I’ve been getting a few emails lately from people asking me about how they can ‘make money.’ This is an impossible question to answer since I don’t know their motivations, interests, personality, work history, and so on.
There are just so many variables and decisions that exist, making it impossible to tell someone how they should or could make money.
For some, starting an online shop will be a fun and profitable adventure. For others, providing a desirable skill to help others will be a fulfilling and highly rewarding experience.
So, I’m not sure how to explain this so that it applies to you — but — I’ll do my best.
The Basics of Buying
Think about all the ways money exchanges in the world. Forget about investing and bitcoin and gambling — you won’t find any help here. Focus on all the day-to-day interactions where you give your money to another person or business.
Now, ask yourself — why did you give away your money? And, what made you pay the price that was asked?
Money has two functions:
- To satisfy a need or desire
- To solve a problem
If you’re hungry, thirsty, and — forgive me for saying — horny — money can fix that. It’s so easy for money to satisfy the necessities of living. With just a few dollars, you can buy a meal, a drink, or — you know — and continue with your day.
Things start to get tricky when the nature of our needs and desires become more complex.
For example, if your vehicle breaks down, you need better grades to get into medical school, or you accidentally shit your pants because yesterday was taco Tuesday— well — money will fix that too.
In these situations, money pays for a specific solution to a unique problem.
A mechanic is employed to fix your vehicle. A tutor is hired to help you study and improve your grades. A local shop keeper saves your ass by selling you his gym shorts for $5.
(Actually, the shop keeper would probably give you his spare pants for free, if you told him your situation. Anyway…)
Whether its mechanic, a tutor, or a local shop keeper — these people and their solutions are needed by lots and lots of people.
If you want to get into the game of making money — start providing people with exactly what they need, when they need it most.
Let’s take a short intermission before we continue to the bare necessities to make money.
True Story A
A friend of mine in Indonesia works as a barista at a local cafe. When we first met, I would order 2 or 3 coffees and hack away at my laptop for 6 to 10 hours building my freelancing business.
One day he asked, “Jef, you’re able to make money and travel the world — how can I be like you?”
I said, “Honestly? You’ll never be like me — you don’t have my genetics. But, if you want to make money — just look for a problem and solve it.”
I traveled for a year before returning to that cafe.
“Yo Jef, check this out.”
My friend flipped open his phone and showed me a picture of hundreds of rain jackets in his bedroom.
“You know, in Indonesia, the rainy season lasts for 5 or so months,” he said. “I started selling rain jackets for 100,000 IDR each, and I get a 45,000 IDR profit. So far, I sell between 5 to 10 per week. It’s all thanks to you, bro!”
“Nah, it’s because you saw a problem and you found a way to solve it.”
#1. Marketing is Everything
Do you have something in mind yet? Something you want to do to make money? Does it have to do with selling a product? Offering people your skills? Going door-to-door with an offer?
The next step to making money is always the hardest: marketing.
Whatever idea you have, marketing is the fundamental skill you need to attract people, convince them that they should buy from you, and, obviously, buy from you.
Don’t ignore this. Try not to overthink it. But, do try and dedicate some time to understanding what marketing means to you.
For some, it could be spending 2 to 3 hours every day on Instagram, sending messages to people, and commenting on posts. This might seem like a painful process and a waste of time — however — month by month, inquiries come in, and satisfied customers come out.
For others, it could be starting a blog, learning the ins-and-outs of SEO, and spreading backlinks on Quora, Reddit, and LinkedIn. This might be a slow process in the beginning — however — year by year, you can generate a passive income, a steady stream of clients, and whatever other catchphrases people are using these days to say ‘cha-ching!’
Look, marketing sucks.
It’s often a long and lonely journey. There are a lot of things to learn and a lot of things to do. It’s a lot of hit and miss and trial and error. You’re going to make mistakes, lots of them. And, from time-to-time, you’re probably gonna say, ‘fuck this, I wanna quit.’
But, don’t quit — at least, not yet — because we still have to discuss step three right after another intermission.
True Story B
I started my first business in Shunan, Japan, teaching English to kids, parents, and business professionals. At the peak of my growth, I was making around $5000 per month, teaching 14 hours per week. In theory, I was on my way to scaling a profitable $240,000+ per year business.
However, reaching my peak had many obstacles.
When I quit my job teaching English to start my own service, I couldn’t speak the local language, I barely knew how to teach English, and I wasn’t making enough money to cover my monthly expenses.
For the first two months, I watched my savings decline and I struggled to find new students. I sometimes doubted myself, and questioned whether I made the right choice, and if I was ever going to make it.
I was also sad by the recent loss of my Oma and two uncles. I felt a lot of loneliness during this time, all the while trying to navigate a confusing culture of Japan.
I started listening to the Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale. It became a religious experience and these words made a deep impression on me:
Don’t concern yourself with the money. Be of service … build … work … dream … create!
Every day I made it my mission to go to the train stations in the mornings and evening. I stood for two hours twice a day using my terrible Japanese to introduce myself and give away promotional pamphlets to people passing by. When I’d walk home, my pamphlets would be all over the street or in the garbage can.
I designed t-shirts when a joke about my nationality on the front and a QR code on the back. I bought a book, “How To Use the Work F***” and went to the bars in the evening to give ad hoc lessons on English swear words in exchange for a few drinks and a contact card. I created a summer English program and promoted it to local schools.
Finally, new students started to arrive.
#2. If You Can Do It Once, You Can Do It Twice
There’s really not much else to tell you. By now, you hopefully have an idea of how you want to make money. You might not know how to market it, but, that’s the beauty of every business beginning.
The only thing to come next is sales.
Sales are the fundamental building block of every business. It can’t survive without them — and — neither can you.
Getting your first sale might be difficult. Also, if you want to play the business game on hard mode, don’t include your friends and family into your overall sales. It doesn’t count — and — it shouldn’t count. That’s probably and most definitely pity-money to help you afford the necessities of life.
Fortunately, all you need is a ray of light, a sign of hope, a single sale.
Think back to the very beginning and let’s rephrase the two questions you asked yourself:
- Why are people giving their money to you?
- And, what made them pay the price that asked?
That’s it! We’re done here. If you can understand what motivates you to buy and justify the prices that you spend — you can just as easily do the same for other people and find a way to get them to buy direct from you.
The only way to earn money is by providing people with services or products which are needed and useful. We exchange our time and our product or service for the other person’s money. Therefore the law is that our financial return will be in direct proportion to our service.—Earl Nightinale