“I’m not a millionaire, but I’ve been able to enjoy a far better lifestyle than most multi-millionaires.”

This is an expanded and updated version of a guest post I submitted to Retire Early Lifestyle. Original article here.

“Every great dream begins with a great dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars and change the world.”
-Harriet Tubman

My name is Danny and I have been traveling the world for the last 5 years, heading wherever the wind takes me. I spend about a month or two in each country. During that time I meet people from all over the world, form close friendships and relationships, and together we get in to all kinds of adventures.

Two years ago I bought a motorcycle and traveled the length of Vietnam with a french travel-mate, Stefan. I also explored much of Laos and Cambodia, with a girl I met in Thailand. I was 27, and the motorcycle cost me around $280 USD. I sold the bike at the conclusion of the trip, re-couping my entire investment.

Motorbike trip across Vietnam.

On the road with Stephane… somewhere in Quang Tri, Vietnam.

After, I went to Bangkok and trained six times a week as Muay Thai fighter under Thohsaphol Sitiwatjana, a world-famous trainer. Unlike normal boxers, Thai boxers use their elbows, knees, and feet, to inflict severe punishment. My trainers also taught me a secret set of Muay Thai spells claimed to make one unstoppable.

The list goes on. Studying the art of tango in Buenos Aires, living as a cowboy in Patagonia, traversing the Amazon river, parasailing in Penang, living beside orangutans in the jungles of Borneo.

Riding a bicycle across Mexico.

Catavina Desert, Mexico.

Monday afternoon. Instead of sitting in an office, I’m here. Catavina desert, Mexico.

Just a handful of the crazy dreams I’ve been blessed to experience, in real life, over the last few years. I’m not a millionaire, but I’ve been able to enjoy a far better lifestyle than most multi-millionaires.

Everything I’ve done, you can do too. All it takes is that you DREAM BIG, follow a practical step-by-step plan, and realize the infinite amount of opportunities that are out there, waiting for you.

Halong Bay, Vietnam.

I’m in a painting!

In 2009, I felt stuck. Like many young men, I was broke, lonely, confused, and damn-well pissed about it.

I dreamt of being an entrepreneur and struck out to be my own boss. But all that happened was me getting stuck in a mind-numbing grind, striving to reach monthly revenue goals which always seemed to elude me. I was doing all the things I thought I should be doing. Attending webinars and investing in online courses (in one year I spent $1,997 on an online productivity course and $3,500 on an online video marketing program). Reading one business book a week. Reciting daily affirmations. But all that happened was I spent a ton of time chasing unqualified, low-quality leads day after day. Lots of people consulted with me about their “idea” but then never followed up afterwards. And I never seemed to be moving forward.

My cousin was kind enough to lend me his couch to sleep for a few months; which was a good thing, because I barely had two pennies to my name. I’d constantly attend events and meetings, networking and exchanging business cards, thinking in my head: “What else could I do?” My future as a self-employed online advertising consultant was uncertain. From time to time I had to shoplift groceries from the frozen food aisle to feed myself. I wasn’t proud of it, but I had to do what I had to do to survive.

I read a book called the “4 Hour Workweek” and it turned my world on its head. I’d sit and read it in the park, and daydream of adventures in far-flung lands. I re-read certain sections, as if to verify that what I was reading was real. Could I really turn my life around to resemble the author’s? I kept the book by my bedside, a companion, a reminder, a torch of promise silently beckoning me onwards in the direction of my dreams.

Parasailing at Batu Ferringhi in Penang, Malaysia.

About to lift off! It was thrilling but simultaneously terrifying. Penang, Malaysia..

At that point, there were two things that held me back: fear of the unknown and my own physical, cultural, and mental baggage.

Finally, I decided enough was enough.

I ran an experiment: I would pack up my car and live in Mexico for two months. As I was from San Diego, Mexico was the obvious frontier. Most people I talked to were afraid to visit Mexico during those days. Crossing and living on the other side of that border was a metaphor, a bitch slap to the face of the fear that held me back.

It was also a test to see if my business would still run with me physically absent, and I reasoned, that even if the worst happened I could drive a few hours back home.

It was a calculated risk to take me out of my comfort zone, out of my monotone day-to-day routine, and off of the treadmill, hopefully for good.

Was I scared? Hell yes.

What I really fantasized about was traveling to South America but all these idiotic fears surfaced: What if I contracted malaria? What if I ran out of money? Oh, and I’m a picky eater – what if I couldn’t eat the food?

Would I starve?

Ultimately, I decided uncertainty was better than a life of perpetual unhappiness, fantasizing about what I wanted but not taking action.

So I took that first step.

Re-Defining the Rules

“As long as you’re worried about losing what you’ve got, you’ll never be able to see that what’s out there waiting for you is a hundred times better!” –Don Ward

By far, the biggest excuse people give as to why they can’t travel (or pursue any of the things they REALLY want) is lack of time and money. “I’d love to do that, but I can’t afford it.” Many people reading this article now are thinking exactly this!

Others will simply say: “Someday.” But someday means never. You can take that first step, now. You must take that first step.

Still others will say “That sounds fun, but I have to work.” The truth is, we don’t have to do anything! The only time we feel we *have* to do something is when we play by someone else’s rules. Who is it that decides how you or I should run OUR lives, if not ourselves? Why not re-define the rules, and play a game that suits us, one that we can actually win?

Taiwan hot springs.

Chilling out in a spring in Taiwan.

I’ll tell you one thing: it’s refreshing as hell to lead a life exactly the way you want without outside influence from others. Try it out, and see how it feels. You can make the decision to start, right now.

Here are three simple steps, in very practical terms, I used to create my life on my own terms (which you can do as well).

Step #1 – Get Your Hands Dirty

When I began to travel, I had a location-independent “muse” business supporting my adventures. I had a handful of long-term clients, perhaps 6 or 7, who hired me on a retainer basis. Each month, my Authorize.net account would invoice my clients, and automatically deposit the funds into my account. It didn’t matter where I was.

But here’s the truth: it took a lot of hard work, sweat, and hundreds hours of networking, meeting and managing clients, and so on to get to the point where I could support myself and travel.

Long story short, building a “lifestyle business” as my path to freedom took a lot of time and effort. I was definitely not working four hours a week. Setting everything up takes a lot of work. Once it’s up and running, it gets much easier.

It all paid off in the end. I had created systems that made the business run profitably, and allowed me to work just 10 hours a week. Whether I was at the beach in San Diego or on the beach in Malaysia, it made no difference.

There were two breakthroughs in particular which allowed me to transition and transform the business from one of overwork and drudgery into one that ran efficiently, predictably, and profitably.

Step #2 – Career Minimalism

“One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.” – Bruce Lee

Realizing that I only needed a handful of clients to sustain a full-time income. This falls into the realm of what I call business minimalism. Before this “AHA” I had arbitrary sales and income targets – such as earn $10,000 a month. Why $10,000? It was randomly chosen, but I’d convinced that once I’d reached that target, I’d be “successful.”

Everything else – my free time, friends, family, social and dating life, and hobbies were relegated to the back burner.

I had no idea what “success” actually meant. But it was what everyone else was striving for, so it seemed that I should too. Specifics be damned.

To make things worse, I had no plan for reaching these revenue goals, I simply put them up on a piece of paper and taped it to a wall, and spent my days blindly chasing these targets.

The point is, this is a HORRIBLE path to follow for a self-employed person. While I was so passionate about my line of work – advertising – my passion had me thinking and acting irrationally. I was flailing and kicking like hell but blindfolded, ignoring the obvious writing on the wall.

I think many of us realize that self-employed people work hard (especially in the US), but their overwork fails to really get them any where. Should they be fortunate enough to experience some financial success from their efforts, they immediately seek outlets to cope with the stress of work: expensive dinners, flashy cars, the latest iPhone, and a thousand of other things which provide instant gratification, but no real happiness or fulfillment.

The real problem here is psychological – and it’s a trap that all of us can easily fall into from time to time: we become addicted to the struggle. In other words, in this scenario, we take the fact that we work so hard and wear it as a badge of honor. We all like to believe that hard work pays off, and while it most certainly can, in many cases it doesn’t. And the inescapable result is that we become martyrs.

In my case, I was wasting a lot of time pursuing unqualified leads. I probably came across as desperate. So I stepped back, and realized that I could decrease my working hours dramatically AND increase profits simultaneously. I did this when I stopped pursuing new clientele and simply increased the LifeTime Value (LTV) of my existing clients.

Here is a simple graphic to illustrate this concept (courtesy of ForEntrepreneurs.com):

Low customer acquisition cost, high customer value.

When I started out, my CAC was too high in terms of time and opportunity cost. By reducing CAC and multiplying LTV, I created freedom for myself in my business. Everything worked. The business ran more profitability, and I created better relationships with happier clients. In my book I talk about how to do everything I did, step-by-step.

Rule #3 – Streamlining and Systemizing

Creating systems to streamline the business. The entire process of working with clients – from initial interactions to closing sales to deliverables, outsourcing, and operations was linear and recurring. Meaning: the process could be systemized and made to run, again and again – indefinitely.

Sure, things needed to be updated from time to time, but the overall procedures were sound and the principles timeless.

Even if you use no systems in your work now, you still have one big advantage: the more you engage in a business activity, the more efficient you become at it. The more knowledgable you become about how to best complete certain key processes, the easier it will be to systemize them.

Malcolm Gladwell says it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to attain mastery in any area. Once you attain mastery, you can apply “thin-slicing” to quickly find patterns and easily make the right decisions.

Armed with this knowledge, the next step is to take all of this know-how and document it. Then deploy it. That’s it.

I’ll indulge you with an example. The most important system I ever created (and the one I’m most proud of) was my “6-step customer care system.”

I read a book by marketing author Dan Kennedy – where he says you need to build a herd and “keep your fence strong.” If you didn’t keep a strong fence around your customers, they would wander off or others would come and steal them away. Kennedy advocates “touching” each client with some form of communication more than 50 times a year – or at least once a week.

This became the basis of my customer care system and what it was all built around.

In my digital advertising business, there were a sequence of events which would happen during the client management process. For example: when a new lead contacts you, when you have an initial consultation, when they sign a contract, when you complete the project, when you contact them again post-project a month later, etc…

For each milestone, I created a procedure which would take place, and make an “event” occur at that milestone. For instance, when a client signs a contract, they would receive a congratulatory letter which would outline expectations going forward, reassure their decision, and so on. They would also receive a complimentary Starbucks gift card.

To receive a great introduction to systems and learn how they can streamline both your life and your entrepreneurial efforts, check out the book “Work the System” by Sam Carpenter.

Your daily life can be systemized too – if something works, let it repeat itself. I achieved a tremendous personal breakthrough when I began eating the same foods every day for lunch and dinner. Before that, I wasted a good 30 minutes before lunch and dinner simply trying to decide what to eat. It was an hour of productive time wasted on something trivial every day.

I still like to mix things up once or twice each week, but for the most part I eat the same foods 90% of the time. My metabolism is much faster, my digestion is much better, and I’m healthier as a result.

Here’s how I changed my life (and how you can too):

1. Work hard for the things you want, take lots of chances, get out of your comfort zone, and most importantly – keep learning.

2. Embrace minimalism. Eliminate the things you don’t want. Remove them, reduce them, or ignore them entirely. This can apply to people as well as things, and can be quite difficult. When I left for my first trip to Mexico, I had to leave the business referral group I was in. I had made many friends in the group, but I didn’t want to spend the next 40 years of my life having to wake up at 5:30am to go to these meetings to chase new business each week, the way most of the older members were still doing. Be proactive and find a better way to reduce inefficiencies, and do without social circles that hold you back.

3. Streamline the routines that you do regularly by creating systems so that success becomes automatic. Rinse and repeat.

At the end of the day, only you can give yourself freedom. It’s not something that you can wait around for others to hand down to you.

Are you ready to step up and make the leap?

Ziplining in the Philippines.

Freedom is waiting for you. Take it. It’s yours!

 Let me know if I can help in any way on your journey.

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