Breaking Free: Moving from Planning to Implementation

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Tazkruff, a follower commented on my article quitting the rat race:I must say this resonate[s] quite well with me and I seem to always have that blueprint for financial wealth however I lack the implementing aspects which I need to start building on.”

I had initially responded to Tazkruff, but in thinking further on the question, I could see and hear what wasn’t explicitly stated. Reading between the lines, I could sense and relate to Tazkruff’s disappointment and dare I say frustration with himself. Take heart Tazkruff, you are not alone! I, and indeed many of us are here with you.

In university I did a course in Introductory Macroeconomics and was reintroduced to a concept, that from life experience, I knew all too well. “Yd= S+C”, we learnt. That is to say that your disposable income (Y) is equal to your savings(S) and consumption(C). Therefore S= Yd-C. Anyone with a basic grasp of elementary algebra could follow that. What they failed to explore in this and pretty much every other university course is practical applications on how to reduce consumption and increase savings. No such luck for this very important matter. They left us to our own self discovery and in many cases undoing. Without a clear and pragmatic blue print from an early age; many of us turned to the easiest sources of advisory. Many of us modeled our friends’, parents’, celebrities’ and the media’s take on personal financial management. The unfortunate bit is that for the vast majority of persons, these sources have not been yielding the kinds of outcomes that they would want. Sadly but suffice to say like actions produce like results.

Who amongst us cannot relate to having heard at some point in time about the need to save and invest? But as with most things, the make or break of our financial lives is in the implementation. So using Tazkruff’s comment as inspiration, I am going to share some real practical ways that I have been able to, in my small way start my quest for financial freedom. I will also explore some of my failures too; for like you I am trying to find my way on this journey.

Having been dissatisfied with the results I was getting for many years, I decided that I needed to reevaluate and radically change my philosophy. I have explored several books, audio material, videos, interviewed several successful persons. From that I have decided to adopt just a few of the elements learned, which I think would be useful as a part of my own personal philosophy. I will attempt to share a few in my own words, though it should be noted that I am not the originator and further that I am still learning as I go along:

Mindset

A lot of material has been written on the power of the mind. Without any heavy philosophical or metaphysical reference, it is safe to say that every word or action began as a thought. Therefore every element of the modern world was once a thought for someone at a point in time. The Wright brothers saw manned flight in their mind’s eye before we were able to book a flight. Edison saw the light. Galileo envisioned the telescope. The list goes on…

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What is evident is that no great achievement  comes to fruition without the seed of a thought. We must hold in our mind’s eye, an image of our best selves. I often find myself in a place of self doubt and when I do I quickly begin to count my blessings and fall back to an attitude of gratitude. I’ve learnt that gratitude should extend not only to our current state or things we have, but rather to every conceivable situation in our lives and (here’s the kicker) things that are yet to come. It takes a reconditioned mindset to begin to view your life and the world like this, but the dividends are exponential. Additionally, life is not a zero-sum game, i.e. for me to win you must lose or vice-versa. We are not kept in lack from scarcity. The world itself, has an abundance of resources to take care of us all. The challenge is we spend quite a bit of time, looking at the greenness of the next man’s lawn. “Yes the grass may be greener on the other side, but best believe it comes with a matching water bill”.  A scarcity mindset, will bring about further scarcity, just as Galileo’s mind brought about the light bulb. Fix your mind, fix your life!

Develop a plan of action

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There are many perspectives on the path to take to financial freedom. What I have discovered from my research, is that there is no one right answer. Some are believers in ardent saving, at the expense of every creature comfort. Others believe, in more of an expansionary approach, seeking more to grow income than to curtail spending. My personal philosophy is a blended one. Whilst I do not subscribe to scarcity thinking, my mother taught me quite early, “willful waste will lead to woeful wants”. Therefore for me it is a two-pronged approach.I look for an opportunity at every turn to bolster income. I love my job and career, but I have long been sold on the benefits of business ownership. I have tried several projects and initiatives. Whilst I have profited from some; more than a few ended with a less than desirable outcome. I never see them as failure though, with each misstep come valuable lessons and learnings. I remember growing up and working in my mother’s small grocery shop. Sighting the popularity and potential demand for “Cheese on Cheese” biscuit, I decided to save a little from my lunch money each day until I could purchase a case of “Cheese on Cheese”, which was placed in the shop. Being a major foodie, I remember the personal sacrifice required to get to the capital needed. It took near two weeks. However, that pain was quickly forgotten when, I started to take “drawings” from my “Cheese on Cheese business”. That one time investment paid me repeatedly. That is, until I was bought out by mother, who had much grander plans for my “Cheese on Cheese empire” (mergers & acquisitions can be a tough game!). However, from that age, it was not lost on me that from whatever minuscule income, we can and in fact should save to invest in order to create additional sources of income. To this day my quest continues.

Trimming your expenses is also very important. As a marketing and sales professional, I know too well the strategies employed to make us feel that “state of felt deprivation”.  However, we should try to curtail expenses as much as possible. The root cause of most cases of conspicuous consumption, can be traced back to ego. That drives the desire for one-upmanship or perhaps to belong. My love of Japanese cuisine has caused me to further explore their culture. What I have noted, is an emphasis on minimalism . Within their culture, less is more. They have been able to record high levels of productivity and growth. One key learning for me; we should try to resist the drive to acquire more things that rust, rot and depreciate.

As a teenager, I would often hang out with men many decades my senior. One nugget of wisdom I received (though somewhat controversial) is “there are three things in life never to be chased: technology, fashion and a bus en route”.  All three it was explained were very hard to catch, keep up with and stand a very good chance of leaving you standing still. I will admit to splurging occasionally, but I still believe there is some soundness to this advice, especially for those of us on our freedom journey. We should look around us for opportunities for both expansion and cost containment. The plan must be crafted for our own situation, but the fact is we must have a plan.

Get to work.. 

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Understand who you are, what drives you. What excites you and makes you come alive? If tomorrow, you had all the money you needed, what thing would you do that would make you feel most engaged and intrigued? What can you not stop thinking or talking about? Whatever that thing is, identify it and get cracking!

Nothing is wrong with being an employee. Entrepreneurship, whilst a faster path to financial freedom is way riskier. Whatever role you find yourself in today, work as though your future depends on it, because it does! Be the guy who gets to the office first and leaves last. Be the girl, who never stops until a problem is solved. Be the person who gives a commitment and keeps it to the letter. If you were like me, without a fall back plan or trust with your name on it at birth, you have to give just a little more than the next person. Just as the Lord loves a cheerful giver, employers, managers and our superiors absolutely cherish a great employee. It is true that due to your efficiency and effectiveness at executing your function, you may stay in a role for longer than you’d ideally prefer. However, the laws of physics have taught me that when any object expands to be too large for its current space, new space must be created. You can only stay in one space for so long… Keep giving more! Even if your current employer does not arrange this, life has a way of going to equilibrium and sooner or later, it will be repaid. Whether through the lessons from your current role or the diligence of your execution, you will be rewarded! Zig Ziglar once said “When you do more than you get paid for eventually you’ll be paid for more than you do.” Similarly, for entrepreneurial pursuits, do not stop trying. You may just be at that break through or tipping point for your idea/ business. The key is to find a need, meet it better than the competition, treat those customers well and take a profit.

Relationship Management

People can be a fickle bunch. But they’re all around us and as you will see in the post on Managing Burnout in a 21st Century World, our support system is needed in order to cope. Just as careful consideration and evaluation should go into the thoughts we let into mind, deciding on our vocational pursuits, and in selecting investment options; so too should we be mindful of the relationships we form. You need people in your corner who will support your every move but who are also bold enough to call you out when you are wrong. I do not want my ship to be cheered into an approaching iceberg.

Select people who, whilst different and with their own individuality, share a similar mindset and drive. Jim Rohn said “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. So therefore, do your assessment. Are your 5 reflective of the person you wish to become? Do they have the right value system, drive and mindset? I’ve found that as time goes by, my circle of close friends evolves. That doesn’t mean that old friends are irrelevant. It just means that they too have to be growing, not financially, but in their mentality.

Network frequently and effectively. Form relationships outside your core group of friends. This may be difficult for some, but is essential and should be viewed as such. I’ve found that oftentimes when confronted with a new challenge or situation, the people in my direct circle may not be able to assist in the way I’d like. It is by turning to my other associates and contacts that I am able to be pointed in the right direction. Make a habit of interacting more with people. Introduce yourself and let someone know a little bit about you. You never know when you may be called upon in some way or may be introduced to your next life changing opportunity.

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I would encourage any well-thinking ambitious person to seek out a mentor. It does not have to be someone in your direct field; this is someone whom you admire, see value in and believe that you can learn from. Choose carefully, ensure that there is synergy between your energies and a personality fit. This is someone you can turn to when life throws its curveballs as it so aptly and frequently does. They should have your interest at heart, be a good listener and should not be trying to create a “mini-me”, but “the best you”.

Keep the ball rolling

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With the growth from either your career or your business, you will soon afford yourself the opportunity to save and over time to begin to amass capital investing. This should be regarded as just that. It should not be regarded as an invitation to purchase more objects of rot, rust and depreciation. Purchase true assets. The only reason for investing is to get a  return. Seek out assets that generate free cash flow. You need things that spin off their own profits to add to your earned income. You’ve been working hard for money for years. Let’s put the money to work for you. The idea is to get your snowball rolling; increasing in size as it goes along. Be wary of get rich quick schemes and too good to be true deals. They usually are in fact so and leave you out of pocket with a lesson you could have avoided by being more prudent. Do not overly expose yourself to risk. Diversify your investments to cover you should one asset class or company go down.

The quest for financial freedom, hopes to take you away from the rat race and should not itself be regarded as a race. Even if it was a race, it would be a long distance and not a sprint event. By having the right mindset, careful evaluation/ planning, good old fashion elbow grease and making prudent investment decisions, you can break free.

 

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Customers: treat them right or get left

I recently started my quest for physical fitness and that seemingly elusive washboard stomach with 6 pack abs (vain..maybe, but if I’m gonna be healthy, I may as well go for the perks as well). All my research and consultations pointed to the fact that “abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym”. Being a busy young professional with several projects and pursuits, I  very seldom have the time to make a home cooked meal (I have justified many years of spend on eating out by the diseconomies of scale of cooking for one). This led to me scouring the local food service landscape for a decent quality, good tasting and affordable restaurant (I need value for money, savings are important)with healthy food offerings. This proved to be a fun and exhilarating process for a self professed foodie. My weeks of painstaking testing (I take culinary research seriously) paid off and I hit pay dirt; or so I thought then. I found a family operated little grill and sports bar which specializes in grilled meats, roasted organic ground provisions, farm fresh garden salads and other healthy eats.

For days I was in bliss, trying different elements of the menu. Within a week I had selected my favorite combination: BBQ-Jerked chicken breast and roasted sweet potatoes; but my kicker was the fresh garden salad (I couldn’t figure out how they kept the lettuce so crisp, got the tomatoes such bright red and the carrots so sweet). Having started calling in to order, I developed a rapport and could have my order recited and fulfilled upon just the sound of my voice and hearing my name. I was happy. I was also very proud to be supporting a local business providing a quality product.

By week two, my new found romance began to unravel, as having now gone through the process of wooing me into this gastric love affair, my once attentive Belle had begun to show her true colors. My calls to preorder my meals were now greeted with a cavalier demeanor and worse the engagement of the much dreaded “Negatory Mode”. You know that mode once it has been activated by the easily discernible proclivity for saying things like: “No, I don’t think so”, “I’m not sure that’s possible”, “Maybe not”. Employees at some businesses apparently believe that its is your job as a paying patron to make their jobs easier. “How dare you interrupt my day’s flow?”. I called to order my heaven-sent, yet premium priced salad only to hear that “I’m not sure you can get that today, I’d have to check”. This of course was followed by a notably lengthy pause almost implying that I should understand her plight with having to make the impossible 3 feet trek to check with the chef to validate the salad’s availability. This pause was broken and she was spurned to action only after I exclaimed quizzically “ok, can you check for me please?”. Resignedly the call was placed on hold so the check could be made. Upon resumption, I was informed that I “should be able to get it”. Not wanting to cause further distress, I decided to visit in person to place my order. Maybe after seeing that it was me, their newest, biggest fan, waiting to spread the news of my new found love I might be regarded with better treatment. This was not to be. Upon arriving, and querying about the salad I could now see that “Negatory Mode” had not only been engaged but was turned up to max power. “I don’t think you can get that you know”. In stoic disbelief, I looked on and listened as I was told of all the plights of working in a restaurant. Due to all the orders the chef had churned out earlier, he would not be able to tend to my order, though the restaurant was now close to empty. Upon advising that I would be ok with waiting, I was told that “it would be best if you order something else or come back later”. That was enough for me, my years of dating had taught me to read the early warning signs. This romance had met an untimely end.

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I left my once new favorite restaurant that evening feeling dejected and dare I say pissed. I had referred several friends and had been touting them about the health benefits of the offerings on the menu and why it pays to eat organic. This was a major let down. I wanted to now start a campaign against them. My campaign would have to wait though, hunger was calling me by name. After doing a couple rounds around nearby malls, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that a nearby fast food restaurant with a very attractively packaged salad comprised of all the ingredients of the salad from my now ex-favourite new restaurant. Whilst, I could not vouch for whether the veggies were organic, it was tasty, came with options for toppings and was half the price to boot (See actual pic attached). With that I had made the switch. I guess my most recent belle wasn’t as special as I thought.

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Looking back at this simple yet resounding situation I decided to note the key learnings. Here are a few which resonated:

  • The customer comes first– they seldom care if you are having a bad day, handled a 100 before, each exchange is a new one and should be regarded with the utmost respect and attention.
  • Disengage “Negatory Mode”– kick start that general can do attitude. Resolve in your mind that you will take a request as far as is possible to meet a customer need. Very often people will value the effort even if the answer ultimately comes back a no. “No” should never be the default/ initial disposition and response. This is how loyal customers are created.
  • Consistency is key– fickle creatures we are; thanks to recency you are as good as your last interaction with humans. Save for family, people are not tolerant of inconsistent behavior and certainly not inconsistent service levels when spending our hard earned dollars.
  • Keep your customers’ blinders on– the minute you send them looking to your competitor, you stand a good chance of losing them forever. Do your best to ensure that you are all they see.

Building a profitable business is a difficult pursuit. 95% of all new businesses fail within the first 5 years and 95% of those left fail within the following 5 years. Many companies spend millions attracting new customers. Due care should be taken to ensure that those budding new romances mature into loyal customer relationships. Customers are a needy bunch, “Treat us right, or get left”.

Can you relate? Have you had a similar experience? Leave a comment or question below..