This is a pretty important post. It lays out the foundation for everything you and I do here on Ten Ton. It comes from years and years of hard-earned experience and countless failures. It boils down to one word: Autonomy. Essentially, with our businesses, with our websites, with our marketing efforts, we must own and control as much as we can, and we must be able to move quickly if circumstances change. We must be autonomous. Let me explain...
Here's how the pattern typically plays out for entrepreneurs who find some success early on: Their business starts gaining traction and doing well. Maybe some big money even starts coming in. What do they do? What every other new entrepreneur does (and pretty much what anyone else who suddenly comes into money does): They go buy an expensive car, take on a big mortgage, take some crazy vacations, and drive up their credit cards. After all, they've finally made it! The gravy train is rolling in at last, and it seems like it'll last forever.
My expanded lifestyle came in the form of a $850/month dream truck, some consumer debt, and a nice big new house. I face-palm at my sheer stupidity...
Riding high is fun...until the party ends. And it always ends abruptly. Something bad happens: There's a policy change with the social media platform that their business relies on, a key service that holds their business together is suddenly discontinued, or that one big customer who brings in 90% of their revenues suddenly drives themselves out of business.
The gravy train comes to a grinding halt, and the entrepreneur's income abruptly stops. But what doesn't stop is their newly expanded lifestyle and monthly expenses. Palm, meet face.
It's a hard lesson to learn.
This is what happens when you hitch your wagon to someone else's racehorse. Almost two decades of experience has shown me time and time again the same pattern: Ongoing agreements that were suddenly terminated. Freelance contracts that were promised to be extended that weren't. Big royalties that weren't paid out. Product distributors who unexpectedly went out of business. I've been through all of these scenarios more times than I care to admit. And from my research on the subject, my experiences are not unique. Every entrepreneur learns this hard lesson -- delivered via a few left hooks to the side of the head.
The lesson: You cannot rely on others for your business's success. It's up to you alone.
Everyone's top priority is their own viability, not yours. It's harsh, but this is business. Remember that.
As I began rebuilding Ten Ton (for the fourth or fifth time), I really slowed down and put very careful consideration into exactly how I wanted to structure my business. Even if that meant investing a huge amount of time and effort up front to put all the pieces into place, I didn't care. What I wanted more was to get it right. I learned the hard way that putting the success of my business in someone else's hands was a horrific mistake...potentially fatal. I knew I didn't want to rely on others -- resellers, royalties, revenue earned from advertising, or any of that stuff. I wanted to own it all and control it all. I wanted lasting, long term success. I wanted to be as autonomous as possible.
Now let's pause and establish some definitions. By "lasting," and "long term" I define that as roughly the length of a career (or at least for me, until the day I die -- I wanna to do Ten Ton for as long as I possibly can). And by "success," I define that, as it relates to myself, very simply: To continue doing what I'm doing. For me, that means being in control of my time, working from home, doing work that I feel is important, and separating my time from my income. So, the ultimate goal isn't to amass a huge fortune, but to continue to be able to do what I'm currently doing in relative comfort -- to continue doing the work that I feel is important, and that hopefully provides value to others.
That's the goal. That's my definition of success. You'll have to define what "success" means to you. Maybe it means building something on the side. Maybe it means a whole new career. "Success" is such an abstract word that if you don't define it for yourself, then your objective is also abstract and has no real meaning. How will you know when you've reached your objective if you haven't clearly defined it?
So get clear. "To have more money," isn't good enough. Here's $5 -- congratulations, you've made it! Seriously, take as much time as you need to figure this stuff out. It took me two years to get myself sorted out. It took me that long to realize that what really makes me happy is my work, autonomy, and my close relationships. A cool car and lots of money are fun, but they don't make me any happier. They don't give my life deeper meaning
Anyway, so what does all this have to do with autonomy and how we should structure our businesses? A whole heck of a lot, actually. Through all these constant failures, promises that didn't pan out, abrupt revenue losses and so on, I learned that businesses that do well over a long period of time don't rely solely on other entities. That in order to have long term success as I defined it for myself, I couldn't rely on anyone else -- that I couldn't depend on things I didn't fully control. That in order to achieve my definition of "long term, lasting success" (as I defined for myself, above) that I couldn't rely solely on other businesses.
For me, not being autonomous is just way too painful and risky. It's why I can't have a regular job, for example. Relying on a single source of income that someone else can choose to terminate anytime they want is just too much for me.
And the business world is filled with all sorts of risky scenarios, too. Take, for instance, the idea of brining on partners, investors, or excessive debt. That's a loss of control and autonomy. What about building a following on someone else's social media platform? That means you're building an audience in someone else's playground. What about resellers or retailers who distribute your product, any affiliate programs that bring you income, or advertising and SEO? Same thing -- We don't own them, and we cannot influence them in any way. That means they're out of our control...that we aren't autonomous.
All it takes is one policy update, one change to an algorithm, one bad decision on the third party's part, and we're wiped out.
How does that sit with you?
Similar to having a job, it doesn't sit very well with me at all -- it's all just too risky. If I'm going to work my guts out to build my business, I don't want some other entity to determine whether my venture lives or dies. That's not how I want to run my businesses. I'm running a marathon here, not a race. I'm trying to build a long-lasting business that helps a lot of people for a long time...I'm not trying to get rich quick on a hot new platform. That means that whatever I build, and whatever tools I use, must last. And for them to last, I've gotta own them and control them.
So what do I mean, exactly, by autonomy? It's pretty simple, actually. If you don't own it, you don't control it. That goes for everything I do in, and with, my business -- my website, my traffic, tools I use, income streams, products I sell...everything.
See, there are only two roles you can play: You can either be an Owner, or you can be a Labourer. An Owner owns and controls things (platforms, traffic, algorithms, services, affiliate programs, revenue streams, etc). A Labourer works to create value. My thinking is, if you're going to labour and create value for others anyway (and that's what you're signing up for when you want to be an entrepreneur), then why not labour to achieve your own definition of success (as we defined above) rather than to line the pockets of a third party Owner?
Remember, this is business. They're in it for themselves. Maybe you should be in it for yourself and your audience, not them.
Think of the biggest social media platforms and hot tech companies. They're in the headlines...everyone's talking about them...everyone's hyped. But many of these entities don't actually produce anything. They just own the platform. They put in the hard work to build the platform and attract users (and kudos to them). But once they've built and established their playground, it's the Labourers who voluntarily contribute value to the platform...making it's Owners rich. Airbnb owns no real estate. YouTube and Twitter don't own any content. Uber owns no cars. It's the Labourers who do the work that creates the value, and it's the Owners who make the big bucks.
Owners also make all the rules. And they can change the rules anytime they like, without notice. The best case scenario for a Labourer who uses an Owner's platform is that they can make pretty decent money; but they'll never have any control or ownership. They definitely aren't autonomous. Labourers have essentially volunteered to be a contract employee for an Owner...which the Owner can terminate at any time without notice. Labourers take on all the work, create all the value, and take on all the risk.
That isn't entrepreneurship. That isn't owning a business, it's owning a labour position that's governed by an Owner's terms of service agreement.
Every morning when you wake up, you have no idea if you still have an income stream or not. That's risky.
If you're going to go to the effort of building a house, why do it on land you don't own? Why build it on someone else's foundation? If you're going to build a following for your business, why do it on platforms (and with tools, services, and revenue streams) that you don't control?
Is it harder to do on your own? Sure, but just like Owners, once you've built and established yourself, it's the same amount of work as it would otherwise be. And it's far more secure and rewarding.
Need examples of people who have successfully done this? Sure, here's a few off the top of my head: Joe Rogan, Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday, Jocko Willink, and of course the legend, Seth Godin. There are countless others.
All of these people are autonomous. They control their products and their income streams. All have built huge audiences. None ever have to worry about the bills ever again.
So, you're either in control of the various aspects of your business, or you're not. You either own your work, or you don't. You either have to share the profits generated by the value you've created, or you don't. You're either a business owner, or you aren't.
If you build a business that you own and control, that creates value that you benefit directly from, then you become what I call a Producer. A Producer is someone who retains ownership of their work. They keep the majority of the profits generated from the value they create for others. They're in control of their income and don't rely on third-party entities. They're autonomous.
I would classify all of the people I just mentioned above as Producers.
So, relying solely on a third party for your business isn't entrepreneurial. At best, it's volunteer labour, where you take on all the risk. At worst, it's reckless and short-sighted. It's gambling. It's hoping that the entity on the other side of the arrangement doesn't make a bad decision or do something stupid that puts you out of business.
So, strive to be a Producer, not just a Labourer.
And that brings us to what autonomy is really about...
We've talked about just how risky it is to rely on a third-party. And that's really what owning and controlling (striving to be a Producer) is all about -- minimizing your risk.
Does all this make me a control freak? Damn right it does! I'm not taking any chances here. I fully admit to being completely freaked out and paranoid -- it's a good, healthy paranoia! Look, there's enough that's out of our control, like market sentiment, competition, the broader economic climate, rogue meteors, and so on. Why take on more risk than is necessary?
So really, as I say, autonomy is about mitigating risk.
Depending on how you define success for yourself (above), you can tilt the odds in your favour and reduce the risks involved.
Here's a quick, powerful example of what I mean: Let's say I suddenly find myself in a financial crisis. I crashed my car, blew up my kitchen, or set fire to the neighbour's poodle. Hey, life happens! So I need some big cash quickly. If I only had a job, or if I depended solely on ad revenue from a social media platform, then I'm in serious trouble. But if I own my own website, sell my own products, and own a large, active mailing list, then I could send out a quick sales promotion and solve my money crisis in a matter of hours. That's the power of autonomy, control and ownership. The more you control and own, and the larger you build your audience, the less risk there is for you.
So I ask myself: How can I mitigate risk? How can I structure things so that I'm not dependent on things I don't own?
The answers start coming quickly and clearly: Own your domain name, and keep it separate from your web hosting and your email service. Own your website, on a hosting plan that you control. By that, I mean that you must be able to download your site to your computer, back it up, and move it to another hosting company if you so choose (this makes web design platforms like Wix, Squarespace, and Etsy non-options). Next, own your mailing list (again, it has to be downloadable). This means that you own high quality traffic -- a list of real, living, breathing human beings who have expressed interest in what you do. Use social media platforms as a way to drive traffic into the top of your sales funnel, not as the funnel itself. Don't rely on SEO or advertising. And so on...
I hope this is making sense. And I want to stress here too that this philosophy of autonomy (being a Producer) is the philosophy behind everything I do here on Ten Ton. It's the thinking behind what I teach, and how I teach it. This philosophy determines the tools, services, and resources that I research, and then subsequently use myself and pass on to you. So when we get into the technical stuff, the first question is, do we own it? If we don't, then I don't want to teach it or recommend it...because it violates this idea of autonomy.
That's why I started off this post by saying, This is an important post. It lays out the foundation for everything you and I do here on Ten Ton. Make sense?
This philosophy of autonomy doesn't mean that you should never, ever use a third-party vendor or platform. Not at all. Just don't rely on them. Know that they could go away at any time.
In fact, when constructing my business, I imagined these third parties actually disappearing overnight. What would my business look like if that happened? The answer should be something along the lines of, "Well that's a bummer, but thankfully my business and my income streams are secure."
So, this doesn't mean third-party options are no-go's. Many can be worthwhile. Just be aware of what you're getting yourself into, and how the arrangement is structured.
Don't give other Owners any power or authority over your ability to provide for yourself or your loved ones. Don't rely on them. Don't assume that just because they're here today, that they'll be here tomorrow.
So, I use social media platforms, but not as the main platform for my business. I use SEO, but I know search algorithms can rapidly change. I use affiliate links when I recommend products or services that I know my audience would benefit from, but they aren't my only revenue stream.
In fact, when constructing my business over that two-year period, I wanted to establish as many streams of income as possible -- some large, some small -- and not rely on any single one of them. The more the better. So, if one of them goes away, I'm not headed to Walmart with a freshly printed resume. Instead I say, "Well that's a bummer, but thankfully my business and my income streams are secure."
So that's the idea, the philosophy, of autonomy. I cannot stress enough how important it is. Again, it permeates everything I do here with you on Ten Ton.
So day to day, what does autonomy look like for me? I wake up every morning, excited to continue working on whatever I left off on the day before -- the next set of videos, the next course, or whatever. It means I don't do work I don't want to do. It means I don't work with people I don't enjoy working with. It means I'm in control of my time. It means I can leave my business for a week or a month, and it'll run just fine without me (often better!). It means I want to buy products, not rent them. It means I want to own what my business relies on. It means that my business has established a variety of income sources, and doesn't depend on any one of them. It means I'm in as much control of, and have as much influence as I can over, the various components of my business.
And you know what's funny? This has trickled into my personal life too. I don't like iTunes or Spotify. I don't like ebooks or Netflix or cable TV. I want to own my books, music, and other entertainment, so that I can enjoy them anytime I want. Yes, I still buy physical books, DVDs, and CDs!
Anyway, none of this is easy to establish, but it's definitely worthwhile. Just remember: Marathon, not race. Producer, not Labourer. Autonomy, not dependence. Make sure that as you continue building your business and your website, that you're structuring things in such a way that puts you in control of your business's fate, not someone else.
In short, never put yourself at the mercy of someone else's business model.
And of course, keep using the posts, videos, and recommendations I make here on Ten Ton, because you now know that it's all rooted in the same philosophy: Autonomy.