This is the next installment in an ongoing series where I talk about my history in business, starting all the way back when I was a child to now, my mid-forties. Feel free to read parts zero, one, two, three, and four if you haven’t yet to get some context.
We last left off when I had just been fired from my first real corporate job, but I already had a much better job lined up, something that turned out to be the most important job of my life…
After getting fired from the software company, I told my new company that I would be able to start work in a week. I used that week to relax and play video games, since it was the first real break I had ever taken since my work life began 2.5 years earlier. I enjoyed it as best I could, then started work which was, at the time, my dream job: a full-time computer consultant.
Unlike the bullshit corporate job I had, this job was something much better. Instead of being an employee, I was an associate. Instead of being paid on salary, which I utterly hated, at this new job I was paid on 100% commission. It worked somewhat like being an attorney. I would go out on work on computer systems for my boss’s clients, bill them by the hour using a timesheet system, and I would receive 50% of the billable hours. If I was able to close my own client accounts, I would receive 70% of those hours instead of 50%.
The hourly rate my company used to bill me out was $50 per hour which was quickly raised $75 per hour after about a month or two (at least I’m pretty sure that’s what it was; this was a very long time ago so I could be off a little bit). If you do the math on that, I was getting anywhere from $37 to $52 per billable hours I worked. Even if I only billed 15 or 20 hours per week, I was making a huge amount of money as compared to what I was making at the software company.
Just like at the software company, I was hugely excited. Now that I knew everything I needed to know about computers, I used this job to learn everything I could about consulting and business. How to manage clients. How to get more billable hours. How to get new clients. How to squeeze more billable hours into a week.
I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the mornings. When I wasn’t doing billable hours, I was at my company’s office, working in my little cubicle, trying to figure out new ways of servicing clients.
My boss, and the owner of this small computer consultant company, was a guy named Ted. He quickly became one of my mentors in my early career. He was very happy about how excited I was, and we would talk business all the time. He told me my hair was too long and that I needed a haircut. He told me I needed to wear a suit and tie. When I wore a suit and tie, he told me they looked like shit and I needed to dress better. He was always right, and little by little I improved my appearance (though I still looked like a stupid kid, being only about 22 years old).
Within a few months I was making $4500 a month. That’s $50,000 a year for a 22-23 year-old kid. Not bad. Moreover, that was back in the early 1990s when money was worth a hell of a lot more than it is today. I upgraded my sports car and bought a better one, bought some better computers, and blew my money in other ways. I didn’t save any money because I was young and stupid, but at least I had no debt.
Other consultants came and went, but I stayed on. Ted raised my billable hours, raised my billable rate, and raised the percentages I received. I also went out and closed some new accounts, further raising my income-per-billable-hour.
At around this time, I started to take careful notes about what worked in a consultant business, and what did not. Ted was a great mentor, but I felt I could improve on many things he was doing.
Over time, Ted started moving away from computer consulting and started focusing more on database programming. Programming was interesting but I had no interest in doing it full time; I didn’t have that kind of personality. I wanted to be a consultant! I also felt that I could make much more money more quickly as a consultant than as a programmer (and I was later to be proven right).
It was then that I decided I needed to start my own full-time computer consulting business… but I knew I wasn’t ready. I had no money in savings, had no customers of my own, and wasn’t confident that I could find new clients completely from scratch. I needed more time.
Ted started losing more and more computer consulting clients and gaining more database development ones. This dented my income. Reluctantly, I started looking for another job. I found a contracting company that focused on hiring out computer nerds like me. One day, with a heavy heart, I quit the job with Ted. We were both sad, but he understood I have to move on.
The contracting company immediately assigned me a computer position in the corporate offices of a big, national bank called First Interstate Bank. The pay was good, just slightly less than what I was making with Ted during my best months, but with a guaranteed salary (which I actually did not like). With a frown, I had to go back into the corporate world once again, a world that paid on salary (yuck!) and was rife with mismanagement and bullshit.
At least I knew this was all temporary. I was on the path to start my own business, so this corporate bullcrap was just a quick stepping stone. As I started my new position at the bank, I knew it would suck, but for the first time in my life, I had an actual plan.
Next installment coming soon.
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