Career Advice That Kicks Ass: A Six-Figure Consultant Speaks Up

By Carlos Portocarrero

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A high kick with the sun setting in the background

Today I’m super excited to feature an interview filled with great career advice from Steve of BripBlap, a site devoted to finance and career success. I first heard of Steve (like so many others) through his very successful post, 8 Steps to a Six Figure Career. He’s had a ton of experience working all over the world as a consultant in the financial industry and has some fantastic career advice for people looking to boost their career prospects.

He’s also lost over 100 pounds, which is not just interesting for people looking to lose weight, but has given him interesting insights on systems that apply to almost anything you want to achieve.

In all, I’m super excited to pass on some of the best career advice I’ve ever featured here on The Writer’s Coin.

Without further ado:

1. One of your most popular posts is 8 Steps to a Six Figure Career: Do you still feel like that career advice applies today? In other words, would you give that advice to you kids as they grow up?

I feel that advice still applies today. Roughly, I’d summarize it as pick a “good” major (leave your love of French lit for your spare time and get a degree in accounting), get an advanced degree or certification (because a BA is unfortunately the new high school diploma), but most importantly take big chances: change jobs aggressively, move to bigger cities, go overseas, do something unusual early on in your career to distance yourself from the pack.

[editor: this is great advice…be bold early on and make yourself unique]

I volunteered to go work in Russia for my employer in the mid-90s, for example, and ended up staying several years. That has given me a white-hot resume point for the past decade: employers and clients always view that as a risky, bold, ambitious decision. It sets me apart from my peers. So yes, I’d give that advice to my kids, with one caveat: the job market is changing faster now than ever before.

It has changed radically since my parents’ generation (my dad had one employer his whole career) to mine (I am a professional contract consultant for financial controls and systems) and I’m sure that my kids will wind up with a different job model…I certainly won’t steer them away from entrepreneurialism, for example. But since the basic idea is do a little bit extra early in life to set yourself apart at the beginning of your career, I don’t see how that’s ever going to change.

2. Losing the amount of weight you lost is incredible, can you tell us how you stuck through your weight loss? Was it just perseverance or was there a tipping point that got you to commit?

Well, I started it when I got winded walking up a single flight of stairs. I realized that clutching at the handrail after taking about 16 steps up and needing big gulps of air was not a great way to live. It was easy once I latched onto a system (I was on Atkins). Plus it was easy because I did most of it when I was single: I had no “cheat foods” in the house.

Unfortunately I’ve put a little bit of the weight back, but I’m still far, far healthier and fit than I was before. Losing weight is simple: find a system that you enjoy and commit to it. Experiment with a few different ones—I tried low-fat and vegetarian before settling on Atkins. If it’s Atkins, being a vegan, paleo, whatever: you have to enjoy it and it has to be a simple system.

[editor: love this…don’t bang your head against the wall by “trying harder,” just find a simple system that works for you]

Anything that requires meticulous record keeping and complex tracking seems unpleasant from the get-go to me. Here’s my go-to tip these days, which is a VERY simple way to start losing weight: look at the ingredients before you buy it. If it has “high fructose corn syrup” or any variation on “corn syrup/sweetener/goo” don’t buy it, ever. Not because that’s the most awful ingredient—it’s not—but because it only exists in highly processed foods. That one little step will cut out a huge amount of unhealthy and unfilling food from your diet.

3. With the state of the job market today being pretty grim, what career advice do you have for newly graduated people starting off in the “real world?”

Well, as I mentioned above: take the biggest risks you can early in your career. It is much easier to separate yourself from the crowd early on. Take the weird job assignments. Pick up and move to a bigger city. And most importantly, whether you are an employee, a consultant, a freelancer or even unemployed: concentrate on YOUR development.

Early on you need training, extra responsibilities, chances to learn. If you aren’t getting those, move on. Don’t be loyal to bad companies. Early in your career you should be on a job search non-stop, even when employed. I’d take any job where I felt I had a chance to learn new skills over a job with a chance to make an extra 5%. And live as simply as you can while you are young, single and mobile. Having a lot of money in the bank gives you options. Desperately needing your next paycheck to make rent doesn’t.

4. Right now you’re a part time consultant. How is that lifestyle different than working for a company? How different is the money?

I do contract consulting. If I work for an hour, I get paid for an hour. So week to week my work’s not all that different from an employee’s: I come in, do my work, leave. The big difference is that I seldom work overtime (because then the company has to pay me for it).

I also get to focus on work and results instead of corporate politics. I’m usually at clients for a year or more, so I have outlasted “regular” employees many times. But most importantly, I’ve got time for a family life, a personal life and a side business (my blogs) which I never had as a senior manager for a multinational corporation. And the money’s about the same annually, but on an hourly basis I’m far better compensated now than I was when I was working 70 hour weeks. And as a family man, I’m happy that I can count on my fingers the number of nights in the past six years I haven’t been home to read my kids a book before bedtime because I’ve had to stay late at work.

5. Are you willing to share how much income you derive from your online pursuits? 

This is something that has varied wildly over the years. It took me a long time (more than a year and a half) to start making money with my blog, and even now I don’t make a huge amount. A good month might be $2000. A bad month might be $400. The online money-making business is changing rapidly now that SEO is dying and social is on the rise.

I’ve expanded my online “media” and I’m continually experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. I’ve never made enough to seriously consider going full-time, but it’s certainly nice to have money rolling in from more than one source.

6. What has been the most successful way to earn money online for you?

Well, for years it was affiliate income (mostly services like Prosper, Lending Club, credit cards and other financial products) and Adsense. I’ve stopped using Adsense altogether these days, and affiliate income seems to be drying up as people spend more time on social media (I don’t think they want to click away).

I get most of my income from direct ad placement—a company will simply pay me to display an ad. I am convinced that going forward the only reasonable way for individual bloggers to make money will be to sell products they’ve created. And readers will only buy those products if the blogger has developed trust with the readers, through engagement on social media, through email subscriptions, through their blog, everywhere.

I’ve got a good idea about where to go with that, but I need to put more effort into that rather than “traditional” income I’ve leaned on for years like affiliate income. I’m in the process of winding down most advertising on my blogs while I try to concentrate on building a wider audience.

7. What do you think is the most valuable skill in the workplace today? Software development? Marketing? Curious to hear your thoughts.

The most valuable skill is now, and will be for the forseeable future, the ability to solve problems—particularly for consultants and freelancers. I have been successful as a consultant because I can listen, I can read and research, I can analyze and I can write. I can look at complex problems—no matter what they are related to—analyze them and come up with solutions.

Sure, I know a dozen software platforms, all about accounting principles for 5 different countries and several different coding languages, but you know what? So do thousands of other people. I know SQL quite well for a finance guy, but you know what? There’s a SQL guy out there who’s an expert, so while knowing it is helpful for me, I can’t base my career on it.

Work on your problem solving skills. Learn how to solve puzzles. American education is highly focused on rote learning and teaching to the test, because corporate America needs armies of white-collar factory workers to process transactions. So you set yourself apart by being someone who can answer the question, not just repeat it.

8. If there’s anything else you’d like to share, please do so!

I’d just like to thank Carlos for the opportunity to be interviewed, I enjoyed the questions. And I’m always glad to hear directly from anyone with questions, so feel free to get in touch!

[editor: you can reach Steve via his blog, BripBlap. To get more great career tips like this one, sign up for the Ninja Employee Newsletter]

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