I’m getting off of a three day trip to Galveston, TX where my wife and I got away for a much needed break. My business had a busy Q1 and Q2, and I needed time to reconnect with my wife, and the flexibility I have to pick up and get away got me thinking about being an online entrepreneur, working remotely, and the reality of the elusive laptop lifestyle.
The first time I experienced the benefits of working remotely came three years into running my business when my wife and I were on vacation in Aruba for about a week. I brought my laptop knowing I’d need to work a little, and one morning, I brought my laptop out to the balcony of our hotel room to check in on my business. As I began opening up my various affiliate accounts and adding things up, I quickly realized that month was going to literally be my best month of affiliate sales so far. As I sat there, running my business as I overlooked the ocean, it sunk in: I had actually achieved that laptop lifestyle.
That was the first of several moments over the past few years, and now that I have a child, it’s even more apparent that I’ve built the lifestyle of my dreams. I can take the morning off to have breakfast with my family, go out for a last-minute lunch date with my wife (if one of the grandmas stops by), take a golf trip with friends, and hang out with my kid when he needs me.
When we think about what it means to achieve a laptop lifestyle, there are the flashy images of beaches and riding hot air balloons through Istanbul, but the more exciting thing, for me at least, is realizing the flexibility I have in my day-to-day life.
Every time I experience those moments of freedom, I’m reminded that I actually created them from nothing.
After I had my first little “Aha” moment, I immediately thought about all of the people I’ve talked to who are trying so hard to make the same thing happen for themselves. There are probably even more people who are still sitting in jobs that they hate because they feel like it’s what they’re supposed to do.
I used to think like that too before I got fed up with working for someone else and decided to build a company that allows me to experience life on my own terms. But I want to take some time to reiterate that what I and other online entrepreneurs are doing for a living isn’t easy, even though it often seems that way.
Owning your own business, whether it’s working from home or working while mountain climbing in the Himalayas, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have reached financial freedom either. Debt freedom or true financial freedom isn’t easy. Hardly anything is easy in life.
Those people I mentioned above, who are struggling to make it work, are really struggling. Even the successful ones spent a lot of time wading through it all to make their dream-like, flexible work-life balance a reality. There is failure, criticism, 12+ hour work days, and really sacrificing a lot to run a business from home (or on a beach, boat, mountain, or whatever your dream might be).
In my opinion, the hustle is worth it 100%, but it’s not for everyone. So if you’re still dead-set on dipping your toes into an online business after reading that, I’d like to share a few pieces of wisdom with you.
1. First of All, Are Online Businesses Even Viable? Short answer: Yes. But they’re not for everyone.
The reality of online businesses is that the vast (and I mean vast) majority of people who start blogs, FBA businesses, Etsy stores, etc. don’t actually make it. The problem I see is that many people underestimate the amount of work it takes to launch a successful online business, especially if you’re starting it as a side hustle. It’s hours of extra work every week on top of your current job, school, family, and other obligations.
My advice is that if you are going to spend the money on a website, course, or some kind of coaching program, then follow through with it. And even though I just said it’s underestimating the amount of work that prevents a lot of people from success, I think there’s also a component of fear — what if you fail?
But what if you never start?
I believe in online businesses with every part of my soul. Owning one has completely changed my life, and that’s not some bogus statement. I trust the process so much that a large portion of my business is actively helping others do the same through a growing suite of courses designed to teach others how to start and run successful online businesses.
What I do for a living is a real thing, and it’s how I know that online businesses are still a viable option. I get up in the morning, open my laptop, and start working. I repeat that day in and day out. I do get some breaks, and I’m at a point now where I can take more of them, but there is still an astonishing amount of work, especially if I want to grow my business even more.
2. Beware of the Fast Success Promises
Finding quick success is the dream, but it’s not the reality for the majority of people because there is no one-size-fits-all format for online businesses. I know this, you know this, but there are a lot of people still selling that model.
I’m always careful when I tell people about my journey because I did find success pretty quickly compared to other bloggers I know. So I want to use that as an example: a huge part of blogging has to do with your story. Have you done something that people latch onto and find really interesting? For me, student loans were my story. I paid off a bunch of student loan debt quickly, tapping into a large segment of people that went through the same stuff that I did.
Most people shy away from telling people that they lived with their parents (or in-laws in my case) to pay off their debt, but I embraced it. That was my edge. Of course, I had to take my lumps when my story blew up a little bit — but sticks and stones and all of that. But being as open and transparent as possible drew a very specific group of readers to the site, which is what I needed to grow.
Now, that’s what worked for me, but every business is going to have some different angle to come in from. I can’t sell the model that worked for me to someone who is building a marketing business.
My advice when you are looking for tips on starting and growing an online business (or anything else related to your finances) is to look for people who don’t over glamorize or oversimplify their success just to get your money. Try to find influencers who would look you in the eye and tell you how hard it really is.
3. You Have To Provide Value
Value is the key to making a successful online business, but value can be a hard thing to work on when you are getting started because some of it does depend on your audience. It also depends on the service or product itself.
Value means you are giving people a reason to click over, it means they’re sticking around, and it means they’ll want more from you. It’s creating loyalty and trust between you and your audience, clients, and customers.
For my business specifically, the reason I’ve been able to see high click-through and conversion rates is that we focus on promoting value first and sales way down the road. If you follow my business for the next five years and love the value I provide, you’re probably going to buy a course from me later on because I first gave everything I could to you for free.
Value is relevant to every online business. Working this out isn’t going to be the glamorous part of that laptop lifestyle, but trust me it’s what all of those very successful people are constantly working on.
Even if your style is less of that cruise-through-the-Mediterranean hustle and more of that sit-on-the-sofa-and-work-from-home business model, doing things like garage sales on eBay or starting an Etsy shop, require some time to think through your value proposition. The market will tell you whether or not you’re right, no matter where you’re planted.
4. Be Honest With Yourself
This is one of the hardest things to become good at. I said the value thing was hard, but this one actually wins for its difficulty level because being honest with yourself and your business is less working energy and time and more of a psychological thing. It’s also a hard thing to help others with.
I get emails from people who have been blogging for five years and still aren’t making money. When that comes across my inbox, my goal is to get them to self-evaluate and be honest. It could be that they just aren’t talented enough to make it, or it could just be that their strategy is inefficient and they are in denial. It’s okay if the talent isn’t there — we’re not meant to do everything.
When I think of being honest with yourself, I always think of sports. Sports are an incredible way to understand this because, from very early on, they literally weed you out if you aren’t good enough. Coaches will straight up tell you the truth about your abilities, then they’ll either bench you or cut you from the team. You can work harder to grow your skills and strength or you can do something else.
Business can be the same, but it’s easy to hold on for too long because nobody is coming up to you and saying, “Sorry, Bobby, you’re a little too short and kinda too slow to play wide receiver.”
Even if the market is trying to tell you exactly that, it doesn’t mean you are listening. This is why I only ever made it to fantasy football, because I listened, and anyone can do fantasy football.
There are things that I’m not good at with my business. I could either recognize those things and work on my weaknesses or just bury my head in the sand and never grow. You probably know which one I’m picking.
5. It’s Okay To Try Something and Fail
Like I just mentioned above, being honest with yourself is huge. I think it takes a stronger person to admit their weaknesses, like lack of talent, misdirected strategy, or a bad product, than one who is too stubborn or proud to admit they might not have it all figured out. That honesty, oftentimes, leads to a realization that you have failed at a particular task, goal, or plan.
This is going to sound cliché, but failure causes reinvention, which in turn creates success. I probably legitimately fail at something at least once a week, but I’m so open to the failure process now that I almost look forward to it when I’m trying out new things that will help grow my business.
Failure = learning, and as a former teacher, I respect that game more than nearly anything else in life. Now that I’m a parent, I believe this is one of the most important lessons you can teach your children. It isn’t just for future business pursuits, it’s an everyday, real-life thing.
Seriously, if you have a cool idea for a website or really want to start freelancing, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If that fails, be honest when figuring out why.
Be ready to shift or pivot on to the next idea, take what you’ve learned with you, and work on creating something awesome.
So, Is It Possible To Create the Elusive Laptop Lifestyle?
I’m going to share a secret with all of you: that elusive laptop lifestyle is just people who have started and grown a work-from-home business.
They are the ones who have tried, failed, tried more, worked 100+ hour work weeks, maybe some more failure, didn’t let their pride get in the way, and just did that lather, rinse, repeat until they figured out a formula that works for them. And still, there are people doing that who don’t reach the level of success we’re talking about.
I promise that I didn’t write this to deter anyone from their dreams or goals.
I am 10,000x happier with what I’m doing now. I’d take all of that effort and struggle and multiply it by 1000 and it would still be worth it.
I’m sharing this all with you because I just want anyone who wants to follow the path that I’m on to understand it a little better. There’s a ton of opportunity right now in the online space, and I’m living proof of that. Just be smart, realistic, and work hard.