The desire to work less is not a vice, but a fundamental aspect of emotional intelligence. When combined with commitment, persistence, and common sense, it creates economic efficiency, an essential component of building great wealth.
– From Principles of Wealth, by Mark Ford
The unpaid bills are stacked next to the unwashed dishes. You’ve been short about $1,200 per month since the divorce.
You need something to fill that income gap – some sort of money-making scheme that’s feasible, flexible, and profitable. It can’t be a financial investment because you’ve got no savings. What’s there to do?
Before going to sleep, you check your email. You see an advertisement, but before you delete it, you notice something about extra income. “What the hell?” you ask. You decide to give it a try.
So you join something called the “Extra Income Project.” The author of one of the reports – a braggart, rich entrepreneur named Mark Ford – makes the case that someone like you could start a part-time “service business.”
“Compared to other side businesses, a service business has the lowest barrier of entry,” he writes. “It can be grown with minimal marketing and the simple application of quality work.”
You go into the garage. You already have a good lawnmower and shears, and you like planting flowers and trimming bushes. So you choose to give a landscaping business a try.
Following the report, you spend $23 to print 500 colorful flyers advertising your new business. You alter one of the suggested pitches:
“Landscaping With Love”
“I’ll Make Your Lawn the Best”
“In Your Neighborhood, Guaranteed”
“First Service Only $10!”
The $10 offer is an advertising trick – a “loss leader” to prove what you can do.
It works. You get six responses in the first week and land two gigs. By week four, you have $380 worth of weekly contracts. Because you’re good, you get your work done in seven hours. Your Saturday is now a workday, but you’re making an extra $1,520 per month.
You start getting referrals. If you want, you can make another $1,500 or so working Sundays. That’s money you could use to lease a new car and maybe buy some new clothes. You’d even have some left over for saving.
But do you want to work seven days per week? Hell no. You’re 52, not 22. You want the money, but not the work. So you hatch a plan…
You’re making an extra $1,520 per month running your own part-time landscaping business on Saturdays. You’re tempted to expand it, but you aren’t willing to work seven days a week.
There is one obvious solution to your problem: Hire help.
But is it worth the cost and hassle?
You sit down and make two lists – one marked plus, and one marked minus.
On the minus side, you add things like “the trouble of finding someone,” “managing people,” and “figuring out the right compensation.”
The more you think about it, the longer the “minus” list grows. You can’t think of anything to add to the “plus” list, aside from “do less work” and “maybe make more money.”
You think, “This is exactly why I never wanted to have my own business. It’s just one long list of worries and concerns. Why is that Mark Ford idiot so hot on side businesses?”
For now, you decide against hiring someone else. Instead, you accept a few more jobs to do on Sunday mornings. You’ll make another couple hundred per week and still have Sunday afternoons to rest.
A month later, you realize you didn’t take into account rainy days and the occasional “Can you come back tomorrow?” requests. You’re making more money, but you’re working every sunlit hour of every weekend. It’s wearing you down quickly and affecting your weekday work performance.
You think about the math. Doing everything yourself, you’re making about $50 per hour. You can hire someone to do the grunt work and pay him/her maybe $15 per hour. That difference, $35, would be your company’s gross profit.
There would be some additional costs, you know, like accounting. But on an hourly basis, that couldn’t be more than, say, $5. That leaves you with a gross profit of $30 for each hour’s work.
It’s $20 less than what you’re making now. But overall, you’d be making about $1,800 per month instead of $1,500 – while working the same number of hours. “This doesn’t feel like laziness,” you think. “This feels like common sense. Maybe that Mark Ford guy is right.”
But how do you make this work? And where can you find a good worker?
The Next Steps
In your landscaping side business, you’ve moved beyond what I call the “self-employment” business stage. You’re ready to hire, train, and manage employees. (In other words, you’re ready to make more money by working less.)
If you’ve read my previous writings, you know that the quality of the person you hire is one of the most important factors in making your growing business successful.
Since you’re landscaping, you need someone willing to do manual labor eight to 10 hours per day. You also need someone pleasant to work with, who will respect your clients.
You ask around at your nine-to-five job. Sally in human resources has a younger brother. You try him out, but he begins calling in with excuses after three Saturdays.
So you try Lou, the brother-in-law of the office receptionist. He sounds great on the phone, but shows up an hour late on the first day, reeking of booze.
You’ve run out of options at work. On a trip to Home Depot, you notice a dozen young men on the far corner. Your Spanish is terrible, but you take a chance.
Alberto, a kid with a wide smile, speaks decent English. He tells you the going rate is $10 per hour. You offer him $12, and he works hard all day – never losing that smile.
A month later, your little weekend landscaping business is grossing nearly $5,000 per month. You get $3,000, and $2,000 goes to Alberto and expenses.
You have a new car. You’ve moved into a nicer apartment. And you’re banking money for the future. But between manual work and managing Alberto, you have no time to enjoy your weekends.
“I want to work less because I’m smart, not because I’m lazy,” you say, looking at your tired reflection in the mirror. And then you make a pledge: Come hell or high water, you’ll find a way to work no more than eight hours next weekend.
The next morning, you wake up excited. You know just what to do…
It’s breakfast when you put pencil to napkin to crunch some numbers. Starting your own landscaping business and working for yourself was lucrative. By “hiring” affluent customers and being efficient, you were making nearly $50 per hour.
Employing Alberto was a great idea, but it was more expensive than you thought. Accounting and taxes brought his hourly cost to your business up to $20. Still, you were netting an extra $30 for every hour he worked.
Your idea was simple: Instead of working alongside Alberto, you’d hire a second employee to do your job. Instead of netting $3,000, you’d be making $2,000 – but you’d have the weekend mostly free!
And what if you hired two more people?
You could start accepting new clients and covering more ground in the same span of hours. The numbers in your calculations start going up instead of down. You’d have some extra work at first, though: posting more flyers, making appointments, etc.
You ask Alberto if he knows two people who are good, reliable workers – two people like him.
“Yes,” he answers. “Pedro and Alex, my brothers.”
Nine months later, your weekend business is no longer a weekend business. You have three two-man crews, each working five days per week. Your gross revenue is approaching $45,000 per month. You’ve had to lease two trucks and three large mowers, and you’re renting a small warehouse to store the equipment. Alberto is now making $20 per hour and his brothers, $15 each.
The good news is you’re personally netting over $100,000, which means you’re living well and banking serious dollars. You can see how, if this continues, you’ll be “sort of rich.”
The bad news is that running a growing business is more complicated than you imagined. There are bills to process, forms to file, legal and tax issues to deal with. Then, there are problem employees and difficult customers.
Once again, you’re working too hard. Your landscaping business is growing bigger and faster than you ever thought it would… and even though you’re now “sort of rich,” the amount of work and attention it requires is eating up more and more of your day.
But you have a solution. So you make a decision to do something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time…
You go into your nine-to-five job and step into your boss’ office. You give him the good news. “I’m firing you,” you say.
“Huh?” he replies.
You leave the office with a big smile on your face, as big as Alberto’s smile was when you increased his compensation to $20 per hour. Your newfound extra time means you won’t have to work weekends anymore. In fact, you can’t imagine having to work past noon during the week, either.
Yes, you’re giving up the $52,000 your cranky old boss was paying you. But you’re making more than twice that with your landscaping business – which is still growing!
A year later, your business is considerably larger. You now have six three-man crews, and the gross billings are approaching $1 million per year. You’ve hired an office assistant at $40,000 per year and your niece to help with sales part-time. (She’s thrilled to be making $500 for each new customer she signs.)
Other expenses – mostly legal and accounting – have also grown. And you have some new expenses now that you’re giving benefits to your employees.
Still, your net profit is nearly a quarter-million dollars per year. And you’re working less – only four hours a day, five days a week… with your weekends free and clear.
Sipping champagne on the veranda of Hôtel Ritz in Paris one pristine summer evening, you can hardly believe it’s been less than four years since you read that “Extra Income Project” report and decided to spend $23 on flyers.
Your success, you realize, came not so much from the courage to take a risk, because you never risked anything more than $23 and some extra time. Your success came from persistently figuring out how to do less work than you were doing!
You suppose Mark Ford was right when he wrote, “The desire to work less is not a vice, but a fundamental aspect of emotional intelligence. When combined with commitment, persistence, and common sense, it creates economic efficiency, an essential component of building great wealth.”
The only thing left to do, then, is decide what to do with all the wealth you’ve earned…
Co-Founder, Palm Beach Research Group
Editor’s Note: If you enjoyed this essay, we recommend you go right here. You see, Mark and our own Bill Bonner recently teamed up to be partners on a new and ambitious project. Along with Doug Casey, the three men reveal the details, and show what it means for dear readers, right here.