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You’ve stumbled across 90 completely free days. You’ve got three whole months where you’re able to work on any project without worrying about money. Your bills are covered for these 90 days.

The question: can you build sustainable income in this amount of time? Can you use these three months to build something that generates revenue and supports you?

No question, you can make some money, but I’m talking about building something that will support you. I’m talking about something that consistently makes money so that you don’t have to worry about paying bills anymore.

Is it even possible? Yes, but it requires 3 things. The 3rd is the only one that can be done in 90 days. If you already have the first 2, it just might work. I tell you what those 3 things are in this episode.

I also explain the reason you should do client work in the beginning whether you like it or not and why client work is the key to products.

Depending on where you are right now, you may or may not be able to build sustainable income in such a short amount of time. But I will tell you the best thing you can do in 90 days regardless.

Show Notes

    01:44 Question from Adam:

    Let’s say you have a skill that you could teach (web design, lettering, podcasting, making videos, etc.), but you don’t want to do service work (clients) and you don’t have much of an audience yet.

    Your bills were covered for three months and your goal was to create something in that 90 days that could support yourself (or at least give yourself a few more months of coverage so you could keep going).

    Would you:

    • Build a product you could sell? (e.g. a course or e-book or some sort of info-product teaching others your skill)
    • Launch a podcast or blog with the goal of building a big enough audience that you could support yourself with sponsors/ads?

    I guess the question really boils down to this: Which is the better strategy? Build an audience and make money from sponsors/ads or build an audience and make money by selling them products that teach them your skill?

    Based on what you’ve done with your career, I’m almost positive you would do option A. However, the wildcard here is the 90 days. I’m curious to know which strategy you think would have the most chance of success given you only have 90 days to do it.

  • 09:06 Sean: Adam’s not just saying “How can I make some money during this 90 day period.” Adam’s saying “I want to be able to support myself and not have to worry about paying bills, and I want to be able to do that in 90 days.”
  • 09:27 First of all, can it be done? Yes. But you need 3 things:
    1. A thorough and intimate understanding of a real problem that a lot of people have.
    2. The trust of those people and a fluency in their language.
      • I’m not talking about English or Spanish. I’m talking about how they think and how they articulate their needs—you need to be really fluent in that language.
    3. An excellent product marketed in a way that speaks their language and delivers what they need.
  • 10:32 Here’s which one can be done in 90 days: #3. It is possible to build a product like that in three months but you need to already have #1 and #2: A thorough understanding of a real problem people have, their trust, and a fluency in their language.
  • 10:51 Ben: “And you have to have those two things at the beginning of the 90 days.”
  • 10:54 Sean: Exactly. Getting those takes time. You can’t do those first two parts in 90 days. I’m just going to say it: you can’t do it in 90 days.
  • 11:27 The goal is to create a sustainable income from a product that supports you—you need all 3 of those things. You can’t do it from scratch in 90 days.
  • Let’s Say You Already Have #1 and #2
  • 11:40 Sean: You’ve already got the audience, they trust you, you’re intimately familiar with their problems, and you speak their language. The question then becomes:
    • Q: What product do you build?
    • A: The one they’re asking for.
  • 12:13 They’re not asking for one, you say? Then you can’t do it. And here’s a tip: it’s not that they’re not asking for it, you’re just not listening. Because trust me, people have problems. If you want to build a product that people will buy, you need to find out what those problem are.
  • 12:30 Ben: “Everybody’s got problems.”
  • What Can You Do in 90 Days?
  • 12:34 Sean: So you don’t have an audience, you don’t have people’s trust, and you don’t know what problems to solve. That’s ok. Welcome to the club. This is where virtually everyone is.
  • 12:47 You’ve heard me talk about The Trifecta: Client Work, Products, and Teaching (Related: e080 Making A Living With The Trifecta Part 1 of 3: Client Work). That is generally the order they fall in. It depends on the business, but typically Teaching is last, and in almost all cases, Client Work comes first.
  • The Moneymaker – Client Work
  • 13:16 Client Work is the fastest, easiest way to make money. That’s not to say that it’s easy—it’s just the easiest.
  • 13:26 All you have to do is seal the deal and get a contract signed and BOOM. You’re paid. Money in the bank.
  • 13:43 This is where most people start. It’s the smartest way to start.
  • You want to sell products? Do client work.

    “Wait what?”

    That’s right, do client work. Do a whole bunch of client work.

  • 13:58 Two reasons why:
    1. Money.
      • Client work is the fastest way to make money. Get your bills covered so you can get out of the Scarcity Mindset fog that is clouding your mind and keeping you from thinking straight and making smart, non-short-term business decisions (Related: e056 Eliminating Scarcity Mindset & Recalibrating Your Perspective).
      • Once you consistently cover your bills, keep going. Save. This is your capital for investing in building the products—either manufacturing expenses, or covering your own cost and time of creating the products.
    2. You’ll find things to sell.
      • As you go through the process of doing client work, you’ll identify parts of your workflow you can teach or turn into an ebook.
      • Turn resources you’ve created for clients into products you can sell.
  • 16:15 Ben: “You mentioned starting with client work if you want to do products so that you can save up some extra money. Well, what if I’ve got some money set aside that’s supposed to be for bills, but my bills aren’t due until the end of the month. Couldn’t I spend that on products and hope to make back the money in time?”
  • 16:43 Sean: If you like living on the edge like that, I mean it’s obviously your call. I just got off a call with Matt yesterday. One of his businesses just landed a bunch of contracts—more than they can handle this weekend. He said he’s probably going to have to outsource the work, unless he spent a bunch of money on new equipment and brought on extra help. I asked him if it he had the resources and if it was a good time to be scaling up his business. He said he had some, but it would take most of his money. I told him he should wait until it wasn’t super stressful and he had enough saved to where the equipment costs were not greater than 50% of his total resources.
  • 18:00 For instance, he just recently had a job where a window got broken and he had to cover the expenses and that was a few thousand dollars. You have to have some margin. You need something for emergencies.
  • 18:12 If you’re able to live on the edge and spend nearly all of your money without going into Scarcity Mindset, more power to you. Most people start compromising on things when they get that close to the edge because they get into Scarcity Mindset.
  • 19:02 Ben: “Yeah because if something does go wrong—whether you’re a large business or just an individual—if you’re riding that close to the margin and an unforeseeable circumstance cuts into that, things start to implode on themselves. The effects of that often reach beyond where you were in the first place. That’s reason enough for me to do what I’ve heard you suggest in the past when it comes to inventory: spend money with the expectation that you will not recover that money for a full year. A full year just to recover the investment, not even considering the full profit.”
  • 20:19 Sean: Only invest in your own business what you can afford to live without for a year. If you’re getting close to spending all of your money (or anything over half), I would say really think about it. Get to the point where you have more padding. Do some more client work. Build up your capital then start doing products.
  • Client work is the gateway to products and teaching.

  • 20:44 Ben: “I think sometimes we think about things we have no business thinking about yet—for instance, products or teaching a course. It’s not allowing us the mental bandwidth to think creatively and critically about what we’re doing now and the little things we might be able to change to get past that ceiling. Instead of thinking about what you’re going to do after you get enough money to make products, focus your efforts on what you’re doing right now. That focus is going to equal greater returns as you make those little shifts along the way. You can’t think freely when you’re barely making ends meet.”
  • Raise Your Rates
  • 22:15 “How do I get more money when I’m at capacity and doing all the client work I can and I’m barely making ends meet?”
  • 22:15 Sean: You need to charge more. You need to increase your rate (Related: e046 How to Make More Money Freelancing by Pricing Your Projects on Value). You need to be charging more. You need to be charging so much that you work 80% of a full-time job and you’re still putting money in savings.
  • 22:47 Ben: “80% of a full-time job and still putting money into savings. I like that guideline.”
  • 22:52 Sean: Yes and if your rate does not reflect that, bump it up. Charge more. Very rarely if you’re good at what you do, will doubling your rates result in losing half of your client base. Which means you make more money.
  • 23:57 99% of people are not charging enough. They’re not charging what they’re worth. They’re not pricing on value. You’re not charging enough. You need to charge more right now when it feels arbitrary to you. Assume that you’re not charging enough and raise that.
  • Why You Shouldn’t Do Sponsors
  • 24:51 Why I Don’t Have Podcast Sponsors.
  • 25:06 Sponsors do not grow your audience. It only incentivizes you to find other methods of growing your own audience so you can get better paid by sponsors. You need to evaluate your motives: Are you in the rat race or are you playing the long game?
  • 25:24 Why shouldn’t you do sponsors?
    • It’s short game.
    • It’s short-term thinking.
    • It’s about immediate monetization—scarcity.
    • It says “How can I get SOME money out of people now,” instead of “How can I get the MOST money out of people ever?”
    • If you put sponsors on your podcast, you’ve forced the listener to be the product.
    • Relationship Marketing 101: don’t make the listener the product.
    • What do you owe Facebook? Nothing.
      • You don’t owe Facebook anything because they sold you to the advertisers. You are the product.
      • The same with a podcast: If you force the listener to be the product, they don’t owe you anything.
    • What do you owe the person giving value? Everything.
    • They did you the courtesy of not forcing you to be the product.
    • They gave the option of compensation to you and you get to choose whether to give them something in return for the value they’ve provided (i.e. buy their products) or be a freeloader. That’s your choice.
  • 26:52 Ben: “There are well-known podcasts out there who do sponsors and they also ask for donations.”
  • 27:02 Sean: That’s not how it works. The listener does not owe you anything. Will you get some people to donate if you also do sponsors? Of course you will, but it’s not like if you didn’t do sponsors and didn’t force the listener to be the product.
  • When you force the listener to be the product they owe you nothing.

  • 27:27 When the listener is not the product, they will be much more likely to donate. But I prefer to do one better than solicit donations: put in even more effort to solving their problems, providing value and requiring compensation for that solution.
  • 27:45 So you’re giving free value, you’re investing in people, you’re building the relationship, you’re not forcing them to be the product and then you’re solving their problems. You know their problems because you’ve invested in the relationship. You’re listening to them, you’re getting to know them, you’re getting to know their struggles, getting to know their language and how they talk and your product is a direct response to that.
    • They’re going to buy because this solves their problems.
    • They’re going to buy because they trust.
    • They’re going to buy because you’ve invested in them.
    • They’re going to buy because it speaks straight to them, and it feels like that because you are speaking straight to them.
    • You know them, you didn’t force them to be the product and as a result they trust and support you.
  • 24:18 Ben: “If you’re relating this to a blog, for example, it would mean not having advertisements on your blog. If you’re relating it to videos, it would mean turning off monetization.”
  • 28:58 Sean: It’s either making the listener the product or it’s not. The important part is giving them the choice.
  • Start With Client Work So You Can Invest In Your Audience
  • 29:11 You have to be able to afford to do this. You have to be able to afford starting with the audience.
    • “How can I afford to just give away free content? I thought this whole thing was 90 days to making money? If I’m giving stuff away for free I’m not making money in those 90 days! How can I afford to do that?”
  • 29:36 You afford to do it by doing client work. If you don’t have money, you have to do client work. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to that’s what you have to do in the beginning unless you started with a bunch of money or had some saved from your day job. You need money and the quickest way to get it and build your capital is by starting with client work.
  • The Best Thing You Can Do in 90 Days
  • 29:58 Sean: Your goal is to create something that sustains you long term. If you have no audience, spend the 90 days growing an audience.
  • 30:02 Your goal is to be prolific.
    • People buy from who they trust.
    • People trust those who they know.
    • People get to know those who have value to offer.
    • They only know that you have value to offer if you do it consistently.
    • Doing it consistently means being prolific.
    • You need to put out highly valuable content regularly.
  • 30:45 Ben: “If you don’t have the answer to those problems or you don’t know the questions people are asking, then that’s what you need to spend the 90 days doing. Figure out what problem you’re going to solve.”
  • 31:03 Sean: e099 How to Read Minds – essentially, listening. In that episode, I go into more detail on how to listen and how to get to those problems people have and make them feel like “Wow, you read my mind! This is speaking directly to me.” That’s what you want.
  • 31:25 Would you buy from me? I want you to ask yourself, would you buy from Sean? Why?
  • 31:36 The reason you would is because I’ve delivered value to you consistently and without fail. You trust me. You know that I deliver. You know that my material is top notch. You know that my production is high quality. You know I spend 4 figures a month producing this show and charge you nothing. You know that I give you the choice to be a freeloader or not and I don’t force you do be the product.
  • 32:38 “I don’t know about this. Does this approach really work?”
  • 32:33 Yes. I don’t have to worry about money. Where I am now is as a result of doing everything I’m telling you. The long term works. I’m projecting that what I have right now is about 15% of what I will have in 3 years.
  • 33:10 If that’s what you want, you have to think long term. You can’t just think about immediate monetization. If you throw sponsors and advertisers on stuff, yeah you’ll get a few bucks a month. But that’s all you’re going to get.
  • 33:30 Ben: “You know, the definition of sustainable income for someone could be regular monthly income, it could be passive income, it could be something that’s enough to cover your bills, it could be a lump sum that lasts you for a year. Whatever the definition is, I really feel like it’s important to reiterate the fact that, Sean, you spent three years working on lettering and doing all the things you did along the way to make it to where you could invest the time and the money into starting this podcast. Then even after you started this podcast, it was still another six months until you actually launched your Learn Lettering courses.
  • 34:44 “So you’re talking about two and a half or three years of effort up front, then another six months building an audience to get to definitely what is a sustainable income. That’s something that’s going to carry you into the next phase of whatever you’re doing.”
  • 35:03 Sean: And just to be clear, yes I did get that nice lump sum in the beginning with the Learn Lettering launch, but take that launch revenue away completely and the residual income that I receive from that on a monthly basis is still many times what I need to pay bills.
  • 35:21 Ben: “Yeah, it took you a long time! Somebody armed with the same knowledge, work ethic, and time available that you have might be able to do that a little bit faster, but 90 days just seems unrealistic.
  • 35:50 “In talking about this, I don’t want people to get this false idea of what they can accomplish in 90 days. There’s really a lot more that goes into it than that. I don’t want to discourage people or get their hopes down either…”
  • 36:05 Sean: You just want to give them a realistic idea.
  • 36:07 Ben: “Yeah.”
  • The Best Case 90-Day Scenario Still Isn’t Good Enough
  • 36:08 Sean: When you have a goal like “I want to be able to sustain myself with something that pays my bills and not have to worry,” and you’re boxing it in with, “I want to do it in 90 days,” you’re going to end up compromising and you’re going to end up compromising the wrong things—things that will do a disservice to your long term.
  • 36:31 Ben: “We’ve talked about too—with your big dreams and your big goals, not putting that kind of time constraint on it because that does something to you. It does something to the way that you go about pursuing those things. Some people might think if you have a date expectation in mind that it’s going to put a fire under you to get it done, but I think the opposite actually happens. I think it ends up being paralyzing in some ways and ends up setting you back more than you realize.”
  • 37:04 Sean: Let’s just look at a best possible scenario. Let’s say you don’t have an audience but you hustled to build whatever audience you could, built a product, and marketed the heck out of it. You jam-packed what should be something that spans a much longer period of time into 90 days. Let’s just say everything works and it’s the best possible scenario. You make $10,000.
  • 37:45 Now at first that seems like, “Oh, sweet! $10,000! That’s something I don’t have right now.” But when you really start to think about it, it’s three months. Divide that up. That’s $3,000 a month. Depending on where you live, that might still sound pretty good but there’s there’s a few issues here:
    1. In places like New York or San Francisco, median rent is $3500. That’s just your rent! That doesn’t account for anything else.
    2. That’s only the launch. Because you did this so quickly, you’re not going to have the sustainability of receiving that kind of income from this product on a monthly recurring basis. It’s going to drop off to next to zero after that launch because all you had was the launch.
  • 38:34 Now for me with Learn Lettering, what I built up was essentially a lettering empire. There are so many links coming in. You search lettering or hand lettering and I’m at the top. Go on Pinterest and you’ll see me all over Pinterest. It’s something that has taken a long time. It’s taken putting a ton of lettering work out there and establishing a base and a bunch of traffic sources.
  • 39:02 Because I’ve given away free value on lettering in the past, there’s a bunch of links coming in. There’s constant new traffic without me even having to do work. Any work that I do on top of that (like autoresponder series) is just additional. That’s while I’m able to sustain it because it’s longer-term. Having a lump sum from a launch is nice, but it’s even better to have sustainable income.
  • Sustainable Income Requires Long-Term Thinking
  • 41:03 Sean: Do you need money right now? Do you need Immediate cash? Do client work. Work hard, cover your bills, then keep saving. Get to a point where you have enough money to set aside time to build products.
  • 41:21 Here’s the key: while you do this, teach along the way for free.
  • 41:28 There are so many things you can teach (Related: e117 62 Topic Ideas So You Never Run Out of Things to Write About). If you’re doing client work and saving money to build products, you have so many things to teach right there.
  • 41:43 Ben: “If you intend to release a product in the future like a course, the quality of that depends on the practice you get now from giving away your teaching for free. You need to practice and now is a perfect time to do it.”
  • 42:27 Sean: If you want something that will sustain you for the long term, you have to stop thinking in the short term.