Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Standing on the Shoulders of the Four Hour Work Week

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn /
There seems to be a trend in entrepreneurial books to reduce the working week to ever smaller figures, but are these sound-bites or realistic strategies? If they're realistic, how do we go about earning a seven figure sum from a single figure visit to the coal-face?

Let's start by re-visiting the key popular literature on the topic of doing more with less.

At one end of the scale, there is "The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich", by Tim Ferris. In a nutshell, Tim built a business around health supplements that enabled him to abandon a traditional 9-5, 5 day working week in favour of working whenever, and wherever he chooses, with enough income to do pretty much whatever he chooses.

Some people seem to think he's just a glorified self-publicist, using his story to sell books, while others have successfully replicated his strategies and now lead lifestyles that most would be envious of. Whether you buy into the whole kitsch or not, there are some useful nuggets in the book and it's worth reading, or skimming the sample pages available on Amazon, including the Table of Contents.

Of note as far as the lean start-up is concerned:

- delegate out as far as possible;
- remove yourself from the machine as early as possible;
- validate ideas as cheaply as possible.

At the other end of the scale, there's "The 3 Day Entrepreneur: How to Build a 6 or 7 Figure Business Working Less Than 3 Days a Week", by William U. Pena, MBA. The tag-line, helpfully, is "Build a Business, Not a Job", which immediately sets the scene in our favour.

After all, we don't want a job, we just want to have a business that earns money. It turns out that the book is a lifestyle guide, as well as a lean management bible. In fact, like the 4HWW, if you already have a job, you'll be able to use the techniques to streamline that, leaving you time to build a separate business.

Again, the key points are as follows:

- use leverage to reduce resource requirements;
- automate wherever possible (just another kind of leverage);
- create systems, and be prepared to optimize everything by testing;
- schedule tasks according to their value, importance, and contribution to the business.

Oh, and we're not just concerned with time, we also want to be able to do it with less money, as well. Enter "The $100 Startup: Fire Your Boss, Do What You Love and Work Better to Live More" by Chris Guillebeau; on the face of it a way to turn a measly amount of cash into a business empire that's fun to run, but in reality more like a cottage industry start-up manual than anything else.

Modern management writers are at it too, by the way. This isn't the place for a full-on review of modern management texts, but a quick Amazon search for lean strategic management yields a good list of starting points. The gist is that using lean techniques, with some of the 4HWW and Three Day Entrepreneur style time and resource management thrown in, even top companies can benefit from this idea that we can achieve our goals by putting in ever decreasing measures of actual effort.

So, where does that leave the start-up entrepreneur?

The opening paragraph posed two questions - is there any substance to the idea that we can do more with less, and if so, how? - and the answers are, yes, and by not actually doing anything yourself that can be done by someone else.

For example, both Ferris and Pena advocate removing yourself from the actual mechanics of the business. Ferris suggests that you do this by hiring a PA from India to cover your tasks (but then, of course, you have to have the $400 or so per month required to pay them) and Pena has a novel idea that you can just choose a day when you do no work at all, and see how the business gets on without you.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

In the real world, this translates into something akin to putting together a kind of jigsaw puzzle. Only when all the pieces fit together will the business function as a whole; if one thing breaks then the whole house of cards (to swap metaphors for a moment) comes crashing down.

That's the downside of using leverage; if you farm out responsibility and the mechanics of the business, you'd better prepare for what happens when it falls apart behind your back. Luckily, if you follow Ferris', Guillemeau's or Pena's advice, the effects will be minimal.

Not every business model works with these strategies either, of course. Typically, those that work well provide recurring income (like subscription services such as Unexpected Teas or Sumo Jerky) or those that have fully outsourced production of products to be sold through an online retailer like Amazon.

The various jigsaw pieces might include:

- a payment gateway (PayPal, or similar)
- an outsourced manufacturer or content producer
- a PA to manage QA
- someone to oversee issues (usually yourself)
- an online manager (web design, software updates, etc.)
- various bloggers, researchers, paid Twitterers, etc.

While you can make it work whilst doing much of the grind yourself, that pretty much predicates quitting any day job you might have had, and part of the beauty of the three day (or even the four hour) week is that you can start your business at the same time as having the security of being a cubicle worker.

Based on what I've read, it's certainly possible to match your current income, as long as you're not already raking in millions, whilst only 'working' for a few days per week. The trouble is, it's addictive, and before long you might well find that you've swapped one kind of lucrative prison for another as you thrill in the start-up cycle for the third or fourth time.

Whether that works for you or not is another question, and one that only you can answer.

No comments:

Post a Comment