I grew up in a good home.
My parents always paid attention to me and I never suffered. I was a great student, I was good at sports, popular amongst my classmate, the teachers, the neighbors...
I was the super-annoying kid that would score A's on all the exams without preparation. I even got an elite diploma in athletics in my first try at shot put. And, to make matters worse, I would always be the first to date the new girl that everyone looked at.
I was sweet, caring, smart and ambitious.
In other words, I was my parent's dream.
My parents were sure that I would be pursuing a great career as a CEO of some big company. That's what my granddad had been, and I had always looked up to him. Going that route meant more education, and in their eyes that was the same as a secure future (which is basically what all parents wish for their kids).
So imagine their disappointment when I one day said to them: "Mom, dad... I'm not continuing to study after high school. I've been working with this online marketing thingy for the last five years in my spare time and I want to do that while traveling the world."
At first, they thought it was a joke, but I wasn't kidding. When the day came to meet with an education counselor, I stayed in class working on some websites I had created. All my classmates went to their meetings to figure out what they wanted to do.
While everyone applied and got accepted into universities, I would continue working on my passion.
I worked on my websites in my spare time instead of doing homework or preparing for the upcoming exams. I also worked on them while in class. School wasn't important to me anymore; this was going to be my career path moving forward. When everyone asked what I was going, to do I just told them:
“I’m going to Spain to do online marketing.”
In reality, I had no clients yet and was still only earning a few hundred dollars doing affiliate marketing. But I was delusional and sure that if I believed it hard enough, it would pay off.
But with only a few weeks left before the exams and graduation day, I realized that I needed to do something if I actually wanted to earn an income after high-school.
So I went onto LinkedIn and found one job ad from a travel agency looking for a Danish online marketing specialist to join their office in Spain. Without any proof of my skills, I wrote an application and two weeks and two interviews later I received a job offer.
I was super excited. I was going to Spain! My parents were just happy about the fact that I actually got a job straight after college instead of having to move back home to them.
Just after graduating, I married my girlfriend and we moved to Spain. It would only take us five months before we were back in Denmark.
This time, our former beautiful apartment had been switched out with a basement in my granddad's house.
The job in Spain had been a good experience but during the time we were abroad I almost lost my father and my grandmother got diagnosed with cancer. That became too much for me to handle at that time, so I handed in my resignation.
Now I was back home in Denmark. I had no income. My wife and I lived in a small basement for free. I had no intentions of getting a job. My dreams lived on. I still wanted to work on my own terms while traveling the world.
When you're employed you at least know that you'll have a steady income. I had to make enough money to support not only myself but also my wife who wasn't able to work due to depression. I was literally scared shitless.
But I have this one rule. If you say A, you have to say B as well, basically referring to the fact that if you’ve decided on something you need to give it all you got.
To push me even further my granddad told me that we could only be living in the basement for four months as he had rented it out as a part of his B&B business.
So I had just four months to build an income big enough to live in Denmark (paying close to 50 percent in taxes) and hopefully be able to travel the world at some point in the nearest future.
I knew what I had to do: get hold of some clients! Clients equaled money and that was what I needed.
So I did what most freelancers do when they start out.
I created a website and spent more than two weeks trying to make the design look as I wanted it to. I bought a logo for my company along with 200 business cards.
I started blogging on my new website.
I created profiles on most social media platforms and started sharing and posting some content there.
I started doing some SEO to generate traffic for my site.
Now, this might come as a shock to some of you, but that is NOT the recipe for fast growth.
It might be good in the long term, but it would take months before I would be able to rank on "SEO consultant" and related words. Also, I didn't have any money to promote myself, so no Facebook or Google ads.
All of this was pure procrastination. To be honest, I knew of more efficient ways of getting clients. I was just too afraid to do what needed to be done.
I'd never seen myself as being a good salesman and I was terrified of being questioned in regards to my skills as well as being rejected.
What I should have done was seek out the clients I wanted to help and get in touch with them either through the phone or in person. I should have hosted a few workshops for the local businesses in the area I was living.
I would have been able to do both of these things, but I didn’t. I let my emotions control me. But luckily, in this case, that opened up some other alternatives.
Here's how I got my first three paying clients.
I emailed all the local newspapers telling them that I had just started an online marketing agency. As I was only 21 that gained me a lot of interest from journalists.
Then I went online and found a list of all local businesses in my area—136 to be precise. I went on to analyze each of these websites' online presence to see if I would be able to help some of them grow. I found out that I would be able to help and grow a staggering 132 out of 136 of these businesses.
As I was too afraid to cold-call these businesses and as emailing prospects are illegal in Denmark without their accept beforehand, I chose to go unconventional ways - I wrote letters!
The thing about the online world is, that we all receive hundreds of emails a day, we all read a ton of news and a lot of us gets a few calls from people trying to sell us things - especially online marketing services. Getting attention from these businesses online would be extremely hard, but one thing caught my attention the same morning - I would always read all the letters I received whether from the bank or from a gym.
Letters are personal and important, so I wrote 132 “unique” letters. Well I wrote a rough template that required three individual factors:
- The problems I had identified on their website.
- How many clients they could expect to gain by fixing these errors.
- How quickly they could expect to see results.
I guess this took me four to five hours total.
Then I borrowed my mother's car and drove around to each business, putting a letter in their mailbox.
Although I didn't get a lot of response, I did get four phone calls and one of the phone calls resulted in a client that I have now worked with for more than three-and-a-half years!
The next client called a few days later after I had notified the local journalists about my research on how the local businesses were doing online. They wrote a full page about me and my research and that made another entrepreneur get in contact with me to see if I could somehow help him. That was client number two!
But the new contracts didn't bring in enough money. So I started thinking about who else I could potentially help and gain something back from.
Then I read about a driving teacher quitting his job at another driving school to go out on his own. This driving teacher was the father of one of my brother friends. He knew who I was and I knew who he was. The only question was how I would be able to get in contact with him.
When he registered his business he had put a check mark in a box making it illegal to contact him directly with a sales purpose. So instead of just emailing him I went on Facebook and became friends with his son. This wasn't strange as we had gone to the same school and as he was close friends with my brother.
I wrote a blog post on my website as a follow-up to the newspaper article showing how driving schools in my town were missing out big time and how they could quickly reach a couple of hundred more students each month as no competitors were doing anything to rank on Google.
I shared that article on my Facebook page the same evening when his son logged on Facebook. I knew that if his son saw that article he would share it with his father as they were all involved in his business venture. I hoped that would get his father to call me up.
It didn't take more than a few hours before I got a text message. We sat up an appointment a few days later. In less than six months, I helped him outgrow his competitors. He grew his business to middle-six figures and hired two more employees.
With these three clients, I had generated enough income for my wife and me to move into an apartment of our own - on the same day as we had to leave my granddad's basement.
In the following months, I did nothing to promote myself. But by delivering awesome results to my three clients, I've been recommended to their network which has given me several other clients.
It took another year before I reached a point where I would be able to travel the world and keep my clients. My wive and I chose to cancel the apartment contract and follow our dreams of traveling the world, which is what we have done ever since.
In all, it took me 18 months to start and grow my freelance consultant business enough to support my dream of traveling the world.
This is what I learned over the past four years.
• Focus only on the essential: You’re not given all the answers to how to run and grow your business when you’re starting out. If you're like me, you can easily get distracted. Ask yourself this question every day: Is what I’m doing now the thing that will grow my business the most? If you can grow quicker by doing something else, then do it. Don’t waste time doing irrelevant things.
• Always over deliver: The reason I’ve been able to get clients without working that particularly hard is because I’ve always given more value. If you don’t impress your clients, they won’t be working with you in the future. But if you’re able to impress them, they’ll happily recommend you to their network and help you grow your business. That’s why I’m always over delivering.
• Push through discomfort: We all have certain tasks that we postpone or ignore because they make us feel uncomfortable. I’m a master at avoiding uncomfortable things myself, but often the things we fear the most are the things that will move us or our businesses forward.
• Create a routine: Being your own boss is great. It will give you a lot of freedom. But it can quickly lead to sleeping long into the day and working sporadic hours. Not that it’s not okay to sometimes sleep long and work late, but if you don’t have some sort of daily routine your work and life will suffer. Daily routines, no matter how boring they may sound, are key to making things happen and keeping your sanity. Without regular routines, your days will quickly fade into each other and your productivity will be on an all-time low. You want to avoid stress and overwhelm. Find and create a daily schedule that will keep you on track, and allow you to time for family and fun.
• Take time off: When you’re self-employed it gets easier to schedule days off. But actually taking days off is something I’ve found most self-employed are terrible at. Even when we’re “spending time with the family” we’ll stay in business mode and think about the things that need to happen. Operate like that for a few years, and most of us will go insane - or drive our family insane. So do yourself and your family a favor - take an offline vacation at least once a year. Being disconnected from your business for just a week allows you time to recharge and spark creativity, and your family will appreciate it.
If you have any questions, add them in the comment section below. I would be more than happy to answer. I hope at least one of you will gain something from reading this.