Jul 26 2010

The Importance of Failing Fast

Carlos Portocarrero

I’ve gotten some emails from readers asking to write a few words about Ramit’s Earn1k course so they can get my impressions of it. So today I’m covering one of the topics he emphasizes early on: failing fast.

Here’s how most of us expect to start making money on the side:

  1. Brainstorm ideas of what to do
  2. Create a list of 20 ideas
  3. After much harrowing thought, narrow down to five
  4. Think long and hard about which one of those five is “the one”
  5. Pick out the “winner” and don’t stop until you’ve succeeded
  6. Keep trying
  7. If you fail, try doing it a little differently
  8. Try again
  9. Keep Trying
  10. You can do it!

Ramit doesn’t roll like that. First of all, he won’t cheer you on like a self-help guru—he’ll tell it like it is and then leave it up to you to make it happen. If you are lazy or expect it to be easy, it’s your own damn fault.

Persistence is a great quality to have, but sometimes it isn’t the smartest. And when you’re starting a freelance business (or even a real business), it’s crucial not to overdo it on the persistence. Unless you are very clear on the type of life you want to lead (freelance interior designer) and aren’t willing to compromise, then you’re going to have to learn to fail fast.

That means making the following sequence happen as quickly and efficiently as you can, so you can repeat it over and over until you find something that works:

  1. Brainstorm ideas
  2. Choose one
  3. Test it
  4. If it fails, move on to the next one
  5. Repeat

First of all, that sequence is shorter. Second, it’s much more efficient that knocking your head against the wall until you start to see some progress. You’ll wind up exhausted, frustrated, and dumber than when you started. But it’s important to understand that the odds of our first idea being wildly successful are very small. How many times have you heard a successful entrepreneur tell a horror story about a colossal failure in their past? It happens to everyone—at least the successful ones.

Failure isn’t something you might bump into—it’s something you most definitely will crash and burn into. So you have to be ready to get out of the fire and start over instead of trying to salvage the burning wreckage.

This Is Not Easy

Part of this is that we’re programmed to want to seem persistent. Few of us actually are, but if we quit after encountering some difficulties that makes us feel like quitters. And in our society, quitters are synonymous with losers. And losers suck. And none of us want to suck. Unless that’s your freelance idea—sucking—in which case my advice is to fail fast so you can move on to the next one.

An Example

Say you want to get a new job. You’re an accountant and you want to be a newspaper writer because you’ve always liked writing, you read a magazine article that makes it seem like your dream job, and you’ve had your head in the sand for the past few years.

You could find a job with a paper, quit your old one, and live it up. Right? A few months later you realize you’ve made a big mistake: newspapers are dying, the pay is crap, you haven’t written anything since that story about the sock and the drawer in first grade, and you’re only eating pasta and butter for dinner these days on account of the shrinking bank account.

What do you do?

You could “try harder” and “get better” to see if that makes a difference (it won’t). You could keep at it for a few years to “get some experience,” falsely assuming that once you do you’ll be able to command a higher salary. You could sit down one day and say to yourself, “I don’t care about money—I just want to be happy. I’m going to keep at this and somehow make it work.”

Which is fine, but it’s not very smart. Here’s how you should’ve done it:

Find a freelance/part-time position at a newspaper. Or even an internship. You do it while you still have your accounting job. Do you like it? How does the pay project if you did it full time? Do it for a month or two and after that make an executive decision: keep trying or kill the experiment?

You kill it and move on to the next thing—now you’re failing but you’re failing smart. What then? You start your own blog. One of the articles you read during your experiment talked about how blogs were making a lot of newspapers irrelevant. So you start your own and you write as much as you can, learn, and try to get better. A few months later you ask yourself again: is this worth doing? is it helping me reach my goals? I would hope the answer would be “yes,” since blogging is awesome and can only help you out in the long run.

But if it doesn’t, you kill it and move on to the next thing.

What This Has to Do with Ramit’s Course

Failing fast one of the pillars of the Earn1k course. Without it, you wouldn’t get very far. Even Chris highlights how important this is in his Empire Building Kit.

The key is that you have to fail smart and you have to fail fast, which means you have to put your idea through a rigorous process that will leave no doubt in your mind when it comes time to move on to the next thing. The last thing you want to have is a bunch of regrets about the newspaper career you could’ve had.

So to sum it up: fail smart, fail fast, and move on to the next thing. If you do it right and you’re persistent you’ll eventually find a winner.

This post was included in the Carnival of Financial Planning and the Carnival of Money Stories.

Jul 15 2010


Carlos Portocarrero

Very exciting times around here as I am ecstatic to announce that I’ve been published in a magazine for the very first time. I always wanted to write something worthy of being in a magazine, I just always imagined it would be an exposé or some piece about baseball and how awesome it is.

Instead, my very first published piece is about money. Actually, you may have already read it—Five Money Ratios to Live By appeared on Wisebread back in March. I guess an editor for US Airways Magazine read it, liked it, and wanted to put it in the magazine (which you can read online here). Sweet!

I’m adding some scans of it because that’s what people do when they’re featured in print.

US Airways Magazine scanBio from US Airways Magazine

Obviously, the article is longer than that, but what’s the point of scanning the whole thing in here? That’s a bit much.

On an interesting aside, I’ve already gotten one email directly because of this from someone pretty exciting (it’s not Michael Lewis), but more on that later.

Image by notsogoodphotography

Jun 16 2010

The Two Ways of Making More Money

Carlos Portocarrero

If you want to make more money there are basically two ways to do it:

a) make more money by getting a raise or getting a new job

b) make money by starting your own small business

If you’re not interested in starting your own freelance business or side project that can generate some money, then stay tuned for my Making More Money guide. It will lay out a step-by-step map of the tactics you can use to get a raise or get a new job that pays you more money. I hope to have this ready by August and if there’s anything you’d like to see in the guide, leave a comment on this post or email me.

For those of you that are looking to start your own side project, I’d like to share my experience with Chris Guillebeau’s Empire Building Kit.

Who is Chris Guillebeau? He’s a guy that has set a goal of visiting every country in the world, he has a sweet blog called The Art of Non-Conformity, and he’s been creating side businesses for a long time. I first heard of him when I read his Brief Guide of World Domination, which has great content and an impressive design.

Empire Building Kit

What is the Empire Building Kit? It’s a kit filled with PDFs, videos, webinars, and some extras that are going to teach you everything you need to know to start your own freelance business and make money on the side. Chris sums it up way better than I can:

Build a Meaningful Lifestyle Business in One Year by Doing One Thing Every Day.

I bought Chris’ Empire Building Kit about a month ago and I have to say this: the information inside is well worth what he’s charging. Not only that, he focuses on that “meaningful” word a lot. This isn’t just about money—it’s about freedom doing something that is worth more than just cash. I want to highlight two of my favorite parts of the kit:

  1. The case studies
  2. The daily emails

Case Studies: There’s that old cliché about learning about the past so you don’t make the same mistakes in the future. Well, that’s what case studies are all about. Chris includes over 15 case studies that cover all kinds of start-up ideas that are currently making great money. From the predictable (web design) to the “you can make money doing that???” (murder-mystery hosting…yup I’m not kidding).

The variety is awesome because you can take a little bit from each one and eventually build up what you need to do (and what NOT to do) for the freelance business you want to start on the side. There are no bad ideas—one case study shows how the Raw Foods Witch turned her passion into a business. So if you thought that idea of teaching people how to telepathically communicate with their cats was stupid…think again.

If someone out there is willing to pay you for it, it’s not a dumb idea—it’s creative.

Daily Emails: The course has TONS of content. It’s almost too much when you see the list of stuff that’s included (this is for the premium version, which is what I bought):

  • 15+ case studies
  • 7 video interviews
  • 365-day series of tasks
  • 43-step launch checklist
  • Behind-the-scenes module
  • Bonus videos

But what Chris did is brilliant—he chopped it all up into a daily guide where you tackle one concrete thing each day. Every day, you’ll get an email that will focus on one very specific concept. This does two things:

a) It keeps you from getting overwhelmed and makes you focus on each element of the course

b) It serves as a reminder to work at it every day—the same way Poets & Writers reminds me every month to keep on writing

Who Should Buy This? If you want to make some quick money without doing too much work, then you should pass on the Empire Building Kit—it’s not for you. But if you want to create a meaningful side business and learn a thing or two about strategy, marketing, and creating value, then this is what you want.

Cost: Shelling out $249 or $449 is tough. I’m as cheap as they come, so I didn’t come around right away. I liked everything I read about the Empire Building Kit, but the money was a big hurdle for me. So what I did was I bought Chris’ Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself (which was $79 and I reviewed here). It made me a lot more comfortable with the quality of product that Chris puts out. After that, I was ready to take the next step.

BONUS #1: Chris has sold the Empire Building Kit twice before, and both times he only opened it up for 24 hours. This time he is opening it up for good. But to entice people to buy it today, he is giving away a 60-page guide called Backyard Biz Profits (which he’ll later sell for $50) to everyone who buys the Kit today. It’s all about
combining online marketing with local businesses.

BONUS#2: Everyone that buys either of the Empire Building Kit versions will get a free web-analytics assessment. I’ll take a look at your site and assess what metrics you should be paying attention to and tracking based on your goals.

If you currently have a site, perfect. If you don’t, you can use it once you start to build it out later on. Why should you care about web analytics? Because web analytics is cool and because it can make you smarter. Check out my site, Applied Analytics, to read more about how learning this stuff can make you and your site smarter. Just forward me your receipt and we’ll work together on figuring out what your analytics needs are.

That’s It

By the way, if you click on any of the links in this post and you buy something, Chris will kick back some of that money to me. It’s called an affiliate link and it shows you how much Chris appreciates other people promoting his products. And trust me, this is an easy product to put my stamp of approval on—it’s pretty sweet.

If you aren’t interested in putting the time into starting something like this, stay tuned. My Making Money Guide is aimed at all of you that feel like you’re not being paid what you’re worth and want some help to get what you’re worth.

Apr 21 2010

A Guide to Working for Yourself

Carlos Portocarrero

A few weeks ago I stumbled onto Chris Guillebeau’s site, The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris is an interesting guy—he’s an entrepreneur that has set a goal of visiting every country in the world. And guess what? He’s out there doing it. When I visited his site he was in the midst of promoting a new product called the Empire Building Kit. It’s basically a very detailed, very action-oriented guide to starting and running your own small business (from what I can tell/remember, it’s not open for sale now).

There was a deadline on when you could buy into it and the deadline ran out before I could make up my mind. So instead I visited his store and the found another guide that seemed like a “lite” version of the Empire Building Kit: The Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself.

Working for Yourself Guide
Itching as I was for some help and direction with starting Applied Analytics, I decided to buy it and see what Chris and his guides had to offer. I had already been exposed to some of his work from reading his Brief Guide to World Domination, which was a really slick, really entertaining read. And that’s something you’ll notice when you fire up his Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself—it is very pretty, very readable, and very slick.

What’s It All About?

The goal of the guide is to help readers start a micro business, which is defined as a business that can earn at least $200/month. That’s to start of course and you can always think bigger and go bigger. But the purpose is to get a small business started that makes a relatively low amount of income.

Chris does a great job of tailoring the guide to a wide variety of people. Whether you know what you want to start or not, Chris has got you covered. Personally, I felt like the guide was better tailored for people that have no idea what they’d want to start since he runs through a lot of potential businesses and possibilities. From eBay to blogging to photography, he covers a fair bit of ground that should help you make up your mind about the direction you want to go in.

Chris also does a good job of telling his own story via his experiences as an entrepreneur. You can tell that he’s actually done a lot of these things and it’s reassuring to know that you’re taking the advice of someone who knows what they’re doing.

Is it for You?

If you need a kick in the pants to get started with any type of side business, this guide will give you that bit of added motivation. The audio segments add a nice dimension to the package and Chris is very responsive to any issue that comes up with the guide. If you already know what you want to do and have done a fair amount of work, then you may want to wait until he opens up the Empire Building Kit again. Either way, there are some good marketing tips in here that anyone can benefit from.

And if you’re on the fence about this specific guide, check out his site (The Art of Non-Conformity) and his free Brief Guide to World Domination guide to get an idea of what you’re getting into.

If you’re interested, check out The Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself. You’ll notice that’s an affiliate link and that’s another cool thing about his guides—once you buy one you can apply to the affiliate program and make some money off every sale you drive to him. Like I’ve been saying—Chris is a smart guy. If you don’t want to go through the affiliate link, you can go straight to the guide here.