Photo of Piranesi engraving by Evil Preacher
They say Rome wasn’t built in a day. And it was a full-time job.
Think of lugging all that marble, laying pipes and foundations, raising columns and arches, tiling all those roofs, and doing all the fancy bits of decoration on the top. Not to mention organising supplies of food and water, keeping the rabble entertained and in order, and stopping the fractious nobles from destroying the whole structure from within.
And that was just the City of Rome. Outside the gates stretched a vast Empire formed by years of conquest and maintained by a complex web of treaties, tributes, and the garrisons of the Imperial Army.
No wonder they never got round to conquering Scotland.
Yes indeed, building Rome was a full-time job. And I should know. A few years ago, I was faced with a tough decision: finish my Master’s degree or finish playing Rome: Total War. Fortunately for my career, I opted for the degree. (Don’t tell my Glasgwegian father, but I did conquer Scotland a couple of times. Sorry Dad.)
So if you want to build an empire made of marble and gold, with a conquering army and vassal kingdoms, you will probably have to quit your day job. The same goes for the kind of bricks-and-mortar business empire built by big-shot entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, Donald Trump and Bill Gates. That kind of company requires huge offices and payrolls, complex organisational structures and a hefty injection of capital up front.
But these days, small is the new big. You have the opportunity to create a new type of business, without hiring employees, renting an office, buying expensive equipment or taking on venture capital funding. You can start it from your kitchen table, with imagination and elbow grease, in your spare time.
Spare Time Is the New Venture Capital
You might wonder why I didn’t just play my computer game in my spare time. The answer is that I was doing my degree in my spare time. I was working at my business and taking a day a week to travel to the University of Warwick for classes, reading and writing on the train, in my evenings, my weekends and any other time I could fit in between client appointments.
To me, making this kind of investment in my future is normal behaviour. Yes, it was hard at the time, but that degree helped me transform my business. I could see the value in the course, so making the time was a no-brainer. The same went for starting a blog, creating an e-learning course, raising my profile with free ebooks and building a mailing list with a free course. I could have been doing something else with that time, but I wanted to build my empire.
I often talk to people who say they’d love to start their own business, or extend the online presence of the one they already have – but they ”don’t have time”. Employees seem to think they’ll have to give up their day job, which feels too scary. And freelancers are afraid they won’t have time to service their clients.
My answer is simple: most business empires built by creative entrepreneurs are started in their spare time.
I can remember hearing Sonia Simone, Dave Navarro and Michael Martine announce they were quitting their day jobs, as they were now able to support themselves from their online ventures. In all three cases I remember thinking ”Huh? I thought they were already doing it full-time.” They were producing such a volume of quality content and products I never guessed it was their part-time gig.
It’s easy to look at an impressive edifice like Copyblogger Media and think ”I’d never have time for that” – but those of us who were blogging aeons ago in 2006 can remember Copyblogger pumping out valuable content for months on end with no visible means of financial support. No ads, no products, no consulting services, no affiliate offers. Like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, it was a mystery what went on behind the scenes. But Brian Clark later revealed that he started Copyblogger while earning his living from various other online projects. Another spare time project.
And my own humble fiefdoms here at Lateral Action and over at Wishful Thinking were also eked out in my spare time – time I could have spent hustling for more short-term business, or in the pub, or watching TV. Or playing computer games.
How much time do you really need to make a start on your new venture?
How much spare time do you have lying around, that you could invest?
Everything Has a Price
If you want to keep all your evenings and weekends free, if the thought of missing a holiday fills you with horror, or if you can’t imagine cutting down on TV, Facebook or World of Warcraft, then don’t become a creative entrepreneur.
Some of the internet stories of earning money while you sleep may be true, but everyone I know who earns a good living from their own business put in a lot of time and effort up front. Which involved making sacrifices.
Back in the nineties, when I worked in publishing, I was training as a hypnotherapist in (you guessed it) my spare time. I worked on my diploma in the evenings, and travelled to London for seminars at the weekends. I spent all my spare income on the course, books and travel, so I slept on friends’ couches to keep the costs down.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, I had a choice: either stay in and work while my friends went out, or go out and drink orange juice while they quaffed beer – and call it a night when they moved on to a nightclub.
I’m not telling you this as a sob story. My friends may have been having fun, but I was on an adventure, learning incredible things, and seeing a future opening up before me that would make it all worthwhile. That course changed my life – and it laid the foundation for everything I’ve achieved since. (And don’t worry, I caught up on the partying afterwards. 😉 )
What is your venture worth to you?
What will it cost you to start it – in time, money, effort, missed opportunities?
Is that a price worth paying?
Choose Your Battles
Sonia Simone wrote an eye-opening piece about how she manages to get so much done AND engage with a wide network that supports her business:
You can’t be everywhere
I’m on Twitter and Copyblogger. A few times a month I post here, because I love the culture and community that’s distinctly “Remarkable Communication.”
The funny thing is, before I read that I thought Sonia was everywhere. I read Copyblogger and Remarkable Communication, and hang out on Twitter – and so do most of the people who are relevant to her business. So to us, she is everywhere.
Like Sonia, you can work smarter by focusing on critical tasks and communication hubs. Here’s how I spend my working hours, to get (and give) maximum value from the time I put in:
- Working with clients
- Creating courses and other products that will add long-term value to my business
- Writing and commenting on Lateral Action (and occasionally on Wishful Thinking)
- Writing guest articles for other blogs relevant to my business
- Keeping up with email
- Hanging out on Twitter and other social networks
I don’t commute. I use Skype and the phone to minimise meetings. I batch meetings and networking events, to minimise trips into central London.
I only do Facebook to check in with friends in Australia. I only keep up with a handful of blogs regularly, and catch up with the rest when I have time – usually on my iPhone, often on the train. I don’t read novels or play computer games. Learning Japanese is on hold for now.
And I use technology (WordPress, RSS, email autoresponders etc) and licensing (Creative Commons) to reach as many people and deliver as much value as possible, relative to the hours I put in.
What are the critical tasks you need to get done?
How can you structure your time so you do them?
How can you use the web to maximise your impact?
Learn What Works
In some fields, such as conceptual art, there are apparently no rules – you’re expected to improvise and redefine the game as you go along. In others, such as accounting, you have to learn the rules and stick to them.
Like most creative disciplines, entrepreneurship and internet marketing are somewhere in between. You need originality, flair and spontaneity. But you also need a firm grounding in the basics – things that have been proven to work, that you ignore at your peril.
You could decide to go after a niche where there’s no competition – but when you know why this is a bad idea, you won’t.
You could decide to ignore the principles of copywriting headlines – but when you know why the principles have been established, you won’t.
You could add everyone you meet (and a few you don’t) to your mailing list – but once you know how this affects your reputation, you won’t.
If you like books, Jonathan Fields’ Career Renegade is a great introduction to creating a business doing what you love. And for the internet marketing side of things, Brian Clark’s free ebook Authority Rules: The 10 Rock Solid Elements of Effective Online Marketing will acquaint you with the fundamentals.
Some things just work. And some are a matter of discretion – it’s worth taking the time to learn the difference.
What do you need to know?
Where can you learn it?
Don’t Overdo It
You need a break. Even if it’s only an hour in the evening before bed, or an afternoon off at the weekend. There are no medals for burning out.
And remember the principle of The Dip:
• If working hard now will make things easier later, keep going.
• If hard work now will just lead to harder work in the future – find a better approach.
Right now, I’m working hard on my business as I’m laying the foundations for a more rewarding future. And we have two small children, which doesn’t leave us a lot of leisure time.
But I still take time off in the evenings, and do my best not to work every weekend. I watch a lot of movies courtesy of Lovefilm.com. I run. I play with my kids. I do bits and pieces in the garden. And I schedule 30 minutes a day to do absolutely nothing. Over Christmas I had a lot of writing to do – but I did it in Japan, in between relaxing with family, eating delicious food and visiting weird and wonderful places.
And I won’t be working this hard forever. I’m already reaping the benefits of the work I’ve done in the past, which means every year that goes by, I attract more visitors, subscribers and customers with less effort than the year before – via search engines, referrals and my mailing lists. These days, every task I complete is one more brick in place in my own pocket-sized Empire.
What do you
needwant to do – to maintain your personal health and happiness?
What’s the minimum time you need for this?
When are you going to fit it in? (Skipping it isn’t an option!)
How About You?
Have you ever started a business – or another creative project – in your spare time? If so…
How did you find the time?
What sacrifices did you make?
What was the payoff?
I’ll shortly be opening the doors to a new group of students for The Creative Entrepreneur Roadmap – an in-depth course shows you how to build your very own creative micro-business empire.
If you’d like to be first in line when the doors open – and to access the free education for creative entrepreneurs that introduces the course – you can sign up here.