I’m proud of what I’ve done to the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community. Once upon a time Mr. Money Mustache and Early Retirement Extreme dominated the demographic; MMM still does. The shtick of the community focused on the ER part of the equation. FI was a tool to live ER.
Guys like Pete at Money Mustache retired early and enjoyed their life of freedom. Time with the wife and kid/s was paramount. Then the community was infiltrated by the travel guys. ER was no longer enough! Now you had to travel the world before your fourth birthday to be average. (Okay, folks around here were older than four, but you get the drift.)
The FIRE community continued growing new arms. Some focused on ER; some focused on FI; some traveled; some became home bodies. With all day on their hands it is no surprise many took up hobbies and side gigs.
The side gig is the most awesome part. Once you are debt free and have a couple hundred grand invested, a side gig makes it possible to bow out of a traditional working life during the core years of adulthood. Conferences sprang up all over the country, nay, the planet. The phenomenon was in full bloom!
I was fortunate to catch the early part of the MMM movement. Pete became a client on our first encounter without any effort by yours truly. I’m not complaining.
The FIRE community was still fragmented until MMM drew the pieces together with his mega blog. The FIRE community was mainstream and mass media was taking notice.
I was now considered an insider and accepted for the most part. It made me as uncomfortable as hell.
At first I felt guilty I was so old (at 50!) and not retired. What a screw up! I toyed with retirement many times in the past, even before I drank deep from the world of FIRE. Each time I planned my orderly exit I changed my mind. Three times I set up a countdown clock. The last time the clock granted me three years to work out the secession of my firm.
As the clock ticked inexorably closer to doomsday I chickened out. When truly faced with retirement I flinched every time. I liked my office. I loved the work. I loved the clients, even the annoying ones. And the employees were a pleasure to work with.
Once I was officially inside the FIRE community a crisis set in. I’m too old to brag about early retirement and didn’t want to quit in the first place. My solution was to become an apologist. It was an unconvincing performance. I’d write about my imminent exit from the profession only to reassure my clients who read such posts I will be around for a long time.
I was BSing somebody and I had to figure out who before the house of cards collapsed. It didn’t take long for me to come to my senses and say what I meant: Retirement is BS. At least for me.
Some people thrive in a traditional retirement. Some folks love traveling. I travel for business because it serves a purpose I find useful so I tolerate the headaches surrounding travel. (In the last five years I traveled once for a non-business purpose: the eclipse. I’m a science nerd. What can I say?)
People like me, filled with ideas and energy, have no business cashing a check and riding into the sunset at any age (at any age!). Can you imagine Steve Jobs quitting? Heck, no! He worked what he loved until he couldn’t stand. He lived life by his terms. He lived right.
The same can be said of Warren Buffett or Bill Gates or Elon Musk or Richard Branson or Mark Cuban. These guys are juiced with the challenges of life. It’s not the money! After a point money is only a scorecard and a limit on what ventures you can pursue. I’m not anywhere near as talented as these men, but I share one characteristic with them; I want to keep pushing forward until my body can’t cash the check my mind writes.
When you do what you love it takes on the characteristics of an addiction. If left unchecked it can ruin relationships and health.
Working long hours with few days off eventually takes a toll. Recently I wrote about forensic accounting. In that post I mentioned the most likely person to commit fraud against a company. The malefactor frequently is a good friend, the best employee or the person who never takes time off. My advice to all business owners was to give all employees paid vacation and require them to take the time off. It solves the problem of temptation with your best people. Vacation time is when the misappropriation of funds is discovered. Hard to cover your activities when you’re not there.
Outside the demographic I am relatively unknown. Most of my readers are other bloggers and deep insiders of the community. (Someday I’ll grow up and be a real blog.)
I opened this post with the statement “I am proud of what I’ve done to the FIRE community.” I’ve been around the halls of this beast to recognize a few patterns taking shape.
What was a dedicated group of people hell-bent on retiring as soon as possible (and before they turn 40 at the latest) is pushing back out to sea. The focus has turned more to the FI part of the formula.
The number of people who contact me to thank me for making it okay not to travel when they retire is pleasing. Better still, I see many people going back to work or starting their own FULL-TIME business. The side gigs are growing up!
Some are bloggers, but the whole world can’t be successful bloggers! Variety gives life the spice it needs to make it worth living.
The FIRE community is partially responsible for the abnormally low labor participation rate. Economists and government officials debate what has changed. They should have asked me. I’d have told them, “Give me some time while I smack these guys up besides the head.”
Early retirement is NOT for MOST people! Without calling people out by name, I can share a few stories of people who rejoined the “rat-race” and finally realized there are no rats! It was all between the ears!
There is an IT guy who retired at a very young age and bought a farm in Washington State. He loved his farm and had a similar background to me. In the past few months he notified people he knew he wanted back into his profession. He was hired quickly and he is happier than ever. He missed the office. I hear ya. A life of helping people has its rewards.
A couple retired as teachers in their late 20s and traveled the world. This last year when we met at Camp Mustache in Seattle the husband said he was no longer retired as he was working a business idea. The wife was publishing books! (Last I checked that is a job, a career.) I tested the husband by repeating several times he was still retired. He insisted he is not.
How cool is that? Retirement is no longer the preferred method of living! I don’t care what anyone says, but I’m taking a bow for that. Yes, I know it was all them, but they read this blog and I know, I just know I planted a seed where it was okay to run a business and dump the whole retirement thingy.
There are plenty more stories to share, but they have to wait for another day. We need to move on to the real reason for this post.
Physician, Heal Thyself
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I am very tired and in desperate need of a nap. Ah, heck, let me just come out and say it. When FinCon is over next week I am quitting. Done. Cashing it in. No longer will I be the demographics apologist.
For a month.
I am tired. The workload has been grueling and it is taking a toll on my health. I don’t sleep decent anymore. My mind races with ideas and obligations. In short, I’m wore out.
The finally straw came in the last month when my office staff rose up in a coup and forced me into a corner. They used my own words against me. (How dare they?) They pointed out employees, by my own advice, must take a vacation every year. It says so in the forensic accounting post.
I protested. Unfortunately, my team has been reading my words too closely and used it against me as a weapon. How can I embezzle funds from my own firm? (Don’t answer that.) The tax pro in the office reminded me when I am as exhausted as I am I am no longer efficient, a form of stealing from the company.
They are right. I finally finished a coal mine valuation a month and half late. It took me triple the time required because I worked from a position of exhaustion. Stupid. I want to help people, but I help no one until I take care of myself.
Let me just cut to the chase. I will be out for the month of November. I have a few consulting appointments I will honor and maybe 10 hours of other work in the office for the month. That’s it. Finite.
You, kind readers, are the lucky ones. My fun time includes writing and reading. I’m still working on a 250 page book I started three weeks ago. I’m that tired.
Without the constant demands of the office I can enjoy quiet reading time. There are multiple posts I want to write that require more time. Remember the post I promised offering over $600,000 of deductible contributions to retirement accounts? Yeah, me too. I have all the material, but I haven’t written the darn thing. It requires more than my mind has left to offer. And I better hurry up because there are deadlines to consider! I’ll get it done, but it will require some readers to hurry. You have every right to blame me for dropping the ball.
Most of all I will sleep during November. Elon Musk runs several large companies at once. I am no Elon Musk. I don’t even make a good Keith Schroeder at times!
I need a break. A gap year doesn’t work well in my profession, nor with my personality. A month will be the break which refreshes. I can focus on the blog which is a significant break from managing an accounting office.
I can’t lie around all day. Maybe the first two or three. After that I need to fill my day with meaningful activity.
I’m salivating over the posts I can write in advance for tax season and the guest posts I’m sure to be asked to provide at FinCon. I am excited for the change of pace.
And Now You, My Dear Friend
Normally this type of activity would happen behind the scene. I’m facing burnout and finally fessed up to needing a timeout.
But what about you?
The reason you lust for retirement so badly is because you are exactly like me. You are tired. Tired of the rat race; tired of running to keep up; tired from the long hours.
According to the dictionary, retirement means used up, useless. Neither I, nor you, are retired or should be. Like me, there are times you need a nap. Dr. Accountant prescribes an ample dose of rest.
A gap year is fine. Some people handle a year or two off without a problem. If you tend toward my anxiety levels a month can do the trick as well.
My absence at the office isn’t the end of the world. Playing with my blog is a few hours per day. I’ll have plenty of time to read, walk around the farm and chase Mrs. Accountant around the house. (Ewww!)
When November is over I should be refreshed and ready to go for another tax season. A gap month doesn’t mean complete absence. Collecting money and recording the business’s progress never grows old. I’ll show up at least once a week for that.
Payroll is a different story. Paying employees is money going out and I never feel warm and fuzzy about that. (I just said that because employees read this blog and I wanted to mess with them. I’ll know first thing when they read this post.)
As much as I rail against retirement and travel, I still firmly believe in time off and yes, even travel. You can love your work, but never forget your family. When they feel it, it is time for a break to spend time with the people that matter most. The kids grow up fast and significant others need snuggles. (So do you.)
Don’t be mad if you can’t book an appointment with me in November. It’s not happening. Most days I’ll be at home. Several books are lined up ready for consumption.
If a crazy accountant from Wisconsin can take a break from his lovechild, so can you.
And you should.
Note: In case you missed it, I will continue my regular publishing schedule in November.
Here are my notes for this post from a month ago. I encourage readers to take a week, a month, a year, or whatever time is needed to recharge. Everyone has something to give, but only if they are healthy. Retirement is overrated. A vacation or stay-cation is just what the doctor ordered in most cases. The truth for you and me is we will perform better, get more done, when we have ample “me” time.
Taking off November so I don’t burn out.
Will still write (will write more, in fact) because it is what I enjoy.
This is a healthy thing. Too much work, even work you enjoy, can damage performance.
I will handle normal office work in November, but will add no new non-emergency appointments or consulting. I am taking the break which refreshes and encourage you to do the same when you notice you are losing your edge from pounding too hard.
Old dogs can learn new tricks. Preconceived notions are not reality or facts.
Several years ago life was going fine for me. Business was good, the sky was sunny and I thought I had a firm grasp on how the world worked. An avid reader, I chanced across a blog that pulled me in deeper than any before. Normally I read several blogs with no blog standing out from the crowd. I digest what I can and move on. Then along came Mr. Money Mustache.
Some blogs are better than others. Quality is frequently an issue, but personal taste is too. To make matters worse, this Mustache guy had a serious following. High quality suited to my tastes with a massive audience started me questioning some of those preconceived notions.
Most issues I was in complete agreement with. There was one stand-out: retirement and what the word meant. At first I had an identity crisis. Was I really retired all along and didn’t know it? Is it wrong to have gainful employment?
The only way to figure this thing out was to attend personal finance conferences with like-minded people. That was two years ago. In the beginning it made the confusion worse and the crisis more acute. Then I developed my own definition of retirement to suit my needs. Finally, last weekend, I made what I feel is the final leap in my evolution toward a retirement definition I can use in my personal life.
Four Letter Words
First impressions are everything. Work is a four-letter word and certain demographics are quick to point this fact out. If you enjoy your work, too bad! The goal always seemed to be about quitting your current gainful employment as soon as possible. But I like my job!
Work is a four letter word, but not a four-letter word if you get my meaning. There is nothing wrong with work! Work, force times distance as defined by scientists, is good for the body. Sitting all day is the bane of good health and happiness. An oxymoron of life is most people sit on their tail all day doing work. And we are overweight and unhealthy. Might I suggest a walk? Walking is “real” work.
There is an animal called the FIRE community. It stands for Financial Independence/Retire Early, as if they two go hand in hand. They don’t. It’s a misnomer.
Financial Independence means you have enough money to pursue your dreams and still pay the bills. FI means your investments throw off enough income to cover your lifestyle. Your spending level determines your investments needs to reach FI.
Retire Early is complete BS! Anybody can retire at any age. Sometimes people are forced to retire early due to corporate downsizing. Amazing how these people yearning for early retirement lament the fact when it is forced upon them. Do they discover something you and I don’t know about this retirement thing?
According to the dictionary retirement is defined as something that is used up or worthless. Use the correct terminology (Hey, buddy! Can’t wait to see you become worthless so you get the hell outta here!) and you’re liable to get your beak busted. The only explanation for the heavy use of the word retire without a proportionate level of busted beaks must have something to do with terminology.
Early retirement is possible without financial independence! There is no connection between the two situations. None. Having enough money to do what you want is totally unrelated to being “used up, worthless”. In fact, early retirement has more to do with laziness than FI.
When in Rome, they say. So I joined this FIRE community totally aware I was a fraud. The FI part was nailed down decades ago, but the RE part wasn’t even in my vocabulary. Retire, I asked? Retire from what?
It took a while to find a reference in my life. Waaaaay back in the beginning (when God was creating the heavens and the Earth (not that far back)) I had a job working for someone else. It was the only time in my life I worked for someone not a family member or in my own business. When I met Mrs. Accountant things got steamy fast. What can I say? She’s hot! Well, a year after we met we were headed down the aisle. Before the preacher would marry us we needed to attend some classes with the preacher. During this process it was noted I was living the early retirement lifestyle sitting at home and reading all day. This would not do. The church needed a custodian (read, janitor) for the attached school and I was available. So I was a janitor. For a year.
The people at the parochial school were awesome! It was a pleasure to work with them daily. Except I felt empty. My temperament didn’t allow me a life swilling toilets and mopping floors. A year after I started I quit. Call it retired, if you will. I was used up, all right! It was the only time in my life I felt what many people seem to feel about their job. I was FI and now I exerted my RE part of the equation.
A New Life Lesson
Fast forward thirty years and life was ready to smack me up beside the puss again. I adopted my new family in the FIRE community and started using their language as I felt they were using it. As soon as you were FI and quit your job you were also RE, even if you started your own business.
This confused me. I had my own business and enjoy the work. Why are they FI/RE and not me? It wasn’t them; it was me!
Last weekend I attended Camp Mustache in Seattle. You can read about it here. I attended all but the first Camp. A husband/wife team there retired a year or so ago to travel the world. They are young whippersnappers, barely tipping the scale past age 30. They did this all on teacher’s salaries! I was lucky to be there the last years to see this whole thing unfold. Social media allowed me to see the world through their eyes as they traveled.
This year at Camp they were back home, so to speak. Instead of the world, they now traveled North America in an RV. The husband also started a business.
I kept indicating he was still retired. It took my thick skull two days to understand he is NOT retired anymore! (He must have discovered he wasn’t as “used up” as he thought he was.) His words, “As of three weeks ago I am no longer retired.”
Hallelujah!!! Finally, I found someone who worked his own business and still fit in with the FIRE crowd. I felt a tear welling. I am normal after all!
Of course, reality wiped the tear from my eye quickly. Joe, the husband of our husband/wife team, ran his business a bit different than mine. Soon the advice was flowing on how other uber-successful people ran their business. Yours truly didn’t do it that way.
As a business owner I am very hands on. I meet with clients, review practically all tax returns before they leave the office and spend serious time plying my trade. The worst part is I am an integral part of the firm. If something happens to me it could kill the company. How stupid is that?
Multiple stories were told of business owners who found the right balance between work and personal life. This post isn’t long enough to dig into those individual stories.
Once again this highly intelligent group of successful people educated this country accountant. My desire to “do it all” limited my reach and puts the company (and the employees and clients) at risk should my health give way or I meet my demise.
Life is a series of unending lessons and I just picked up a big one. The new information is now getting pressed into action. Changes are happening at the Wealthy Accountant headquarters to protect the company should I not be available. And it all started with a couple of 30 year old kids living the dream of early retirement to see the light.
They say the teacher will appear when the student is ready. This is wrong. The teacher was there all time. It took the student all this time to open her eyes and see the teacher next to her waiting to teach. That is the life lesson learned by your favorite accountant this past week.
Teachers are usually disguised. Thirty year old kids (teachers in a past life, I might add) taught me a lesson I wasn’t ready to hear a year or so ago. I never thought much about military personnel in the past, but a retired military guy has plowed an endless stream of wisdom my way since we met. I now call him friend.
I am not retired and I am proud of it. My index fund is bursting at the seams so I proudly proclaim financial independence. None of that matters. What matters are the friends I have gained and the teachers I have found. My eyes are opening for the first time. Like a newborn child, my vision is blurry. But I can see. I can see! And teachers are everywhere, willing to take my hand into the brave new world I have discovered.
Old dogs can learn new tricks.
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. held their annual meeting this past weekend. Warren Buffett noted some of his failures over the previous decades (missing Amazon, for example) and Charlie Munger added Google as a big miss. Both men agreed they’d continue missing many opportunities in the future. Buffett and Munger made it clear they learn more from their mistakes than from their successes. They felt winning was a poor teacher as it fooled people into thinking they were right.
Steve Jobs had some Syrian blood and was raised by adoptive parents. Armed with only this information it would be hard to imagine a path that would lead to Jobs creating a company which would become the largest on the planet by the time of his early death at age 56. The odds were stacked against Jobs, yet he rose above the travails and changed the world.
Elon Musk was born in South Africa. His parents divorced when he was nine. It would be hard to see a path for this young boy where PayPal would be part of his future followed by SpaceX, Tesla, Solar City and a growing list of additional companies.
Tough times. We hear about them all the time. Rarely is found a successful person who doesn’t have baggage in the closet. Show me someone who never had problems and I’ll show you someone who is mediocre. The exceptions are exceedingly rare.
Yet, most people have hard luck stories in their past. Why does a difficult time in life, especially early on, define so many successful people? And why do people with the odds stacked in their favor frequently end up average at best?
When the Going Gets Tough
Everybody has those days. Steve Jobs was raised by adoptive parents and later lost his company only to get it back and send Apple to heights no corporation has ever scaled before. Yet so many people fold when difficulty arises. One abused child grows up and does incredible things while another ends up in prison, a product of her own demons.
Buffett was right; mistakes, and how you deal with them, define who we are. Tough times should not be feared! Tough times are an opportunity to build character and learn. When life is roses we tend to party because we delude ourselves we know it all. A bat to the side of the head has a way of focusing attention.
Failure motivates. Winning in a must-win situation requires drastic actions.
Cortez, when he arrived in the New World, ordered his men to burn the ships. Cortez knew it had to be done. His men were outnumbered in strange new world. If there was an option of retreat his men would eventually find a reason to take it. Cortez knew the only way forward was to remove any possibility of retreat.
Tough times are like Cortez burning the ships. Think back on times in your life when things were really bad. I bet you had little to no control over the situation. It was bad and you could not see a way out, at first.
What changed? Maybe you faced the death of a loved one or divorce. Worse, maybe you were abused as a child or a battered wife. You felt helpless and out of control.
The ancient Stoics knew what to do. Epictetus taught us to let go of the things we do not have control over. Since the only things we can control is how we interpret a situation and how we respond in our mind. A child suffering abuse cannot control an evil parent. All they have is what is inside.
I wish no one such a tragedy. Learning from tough times is one thing, but it doesn’t have to include abuse. But it happens. It happens to prisoners of war; it happens to children; date rape happens among so-called friends; divorce and death of loved ones will happen. Not might happen; will happen. And there is not much you can do to prevent it. If cancer is going to strike, it is going to strike. Your only recourse, your only control, is your head. Only you decide what goes on there.
I throw around household names, yet there is an endless supply of examples in your own community. I bet if you look behind the curtain of successful people in your community you will find terrors. The abuse shelter is run by women who suffered abuse. They can’t change the past, but they can do something about the present. A police officer suffered a terrible crime as a child; the wealthy businessman was so poor as a child she sometimes missed meals. These people suffered to such an extent that it left a scar, a scar so deep it defines who they are today.
My own story is one of growing up in poverty in a very rural community. After the family farm was gone my dad had a business fixing agricultural equipment. Those early days were scary. One day my dad kissed my mother good-bye. I heard him tell my mother he did not have enough gas to get back home if he did not make a sale that day. There were no other options. He sold one link in an industrial sized chain for $50. My dad returned home that evening. His business grew well into the seven figures in sales and a modest number of employees year later. But it started from great tribulation.
That day has never left my mind. It was 34 years ago. In my mind there is no other option, the ships were burnt. In my mind there is no room for quitting. No retreat. We all run from our pasts and I run quite well from mine. Once we know a man’s story we start to understand why the man is as who he is. Only then can we empathize.
Your Success Story
What about you? Do you struggle with money? Relationships? Retirement? The reason could be things were never tough enough on you. When things go good all the time it is easy to delude ourselves we can run up the credit card bill and afford gas-guzzling SUVs. The problem with having the great job from an early age without risk of unemployment is that you have no incentive to change. Sure early retirement sounds nice, but things are pretty good as they are so you settle in at mediocre.
But who wants to be mediocre? Your dreams can be much smaller than those of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. Changing the world is one thing; changing the life of your significant other and children is certainly a worthy goal everyone should have.
Yet, with life all roses, you stick to the old plan of long work hours in a job you despise. You miss the kid’s baseballs games and other school events. You are miserable inside, but this is not tough times, my friend. Tough times are more than just a mild inconvenience.
Artificial Tough Times
Tough times might be the ticket to higher levels of success, but who intentionally encourages tough times? A crazy man, that’s who! You don’t have to shoot yourself in the foot to gain the benefits and lessons of tough times.
I want to show you how to do an exercise called negative visualization. It’s nothing bad or harmful. What negative visualization does is allows you to see the worst possible outcomes and helps you deal with these possibilities. Once you are done with the exercise you will be refreshed knowing these bad things didn’t happen to you and if they ever do you have nothing to fear.
When I negatively visualize I do it in a quiet place so I am not disturbed. This works best when there is plenty of time for you to work through the exercise without interruption.
You can lie down on a bed or couch (my preferred method) or sit lotus-style with hands on knees. Close your eyes and relax. Steady your breathing. (You can also do this while taking a walk or running or clipping lawn, et cetera, anyplace where you can think uninterrupted.)
Each session should include only one issue. For example, imagine the death of a spouse, parent or child. Other things to visualize are poverty (loss of possessions) or disease (cancer, et cetera).
With your eyes closed and your breath steady, imagine the loss of a significant other. Really dig deep. What would you do? See it. Walk through the process. This takes time. Something as deep as the loss of a spouse can take an hour or longer and more than one session. The loss of a job might take less time unless job loss is imminent.
The important part is to really feel it. Your brain can learn from imagined hard times as well as real-world tough times. The deeper you feel it and internalize it the better. When you are done you should feel grateful you are so lucky as to have your spouse, job, heath. You also have the experience of the loss. The pain, if it is really felt, allows you to mentally burn the ships so there is no option of retreat.
We spend our lives avoiding the unpleasant. If we are really good at it and really lucky, we may never face many tribulations. This is a double edged sword. Living an awesome life is the dream, but a life too good all the time takes away the flavor or incentive to reach for more.
You must do this. Negative visualization helps us cope with serious issues when our minds are not under the stress of the actual situation. No matter how awesome your life, family members will die, disease will intrude, accidents will happen. By preparing now you give your mind the power to cope when the inevitable happens.
Tough times happen to all of us. It has nothing to do with how good a person you are. Job loss happens, businesses can and do fail, loved ones get sick and we all die. A few moments in quiet contemplation now can give you the strength to handle those moments of crisis. And by creating artificial tough times you will have reference points to motivate you to do what you know you must do.
You are the solution.
Readers of this blog are always looking for a side hustle. Seasonal tax preparation is a perfect fit for many early retirees. A small tax preparation business allows for an earlier retirement as the side income can easily be enough to live on for even a modestly frugal person. Another large reader demographic involves the accounting industry. There are plenty of blogs talking about tax issues, but few discuss the realities of starting, promoting and maintaining a tax practice.
I touch on the subject of practice building periodically, but my email folder is filled with requests for a more detailed post. A recent email from someone called Speed (I love it!) asked a series of questions that encompasses the bulk of practice management requests. Much of what I discuss can be applied to most other business ideas with only slight modifications.
Rather than give a play-by-play on starting and managing a tax practice, I will take each of Speed’s questions and answer them. The reason for avoiding the play-by-play is because there are many ways of starting a successful business. I don’t want to give the illusion you are locked into one pattern to win. Life is rarely that neat.
How exactly did you start preparing tax returns for others? Recommendations for someone wanting to do the same?
Preparing taxes as an occupation came by accident. You see, back when I graduated from high school the economy was really bad in NE Wisconsin. Not only were businesses not hiring, they wouldn’t even waste the time or paper allowing you to fill out an application. It was a good thing since I never intended on working for the man anyway.
What I did have was a work ethic instilled growing up on a farm. The family farm went bankrupt a few months after I graduated high school, however. My dad suffered but refused to quit. He started a business repairing bottom unloaders in Harvester silos, the blue silos you see around the country. Without any other employment options I took a job working for dear ‘ol dad. As fate would have it, dad hated bookkeeping and taxes so he left the task to me. Well, sitting in a nice warm office pushing numbers sure beat the hell out of busting ass in a dark silo room.
Things were tight back then with the economy and all. I worked long hard hours and came home from a long day of ball-busting work to balance the books. I was paid as you would expect an old farmer to pay his son. When employees asked me to prepare their taxes I agreed to do so for $20. As small as that sounds, it was a fortune compared to what my dad paid me per hour. Then vendors asked me to prepare their taxes. (Vendors paid more than $20.) Spring was a joyous time of year with all the extra cash flowing in. My first paid tax return was in 1982 when I was a senior in high school.
I hated the silo business so I quit a few years later. Investments and zero spending turned my nest egg into a tidy sum. It was 1986 by now and part-time tax work coupled with investments was enough to live a very Spartan lifestyle and I did. Then I met Mrs. Accountant. (Don’t laugh!)
A year later we were married and I was working as a custodian at her church for $7.85 an hour. (A respectable husband works, you know.) A year of that and I quit and went taxes full-time out of my home. I figured it was still respectable to work 2 ½ months a year and do what I want 9 ½ . Five years later I had a store front and more employees than I ever imagined.
For normal people starting today I would recommend working for an experienced tax professional for a few years and studying for the enrolled agent (EA) exam. You could also open shop out of a spare bedroom, accepting only basic returns until your skills improved which is what I did. After two full-time tax seasons I passed the EA exam and moved to the next level. I was beginning to learn how much I did not know.
Either a few years working for an established firm or starting with basic returns on your own will increase your tax knowledge and help you understand how tax returns flow. Tax preparation is a great side hustle or career. It is what drew me to the professional. That and my love of numbers.
Wondering if you can offer advice on how to start prepping tax returns for others (seasonally)? I have a similar philosophy as you regarding the role of finance and the tax code and would like to both learn more and maybe monetize this interest. Hypothetically speaking, if someone approached your company wanting to work for you, what strategies and know-how would they need to have expert knowledge of?
Starting a seasonal tax practice out of your home is easy. The initial investment is much smaller than in the past with the cost of computers much lower today. You will need a computer, printer and professional grade tax software. I recommend Drake Software for tax professionals. (Dear Drake Software: Please institute an affiliate program so I can get paid for all the business I am sending you. Thank you.) I recommend Drake because it is very user friendly and their support is awesome.
If I were starting today from scratch I would focus on a niche. I would focus my studies in one area and kill it. Rental real estate is a perfect example with the relatively new repair regs and cost segregation rules. You can impress landlords with stuff they probably didn’t hear before so you look like a god to real estate investors.
Someone approaching me for a job should have the following attributes: outgoing and friendly attitude (clients trust people they like); proficiency using basic software like Word and Excel; a working knowledge of tax software; a working knowledge of the tax code and how to apply it on a tax return. Tax knowledge and application are two very different animals. I know people with massive tax knowledge who don’t know where stuff goes on the return. A tax office deals in application. Learn it. You don’t need to know everything about the code. Get good at one area and expand from there. If you are a master at individual returns, you are hired. If you are a genius at business returns, you are also hired. Get good in at least one tax area and be willing to take direction.
Where/how do you train them from there? Specific resources you require or recommend? Can you offer any more details in your own education of working towards being an accountant (but not going back to school for the degree)?
I train differently than most. Once you have the basics down I make you review the work of other preparers and work with said preparers to improve their performance. Reviewing the tax work of others gives you a different perspective and grows your skill sets. Then I review your review until you can walk on your own.
Whether you intend to get your EA or not, I expect you to study for the exam until you have it down. The IRS EA program is exceptional. If you can master the EA you will be well on your way to being a top-notch tax professional.
Every part of the country has continuing education courses for tax professionals. Search engines will give you plenty of options. Most of the classes are one day with some going two or three days. These are power-packed programs. You will not absorb it all. Take the workbook that comes with the course and keep it next to your desk. CPAs need 40 credit hours of CE per year (none has to be in the tax field) and EAs are required to take 72 credit hours every three years with no year having less than 16 credit hours (an average of 24 hours of CE per year). All EA continuing education classes must be in federal taxation. Don’t take online courses! Sit in the classroom! It is important. The online programs are fast and easy credits but all too often provide no real increase in tax knowledge. You want to get good, not slide by on the minimum.
For the record, I have no college degree. Does that blow your mind? Enrolled agents do not need any other education degrees to have a constructive career, full- or part-time. Study for the EA. Study for the EA. Did I say that yet? You must study and pass the EA exam! Then you keep learning until the EA exam is old hat. Study. Then study some more.
Buy a Quickfinder (will any of these companies start an affiliate program so I can turn some coin referring them?) every year and read it. Use it as a reference whenever needed. It is a good start. When you use the restroom you have reading material. (Stop laughing! I’m serious.) When you want to watch TV, either read EA study materials or your Quickfinder.
If you do all these things you will not need me to tell you where to study next. You will know. You will have new questions all centered on complex tax issues where even the Tax Courts around the country don’t agree with each other. Then you should ask me for a job. Please.
Modern technology and automation is making our lives easier every day. Virtually every task humans do is also done faster, cheaper, better by some automatic process with a silicon chip inside it. These automation processes started showing up a few centuries ago and started changing human life in fundamental ways in the last 100 years. The pace started slow with a steepening incline of progress. Today, we face a challenge never faced by humans before: what to do.
Free time was always a part of human living. It took the Industrial Revolution to transform human stock into expendable machines. In hunter and gatherer days, man would spend large amounts of time idle, pursuing whatever created interest. We can still see a few remaining fragments of art at historical sites. Hunting parties might extend for days or even weeks. Once game was slaughtered and the meats cured, the pantry was full for an extended period of time. Weeks, even month were free to build monuments, create art, and tell stories around the fire.
Then the Agricultural Revolution arrived. Man had his first taste of what was yet to come. Humans were now slave to the ox and land. Working the land and domesticating animals kept man busier than hunter/gatherer days. Hunched over the plow all day brought the first lower back pain for the species. Humans worked more hours than ever. But once the crops were planted there was free time, followed by a flurry of activity harvesting the crops. Then, man settled in for a long winter season of leisure.
The Cognitive Revolution in man occurred about 70,000 years ago, the Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago, the Industrial Revolution a few hundred years ago. Now we are entering the Information Revolution.
The pattern is clear. Each revolution in the human condition is shorter than the previous. The difference this time is the revolution may change humans to the very core forever. Humans as we know them now may very well cease to exist.
Or the species may finally, after 12,000 years, be returning to its roots with technology allowing us to live longer and happier lives with plenty of time to explore our mental pleasures.
Think how our world is on the cusp of a change like never before. Name one job that can’t be replaced by technology or automation. There is one and only one. I’ll share that in a bit.
Cars now drive themselves. It is only a matter of time before self-driving vehicles become the preferred mode of transportation. There go all the truck driving jobs, along with Uber drivers.
Tesla is nearing completion of the gigafactory in Nevada. People do not understand how many batteries this factory will produce. When fully operational, the Tesla battery factory will produce more batteries in one year than all batteries produced from the beginning of time by man. You have to stand in awe on what that means for the way we live.
And batteries are still in their infancy! Technology will make batteries more efficient a decade than they are now. Tesla’s plant is like the first Model T Ford facility. More and better is to come. If automobiles fundamentally changed our society, what will this single technology do? And what about all the other emerging technologies? Artificial intelligence hasn’t even begun yet. But it will soon. A lot of very intelligent people are working on the issues and history tells us we will get there faster and faster.
The cost of energy will drop over 90% in only a few decades. Batteries will allow a smooth energy production schedule. No more expensive and polluting peaking power plants when storage technology makes alternative energy even better. Roofing materials now can gather energy and store it in a Tesla Powerwall and in your vehicle. No longer do we talk about the technology coming online in a decade. It is here now!
Learning to Live in the New World Order
Life is changing fast. Guys like Mr. Money Mustache show us how to retire by age 30. Tim Ferriss goes one step further and says you can have a 4-hour workweek a 4-hour body, and be a 4-hour chef. I’m only a country accountant, but I can do simple math pretty darn fast. If you work 4 hours a week, exercise 4 hours, and cook for four hours, you have a lot of hours to do what you want. There are 168 hours to a week. Take out the Tim Ferriss hours and you have 156 hours left. We all know we should get 8 hours of sleep a day so there goes another 56 hours every week.
Holy shit! We have a full 100 hours to do what we want. I don’t know about you, but I am not that good at sitting still. Wars have started from people with less free time on their hands.
There is a solution. Machines can handle routine work and technology can simplify our lives. Machines can even think. But there is one thing computers will probably never be able to do: think cognitively.
Humans became modern humans when they began thinking cognitively 70,000 years ago. The process was slow and took millennia for the species to reach the next level of mental growth. We are returning to those fundamental roots of our ancestors.
Cognitive thinking is more than learning. Computers are doing that already and will improve rapidly. The kind of thinking I am referring to involves reasoning and understanding. A computer program can learn to anticipate an action the more data points it gathers. But solving a new problem is out of a computer’s reach. The program doesn’t even know the question to ask. People tell the computer the question and set the learning parameters.
All future jobs will involve cognitive thinking. Every job you see today will be replaced in whole or in part by technology. Even your favorite accountant sees the handwriting on the wall. Thirty years ago I started my practice with some new-fangled BS I think they called, ah, e-filing. Good thing I didn’t throw my hands in the air and say, “That’ll never catch on.”
In the last 34 years my accounting firm has morphed into a different firm four times. The first company was the old-styled paper and pencil tax firm. Then I stepped forward with e-filing before my competitors saw me coming. Then I merged traditional accounting services like payroll and bookkeeping into a small framework. Now the firm is changing again. The payroll department was sold into a partnership, bookkeeping is radically changing into a point and click system, and taxes are more scan than enter. So what remains for the new company? Consulting. The computer can prepare taxes just fine. What it can’t do is think ahead in an all-encompassing way. Technology will do all the things my company did before. All I will do is thinking cognitively. And there will be plenty of that to do.
In the Middle
So how does Pete (Mr. Money Mustache) and Tim Ferriss do it? Well, I don’t know so much about Tim, but I do know Pete. Pete recently finished a studio and gave an awesome write-up in his blog. He loves construction projects. A few years back I mentioned an interest in moving out to Colorado. One day Pete tells me he had some properties I might be interested in. I said I was waiting until my youngest finished high school. He sounded depressed as he said he agreed with my decision. I think he was excited about a remodeling project he could work with me. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had a change of mind. A change of venue to a better climate is a fond idea, but NE Wisconsin is my home and where my heart will always be. Pete, if you read this: I am sorry.
Pete and Tim are true trail blazers. They are showing us the way to a future we cannot avoid. Tim spends his time coming up with new ideas on how to live, same as Pete. Tim’s style is different, for sure, but it all comes down to the same thing: cognitive thinking. No computer has come up with a novel idea without a human behind the controls feeding in the question. Tim says we can get stuff done faster and better with his methods. Sure, but that leaves us with even more free time to do . . .
You better get comfortable with thinking; not always a strong suit of the species. The added free time means you can spend time with those people who live with you. You know, the one you promised to spend the rest of your life with and the little short ones you helped bring into this world. There will be loving moments, but the bulk of your time will be spent exploring the mind. Exploring the world around you with your family will be a large part of the future. Not only do you get to marry your lover, you get to spend time with them. What a concept! And those mini humans, they are hungry for your attention. You have the time to share with them.
What about Money!
Oh, yes. Money. My guess is the workweek will need to shrink to 20 hours on average. More than Tim Ferriss thinks is necessary, but what Keith Schroeder *thinks* will be the endgame. And retirement will come sooner than you think whether you are ready or not. You will work less and wages will remain stagnant. But costs will collapse. If energy costs drop 90% you need less to live. If it costs less to shingle the roof, it lasts longer, and produces energy too, there is another expense going the way of the dodo. The only economic issue of significance involves government debt. How they will pay it off is beyond me. Good thing we all will have more time to think about it. Computers and technology will not find the solution, but they will probably complete the task when some smart humans come up with the idea.
Money will still be needed. With fewer jobs and hours available the issue of a living income arises. The first mention of a living wage I can find showed up in the 1930s* as the worldwide depression raged on. The idea work would never return due to mechanization was premature. This time is not different; we just finally reached the endgame people intuitively knew we would.
We all will live somewhere between Mr. Money Mustache and Tim Ferris whether we like it or not. Early retirement stories are hot news stories now. In the near future early retirement will not be a choice so plan accordingly. Or we can work more years, but fewer hours per week.
I think about my own work as a business owner. If you take all the dead time and talking with people, I really don’t work that many hours. And until I got crazy and opened my doors to a worldwide clientele, my life was very simple. I worked reasonable hours for 2 ½ months followed by virtually no organized work the remainder of the year. I spent my days playing on my farm, reading, thinking, and planning. Learning is what I do. It is what Warren Buffett does. It is what Pete and Tim do. It is what you will be doing. It isn’t a choice. It is the world we live in.
Your favorite job is obsolete. You will create your job in the future. Get used to it.
* I am reading It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, published in 1935, and there is a brief mention of a living income. Warren Buffett also likes the idea of expanding the Earned Income Credit to guarantee everyone receive $15 an hour through a tax credit if their skills do not garner $15 per hour. The new EIC would provide a much larger credit to those without children too. Interesting ideas we will have to face in the very near future.
Readers of this blog are committed to financial discipline. They save a large portion of their money and invest it wisely in index funds and real estate. Whatever is left after investing they consider spending . . . maybe.
Before long the value of the index funds grow significantly and the investment properties gain more equity while throwing off a steady stream of passive income. People begin to notice. You, one of the mentioned readers, drive a less than fancy car and have a modest home or apartment. People also notice you brown bag lunch at work and rarely party with the crowd. Instead of the bar scene you invite friends over for a cookout and a few cold ones.
Everyone around you notices how much less stress you seem to have compared to them. You make it look easy. And you have money. Of course, you do. Because you don’t spend every penny you earn. It starts with one person feeling resentment and spreads like a bad rash. For the first time you feel the sting of jealousy. People you care about and admire now have turned against you because you are clearly no longer like them. You lack the fancy house, expensive car and endless nights of fine dining. And how dare you live without cable TV. Is there something wrong with you?
What Are Friends For
Life in the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community has its challenges. People inside the community are eager to welcome you and understand your plight. They have felt they same sting of words from people they love and complete strangers. You are not alone.
The FIRE community is by no means the majority. As a group, we are maybe 5 to 10 percent of the population and I probably inflated the numbers to make myself feel more normal. It’s not that everyone in the FIRE community is the same. We’re not. You will be hard pressed to find a more diverse group of people anywhere. Many in the community love to travel and then there are guys like me who like to sit at home with a good book. Our hobbies and personal preferences and tastes cover a wide range. The only common denominator we share is the personal habit of spending less than we earn and investing in simple and effective investments. Index funds, investment properties and side gigs are as common as ticks on a hound in the FIRE community.
Work is the worst, even for business owners. I love my work and can’t see myself doing anything else, yet I have had instances where clients were jealous of my wealth and left. There have been a few employees over the years who think I have it too good and that I don’t deserve it. All I ask is: What don’t I deserve? I live on less and invest the money. This feeling of “deserve” is the real problem in my opinion. When you feel entitled you overspend and destroy your own independence. Debt is the cruelest of taskmasters. Yes, debt makes you a slave.
Where work is the worst because you spend so much time there, family cuts the deepest. A parent or child knows exactly what to say or do to hurt you most. Siblings and extended family also know how to make you jump highest. Jealousy doesn’t come from buying a new car or a fancy vacation. Jealous people around you have no problem one-upping you in the car or vacation department. What really rubs their fur the wrong way is the countdown clock. You know, the one ticking toward the day you quit your job or at least have no need of the job anymore.
Now resentment sets in. People who were jealous before secretly hate and loath you. If it strikes too close to home it can be devastating. If your significant other is not on board it can lead to death rattle for the relationship. It always amazes me when a significant other gets jealous and loathes a partner who manages to reach financial security at a young age. Don’t they understand they are along for the ride? Oh, that’s right. They want to spend all that money impressing the neighbors. Me bad.
Dealing with the Jealousy
There are steps you can take to handle the jealous people around you. The FIRE lifestyle is the best lifestyle you can choose (and the most responsible one too). Sure you get to travel more and have an exciting life of your choosing. But you always feel happy and satisfied no matter how much money is flowing into the checkbook. Money isn’t a problem because you don’t let money be a problem. In our modern world that resolves about 97.24624% of all issues in life. Remember, money destroys more marriages than infidelity. You might forgive a tryst; you’re human, you know. But fuck with my money? Katy bar the door!
I was fortunate I reach FI early in life and to do so while owning my own business doing work I love. It makes a difference. I have suffered rebuke from family, friends, clients, employees, and even complete strangers for my lifestyle. I feel blessed Mrs. Accountant and my children have never felt that way so nothing else really mattered to me. Water off a duck’s back. Having success early in life after starting life in a poor part of the country and born into a poor family, I have learned a few skills to handle jealous people. If I can be so bold, let me share:
Learn what you can control: It all goes back to the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, from nearly 2,000 years ago. What Epictetus said was we need to know what we have control over and what we don’t. One of the things he said you have no control over is your reputation. People will say nasty stuff about you for a variety of reasons. Because you have no control over your reputation you shouldn’t worry about it. Worrying will not fix what is out of your control. What you CAN control is how you respond. Emperor Marcus Aurelius said, “Choose not to be harmed and you haven’t.” Socrates said, “They can kill me, but they can’t harm me.” In other words, don’t let other people control how you feel about yourself.
Fire employees: It seems cruel, but if you are a manager or business owner and an employee is consumed by jealousy over your success, fire them.
Disenfranchise co-workers: Just because you work with someone does not mean you are required to socialize with them outside work. I talk about my finances now more than ever due to this blog. Generally, if you did not know all the facts and circumstances, you would not know I reached FI long ago. The same applies at work for you. If people are jealous about your growing wealth and impending early retirement, stop talking about it at work. When the subject comes up, play it down. I understand how hard this can be. We want to talk about who we are and what interests us most. Might I recommend greater involvement in the FIRE community? We like hearing your stories and your journey to independence. We are not jealous either; we are walking the same road.
Get new friends: If your friends don’t respect your decision to live the way you do, get new friends. Better to have no friends at all than to live in self-inflicted poverty and slavery.
Get a divorce: That sounds like harsh advice from a man approaching his 29th wedding anniversary. Don’t think I make this recommendation lightly. Let me make it clearer from my side of the desk. I’ve seen this stuff play out for over 30 years in my profession. If your spouse or significant other refuses to live the FIRE lifestyle, she will loathe you. When someone loathes you, they will eventually leave you. May as well pull the Band-Aid off fast. Or, you can always choose to give up the FIRE lifestyle, but then you will have lifetime of money worries which usually ends in divorce or separation. So, you want a divorce now or later?
Choose a partner wisely: If you are in the market for a lifemate, do not settle. Take your time. There are a lot of things you can overlook, but how a potential partner lives their life is not one of them. I had plenty of opportunities to date before I met Mrs. Accountant, but did not waste my time with ladies who would never accept my lifestyle. I planned and prepared. I always had my eyes open. Then, when I least expected it, Mrs. Accountant showed up and it was blaringly obvious I found the woman I would spend the rest of my life with. In the 30 years I have known Mrs. Accountant we never once argued about money. We have discussed purchases and investments, but never once did we complain or fight about finances. I’m a lucky guy who happened to create much of his own luck.
Move: Or rather, pick the neighbors you want to talk to and act polite to the rest. There is nothing wrong with having nothing in common with your neighbors. There is nothing wrong with treating neighbors with respect and talking politely with them. It is also okay to not socialize with them either. If all else fails you can always move.
Lay down the law and make no excuses: Make it clear to those around you how you feel. Whether it be a friend, co-worker, or family, express your desire to spend responsibly. You don’t have to tell them your net worth. But you can clearly state you don’t want to spend on certain items or activities and will not. If you are firm with people they will respect you more. When walking the mall is something you refuse to do as a pastime, your friends will either do something different with you or you will soon have new friends.
I understand much of this comes across as harsh advice. It has to. Over the years I have seen good people live responsibly and build a nice net worth only to find a gold digger who destroys it all in a few short years. This is a lifelong journey. You are not alone. We are out here. We are few, but not extinct. You will find the person to spend your life with who shares your values. You can have the work you enjoy, as an employee or employer. You can travel or stay home. You can live the life you want to live. The one thing you have some, but not complete, control over is who you travel this road with. Most family you can’t choose. You have some control over who you marry or date. I could say, better to be alone than with the wrong person, but that is bad advice. You are NOT alone. Seek us out. We would love to have you.
And when you work toward your FI goal we will cheer you on. We are more excited than you are as you live the life of our dreams.
The past year has been the most brutal of my career. What started out as a good idea has cascaded into a challenge I am still working the details out on. Challenges excite me, but this one showed up unannounced.
Back in the day when I was building my practice I didn’t work that many hours because it was a seasonal business and I saw no need to bust my tail for “a few more dollars”. (A good movie, by the way.) My strategy was simple; always do better than the year before. As the years accumulate, beating last year required more work. It wasn’t money; it was pride.
Eventually I was working way more than I wanted to, so I cut back dramatically and seriously considered selling my practice and living a “real” retirement. The reduced hours and the return to a normal lifestyle (for me) put the “selling the business” idea on the back burner.
It all changed a year ago. This blog and other media attention sent requests for my personal services through the roof. The process of digging out is still ongoing. I had no choice but to say “no” a lot more than I ever had before. That is a difficult pill to swallow because I love working with people and helping clients reach their goals.
Last tax season when this hit, my office had a perfect storm. Illness was an issue and under-staffing was acute because I did not anticipate what a post in Mr. Money Mustache would do to me. The worst part was a key employee who felt jealous of my success and decided to bow out. She was part-time, but an experienced tax pro. Her daughter also worked for me and was full-time. Their performance and quality of work was beyond bad. Certainly not at a professional level.
The two employees had to go. They came to me to resign, each in turn and I think they knew if they didn’t I was going to terminate their employment with my firm anyway.
The extra workload coupled with several illnesses in the office and two rouge employees who refused to prepare tax returns by mid tax season left the task to me personally. Work has never bothered me. I rolled up my sleeves and did as much as my body could deliver. When tax season was over I hired more qualified people and trained them. They are paid more than the departing employees, but have earned it by stepping up and getting the work caught up.
Considering the struggles, my practice had a record year. It proves jealousy only hurts the one who feels it.
And I had to deal with a new issue personally: burnout. Burnout is no stranger to me. When I started buying rentals I bought a lot. I mean, a LOT! Too many, in fact. After 10 years I burned out and started selling until they were all gone.
I grew my practice until long hours caused me to hurt physically. Now I am back hurting. Too much sitting takes its toll.
Don’t worry kind readers. I am a resilient cuss. I am learning to live with saying “no” more often than ever before in my life. I love my readers all the same, even if I can’t serve each individually. And I have rebuilt an awesome team in my office headed by Karen, my office manager of over a decade.
The added work challenged me in other ways, too. I had to start thinking differently. I was no longer a small tax practice in a sleepy corner of the U.S. People from around the country, and even the world, were watching and demanding a piece of me. New skills needed to be added. Slowly the skills are maturing.
When a grueling work schedule wears you down a vacation is the perfect solution. Burnout, and the steps we take toward burnout, reduces efficiency to a crawl. Working more hours does not mean you get more done. (Reread the last sentence until you really get it.) Sometimes packing up and going home is the best thing you can do. When the workload gets too great, even more drastic measures are needed.
Vacations don’t mix well with me. I find nothing appealing about sitting around twiddling my fingers. But vacations are necessary for good health and to stimulate the mind. Reduced productivity is not cured by working more hours. Even I am not that crazy. (And it is clear I crossed the line into Crazyland long ago.)
That is why I will be out of the office from January 10th through January 19th in Florida. Four of those days will be at a conference call Camp Mustache SE. Pete Adeny, the guy who writes Mr. Money Mustache, is the man of honor. I get the great fortune of speaking with the crowd for an hour one day and meeting the other awesome speakers. I also volunteered to give 10 one-hour consultations with the proceeds going to charity. Hence, a busman’s holiday.
A busman’s holiday can refresh as much as any “sitting around” holiday can. I will do what I enjoy and have a reason to meet with many of the fine people there. I will also take time each day to write so you guys will be happy and I will check email for anything pressing from the office. Maybe.
It sounds a lot like work to many people, but for me it is refreshing. There will be no interruptions when I have the one-hour consultations and the change of venue will refresh. There will be plenty of socializing and learning opportunities. Stuff I love doing. And it doesn’t hurt my feelings I was asked to speak in Florida in January, coming from Wisconsin and all.
For those of you in the accounting profession, I see abject fear in your eyes. How can you take a nine day vacation in January? Well, I do have a qualified and trained staff to handle the workload. January is busy with issuing W-2s and 1099s, things I never touch. I prepare taxes. My team does that other stuff so it really isn’t busy for me yet unless I want to sit around answering more email and saying “yes” to too many people. The break also saves me from me!
Outside the four days of Camp Mustache, I will take the opportunity to meet with people. Ideas come from sharing time with intelligent people of like mind. Mrs. Accountant and I will take quiet time to visit a museum or two and a few casual walks. The Camp will be hectic because I promised the consultations for charity. But I will also meet with people in a slower paced environment before and after the conference. A busman’s holiday for sure, but one that recharges my batteries.
There is another solution to shut out the overload life frequently sends. A full fledged vacation is not always possible. My January sojourn would not go over as well in mid-March. I would never sleep knowing the office was in high gear while I stepped out. Enter selective vacationing.
Ryan Holiday introduced this concept to me when he wrote about 23 things Tim Ferriss taught him about writing, strategy and life. Toward the end of the article Holiday lists “Taking Vacation from Stuff” as one of the things Ferriss taught him. It works like this.
Instead of a vacation where you pack up and leave, take a vacation from one particle activity. If you email Holiday or Ferriss you might get a response from them stating they are taking a short vacation from email or a vacation from phone calls. Saying “no” all the time comes off blunt and makes nice people feel like they are acting like a dick. Saying you are on vacation from a select activity comes off more politely and vacations are something people understand better than a flat out “no”.
I started using the selective vacationing idea and find it a powerful way to recharge without totally bowing out of life. Email and phone vacations are a nice way to focus on what gives me greatest pleasure at the time. I love the work I do so taking time to just sit around does not appeal to me. Focusing on tasks I find fulfilling does.
Selective Vacationing for Normal People
If a business owner can take a selective vacation, so can you. The biggest distracters in our modern world includes: news, social media, email, texting and phone calls. Take a vacation from each so you can feel the freedom the disconnection creates. Take a vacation from each in their turn to focus your creative energy where it is most productive and satisfying.
This is an alien concept in our modern world. What did people do with their time 30 years ago when they couldn’t check their cell phone nonstop? How did we live back in those Dark Ages when we couldn’t stimulate our mind with mindless social media updates? Committing to a social media vacation causes many people to experience withdrawal symptoms similar to drug addicts when they get treatment. This stuff is really addictive.
Some selective vacations are easier than others. I have never been much of a social media guy. I have people take care of that stuff for me and posting is mostly automatic programs doing their thing. I look normal without doing what normal people do—sit on social media all day. And I have not died from lack of social media stimulation either!
Start with an easy (or at least easier) selective vacation. Also start small. Maybe take a few days to a week vacation from watching/checking the news. For some reason when you get back the world will still be here. And if it isn’t, there wasn’t a thing you could have done to change the outcome. So take the selective vacation.
Choosing which activity to take a vacation from is largely determined by what is burning you out or causing the most stress. Periodically I burn out from too many appointments. Clients are sometimes annoyed when I take an appointment vacation. They see me sitting in my office working intently while I refuse to take an appointment or accept an interruption. The extra work I get done, the work I enjoy, satisfies more when I can focus on it for a couple days or week. It feels good and clients get over it.
Your personal life is the same. My 29th wedding anniversary is fast approaching. One of the secrets to our happy marriage is we both know when to step back. We never take a vacation from our fidelity or love, but we do take time where we do our own thing. It’s healthy to have your own space. I don’t own Mrs. Accountant. She is her own woman and has the right to live her life as she chooses. A mutual vacation might mean we still stay home, but we don’t do many activities together or I might sleep on the couch or take a conference or continuing ed class on my own. I am slowly working toward a vacation where I find a place to lock myself away and emerge myself in several writing projects I am eager to start working on.
Normal people are not always tuned in. You can take a break from your iPod. People are so plugged in and so accustomed to constant stimulation they don’t know how to act when the endless barrage of distraction stops. It’s not healthy, people.
A selective vacation is for you. Find the areas of your life taking outsized amounts of time and back away for a few days. The time away will help you refocus and make better decisions. Social media, phone calls, television, radio, music, all need to be turned off at times. I love reading. I mean I really love reading. Still, there are times I take a short vacation from books. Sometimes it feels like I am spitting in God’s face when I do, but I adjust. Reading is yet another distraction.
The selective vacations you choose will change over time. Paying even modest attention to your day will reveal things you need to take a break from. When something starts to cause stress or no longer feels good anymore it is a sure sign you are reaching burnout and are ready for a selective vacation.
Finally, learn to enjoy quiet time. I know, look who’s talking. I can do it and do it more often than you might think. Early morning and evenings are times I take to quietly reflect. My schedule can dig into this personal time, but I am very protective of my quiet mornings. An hour to sit and think or research a topic of interest is a great way to start the day. Don’t open email first thing in the morning. There will be plenty of time for that later. Just breathe and enjoy the moment knowing today you will not have to check social media or make phone calls or open your email folder.
When you plan a selective vacation, write it down and put it somewhere conspicuous. I tell my staff when I am taking an appointment or email vacation. You might want to put a note on the bathroom mirror to yourself about your current email or social media vacation. Let people around you know about your selective vacation. Most people will respect the boundary once they understand what you are doing and adjust.
Modern society has granted us so many luxuries and we squander our inheritance on trivial distractions. Take your life back and experience the awesome world of abundance and freedom we live in.
By this time I am mildly qualified to intelligently explain how to increase blog traffic. My online writing goes back to the AOL days in the 90s and grew over the years. The Wealthy Accountant is my most popular blog, but I have two fantasy fiction blogs pulling around 4 million page views a year, an astounding number for online fiction. The Wealthy Accountant numbers are lower, but the traffic is higher quality; in other words, Google, advertisers, and readers like it more. This blog now boasts 40,000 page views per month with a strong growing trend line. There are a few tricks I learned over the years to accelerate blog traffic. I am no expert on the subject and there are many with greater skills at increasing blog traffic. My experiences, however, should provide a solid framework to take a blog from zero to a million page views in a year.
The first year is always the hardest. Unless you have a name people know growing traffic is done the old fashioned way. It takes work and time. My three steps to building a blog are:
- First, create content
- Then, build traffic
- Then monetize
Jumping the gun on any step can harm traffic. You need content before building traffic; you need traffic before monetizing. Growing quality content is the hardest part for many people. Writing is supposed to be easy. You just sit in a chair and type. And bleed.
I am going to assume your blog already has plenty of quality content. If not, you can bookmark this article for when you are ready. Without content your promotional efforts are wasted. If you have a quantity of great content I will show you a few tricks I have learned over the last few decades to grow your blog to a level where the income is large enough to either live on or seriously supplement the family budget.
Search Engine Optimization is all the rage. Bloggers are bombarded by programs promising magical results using their proprietary SEO skills. Bullshit! I use very little SEO. I write what I want to write and make it meaty. My goal is to add value with each publication. SEO takes time and the time I spend on SEO I can write more stuff people should find valuable instead. And that is what search engines lust for.
The title of this post is a perfect example of how SEO causes bloggers to do really stupid things. The title hits all kinds of hot buttons and Google sees it from the other side of the room. I doubt I’ll get any search traffic to this post because of it. If it does work, I’ll let you know in an update. You can stop holding your breath now.
Bloggers seem to spend a lot of time worrying about this SEO stuff. Keyword stuffing and other insane tactics destroy all value in the writing. Think of it this way. If I tucked the same word again and again in the first paragraph to game the system Google’s algorithms would sniff it out and punish the site. And the writing would be crap anyway.
The best SEO is natural writing that gives the readers value. Nuff said about SEO
Steady Traffic Growth
Spikes in traffic settle down to old patterns after a few days. Building traffic is a slow slog. Constant exposure from other bloggers and media are the fastest way to build a profitable blog. Consistency is the one factor you control and the only factor able to increase your traffic over long periods of time. A quick shot in the arm from a mention by a major news outlet or blogger is like crack cocaine; there is a quick high that just as quickly returns to old traffic patterns. It seems depressing at first
Efforts to spike traffic require more and more input to keep traffic growing. Keyword stuffing and offering wild promises like questionable pictures of a celebrity drive the wrong traffic. It is returning traffic which determines the health of a blog. Readers return when they have a reason to. You have to provide a stream of material they want. If I mixed my fantasy fiction blogs with The Wealthy Accountant, traffic would suffer. No reader to date from The Wealthy Accountant has ever asked to see the fiction blogs. (You in the third row; put your hand down.) The reason is simple. Most readers of this blog could care less about my flash fiction stories and vice versa.
So, how do you build growing long-term traffic trends? Remember when I said a media or popular blog mention temporarily spikes traffic and then declines to old levels. That is only partially true. There is a small amount of stickiness. Some readers will like what you have to say and will return to see what you wrote about today. Some readers will return weekly, some monthly, some very sporadically. The key point is that they return. Returning readers are the life blood of any blog. They provide the baseline of traffic from which a blog (or any website for that matter) draw life.
Ways to Build Traffic
Now that we have a foundation it is time to share some of the ways I use to grow The Wealthy Accountant. Some are intentional, other happen as a normal part of life. Things like social media are minor contributors. Facebook and Twitter drive a very modest amount of traffic to this blog, fewer than 50 sessions per day. Surprising to many, things I do off the internet brings the most loyal readers. Here are three things I do consistently that create growing traffic to this blog.
Help a Reporter Out (HARO): If there is one thing you can do to get media mentions, this is the way. Using HARO I can get a steady stream of media mentions in blogs and media outlets on a regular basis.
Signing up for HARO is easy. I provided the link above. What HARO does is connect reporters with experts in the field they are writing on. For The Wealthy Accountant I review the reporter requests in the finance area for opportunities to provide information to the reporter. HARO sends an email update several times a day with scores of reporter requests. You can respond to as many requests as you want.
When time permits I answer questions in my field of expertise. Reporters usually mention their sources in the article and a link for online versions. No one mention drives massive traffic, but they all play a role in bringing in new readers. A small effort helping reporters in their research is a great way to build your blogs traffic.
Speaking Engagements: I enjoy speaking to a crowd. The most loyal readers here have seen me speak live. To date I have never done a podcast and haven’t been asked either. I do get more requests for public speaking than I can currently accept. For the record, I speak publicly 5-10 times per year. Most of these gigs are for local or regional markets. Once or twice a year I find myself on a plane (I feel a hairball coming) traveling to a speaking engagement.
People attending a presentation sometimes make a connection. They see me in person and usually have an opportunity to speak personally with me afterwards. The rapport built from a personal meeting goes a long way in creating loyal readers. You may have noticed some comments on this blog come from readers acknowledging some of the things I write about as they were part of the story. This works for any business really. People do business with people they like. If they like me they will read the blog and keep returning.
Public speaking is difficult for many people. It’s not that hard. The audience will tell you who to talk to. I talk to the entire audience, but generally focus on a small number of attendees. Anyone interacting in my presentation has a strong chance of becoming part of the presentation. When I get in front of an audience I am very willing to go off-script. The public speaking thingie becomes a personal conversation with friends quickly. That is why I focus on a few members of the audience. As a result I don’t feel the angst some people feel when they are asked to speak publically. All I can say is do it. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Getting up in front of a group of people is the fastest way for people to think you are an authority on the subject.
Comment on Other like Blogs: Once again it comes down to interactions. People want a personal relationship with their bloggers. Expanding your reach to readers of other blogs makes sense. You are not stealing their readers. Their readers want more similar material to read. They are hungry for it.
I have been fortune enough to get mentioned by Mr. Money Mustache. Once the initial spike in traffic returned to normal, my numbers were only slightly higher than before. What keeps coming in is the steady stream of readers from the prior MMM post. You would think all the traffic from MMM would be related to the mention in the post. It’s not! I also comment on the MMM blog when the muse strikes. WordPress has this thing called Jetpack where I can see the source of my traffic. (Google Analytics does the same.) Half the traffic or more from MMM is the result of comments I made on the MMM site!
Comments should be relevant. Most blogs highlight your user name as a link to your blog. It works. No spamming required and if you do you are certain to be banned. Add something relevant. Comment frequently if you desire, but not the point of annoyance. If your comments are part of a discussion, great. If not, keep each comment self contained, adding value to the blog you are commenting on. It is more art than science. The more you do it, the better you will get.
There you have it. Three ways to grow your blog/website traffic. It works. You can try a million other things and they might work as long as you have unlimited time to get the job done. The Wealthy Accountant went from zero to over 40,000 page views per month in 10 months. Those numbers are sure to grow in 2017 even if I fall over dead! All that material is growing in authority in the eyes of the search engines. Quitting today would still generate a small income stream for years, if not decades. (Stop shaking. I am not quitting.)
Another thing I notice is how search engines respond to increased traffic. There is a direct correlation between traffic from other sources and how much traffic arrived from search engines like Google. If my traffic spikes for a day due to a media mention, so does my search traffic. The search traffic appears to be stickier. Of the 1,500 page views each day about 200 come from search. This is up from the low 100s before the last traffic spike. Google likes good material that has been around for a while. That is why I know 2017 will be better than 2016 even if I undertake no promotion. People are still coming and sharing. New readers arrive daily. Google Analytics shows how many readers are new and how many are returning. From this data I can map how many readers I will have in the future based on the number of new readers.
Blogs are tough work the first year or so with few monetary rewards. My fiction blogs reached their 4 million pageview plateau in about two years. The Wealthy Accountant will grow a lot longer due to the content and type of material, but will take longer to reach such lofty traffic levels, if they get there at all. For the record, a half million page views per month is enough to earn a reasonable living.
Or you can resort to trickery and other black hat strategies. You might get short-term, ego inflating gains. Then it will all come crashing down. If you want to build something that works and you can be proud of, build value. Some posts will be better than other, of course. You might even lay an egg or two. It happens. But the more you write, the better you get at writing. I am no Steven King, for sure. But I can push a noun up against a verb with great skill. I even communicate a message now and again. A message my readers can use to make their lives better. And that is why they showed up in the first place.