“Yes, that's what I said. I have an internet marketing business”.
This was my default answer to “what do you do?” for the last 6 years. But when it was an old friend or relative asking, the follow up question was always:
“How the F did you get into that?!”
Because everyone knew me as a technologically illiterate carpenter. This is the story of how I transitioned from a blue collar construction worker to an internet business owner.
In 2014 as a first year carpentry apprentice I’d accepted the fact that the worst jobs on a building site were reserved for me.
This week was especially bad.
It was a wet, miserable winter day and I was outside in the rain cleaning recycled bricks under the cold steel scaffolding for less-than-minimum-wage.
My boss was taking this whole ‘lets exploit the apprentice’ thing to a new level. Doing shitty jobs from time to time is part of the apprenticeship package. It's somewhat of a rite of passage. But when it's all labor and no learning you’re not an apprentice; you’re an underpaid laborer.
I’d challenged my boss in the past when he’d given me similar shitty jobs like digging trenches or removing rubbish. “I did my time, now you do yours” was his rebuttal.
As I marinated in my anger, a fire ignited in my belly. Was this really the type of life I was going to accept?
By the end of the week I was determined to find a way to break out of this prison of bricks. Therefore, that shitty week was a gift. Life was urging me to take a long, hard look at the path I’d chosen.
As I looked around at anyone who I’d considered wealthy in my network it seemed that real estate was the common denominator.
I decided that property investing was the answer and settled on a simple strategy: Buy an undervalued home, make it pretty again, get the bank to revalue it (hopefully at the market value), then rinse and repeat with the extra equity.
A conceptual example I came across explained that you would buy 10 houses and 7-10 years later the value of these houses should have doubled. Then you would simply sell 5 of the houses, pay off the mortgages on the other 5, and live off the rental income while sipping coconuts on the beach in Thailand! (which it turns out, is over-hyped)
It sounded much more fun than cleaning bricks, so I took a shot.
Through a weekend bar job, a frugal attitude and a small inheritance from my passing grandma I managed to save up enough for a 10% deposit for one of the cheapest, most run down houses I could find within 2 hours of where I lived.
The little green fibro shack cost $140k and had its windows boarded up, but through researching the area I knew it had to be worth more.
I signed the contract, handed in my resignation to my slave driving boss and told him where to stick it. His parting words of encouragement:
“You’ll never make money through property investing. It doesn’t work anymore”
Of course, he was wrong.
3 months and $5k of credit card debt later the ugly little green shack looked respectable and the bank valued it at $230k.
It worked! I could already taste those coconuts!
I wasted no time and started looking for another house. But I still needed an income so I found another carpentry apprenticeship, this time with a decent company.
I bought another fibro shack. Time to rinse and repeat. I labored Monday to Friday for the construction company, and then immediately drove the 2 long hours to my new dilapidated home where I grinded for 16 hours days over the weekends renovating like a maniac.
After 3 straight months of work without a single day off I finished the project.
But there was a big problem.
I was building wealth but It would take me a few more years of grueling 7-day work weeks before I could enjoy the fruits of my labor. And the thought of continuing down this path made me want to cry. It was obvious that I was wasting the best years of my life.
I had the realization: What was the point of building wealth if I had no time to enjoy it now? I knew I was planting seeds for the future but there had to be a better way.
It was about this time when I came across Tim Ferriss’s book ‘The Four Hour Work Week’ and was convinced online business was the way. It could not have come at a better time. It became my bible.
After a few false starts I came across a blogger teaching people how to make money online with something called “niche websites''. You’d choose a topic and write lots of content, do some SEO, then monetize the content with affiliate links and advertisements.
And it seemed realistic. No big promises of secret systems that would make you a millionaire overnight if you “just do this one weird trick”.
The niche site model promised a modest $500-$1000/month per website. And once the websites were earning, they kept earning without any extra work. There were stories of people creating hundreds of these sites and earning stupid amounts of money while they slept.
I saw my stepping stone into the world of internet business, but it wasn't easy.
For the next 6 months I swung a hammer confidently by day and struggled with a keyboard by night. There was an abundance of roadblocks as I threw myself head first into the world of writing, WordPress and web hosting. But every day I made baby steps and became slightly less technologically illiterate.
And after 6 months I’d built my first affiliate website: a strange little niche affiliate site about work boots. But while I was busy learning, writing and SEO'ing, when something strange happened.
I was waiting in line to grab a coffee with some friends when I got the email that changed my life.
Amazon had just emailed and congratulated me on my first affiliate commission: 37c.
I screamed like a 13 year old girl at a Bieber concert. It worked! I’d just proven to myself that it was possible to make money on the internet.
My friends couldn’t understand why I was so ecstatic over pocket change. But it wasn’t about the amount. It was the fact that it happened while I was here drinking a coffee on my Saturday morning.
I knew that if I could make 37c once, I could do it again and again. This was a turning point for me.
Shortly after that day in the coffee shop my girlfriend of the time and I moved from Sydney to a small coastal town. This meant I had to find a new job.
...Or did I?
This was my chance to try to make this internet money thing happen on a larger scale.
By this time my 37c per month business had grown to a few hundred dollars per month so it still wasn’t enough to live off.
I took a leap of faith and decided to try this internet marketing thing full time. If it didn’t work out I could always get another job. I had a few thousand dollars of savings, a $5k credit limit and some newly acquired basic SEO skills.
I nervously dialed up every business owner in my contacts list and pitched them on SEO. I was a terrible salesman but somehow managed to convince a few business owners to let me help them, which meant I had my living expenses covered. Every other cent then went into my affiliate website.
The next few months were a blur. I learnt as much as I could about SEO and internet business, and then practiced on my website and for my clients.
While the online world was all still relatively new to me I had a secret weapon: a wall.
A wall of motivation, that is. My back was against a wall: I’d have to either make it work or get back to cleaning those damn bricks. I doubted myself heavily during this time. Was it really possible to transition from a caveman to CEO?
As it turns out, it was easier than I feared. I realized SEO is like baking your first cheesecake; intimidating in the beginning but if you stick to the recipe it works. And that's what I did; I stuck to the recipe. The leap of faith worked out.
3 months later my affiliate website was earning $2k/month. I kept at it. A few months later it doubled. And a few months after that I sold it for $50k which changed everything.
I continued down this path for the next 5 years. I continued to learn and iterate and my business evolved, I earned more than I thought was possible and I had a much better life than my brick cleaning days.
And that's the story of how I transitioned from an apprentice carpenter into an internet business owner. This journey taught me 3 cliche life lessons:
Bad situations can be your blessing in disguise. Had I never been exploited by that terrible boss of mine, I might never have gone on the journey that led me to where I am today. I think I’ll send him a Christmas card this year saying “thank you for being such a dick head”
More problem solving = more growth. Building a house is simply solving a set of problems until you finish the project. The same concept applies to building websites and businesses. I learned to view problems as part of the process of learning and growing, rather than annoying things that were slowing me down. If you can learn to view problems as opportunities to grow, you will grow. If you look at them as nuisances, you’ll avoid them. But you’ll be avoiding growth.
Leap more often. Every time I've taken a leap of faith in life I've grown the most professionally and personally. As I get older and as things become more comfortable in my life, the leap of faith moments become less frequent. I should remind myself to take more leaps.
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