The most overlooked trick to growing wealth is right before your eyes. You can literally get rich doing anything.
Your limits are the time you live in. A thousand years ago you could get rich chopping wood or in carpentry. Still can. A hundred years ago you could graduate to anything involving manufacturing or mass production. At any point in history you could get rich in janitorial activities. (We’ll leave the scatological humor for another time.)
The time you live in is really the only limiting factor in wealth building. Blogging a thousand years ago wasn’t an option. You are allowed to push the boundaries, however. (Reference Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk . . . )
Astute readers will now point out the error in my logic. If you can get rich doing anything, why are so many hard working people poor? A good question that requires a good answer.
It Takes a Plan
So many people fail because they lack a plan. Small businesses are especially prone to failure.
Why is it Bill Gates turned Microsoft into the powerhouse it is while other companies working in the same industry performed poorly or outright failed? Closer to home, why do small businesses fail? Why does my tax practice turn clients away while other firms struggle to find work?
The secret is a plan. Not just any old plan, but a vibrant, living plan that adapts to the evolving environment.
Want an SBA loan? The bank will want to see a business plan. (Even bankers know a plan is the first step of success.) Business plans are not something that excite me. They tend to lay out a wish list for future performance without any real planning involved. Unfortunately, the business plan rarely gets worked once the loan is closed. And we stand back in awe when a business fails. Or when we financially struggle when all we want is financial independence.
Let me share my story of how I grew my practice and where I suffered most as it illustrates how important planning is.
Refusing to Quit
When a plan is absent the most obvious choice is to quit when the going gets tough. As a stubborn farm boy from the backwoods of Wisconsin I never entertain such nihilist tendencies. (Did I mention the ample dose of German blood running through my veins?)
A plan without hard work is a good way to fail. Having a plan was second nature to me. Hard work is part of my constitution. Working the plan is a requisite.
Starting at the beginning, my tax practice wasn’t even a tax practice. It was 1982 and the deepest recession since the Great Depression was hitting the Upper Midwest harder than most (and it wasn’t gentle to the folks outside the Midwest either).
In need of income I decided to push some numbers around on tax returns. The family farm was on the way to bankruptcy court so that wasn’t a viable option. And I didn’t want to work for anyone else. That meant I worked in my dad’s new business fixing silo unloaders. Dad was broke back in those days so the work was hard, long and low pay; as in 50¢ an hour low pay when the minimum wage was $3.35 an hour. (“But ya get to live at home for free son,” wasn’t working for me.)
Dad hated bookkeeping so the task fell to me. I, on the other hand, enjoyed playing with numbers.
Soon it was discovered I can prepare tax returns. A few employees and people I knew asked me to undertake said task. I earned a crisp $20 bill for the effort. Per return! A lot of money for this accountant back in those days. “Easy money,” as I was fond of saying. I was living the dream.
For seven years I prepared taxes part-time every spring. One day it hit me, “I can do this for a living?” Yes, question mark.
My own business was the way I wanted to live my life. But doing what I actually like? Talk about a fantasy!
If you are going to do something you better do it right and with plenty of motivation and passion. As Cortés burned his ships to make it clear to his men there would be no retreat, I quit my job of 14 months (the only job I had where I worked for someone other than family or myself) and went into the tax business with both feet.
I had a plan! I advertised the daylights out of my business, installed the best computerization and offered free electronic filing at a time when that feature actually dazzled people. (Most firms charged $35 for e-filing if they offered it at all back then.)
What a tax season! Or maybe not. I converted a bedroom into my office. And on April 15th I stood looking out the bay window of my home thinking, “Oh, . . .” (let us just say shmoo).
When I worked taxes part time I was up to nearly 50 returns per year. Now in my new home with a new business in a new location (I needed new clients as a result) I enjoyed a grand total of, wait for it, 48 tax returns. Most returns were $20 to maybe $30. Not much for an annual income even by 1989 standards.
Yeah. I had a plan. A really stupid one.
I actually believed everyone needs to file their taxes so they will beat a path to my door. Besides, in earlier days people came to me to prepare their taxes. How hard can it be?
Smart Plan, Stupid Plan
This is the point where I discovered a plan and hard work are not enough. Surprise!
Not one to give up — and remember I burned my ship to discourage any thoughts of retreat — I revised my plan. (Something you better get used to if you want financial independence.)
First thing I learned was that those who sell advertising don’t know how to acquire clients. They are expensive and almost always don’t work for the small business.
The second thing I learned is that there are massive holes to be exploited in marketing. I realized that I could put my copier to work over the holidays and seduce my wife to join me in placing the produced flyers on the closest 1,000 or so doors nearest my home.
That worked! In year two I prepared 148 returns. Exactly 100 more! But the business was still losing money.
For the next few years we kept at the flyer delivery scheme. Coupled with that I went to organizations that needed speakers. The local Optimist Clubs and the apartment association were winning venues.
I prepared before standing in front of the crowd. Normally I would be granted 15- 20 minutes with some time for questions. The topic was always narrowly focused to the group I stood before.
Year three was the year I prepared 432 returns. Another triple increase for the books. I broke even. Not a profit, but the blood stopped flowing.
The best part was when I realized businesses need good tax help badly and paid for it. (The smart ones did, at least.) The rate of growth slowed when counting tax returns prepared, but the revenue per return climbed smartly.
Year three was the last year my practice lost money. Thirty uninterrupted years of profits since are now notched. You might expect it was a cakewalk. You should think again.
Profits Do Not Equal Intelligence
Feeling my oats (as we would say back on the farm), I now focused on rebuilding wealth. You see, I was a bit of a salesman in my high school days and managed a modest nest egg. The business took a chunk out of the cushion I had built and it was time to fill the gap and then lock in financial independence.
Things went according to plan for the most part. As the environment and technology changed, I adjusted. I started writing on various venues and had the itch to write more.
I also wanted to branch out from the tax office. My staff and I physically prepared all tax returns. My software company started a DIY software that I was allowed to piggyback. The wheels started turning.
I jumped in both feet. Long story short, I dropped $80,000 in advertising and generated about $3,000 in revenue. (Well that worked as planned.)
Once again I discovered I was not as smart as I think I am. Humility is a good teacher and I was willing to learn. (Either that or I have low threshold for pain. Now that I think of it, it was the pain thing.)
And that nearly cost me my practice!
I needed a better way to advertise that didn’t cost a lot of money. About this time I ran across a popular blogger I found interesting. I also discovered he would be at a certain social event. So I created a plan where I would introduce myself to him at the event.
What could go wrong?
The Plan that Wasn’t
I followed the rules! Honest.
I had a plan. A real living, flesh and blood plan.
As long as I was attending the event I thought it would be nice if I offered my services as a speaker. Speaking would fill some time as I schmoozed the mark, ah, popular blogger. I figured by day 3 or 4 of the 4-day event I would have built enough rapport to get a fair hearing of my proposal.
What I wanted to present was a 50/50 share of the revenue if I could get a placement on his blog. Large dollar signs were written all over this idea!
As luck would have it I was the first speaker on the first day. Anyone in the room want to guess who sat front and center? Yup! Said blogger.
Halfway through my presentation he interrupted me and said I was his accountant.
In my defense, I never missed a beat. Cool as a cucumber. Little did I know the tsunami that was about to hit.
Everyone at the event wanted to know who this crazy guy from Weesconsin was. Where did he come from? (Who was that masked man?)
Later I talked with our friendly blogger and explained why I was there. I wasn’t looking for new clients — I know how to get more clients; I was there with a proposition.
He didn’t care for the idea. But he would mention on his blog I am his new accountant. Lucky me!
I did not think much about appearing in a popular blog. It was an honor I was proud to accept, but as for people responding to such a shoutout seemed slim.
Well, when 10 million pageviews per month are involved things happen to backwoods farm boys they don’t realize exist in this world.
This blog (The Wealthy Accountant) started at that time because people were asking for a blog and the idea was already in process so I just needed to pull the trigger. When the blogger published, traffic to my blog jumped.
But my email burst into flames!
I estimate over 30,000 people wanted me to take them on as a client that year. To this day I still get people asking to be a client from that source.
The problem is that the onslaught demanded so much time my clients suffered. So did employees. I was unprepared and without a plan. My business was crushed and my reputation damaged. You can’t understand what it was like. I still walk around in a daze when I think of what happened. It was unfair to all and it was my fault. (You better get used to taking responsibility if you want to sit in the Captain’s Chair.)
It took years to recover. I lost long time clients over the fiasco. I eventually separated from the blogger. It all left a bad taste in my mouth. I worked 10 times as hard to earn less money. And the stress was unbelievable!
My practice is back to a reasonable pace. I worked hard planning a route through the morass. I had to learn new skills. But I did learn. I did grow. I would not volunteer for such a life event, but I would not give it back even if I could. I learned a lot, met many incredible people and was allowed to crawl back to my rural existence when the time called for it. I would not believe it if I had not lived it.
Back to our premise: you can get rich doing anything.
Writing this blog has given me insight. A post like this is sure to generate several emails on how “they” can’t do what I did.
I agree! You can’t do what I did, nor do you want to. The last thing the world need is bunch of mini-me’s running around. The world struggles with the one it has.
You need your plan! And it needs focus!!! When I say you can get rich doing anything I didn’t say you can get rich doing everything. Trying to do everything is not a plan; it is insanity and the prefect recipe for failure.
Find what you love and spend serious time planning out a course to achieve your goal (notice the singular in goal). Yes, people and life events will foul your plans. Still, the power of the plan remains. It will need reworking, updates and periodically a serious rejuvenation, as we saw from my life lesson.
No occupation is too small or too big. If you love janitorial, don’t whine about the pay. Own the company and hire people. You can plan so your employees get paid a reasonable wage for the work performed. Costco pays employees more than most retailers and they thrive! Be like Costco. Have a plan that excites, a plan that adds value, a plan that treat people with respect and dignity.
The same can be said of all gainful employment. You can be an employee or, if the industry doesn’t pay well, change the industry with your own business. Do NOT waste time whining about the inequalities! Be the solution.
The goal isn’t early retirement; the goal is financial independence. Retirement at any age is not a certainty you have financial independence. But if you have financial independence you can chart any course you want, including early retirement.
* * *
This was not the post I planned on writing this weekend. Originally I was going to post on financial risks in the current environment. Maybe next week.
The idea of becoming rich doing anything popped into my mind this morning. I was excited to get writing on it.
When I went to my WordPress account there were some unplanned changes. I don’t like change! I’m funny about that. Give me a book and my same corner of the couch and I am happy. There is nothing wrong with yellowed paper and a dull pencil!
The changes were to the publishing portion of the program. I was required to write on a new platform. My admin has been working hard to get this blog cleaned up and performing better. There is much more to do, but she has been performing miracles the past several months. The writing platform was a change I did not expect.
At first I thought, “I don’t want to waste time learning the new environment. It will take too much time. I’ll just skip writing today.”
Then I started playing with the darn thing and before you know it I knocked out a rather long post. (So much for saving time.)
If you notice issues with this post, know that I am kicking the tires for the first time. My German blood is still grumbling, even though it is a massively better platform. Forgive any of my errors as I learn.
My original plan required change. If I were to get a post written and published I needed to adjust. Small things can stall us out. Been there more than once.
We need to rise above challenges, large and small.
You have a gift! With a plan that gift can make you rich. It does not matter what it is you want to do, you can reach financial independence.
If an old country boy from the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin can plug a blog post on a new platform, you can do anything. And do it better.
More Wealth Building Resources
Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?
QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.
A cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.