; she is popular and admired, eats at expensive restaurants, throws Benjamins around like pennies, travels across the globe, and takes exotic vacations on a whim. But if you really scrutinize what this faceless multi-millionaire represents, you’ll realize that it’s her ability to do what she wants when she wants that we admire. Once you understand this, you will be able to recognize the following: first, you can experience the same things that a multi-millionaire experiences without having a million dollars, and second, you don’t have to wait a lifetime to have these experiences.

One of my favorite movie quotes is from the 1987 film, Wall Street, staring Michael Douglass and Charlie Sheen. Bud Fox (played by Sheen) says, “I think that if I can make a bundle of cash before I’m thirty and get out of this racket, I’d be able to ride my motorcycle across China.” Let that quote sink in. It encapsulates how 99% of the population thinks: “If I work my ass off long enough and hard enough, I might be able to buy an experience of a lifetime.” The truth is Bud Fox could have traveled to Asia, bought a motorcycle, and ridden it back and forth across China for less than a thousand dollars. The problem is that no one takes the time to figure out precisely what grand experiences they want to have. You have to define what enjoying life really means to you. Once you do that, you’ll see how little these grand and joyful experiences actually cost.

Have you always dreamt of going to Europe for a month with nothing but a backpack and taking the Eurail to every country from Spain to Finland? You can do that very comfortably for a couple of thousand dollars. Do you want to go to Alaska and learn how to command a dogsled team? Do you want to be pampered like a king or queen for 3 weeks in a secluded South American villa? Again, we are talking thousands here — not millions.

Experiences trump material objects. Believe it. It’s science. Consider the following 2004 study conducted by University of Colorado Professor, Leaf Van Boven. The study involved a national survey of more than 12,000 Americans where respondents were asked to think of an experiential and a material purchase they had made with the aim of increasing their enjoyment. When asked which gave them more joy, most respondents chose their experiential investment over their material possession. The study cited that experiences generate more enjoyment than material goods because they are more open to positive reinterpretations, are a more meaningful part of one’s identity and contribute more to successful social relationships.

For example, if you go on a weekend camping trip, and the weather is terrible, you might not view it as a pleasurable experience…at least not right away. Instead, you may view it as a challenging experience, but over time you will likely remember the positive aspects of the experience more than the negative aspects. This is also why you may look back at a relationship that sucked the life out of you and think, “It really is a shame things didn’t work out.” This is impossible to do with material things because materials are what they are. Enjoying life lies in experiences, not objects.

So how can you be autonomous and influential, and at the same time have the ability to experience all of the tremendous things that life has to offer? The answer is to be your own empire. Allow me to save you some time; most other lifestyle blogs will either try to tell you how to make a million dollars or how to live like a millionaire without being one. This lifestyle blog will help you do both. Just keep asking yourself this question, “How to enjoy life while gaining influence?” In this case: “How to live like a millionaire while making a million dollars.” Again, the answer is to be your own empire. The first step to being your own empire is focusing your life and finding your passion. The next step is to start working for your self.

Understand: we are in the midst of a colossal paradigm shift where entrepreneurship and freelance work are replacing management and shift work. The waves caused by this shift are eroding the very pillars of big business and higher education. Younger generations are not willing to wait 30 years to be the boss or to be financially independent. So instead of working in a factory after high school or climbing the corporate ladder after college, young adults are starting online businesses and doing freelance work in every field imaginable. The term “freelancing” simply means that you are working for different clients at different times rather than being permanently employed by one company.

For example, someone is doing free lance work when they write articles for different organizations, take photographs or shoot videos for multiple companies, provide landscaping services at different properties, teach yoga classes at various gyms, give seminars at different institutions, and on and on. Freelancing is usually associated with a service — something of value that you exchange by doing.

This is the future: selling products online and offering freelance services for everything else. Resist the temptation to think that working for yourself in these two ways will only lead to meager success and that you need to ride the coattails of a big organization in order to make it big. In the book, No More Dreaded Mondays, Dan Miller discusses the breakdown of millionaires in America. Small business owners, including online business owners and freelancers, comprise 74% of all millionaires in America. 74 PERCENT. Senior Executives, such as company CEOs and CFOs (think Jack Welch) make up 10%. Doctors, lawyers, and other professionals also make up 10%. Salespeople and consultants constitute a mere 5% and the remaining 1% belongs to stockbrokers, inventors, actors, directors, authors, songwriters, athletes, and lottery winners.

So what do these statistics mean? They mean that even if you are the most talented and the most hardworking individual in your field, your chance of being a millionaire while you are still young enough to enjoy it is less than 30% if you work for someone else. The above statistics also show us that it’s not enough to just create something, you have to run something. Striking it big is a process, not a single event. The best chance you have at being a millionaire is to continually produce or provide something of value. Working for yourself in this way is not only your best shot at becoming a multi-millionaire, it is your best chance at enjoying life both before and after you become one.

So how can you start working for yourself? How can you start being your own boss and achieving financial independence? Rather than reading yet another biography by some billionaire business owner four decades after his rise to the top, I wanted to gain insight from someone who is successfully working for himself and making the transition to being a multi-millionaire right now. Enter Josh Birt.

Josh and I have been best friends for over 15 years and he has been working for himself for over 8 years. He is a freelance film editor and video producer, and the owner of Red Digital Pro. Josh started working for himself and offering his freelance services right out of college and he never looked back. After a few short years he has built an incredible network on the East Coast — a web of companies and clients that all go through him to get the film and video services they need. I asked Josh, “What tips can you give people who are ready to start working for themselves?”

Here is what he said:

1. Say hello to the bottom of the totem pole.

“In the beginning, it was a struggle to balance the time it took to develop my skills with the time it took to network, find gigs and follow through on a job.  I was living in a bedroom/kitchen hole in the ghetto of Pittsburgh doing everything I could to pay rent. I wasn’t an expert at anything in particular and because of that and my lack of connections, I had zero chance at landing any glamorous jobs. But no matter how much crap I was eating at the time, I kept moving forward. My biggest assets were my enthusiasm and my work ethic. These two things, slowly but surely, helped me get better and better connections that led to quality gigs. After 8 years of freelancing, I can tell you that there are three types of freelancers, those who don’t work hard, those who work hard with a poor attitude, and those who work hard with a great attitude. There are very few people in the last category. Enthusiasm and a great work ethic will take you further than any skills you think you have.”

2. Keep your soul off the market.

“After freelancing for 2 years, I was still barely getting by.  I was only offered freelance jobs that everyone else in the field didn’t want because the pay was 8-10 dollars an hour and the jobs were lame.  After a few more months, I gave into the struggle and accepted a full-time editing job making 32K per year.  It didn’t take me long to realize that a stable job comes with problems far worse than the uncertainty of freelancing.  I was now obligated to one job and I quickly felt cut off from the freelance world. I started losing my edge and falling behind very quickly. I lost most of my freelance contacts and more importantly, I lost my drive. There was no need to meet new clients, no need to network like crazy, no need to hustle, so I just settled.

Eventually I quit the full-time job and started freelancing again, but something was different this time. I was hungrier than before. I had tasted the worst-case scenario, a 9-5 job, so I knew that if I didn’t make it freelancing I could always go back to another crappy full-time job. I had nothing to lose. With a new fire lit, I started taking all kinds of jobs, large and small, and I pushed hard for new connections and new work. I slowly started picking up shooting and editing gigs for big-time companies, first for a multi-million dollar ski resort and then for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In no time I was working with ten different companies at once, cherry-picking the jobs that I wanted. The message is that you should stay as independent as possible but be flexible. It’s okay to go back and forth between full-time, 9-5 jobs and freelancing if necessary. Just keep learning and keep moving forward.”

3.  A steady paycheck rots your brain.

“Once you start working for yourself, you have to change the way you think about ‘getting paid’. You’ll soon figure out that two of the worst things in the world are working for an hourly wage and working for a salary.  The problem with these types of income, and full-time jobs in general, is that they set you up for living paycheck to paycheck. You always know exactly how much you are going to get each month so you spend what you know you’re going to get. But the sporadic income that accompanies freelance work teaches you to save your money. And, at least for me, the uncertainty of when and how much I was making made life more exciting. I had to be frugal with my money and find different ways to enjoy life, but because of this freedom, I have seen my income triple for the last few years. Relying on sporadic income takes some getting used to but I promise you will never go back.”

4. Promote yourself by being yourself.

“It’s true what they say, the key to success in any business is customer service, but not in the way that you think. Don’t have the perspective that you are working for your customers. You’re not. You’re working for yourself. But you need customers to fund your work. This way of looking at things will keep your focus on yourself and your work so that you can do the best job possible for your customers. Who, in turn, will continue to support your work. Your work and who you are as a person is the best way to promote yourself, and believe me, you need to promote yourself. 10% of being successful is creating a good product or offering a desirable service, but 90% of being successful is promoting your product or service. How else will potential clients even know that you exist, let alone have something to offer them. Try to infect people with who you are: an enthusiastic hard worker with a certain skill. This will help them remember you and mention you when they are networking with other people. Word of mouth is and always has been the best way to promote anything. You should also start a website as soon as possible so that people have a way to read about your products and services, and so they know how to reach you.”

5.  Find a Rolls-Royce mentor, or two.

“I have had several mentors throughout the different levels of my freelancing success. My first mentor was a Honda. Like the actual car, he was adequate and reliable, something that any 16 year old kid would love to have. He taught me the basic skills and techniques that I needed to learn in order to start my way down the road to success. My second mentor was a BMW. His skills and connections were more luxurious. As a result, he was able to teach me higher end shooting and editing techniques, while giving me a glimpse of what it would be like to be a major player in the field. But eventually my skills and successes surpassed this mentor as well. Just like you grow out of cars, you will eventually grow out of certain mentors. Of course you will remain close friends, but you will no longer belong in the protégé position under them.

Currently I have two, what I call, Rolls-Royce mentors. The first is someone that I look up to because he is wildly rich and extremely successful at what he does. I learn from him by observing how he interacts with other successful people and how he makes high-end business decisions. The second is a leader in the film production industry. I continue to learn advanced technical skills from him in the fields of shooting, video editing, and video production. My Rolls-Royce mentors give me access to people and skills that I would have never come in contact with on my own. Because of them, I was hired to work on the set of my first feature film, The Warrior, staring Nick Nolte and Tom Hardy, and I was put in charge of filming a documentary in Italy about the famous wrestler, Bruno Sammartino. Mentors are your gateway to the next level. And there’s always a next level so never stop being a protégé.”

6. Strap on a set.

“The truth is that working for yourself, especially in the beginning, is not all gumdrops and gummy bears. Freelance work comes and goes like the tide, cycling back and forth between heavy waves that don’t stop pounding and empty beaches baked dry in the sun. Early in my freelancing career, I would take every job I was offered because I never knew when another opportunity might present itself. As a result, I was running around like a chicken with his head cut off. Pulling constant all-nighters and living in front of a computer.  This kind of lifestyle is necessary in the beginning of any new freelancing career because it’s the only way to get your name out there and really get the ball rolling.

The good news is that it’s not the same kind of soul sucking work that you have to do in most 9-5 jobs, you’re not being bossed around by ten idiots in middle management and sending the same crap emails all day. When you are freelancing, you are doing what you love and you are directly involved in deciding which jobs you are working on. This alone can make working 17 hours straight feel as though you have only worked 1 hour. Don’t shy away from grinding it out occasionally. Have some grit. Things will get better.”

7. Invest in that wonderful face you see in the mirror.

“After a couple of years of steady growth, I noticed that things were starting to plateau. This happens in almost every field and in almost every career type. Some online business owners keep moving the same number of units for 5 years, people climb the corporate ladder to middle management and get stuck, freelancers go round-robin with the same 4 clients over and over again. I did not want this to happen to me so I decided to start putting as much money as I could back into myself and I started thinking of a plan to make myself stick out from the crowd.

Eventually I was able to save enough money and pull in enough investors to buy the best video equipment on the market, the Red One and an EPIC-M camera. There are only a few of these cameras in the country and they are used to shoot big budget movies such as The Lord Of The Rings Triology. As crazy as it sounds, owning this camera changed my status overnight. And it wasn’t so much the camera as the fact that I was someone willing to take the risk of putting everything I had into myself and my work. During your climb to the top, constantly be looking for new ways to invest in yourself. Be especially on the look out for opportunities that will differentiate you from other freelancers that offer similar services.”

8. Carefully record your climb to the top.

“Don’t’ forget your paperwork. Even if you start by using your name as your “company”, it is always a good idea to create a limited liability company (LLC). An LLC is a legal form of company that provides limited liability to its owners in the vast majority of United States jurisdictions. An LLC protects you and makes you look more professional. It’s also a good idea to start writing down a list of everything you did at the end of each day. Even if it’s as basic as I drove 15 miles for a video shoot, drove back home, and edited a project for 5 hours. All of this information is important for billing and tax purposes. Keep track of everything, including the miles you drive for work, the money you spend on food, parking, and anything else you do in a given day. Trust me, the more you record, the better. When you start having multiple clients, and when you have some cash flow to play with, hire an accountant, a CPA, and a lawyer, in that order.”

Try to apply the above information to a freelancing scenario that involves you and your passion. Armed with this knowledge, you are ready to start being your own empire. Don’t follow the rest of the lemmings off of the cliff. Turn around. Forge your own path. Be your own empire.

You Comment, Isaiah Responds

  • Nuch Houlihan

    this was very informative. with the economy today things are scary. my husband and i do what we love, i have had a couple small companies doing what made me happy at that time in my life. always leave room for change because life constantly changes as we grow up. i loved painting and had a painting business. then computers and now pottery. your passion is exactly right, you need to follow it whole heartedly

  • Lindsey Surace MD

    This post hit home 100%. I particularly like and believe what you said about Warren Buffet and Bill Gates…it seems no matter how much one has financially, there is always more to be had. You are right on that experience forms life rather than dollars to a certain degree and understanding where you as a person can comfortably live and still enjoy is ideal. As you allude to, passion is key.