This is a chapter from my Lifestyle book on Lies You Have Been Told, and the real truth.
Chapter 25 - Lies You Have Been Told
It is an unfortunate truth that the more often we hear something, the more likely we are to believe it. In fact we are prone to absorbing frequently-told lies and believing them. The problem is that these lies rob us of opportunities and choices. This of course limits our ability to create our perfect lifestyle.
What follows are a number of widely believed statements that are simply not true . Like any good lie however, there is a grain of truth in them.
Lie 1 There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Truth 1 There are a lot of cheap lunches out there.
The Lie is this:
Life is hard and you don’t get anything for nothing. You have to work really hard for everything you get. If you find an opportunity, don’t trust it because it is probably not what is seems. Do things the way they have always been done and you won’t go wrong.
The Truth is this:
Life is wonderful and it abounds with exciting opportunities. When you see an opportunity, get excited about it before someone else does. Look for the unseen angle and look for new ways to do things. It is better to work smart than to work hard.
There are a number of examples of this from my own experience. When my wife and I bought our first home it was a wreck. It had been lived in for years by two alcoholics with psychiatric problems. There were burns in the carpet, parts of the house smelled like a urinal, no maintenance had been done for decades and it was dark and ugly inside. At the back of the house was a tiny sewing room which had low windows. If you bent double you could see a fantastic view of Wellington harbour. We paid $145,000 for the house and we very quickly pulled up all of the old carpet and for $1,000 we had all of the floors polished and polyurethaned. Next we built a twenty five square metre deck out from where the sewing room used to be. This cost $5,000. Suddenly we had a light bright home with million dollar views valued at $220,000.
Another example is when I purchased the business www.Vendorsale.com in 2004. I paid $1,750 for it. The business made more than the purchase price in the first year alone giving me more than a 100% return on my investment.
As I outlined in Personal Example 4, I purchased a rental property in 2002 for $270,000. The bank loaned me all of the money so I did not have to put up any cash. I found five British doctors who moved in on the very day I took possession, and they paid $500 per week. This gave me an immediate Rental Return of 9.63%. Mortgage interest rates at the time were around 7%, so even though I borrowed all of the money, after paying interest and rates and insurance, I still made $50 cash every week. Now that is a cheap lunch!
My advice is look for opportunities everywhere. Look for the unseen angle. Look for the cheap lunches. There are a lot of them out there!
Lie 2 To be successful you have to be in the right place at the right time.
Truth 2A You will naturally be in the right place at the right time at least six times a year.
Truth 2B Put yourself in the right place more often.
Truth 2C Teach yourself to learn when you are in the right place at the right time.
The Lie is this:
It is only lucky people who are successful. They are people who happen to be in the right place at the right time. They heard a tip, or were given a chance that no-one else had access to. You can’t do anything to improve your chances.
The Truth is this:
Yes there are situations where it is advantageous to be in a certain place at a certain time. But by natural probability alone you will be in such a situation at least once every two months. If you had seen and taken advantage of just half of the opportunities you were given, you would be a lot closer to your perfect lifestyle. With the gift of hindsight you will recognise this! The good news is that you can learn how to get yourself into the right place at the right time so that these opportunities arise not just six times a year but sixty times a year! Also you can learn to recognise the good opportunities from the not so good ones.
So how do you put yourself in the right place more often? There are lots of ways depending on what sort of opportunities you are looking for. One example is when I was in my early twenties and I wanted to be a rock star. I played my electric guitar all the time until I was good enough and then I put an advertisement in the newspaper looking for other musicians to form a band. Another guitar player a bass player replied and we found a singer and a drummer. Unfortunately I never became a rock star but I gave myself the best chance. Contrast that with a guy I knew who was a drummer. He hadn’t played in a band for years and I asked him ’Why aren’t you playing in a band?’ He replied ‘Oh something will come along.’ He was wrong. Nothing did come along, and let’s be honest nothing is likely to “come along”. You have to go out and find things, and make things happen.
Once again the purchase of www.Vendorsale.com was an example of this. Two years after I purchased www.houses.co.nz I found out who all my competitors were and I emailed them all saying that if ever they were interested in selling their business to contact me. Six months later the owner of www.vendorsale.com emailed me to say she wanted to sell. If I had never sent that email it is very unlikely I would have even known about her plans.
Another example is my first ever teacher placement in my recruitment company. I had been trying unsuccessfully for months to place a teacher in England. I had a few teachers on my books and a few schools that had agreed my terms of business. A school in Reading, just out of London, emailed me to say that they needed a PE teacher as soon as possible. Unfortunately I had no PE teachers on my books. At this stage it would have been easy to just email the school back to tell them I was sorry but I did not have a teacher for them. But this would have been falling into the trap of thinking that I just wasn’t in the right place at the right time. Instead what I did was phone every College of Education in New Zealand and I asked to speak to the Head of the Secondary programme. I told each of the people I talked to that I had a great position in England for a PE teacher and asked whether they knew of any recent graduates who hadn’t found a job who might be interested. Within twenty four hours a teacher I had never heard of, and who had never heard of Southern Alps Recruitment phoned me about the position. By the end of the week the school had the teacher’s CV, they held a telephone interview and the placement was made. I had to hustle and I had to get out of my comfort zone but I was desperate to make a placement and I changed the situation so that I put myself in the right place at the right time.
Of course now that my business is established and I have literally thousands of teachers and hundreds of schools, I find that I am often “in the right place at the right time”. One of the best examples was when I received the CV of a young Kiwi teacher who taught History and Music. Exactly two days later a school emailed me asking for a History and Music teacher. It took me about ten minutes to put the two of them together and I earned thousands of dollars in fees.
In business and real estate which are areas I concentrate on, I go to lots of open homes, I attend motivational and business related seminars, and I meet with other entrepreneurs. I also talk to and listen to friends, relatives, acquaintances and so on to find new opportunities. If I am at a party and I get chatting to someone, there’s a good chance that they are involved in something or have access to something I have never even thought of. This is also a great source of new opportunities. It is for this reason that I maintain a large network of acquaintances. I often keep people’s business cards and I almost always email people who have given me their business card, just to make contact with them. You never know when that contact will come in handy.
If you are looking for business opportunities you need to read the business news, subscribe to the National Business Review, read business books, look at the businesses for sale section of www.trademe.co.nz or the newspaper or contact business brokers. You should also use the internet to see what is happening overseas that could be brought here.
Finally you need to always keep your ear to the ground to pick up anything of interest from anyone you meet or from anything you see or read. And of course, you need to be ready to act when you see or hear of an opportunity. You have to be willing to risk a small amount of money to give something a go. Perhaps set aside $500 or $1,000 or $50,000 dollars (whatever your budget), or be willing to borrow a certain amount of money so that when an opportunity arises you can go for it.
Lie 3 The small business failure rate is very high – ‘three out of four small businesses fail in the first five years’.
Truth 3 This failure rate is made up primarily of:
• Starry eyed dreamers
• Unrealistic optimists
• Naïve redundancy receivers
• Failed musicians, artists and authors
• Unprepared “hopers” with no plan
The Lie is this: So many small businesses fail that you shouldn’t even consider starting a small business. Failure is a terrible thing and you should avoid getting anywhere near it.
The Truth is this: If you are prepared it is very likely that you will be successful in business. There is no such thing as failure, only learning experiences. Even if you start a business and it does not succeed you will have learned far more about yourself, about life and about business than if you had never embarked on a business adventure.
Don’t be put off by any statistic you hear about the small business failure rate. Generally the people who fail in a small business have little or no financial knowledge. If you do your homework, learn the basics of business, protect the downside and follow your passions, you are very likely to be successful.
In the last six years I have started four companies. Three are profitable and successful. The fourth was profitable but time consuming and did not fit into my lifestyle. I dropped it to concentrate on the other businesses.
My wife has also set up a successful and profitable small business.
Further, in the last three years I have purchased two companies – one has a 20% annual return, the other has over 100% annual return. Both of these companies focus on real estate which I am passionate about.
Am I a small business genius? No! But there are two things that set me apart from the people who fail in business. The first advantage I have is that I understand business and accounting. I have studied and I understand the following:
• Return on investment
• Capital requirements
• Compliance (Income tax, GST, ACC etc)
• Presentation of financial statements to banks
The second advantage I have is that I only involve myself in projects I am passionate about and help to achieve my lifestyle goals. When you are excited about getting up, getting into work and finding out all about your business and the market and your competitors, it is easy to become an expert. It is fun to look for opportunities or examine any threats. I heard Sam Morgan the founder of Trademe speaking recently. He eat, slept, breathed and loved Trademe from the time he started it to the time he sold it. No wonder it became the market leader in online auctions.
Lie 4 It is almost impossible to have a really successful small business and make a lot of money in New Zealand
Truth 4 It has never been easier to be successful and make money in New Zealand.
The Lie is this:
If you start a small business in New Zealand you should expect to struggle financially and you will be lucky to make a go of it let alone earn enough to live on, and certainly not a really good income.
The Truth is this:
If you start out with an expectation to do well, to be successful and make a great income, the chances are you will achieve just that. The New Zealand small business model and attitudes of twenty years ago are out of date and unrealistic. We now have a fantastic opportunity to use our size, our innovation and our location to our advantage.
I used to think that if I lived in a really big city, whatever idea I had would reach such a large potential audience that even if only a tiny percentage liked the idea it would be successful. So I daydreamed about living in Los Angeles and selling a new style skateboard by mail order. But now we have had the amazing good fortune that the world has come to us!
New Zealand has been gifted a twenty first century trifecta: Technology, The Internet and Globalisation.
We have suddenly been connected to the world like never before and the world is very happy for us to provide their goods and services.
An excellent example is my company Southern Alps Recruitment. This is an international recruitment company that recruits professionals from around the world to work in England. I almost never meet the candidates. I can place a teacher from Canada into England from an office in New Zealand!
Changes in technology allow me to run a recruitment business that would not have been possible ten years ago. The business is internet and email based with eight separate websites in six countries around the world, plus generic websites that pick up candidates from the rest of the world. We have free-call 0800 numbers in some of those countries and these calls come directly through to my office in New Zealand. This means for example that someone in Canada can phone me about a job in England, and the call comes through to me in New Zealand. Even better is that call diversion allows me to take that same call on my mobile phone while I am at the gym!
Technology also allows me to email 150 English teachers at the touch of a button to tell them about a new vacancy. Technology allows me to email 5,500 newsletter subscribers at the touch of a button, and automatically manage email bounce-backs. Further, I can record how many of the people who received my newsletter actually went to my website to check out the information I have posted there.
Another advantage of this business is that I earn my income in British pounds, but I incur my expenses in New Zealand dollars. Given that I receive around three dollars for every pound I earn, you can see how this works to my advantage.
Another good example is my businesses www.sections.co.nz. This website allows a person selling a section to list it for sale with us for a one off fee. Technology allows the seller to enter their own information, take their own photos, upload the photos to the website and then pay for the service using their credit card. Because the business basically runs itself, the costs are extremely low. Email allows us to communicate quickly and efficiently with our clients, and if required a client can call us on our free call number 0508 SECTIONS. Technology allows buyers from all over the world to view properties online and contact the seller directly via email. This type of business could not exist before email and the internet.
Incidentally technology allows me to use my $199 cell phone to check my emails, check any of my websites, take a video or photo and then send it by email to anyone I choose!
A further example is my business www.nameboy.co.nz. I started this business in 2003. The business buys and sells New Zealand domain names, i.e. those with a .co.nz or .net.nz or .org.nz suffix. How I started this business is a good example of putting yourself in the right place at the right time.
I was looking for the domain name cash.co.nz and I found that a company owned it already. I went to their website and I found that it was a company that had registered hundreds of domain names in order to re-sell them. On the corner of the website was a note saying that the business was for sale. I emailed one of the directors and we started discussing a purchase. As part of our discussions the director emailed me all of the domain names the company owned and the day that each one expired. This was important because domain names cost around $30 each per year to hold and I needed to work out the cashflows.
Unfortunately for the company they wanted a huge price for the whole business and they were not willing to let me purchase the selection of names I particularly wanted. Another problem they had was that there were three directors and they could not agree on a price or a sales strategy. After a few weeks I realised the purchase was going nowhere and I pulled out. I expected someone else to buy the business but I kept my eye on their domains just in case. I was surprised and delighted to find that instead of selling the best names or even re-registering them, the company allowed them all to expire. So I took my list of their domains and on the day that each one expired, I registered it for $30. I registered the best 100 names which cost me $3,000. Here are the prices I sold some of the names for:
deli.co.nz $ 750
shade.co.nz $ 500
soup.co.nz $ 500
I told a friend about my success and he found and registered makeover.co.nz for $30 and sold it three weeks later for $1,000 – I couldn’t believe it!
One of the main advantages of this business is that the costs are low, as for most internet businesses. The second advantage is that it takes almost no time at all, perhaps an hour a week of my time. The third advantage is that the margins are huge!
Sometimes I will purchase an expensive name and sell it for more. I recently sold real-estate.co.nz for $5,000. I had purchased it three years prior for $1,500. The business also sells domain names on behalf of others. We take a 20% commission on each name we sell.
A fantastic example of being able to run a profitable business from New Zealand is the doors that have been opened through globalisation and the internet. Kiwis can now sell their services around the world. Web designers are one occupation group who have wonderful income opportunities. A large number of New Zealand web designers have US or UK clients. They charge them in US dollars or British pounds, yet incur their expenses in New Zealand dollars. Also Kiwis have a competitive advantage because we can offer an overnight service. When someone in the UK sends an email requesting a website change at 5pm UK time, the change has been made by the time they get to work the next morning! Of course we have to compete with India and the rest of the developing world but the point is that the world has come to us. We have the geographical advantage of living on the edge of the world but the technological advantage of being fully connected to international opportunities like never before.
Lie 5 You need a lot of Capital to start a business
Truth 5 To set up an internet business you need a PC and a phone
The Lie is this:
You need at least tens of thousands of dollars to set up your own business because you need premises, machinery, equipment, an advertising budget and so on.
The Truth is this:
Some of the most successful small businesses in New Zealand in the last ten years started either from home or a small cheap office and required less than $5,000 in start-up money.
Of course the best and most publicized example is www.trademe.co.nz. Sam Morgan started this business from home and advertised initially on the side of his car and by doing letterbox drops near his house in Wellington. As the revenue of the business grew he was able to employ staff and lease space and purchase computers and servers as he could afford them.
Another example is Steve Outtrim of Sausage Software who developed web-authoring software which is used by more than a million people worldwide.
You could even include Peter Jackson who made his first feature length movie in his spare time, evenings and weekends, using his friends as actors and his parents’ oven to bake his special effects and models.
When I first started my recruitment business I rented a lounge from someone I knew for $40 a week. I had a phone, a horrible fax that someone gave me because their parents were throwing it out, a computer, and a very good website designer. I also worked two days a week for my previous employer so that my young family had at least a bit of money coming in until the business became profitable. My advertising budget was pathetic and allowed me to put two or three line run-on ads in newspapers when most of my competitors were running two and three column ads in full colour! In hindsight it was a great experience because I had to think carefully about every dollar I spent and I didn’t have the luxury of doing what my competitor’s did. This forced me to think about inexpensive and clever ways I could reach candidates and clients. Since then I have watched some of my competitors waste thousands of dollars while I kept a lean but sharp business running.
Lie 6 You need to diversify your portfolio.
Truth 6 You should concentrate on just a few investments or businesses.
The Lie is this:
In order to increase your wealth and your passive income and therefore improve your lifestyle you need to spread your investments across a number of different investment classes. This is to protect you from a downturn in a particular sector, and also to allow you to participate in any large gains in another sector.
The Truth is this:
Spectacular increases in wealth are made when you concentrate on and really understand one or two types of investments or businesses
Having a diversified portfolio only makes sense for people at or close to retirement age where slow and steady gains are the aim. The only other situation where it works is if you have an amount of money to invest but no time to put energy into managing it because you are earning an exceptional income elsewhere. If you are not in one of these two categories, don’t buy the lie that you should spread your precious money around lots of different investments.
The reason is simple; by investing some time and energy in a particular type of investment you will be able to increase your wealth much faster by investing money there, than by playing safe across the filed.
Let’s have a look at the two wealthiest people on the planet. Bill Gates (the world’s wealthiest man) was successful because he concentrated solely on developing software for PCs. In his first few years of business do you think he had bonds, equities, or commercial property investments? He didn’t. He invested all of his time and money and attention into his business.
Warren Buffet (the world’s second wealthiest man) states publicly that his investment company, Berkshire Hathaway concentrates on just a few investments. He and his company research everything they can about a target company and the management and the market and then they buy a significant shareholding in the company. In many cases they ask for a seat on the board of directors of the target company so they can help to manage it.
Most successful investors and successful companies take this approach. That is why companies often state publicly that they are concentrating on core business rather than looking at businesses and investment where they have no knowledge or expertise.
My advice is to research all of the business and investment opportunities open to you and choose one or two that you are particularly attracted to. Once you have decided, find out everything possible about those investments. Make sure you understand them as well as you can before you invest. But remember you will do 90% of your learning by doing. So no matter how much you learn by reading books and researching, you will learn far more in your first year of actually doing the investing, or running your business.
As you will have gathered by now the two areas I have concentrated on are real estate and online businesses. Fourteen years after I bought my first rental property and eight years after I started my first online business, these are still the main two areas I focus on. For this reason I am in a far better position than the average person to significantly increase my wealth by investing in these areas. I have also made a lot of mistakes and learned from them, so I now save myself a lot of money and hassle by not investing in some opportunities.
Critical Principal 11: Sometimes the best investment decision you make is not to invest.
A good example of concentrating on one or two investment types is when I was three years out of university, working for a meager salary, but working hard to build a residential property portfolio. It was 1997 and my wife and I had a combined income of $75,000. We owned a 1984 Honda CRX worth $700, a dining table that cost $60, a TV that cost $50, and a range of other second hand furnishings. However we owned four properties with a combined value of $1.2 million. Of course we had mortgages on these properties, but the rents paid the mortgages. The great thing was that properties in the late nineties in Wellington went up between 10% and 20% per year. This meant that even in a bad year our capital gains were $120,000 tax free! This was more than double our after tax income from working our butts off 40-50 hours a week.
How did we get so much property? We only concentrated on property. I found investments that were undervalued so that six months after I bought them I could get a registered valuation stating that we had $50,000 new equity in the property. The bank was happy to loan us more money for the next property, and so on. We rode a wonderful property boom and in four years in Wellington we made half a million dollars in increased property values. In that time we had no shares, we had no bonds, we had no businesses, and we had no cash. We just concentrated on one thing – residential investment property.
You will note that when I talked about the advantages of the type of businesses and investments (real estate), there were three key requirements. First they do not take up much of my valuable time, second they give me freedom to be where I want to be at any time of the work day, and third I concentrate only on pursuits I am passionate about. Because all of my business and investment decisions are filtered through these three requirements, I ensure that they meet my lifestyle goals. Your lifestyle goals and aspirations will be different to mine, but you must make sure that whatever you decide to spend your time doing is consistent with your overall goals for the life you want to live in five or ten years time.
It is easy to fall for sugar-coated lies, especially if they resonate with the way we have been brought up, or what we learned at school, or what our peers believe. It is sometimes more comfortable to believe a lie if the truth would force us to get up and take some action to make things happen. But this is exactly what you must do if you want to avoid a mediocre life where you achieve nothing but boredom and rut-building – stand up and take some action. Do it now!