How To Escape the 9 to 5 — A Step-by-Step Guide for 2024 (2024)

Right after I graduated from high school, for the first and the last time in my life, I worked a 9-to-5 job.

The job was at a hospital, where I did everything. I worked in the administration. I worked in the warehouse. I even worked as a substitute nurse.

It was the greatest waste of time I have ever experienced.

Half of the things we did, didn’t need doing. The other half could have been automated and done in half the time.

But that wasn’t even the worst part. The people were. They had adopted a zombie like mindset. They would sleepwalk through the hallways, devoid of any initiative, just fantasizing about the end of their shifts.

Then there were those killing time by starting work place rumors. In comparison to the schemers, the zombies were positively pleasant people.

At first, I thought, maybe it’s just this place. But the more I observed and talked to other people, I realized it was systemic.

Any kind of corporation will create these nonsense processes. Because of the organizational complexity, it becomes all about attendance; results don’t matter. From that, employees mentally check out.

I decided back then this wouldn’t be my life. I had to find out how to escape the 9-to-5 routine.

The framework that follows is the result of this decision. It has successfully kept me out of the workplace for the last 20 years, and it can do so for you as well. Don’t give in to the status quo.

Table of Contents

  1. What’s So Annoying About Your 9 to 5?
  2. How the Time Prison Works
  3. The 2 Reward Systems
  4. 3 Options for Escaping the 9-to-5 Grind
  5. Option 1: Become a Digital Nomad
  6. Option 2: Create “Passive Income”
  7. Option 3: Live Extremely Frugally
  8. Conclusion

Disclaimer: On the next few pages, I will talk about a lot of different income models. Most of these things, I have tried out. I have experience both as a service provider and as a coach of several years. I’ve been living as a digital nomad since 2016. I did the extreme frugality thing for one and a half years. Content creation and SEO are how I currently make my living.

But there are also things that I have just touched upon, like selling physical products. And there are a few things I have not tried out yet, namely investing. I debated if I should include these points, but then went ahead, drawing on the experience of other people. I think it makes for a more complete picture.

What’s So Annoying About Your 9 to 5?

There are four reasons why your 9 to 5 is so revolting:

  1. You cannot travel, since you are expected to show up in the same place every day.
  2. You have to live on someone else’s timetable, hence the expression 9 to 5. Your employer structures your day for you.
  3. You are selling your time for money (wage slavery). Results are secondary, they want your attendance.
  4. You must put up with boring, monotonous work, oftentimes bordering on being pointless.

Despite what society has tried to imprint on you, there is nothing normal about this prescribed lifestyle. It’s brand-new, actually — the 9-to-5 life only came into fashion as a byproduct of the industrial revolution, about 250 years ago.

For a species that is roughly 300,000 years old, 250 years is a drop in the bucket. And even in that short window of time, the consequences have been disastrous, as displayed by divorce rates, alcoholism and mental illnesses.

Make no mistake: Unless you learn how to escape your 9 to 5, you can never be happy. Making peace with the (very recent) status quo is not an option.

How the Time Prison Works

Most of us are trapped in a time prison.

Let’s assume that you sleep about eight hours a night.

That leaves you with 16 hours at your disposal each day.

Of those 16 hours, eight hours go to your job, i.e., 50 percent.

So you get about eight hours to spend as you see fit.

What do we do with these remaining few hours? A quick sample calculation:

Average commute time (back and forth to work):1.5 hours
Cooking and eating, doing dishes:2.5 hours
Getting ready for the day:0.5 hours
Bathroom time:0.5 hours
Exercising:1 hour
Cleaning / doing laundry / maintaining your physical stuff (average):0.5 hour
Social obligations (spending time with your parents, spouse, children):1 hour
Total:7.5 hours

That leaves you with a meager 30 minutes to yourself each day.

How much life change will happen in 30 minutes? Especially after a hectic day?

Most people will use that time to kick back. Watch Netflix. Have a drink. Gossip.

It means you are stuck in a loop. Because of your 9-to-5 job, you have virtually no time left to get out of your 9-to-5 job.

That’s the evil genius of the time prison — it keeps you exactly where you are.

Note: Of course, everybody’s day will look differently. For example, many people will free up time by not working out or always eating out. But for that short term gain, you will pay later in life quality.

The 2 Reward Systems

You can’t just coerce people. They might eventually get angry. To really make the 9-to-5 world sustainable, you also need a reward system.

There is a micro version and a macro version of this reward system.

The micro version is called “the weekend.”

We sell our time for five days, so we get to go crazy for two days, binge-drinking, binge-watching, etc. After these excesses, the cycle starts again.

The macro version is called “vacation time.”

Just as with the weekend, most of us will overcompensate. We will travel to all-inclusive resorts where we don’t have to do anything but be hedonists: eat, drink, fornicate.

Both of these reward systems are circular. You work to consume, and you consume to better stand work. It never stops.

3 Options for Escaping the 9-to-5 Grind

If you are set on leaving the 9-to-5 life behind, you have three broad options to choose from:

  1. Become a digital nomad
  2. Create “passive income”
  3. Live extremely frugally

Each of these options comes with several suboptions, which we will now look at.

1. Become a Digital Nomad

By starting your own online business, you can overcome the things that bother you about your 9-to-5 job:

  1. You will be able to travel at will.
  2. You can set your own hours.
  3. Instead of trading time for money, you can scale.
  4. You can choose to do interesting, meaningful work.

There are four business models to choose from:

  1. Selling services, e.g., copywriting or graphic design
  2. Selling coaching/consulting, e.g., performance coaching or business consulting
  3. Selling physical goods through an online store, e.g., clothes or electronics
  4. Selling digital products, e.g., e-books or software

2. Create “Passive Income”

While you might be relatively more free as an entrepreneur, there will still be many demands on your time, namely by your customers.

This is where the idea of passive income comes in. By automating the money-making process, you are, in theory, free to do whatever you want.

There are three basic options here:

  1. Set up a completely automated business (the “Tim Ferriss” model)
  2. Invest in a high-risk, high-return asset (the “crypto” model)
  3. Invest in a low-risk, low-return asset (the “MJ DeMarco” model)

3. Live Extremely Frugally

The third option to escape the 9-to-5 grind is to radically cut your expenses. If you require no or almost no money to live on, the restraints of the economic system stop applying to you.

Here there are four options to choose from (from more conventional to less conventional):

  1. Keep working your day job, save up as much money as possible, and retire in your 30s (the FIRE model).
  2. Retain a small apartment while spending very little, so you only occasionally have to work (the “Robert Wringham” model).
  3. Go off-grid, e.g., build yourself a cabin in the wild and live off the land (the “Walden” model).
  4. Become a voluntary bum, camping outside, collecting food from dumpster diving (the “Daniel Suelo” model).

Let’s look at each of these basic options — the digital nomad life, investing, frugality — in detail.

Option 1: Become a Digital Nomad

In order to become a digital nomad, you are looking at this 19-step process:

1. Choose Your Business Model

2. Build a Side Hustle

3. Overcome Your Fear of Decline

4. Carve Out the Time

5. Choose Your Competency

6. Learn Your Craft

7. Get References Fast

8. Create Your Website

9. Be Helpful

10. Be Professional

11. Find a Mentor

12. Find a Support Group

13. Create A Financial Buffer

14. Start Traveling

15. Structure Your Day

16. Graduate to Direct Clients

17. Learn To Do Outreach

18. If You Wish To, Automate

19. If You Wish To, Pivot

1. Choose Your Business Model

The first step is to decide on your business model. As we saw earlier, there are four types of online business models to choose from:

  1. Selling services
  2. Selling coaching/consulting
  3. Selling physical goods
  4. Selling digital products

All of these models have their specific up and downsides, which we will now look at.

Selling Services

Examples of selling services are offering copywriting, graphic design or app development.

The Upsides

There is no other digital business model which will sustain you as fast as selling services. It is altogether realistic to make a full-time living from content creation or programming within six months or less.

The reason: Services are in great demand. There are countless businesses which either lack the expertise or don’t have the time.

Another great advantage of selling services is that you need no money upfront. You just go to a platform like Upwork and start hiring yourself out.

The third advantage is that you will learn valuable digital skills, like copywriting or graphic design. These will come in handy if you should later transition to a different business model.

The Downsides

The downside is that services are not as easy to scale. It can be done, but you will always be relying on other people. And naturally, when you work with people, you will have to deal with people problems.

Your contractors will miss deadlines. They will turn in subpar work. They will want more money. They will disappear. Occasionally, they will even steal from you.

Another thing to take into account is that selling services requires you to talk to your customers. That means you have to be available during office hours.

I still think selling services is the way to go for almost anyone starting out online. It is by far the easiest way to leave your 9-to-5 job behind.

Selling Coaching/Consulting

The next model we are going to look at is coaching, be it mindset, spiritual or business coaching.

The Upsides

Coaching has the lowest threshold of all the digital business models — anybody can call themselves a coach.

Also, no funds are required. You are your most important asset.

Coaching/consulting also tends to be more inherently rewarding than other types of digital work. Helping clients with strategic life or business decisions touches on something universally human in us.

The Downsides

As a coach, you are selling your attention, your empathy, your willingness to help someone, to point them in the right direction.

While all of these services are extremely valuable, they are hard to quantify. How do you measure empathy? You can’t.

Also, coaching sounds more fun than “real” jobs. Talking to other people about their problems? “I do that all the time anyway!”

As a result, there are thousands of people who should not call themselves coaches. Clients instinctively understand that, and are therefore reluctant to invest in coaching. They expect coaches to be dreamers at best and con artists at worst.

That means, if you are selling coaching, it will be hard to find customers.

To overcome this credibility problem, you first have to create an audience for yourself. And that is done through content. It could be by writing a blog, starting a YouTube channel or killing it on Instagram.

But creating trust through content takes time and a lot of work. A few ballpark figures:

  • As a blogger, you are looking at one to three SEO-driven, well-written articles (2000 words +) a week.
  • As a vlogger, you are looking at three to five SEO-driven, well-produced YouTube videos a week.
  • As a social media influencer, you are looking at several highly curated posts per day, plus several hours of personal outreach.

If you are able to keep up this level of quality and consistency for 3 to 5 years, you will probably have a coaching audience big enough to monetize.

Alternatively, you can drive traffic through paid ads, like Facebook Ads, Google Ads or Social Media Ads. But we are talking tens of thousands of dollars per month.

That is the second major challenge with coaching: It takes a tremendous amount of time to get started. Or it takes the kind of money that most aspiring coaches don’t have.

The third major downside is that coaching doesn’t scale well. You are selling your time, and there are only so many hours in a day. Sure, you can keep charging more as you become more widely recognized. But you can only push that so far.

Neither can you outsource the work. Your customers specifically want you, your personality, your way of looking at things.

So while this means that you can make a very decent living as a coach, you will eventually cap off. That is usually when coaches transition from selling one-on-one consultations to digital products, which we will talk about later.

For people looking for how to escape your 9 to 5, I cannot in good conscience recommend coaching. It will take too long. Better, start with a service business and build your coaching business on the side. Then switch over when you are ready.

Selling Physical Goods

You can sell physical goods like workout equipment through your own online store or a platform like Amazon.

The Upsides

Physical goods are generally a bit more difficult to sell than services, but significantly less difficult than coaching or digital products. After all, people need things to live, be it clothes, pet food or cell phone chargers.

ECommerce businesses are also fairly good at scaling. If you have a supplier, they can usually produce more of the same thing. The infrastructure is already in place.

And unlike a service business, you are not relying on trained specialists to scale, which are hard to come by. There is a much bigger pool of factory workers, warehouse staff and delivery guys to draw from.

The Downsides

The downside is that products need to be manufactured, stored and shipped. That means you will have to find a supplier, rent a warehouse, and deliver your product.

That’s three major areas where things could go wrong.

Your supplier could suddenly raise his prices, deliver inferior quality, or altogether ghost you (common with suppliers from China or India).

Likewise, your warehouse could be broken into, suffer from water damage, or burn down.

During the shipping process, your products could get damaged or lost.

Also, it takes a while to set up an infrastructure for a system like this. You are probably looking at six months to a year, at the very least, to make a living from selling physical products.

And in the meantime, you will have to pay upfront for the warehouse, the inventory, the logistics people, etc. That requires significant funds.

For these reasons, I would not recommend eCommerce for someone starting out online. But it’s a great business model to transition to later.

Selling Digital Products

Selling digital products can take all kinds of shapes:

  • An e-book on Amazon on how to overcome anxiety
  • A video course on learning how to cook
  • Business software, like an ERP solution
  • Automated IT services like web hosting or online storage
  • Affiliate income from promoting other people’s products on your website
  • Placing ads on your YouTube Channel
The Upsides

What all of these options have in common is scalability. It doesn’t make a difference if you are selling your e-book to 10, to 10,000, or to 10 million customers. That is the massive advantage of digital products. They scale better than anything else.

Also, digital product models can be highly automated. That means less things going wrong. It also means you have to pay fewer people or replace them when they leave.

Not to mention the bickering. Employees create drama to not feel so bored at work. Machines don’t have that urge.

The Downsides

Selling digital products in many ways is the ideal business model for someone interested in how to escape the 9 to 5. Unfortunately, there is also a major downside, and that is salability.

Just like with coaching, it is not easy to find customers. You first need to generate buzz. And just like with coaching, that is done through content creation of some type. It takes a tremendous amount of time and work/money.

On top of creating the content promoting your product, you will also have to create the product itself. And in case of a full length book, an ERP software, or cloud services, you are looking at very complex systems indeed.

So, digital product businesses take a lot of time to get up and running. They are not a good solution for somebody who wants to start earning and traveling soon. Again: Start a service business first, to escape your 9 to 5. Then create your digital product business on the side.

Market-Centric Versus Passion-Centric

With each of the aforementioned businesses, you have a decision to make: Do you want to maximize profit or do you want to enjoy the work?

Market-Centric

If you choose the profit option, you will have to face the market. You will have to analyze what is in demand, and then satisfy that demand.

That demand could relate to a mass market audience (low price, lots of units). Or it could appeal to an elite segment of the market (high price, few units).

In either case, you have to give the customer what he wants. Your own desires do not play into it. If it wasn’t for the financial reward, you would not be doing what you are doing.

Market-centric businesses tend to be boring. Of course, everybody’s definition of boring is different. But developing accounting software or manufacturing parts for lawn mowers is not usually the subject of action movies.

Passion-Centric

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the passion-centric approach. Here, you don’t choose your work based on what makes other people happy, but what makes you happy. The activity itself is the reward.

Some example professions include:

  • Professional athlete
  • Yoga teacher
  • Transformational coach
  • Fantasy books blogger
  • Fashion vlogger
  • Selling your band’s music online

As you can see, most of these endeavors are either athletic, educational, entertaining or creative in nature, or a mix of those. Those are the four ingredients of any passion-centric job.

How This Applies to the 4 Business Models

Certain digital business models are more market-centric, while others are more passion-centric.

More market-centric are:

  • Service businesses
  • Physical products

More passion-centric are:

  • Coaching / Consulting
  • Digital Product Businesses

This is a generalization, and there are exceptions to this rule. For example, selling high-end fashion online might be a passion-centric project to you, while selling a video certification on data governance would be a market-centric move. But as a tendency, the classification holds true.

Which Business Model Should You Choose?

As you can probably tell by now, I’m in favor of choosing a service-based business model, especially if you are just starting out online. It’s the easiest model to set up, requires no funds, and will sustain you within six months or less.

If you’re wondering how to escape your 9 to 5, a service business is the answer.

There is nothing wrong with the other three models. In fact, they have some significant advantages of services. Some of them scale better. Some of them are more passion-centric, and therefore more fulfilling.

But they are all much harder to monetize, as customers are more reluctant to buy, as we saw above. And all of them are more difficult to set up. Some of them require significant funds to start with.

That is not a good starting position for someone trying to leave their 9 to 5 behind. You need quick cash flow; a box that only a service business ticks.

As I mentioned before: Build your service business first. Once that provides a stable income, start building your other business model on the side. When it matures, switch over and abandon your service business.

Don’t frame your service business as a necessary evil, either. Pick a skill set that will come in handy when you later transition to a different business model. For example, if you sell content marketing, that will provide the know-how for the personal development blog you always dreamed of writing.

A service business will also be the perfect training ground for becoming an entrepreneur. You will learn about markets and customer needs. You will learn the basics of online marketing and selling. You will learn how accounting and taxes work.

With this knowledge, you are much more likely to succeed at a more complicated business model in the future. You won’t be another dreamer struggling to survive, but a realist who has the tools to make it happen.

2. Build a Side Hustle

I usually do not recommend doing two things at once, but when starting a business, it’s the right move. For most people, it’s the only move. If you don’t have savings to fall back on, you will have to keep your 9-to-5 job to pay the bills.

So prepare yourself for working two jobs instead of one. That’s the dilemma that all 9-to-5 escapees have to face — for things to get better, they first have to get worse.

Wait until you make at least 50 percent of what you are currently making from your side hustle. Once that happens, you can go ahead and quit your 9-to-5 job and focus on your new gig.

But what if you have savings? Don’t do anything different. The truth is, not everybody is cut out to be an online entrepreneur. Many people are in love with the idea of it, but they might not like the reality of it.

By starting your side hustle, you will quickly find out what type you are.

You will either spend all of your time getting this business started. Or you will keep coming up with excuses, how you don’t have enough time, how there are more urgent things to do, etc.

The latter will certainly be a blow to your ego. But at least you will not have put yourself in a situation where you cannot provide for yourself anymore.

3. Overcome Your Fear of Decline

This is perhaps the single biggest reason why people don’t go through with becoming a digital nomad — fear of decline.

There is a financial and a social component to this.

The financial component is the more irrational of the two. Naturally, when you become self-employed, you will not make as much as you used to as an employee.

But that is temporary.

This state lasts for about one to two years. After that, you will not only have gotten back to what you used to make — you will gradually earn more.

Long term, you can make many times what you could possibly earn with a traditional 9 to 5. There are nomads making seven or even eight figures.

But that initial cut has most people so scared that they never take the plunge.

In comparison, the social fear of decline is more real. When you leave the traditional corporate career path, your colleagues and friends will indeed pity you, or even look down on you.

That loss of respect might never be repaired, even if you hit it big financially. You will still be considered a weirdo, a vagabond.

But should that really concern you? The truth is, these critics are too bound by convention or too intimidated to do what you did.

To be free, you must become strong enough to disappoint other people’s expectations.

4. Carve Out the Time

Remember the time prison? If you are working a 9 to 5, you hardly have any time to spare. This effectively keeps you trapped in your current position.

But if you want to get out of your 9-to-5 job, this is exactly what you need to do — you need to carve out the time. This is your first order of business, everything else hinges on that.

Candidates for creating more time are:

  • Reducing your commute time
  • Reducing leisure activities like Netflix and hobbies
  • Reducing gym time
  • The weekend
  • Vacation time

The goal is to dedicate at least two to three hours each day to your side hustle and all the weekend, as well as your vacation time.

This way, you will start making money soon, probably within three months. And once you have proof of concept and are making about 50 percent of your current income, you can quit your day job.

Remind yourself of this, when you feel tired or burned out during those first few months. This will pass.

Reduce Your Commute

Most people’s commute time is between one and two hours. If you get that back, it will lay the foundation for your side hustle. The ideal solution is to work from home. In a post-Corona world, your chances of getting that are good. Push for it.

If your employer doesn’t go for it, move closer to work. If you can reduce your commute from one hour to 15 minutes one way, you gain one and a half hours each day. Many people will balk at the idea of uprooting themselves, but those are the same people that will not go through with building a side hustle anyway.

If you are commuting to work using public transportation, instead of playing Candy Crush on your smartphone, you can also use that time to get work done.

You can study up on your skill set, listening to podcasts. Or better yet, you can send out cold emails to potential customers. You can also create content, dictating into your smartphone with a software like Dragon. Sure, people will give you funny looks, but who cares.

Cut Out Leisure Activities

An obvious choice for creating more time is cutting out time wasters like Netflix, social media, and the news.

I understand that you crave these activities to unwind from your annoying 9-to-5 job. But for a while, we need to forgo these reliefs and get those one to two hours back, so we can invest them into our business.

Likewise with any hobbies you might have — put them on ice. The sooner you get your side hustle up and running, the sooner you can reintroduce fun activities.

Reduce Your Gym Time

If you are a gym person, start working out from home. Do plain old push-ups, pull-ups, squats and planks. This will easily save you half an hour to an hour each day commuting to the gym.

Again, this is not forever. Once you get things going, you can go back to the gym. But for now, every half an hour counts.

Reclaim Your Weekend

Now we are getting to the most painful bit: your weekend.

The weekend is the main thing to counterbalance the drudgery of your 9-to-5 job. When it goes, it hurts.

But it has to be done. The weekend is the longest stretch of uninterrupted time you get as a wage slave. You can potentially put in 16 to 20 hours on your side hustle each weekend. That alone might get you off the ground.

For this reason, you cannot afford to skip the weekend. Friends-and-family time goes to your side hustle now.

It’s not just difficult to convince yourself of that; it’s even more difficult to convince your social circle. Your family, friends and drinking buddies will all be displeased with you.

Some people will even try to sabotage you. They will feel threatened by your dreams, when they long ago made peace with their depressing 9-to-5 life.

Don’t explain yourself, don’t expect them to understand. Just do what you must do.

Use Your Vacation Time

Everything I just said about your weekend is also true for your vacation time. Skip the all-inclusive resort in Cancun to focus on your side hustle. Once that is done, you can travel the world for the rest of your life.

5. Choose Your Competency

The next step is to choose which service you are going to offer. Examples include:

  • Graphic design
  • Copywriting
  • Copyediting
  • Translation
  • Facebook Ads
  • Google Ads
  • SEO
  • Email-Marketing
  • Sales
  • Web design
  • Programming

Note that I don’t assume you already possess any of these skills. We are starting from scratch.

But it’s essential to choose the right competency that fits your personality.

Don’t make that decision based on what service you think will give you the greatest financial return on investment. There is no point in learning programming if you are the creative type. You can make good money with any of these services, if you play your cards right.

The best way to choose the skill set to learn is to look at your past. What have you already invested significant amounts of time and effort into? This will be the most important clue of what you should go for.

So if you attended art school or have been drawing comics in your free time for years, obviously, go with graphic design.

If you studied literature or another humanity, chances are you are a copywriter in disguise.

If you have always been the strategic type, marketing might be the way to go.

People have always been drawn to your extrovert ways? Go into sales.

You get the idea. Choose based on what you have already done. Don’t go with strategies that look good on paper, but don’t reflect who you are.

6. Learn Your Craft

You have chosen your competency, now you need to actually master it. There are more resources than ever out there, thanks to the Internet, to learn anything you want. So I am not going to give you specific recommendations. That’s what Google is for.

There is a basic distinction that is important, though. When you start researching learning programs, you will come across paid courses as well as free resources.

Technically, there is no reason why you would have to pay for anything. Literally, all the information you need is out there for free.

But with the free resources, it’s your responsibility to piece everything together. You will have to combine different sources and teachers to create a complete picture. That can be a huge advantage since it forces you to create your own models about your chosen field.

If you decide to go with the free option, make sure to take notes for everything that you watch, read or listen to. Then incorporate these notes into a commonplace system. I like to use Evernote for that, but any note-taking program will do.

This is crucial. If you just keep consuming without the reintegration into your overall system, you will eventually confuse yourself. Don’t be a passive consumer.

But it is also an extra level of complexity. If you feel very overwhelmed at the moment, it is okay to go with a more structured paid offer.

It depends on the subject matter, though. If you want to get an overview of a complex area like online marketing, a course can do wonders.

But if you want to fine-tune your writing, a course will be a waste of money. You’ll need the individual attention of a good editor to do that.

In any case, do your due diligence. Research what you will be paying for. Check out reviews, YouTube comments, Facebook comments, whatever unbiased feedback you can find. Don’t fall for self-proclaimed gurus pushing their mediocre product.

7. Get References Fast

Despite what I just said, I don’t want you to put off work. The best way to learn is to take on a project, then figure it out as you go.

Not only will this speed up your learning process, it will also get you your first references. References are essential to find more and better paying clients.

Each new reference should slightly improve your standing, so that a slightly higher value customer will hire you next. You must work your way up the ladder.

Try to get three to five references quickly. If you put in the hours, this can be done within the first month.

The obvious place to start are low-level entry platforms like Upwork or Fiverr. And the way to get your first customer is to radically underbid your competitors. Charge half of what even the cheapest freelancers are charging.

And then put all you’ve got into the project. Try to over deliver, so the customer will be extremely pleased to have hired you and leave you an outstanding review.

Also, specifically ask your clients for a stand-alone testimonial. Better yet, write it for them, so they only need to sign off on it. The goal is to get away from these platforms as quickly as possible and start working for direct clients. And for this you need stand-alone testimonials.

8. Create Your Website

The next thing you must do is to create a website. This website functions as a kind of virtual business card.

Many people get that wrong. They think that the website is there so that customers can find them on Google. At this early stage, that will never happen. Your website is too new for Google to take it seriously.

What it’s really good for is to convince leads. When you apply for a project, the customer will always google you. Having a professional looking website will give you an edge over 90% of your competitors, since most of them won’t have a website.

This doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands of dollars. In almost all instances, a one-page design with sections like “Services,” “Who am I”, and “Contact,” is more than sufficient. You can get that very cheaply from a website builder platform like wix.com.

But please do invest a bit of money to get professional pictures taken. Hire a pro for an hour or two. Make sure to dress professionally and project an air of trustworthiness. That is what potential customers want to see more than anything else.

9. Be Helpful

For many people, working a 9-to-5 job is a license to do the bare minimum. They do that to protect themselves from the drudgery.

A variation of this is when aspiring entrepreneurs are too focused on self-actualization. I see this especially with coaches.

In either case, you cannot not go on like this. As an entrepreneur, a fundamental mindset shift has to happen.

Get this into your head: It is now your mission in life to make other people’s lives better.

Not your life. Other people’s lives.

If you are good at this, you will succeed, no need to worry about the details.

But if you keep coasting, or acting entitled, you will fail miserably.

So, how can you be more helpful to your customer? Here are a few ideas:

  • Better quality. If you really want to be seen as helpful, your services must go beyond your industry’s average. Remember that quality is ultimately measured by how much money you make them. Over time, this might become your key differentiator.
  • Pain points. Whatever they are struggling with, offer the solution. If they are having a hard time updating their LinkedIn regularly, suggest doing it for them. If their blog marketing is lagging behind, take charge of it.
  • Future proofing. Your customers are so caught up in everyday operations that they will have little time to prepare for the future. If you are the one to make them future-proof, for example by implementing a new technology, you will forever be in their good graces.
  • Positive attitude. It makes a huge difference if you always have a positive outlook and show enthusiasm. Simply by doing that, you will differentiate yourself from the vast majority of service providers out there, who nonverbally convey that they cannot be bothered.
  • Freebies. It is important to charge what you are worth. But if you throw in a freebie every once in a while, this will cement your relationship with the customer. For example, if during the quarterly strategy session, you present them with a list of valuable insights about their business, they will count themselves lucky to have you.

10. Be Professional

If you want to succeed in business, you must be seen as a professional. It means you are not an amateur. You treat your business as your priority. You understand the rules of the game.

Here are some recommendations to make sure you come across as a professional.

  • Be on time, always. If you aren’t, the underlying messages are, “I don’t have my life together” and “I don’t take this seriously.” Both are complete no-nos for enterprise customers.
  • Never miss a deadline. Just like with being unpunctual, it signals “I am disorganized,” “I don’t know what I’m doing,” and, “I’m unreliable.”
  • Communicate well. Listen. Take notes. Remember stuff.
  • Dress sharply.

11. Find a Mentor

It is important to have someone point you in the right direction when you build your side hustle. Not only that — looking at someone who has already done it will help with motivation.

Ideally, this someone will have a lot of skills in the same area that you are trying to become competent in. They should already have accomplished what you are trying to — they should have successfully escaped 9 to 5, so you can respect them.

As you might have guessed, it is not easy to come by these people. Since they are further along the path, they naturally have less interest in investing in you, unless they get paid for it.

What I recommend instead is that you find a virtual mentor. Thanks to the Internet, you now have access to plenty of accomplished people who are offering their ideas. You can learn from these people and feel inspired by them.

12. Find a Support Group

You also need to surround yourself with people who are struggling as you are. This support group will not only help with motivation, but will also give you the chance to compare yourself against others. And it will hold you accountable.

Ideally, you will have a few people who are a few steps ahead of you, as well as a few people who are in the same place as you are. The first subset is for motivation, the second subset is for competition. For accountability, both of them work.

Unlike your virtual mentor, these people should be in your life. You want the dynamic back and forth. They don’t need to be in the same geographical location, though. An online mastermind group works, or people you individually talk to on the phone.

13. Create A Financial Buffer

When it comes to finances, as a digital nomad, things will not always work out as you planned.

Some places will be pricier than you thought, especially if you prefer to have your own place.

There will be unforeseen expenses, like doctor’s bills or a broken computer.

Clients might suddenly leave, so you have less cash to spend.

For these reasons, it is not enough to create a location independent stream of income. You should also create a financial buffer, before you hit the road.

I recommend a reserve of at least 5,000–10,000 dollars, and that is cutting it close. 20,000+ dollars would be more ideal.

In any case, you should constantly be adding to your reserve. For example, I have an appointment with myself once per month, where I sit down and figure out exactly how much I can put away into a separate rainy-day account.

14. Start Traveling

One of the major advantages of being a digital nomad is your ability to travel at will.

I advise you to start early, as soon as you can financially justify it.

My rationale — you need to feel what this lifestyle has to offer, to experience its perks. Once you have done this, many of the sacrifices required of you (instability, fear of decline) will become easier to swallow.

There is also a stubborn myth that by traveling to developing countries, you’ll be able to “live like a king” on your regular income in dollars.

That’s only partially true.

It is more true if you decide to go expat, in a place like South East Asia. As a long-term resident, your cost of living will indeed be less than in the States or in Europe.

But that is not what most digital nomads do. They keep hopping around, oftentimes staying only two to four weeks in one place.

Your cost in airplane tickets will probably already make up for the lower cost of living. Also, when you rent on Airbnb, you will pay multiple times what you pay as a local.

Best case scenario, you won’t be spending more, but can travel the world. That is a more realistic scenario to shoot for.

15. Structure Your Day

When you work a 9-to-5 job, many decisions are made for you.

It is clear on what days you will work and on what days you will rest.

It is understood when you will get up and show up in the morning.

Other people like family and friends will have an idea when you are available and when they should leave you alone.

None of this applies when you become a digital nomad.

Suddenly, your days are wide open. And the temptation is to squander them away, since there is no one to keep you in check.

You need to overcome this temptation. Take responsibility for your days. Learn a time management method like “Getting Things Done.” Practice time blocking.

Understand: You are now your own boss, and it is your responsibility to discipline yourself. This is one of the deciding factors for making it as an online entrepreneur.

16. Graduate to Direct Clients

There are three stages that will you will go through as a service provider:

  1. Working for a project platform like Upwork
  2. Working for an agency that is outsourcing to you
  3. Working for a direct client, preferably a mid-sized or a big company

Your goal is to graduate to stage three. These direct clients pay much better than Upwork or agencies (factor two or three), they are more pleasant to deal with, and they will have ongoing work for you.

How do you find these high-paying direct clients? By reaching out to them personally.

Note: At this point, if you haven’t done so yet, you will need a professional looking website with professional photos of yours. Without that, direct clients will not take you seriously.

17. Learn To Do Outreach

Getting high-paying direct clients is completely dependent on one skill — your ability to cold call or cold email strangers. You will have to contact the decision-makers and convince them that they should work with you.

Cold calling/emailing is an art, far too intricate to fully explain in an article like this. But I at least want to give you some pointers to get started.

When you decide whether to call or email, consider the following advantages and disadvantages.

When you call, it’s harder for the other person to just ignore you, as they could with an email. They will have to deal with you in some fashion, which gives you at least an opening.

On the other hand, with cold emailing, you don’t force the other person to make a decision on the spot, which might make them feel uncomfortable. Rather, you give them the chance to reply to your request when it’s convenient for them.

Also realize that if you are avoiding the cold calling because you are uncomfortable doing it, eventually, you will have to do it anyway. At the end of every cold emailing sequence is a phone call where decisions are made. Customers will need that to feel safe with you.

There is no right or wrong here, and ultimately you will have to master both approaches.

Always contact the CEO, not the HR person or the marketing guy. The latter don’t care, it’s not their business. They will just ignore your mail or forget about your call.

But if you can convince the CEO you will make him more money, he will now pass you on to one of his underlings, with express instructions. And now they will care, as the boss told them to.

Get to the point quickly, no matter if you call or write. The people you are talking with are extremely busy business professionals.

Avoid sleazy sales talk. Be friendly, and be straightforward. If you’re using email, I recommend not exceeding 150 words. Also, use lots of paragraphs and boldface key sentences to increase readability. Make sure that your emails have perfect spelling and punctuation.

Your only job is to explain, as concisely as possible, how they will benefit from your services. It comes down to one question: How will you help them to make more money? Again, keep the answer to that question friendly and concise.

Follow-up. Almost no one will reply to your first outreach email. And even if you get someone on the phone right away, they will need several more points of contact before decisions are made. If they have not replied to you after the fourth or the fifth time, it’s safe to write them off.

To stay organized and to not annoy people more than necessary, keep a tight Excel list and note down every single attempt to talk to somebody, how they reacted, what they said, dates, etc. You simply cannot keep track of everything in your mind.

It’s a number’s game. With conversion rates of about 2 percent, you should outreach to at least 100 to 200 potential clients to get a small customer base. Multiply this with an average of four contact attempts per customer, and you’re looking at a total of between 400–800 cold calls/cold emails.

The final thing to pay attention to is pricing. As a rule of thumb, with direct clients, you should charge 60 to 150 dollars per hour. That is, every hour you are working directly on the client’s project.

This doesn’t mean you should charge by the hour. On the contrary, I would recommend to charge by project, as most clients prefer that. But to come up with that number, you should still take the number of hours it will take you to complete the project into account.

Don’t make any concessions here. You are now completely responsible for the client’s success, and that should be reflected by the price.

If you have problems convincing clients of that price range, that’s a clear sign you are going for low-level clients you shouldn’t be targeting. Vice versa, successful midsized businesses will be suspicious of a professional who charges less.

18. If You Wish To, Automate

At this point, you have solved the problem of how to escape your 9 to 5. You can now enjoy your life as a well-off digital nomad.

Or you can optimize for profit by automating.

You can find other people to provide the services for you. Those could be other freelancers for whom you pay, or you could hire employees permanently. Either way, the result is an agency model.

The more people you bring on, the more clients you can service. That means you can potentially earn multiple times what you were earning as a solopreneur.

Also, establishing systems will create a valuable business that you can potentially sell in the future.

An agency also frees you of your strenuous production duties. Creating several long blog articles a week will eventually get old. An agency model will pull you out of that mystery.

But understand: Outsourcing your production doesn’t mean there will be less work for you. As soon as you liberate yourself from your production duties, higher level duties will take over.

You will now have to act as a team leader. That includes coordinating your team, talking to partners and customers, monitoring the market, and more than anything, putting out fires. You will be busier than ever.

So if you choose to automate, do it for the right reasons. Do it because you want to make more money, or better yet, because you want to build something. That’s a great project to have in life.

But don’t do it because you dread work. If that’s your motivation, stay a solopreneur or radically cut your expenses, as we will talk about later.

19. If You Wish To, Pivot

Running a service business is not the most inspiring job in the world. It gives you a lot of freedom, and it pays well. But eventually you might want to transition to a more exciting venture, or at least one that scales better.

As we saw earlier, that either means:

  • Selling coaching/consulting
  • Selling a physical product
  • Selling a digital product

Each of these business models deserve their own, very long article. But again, I at least want to give some pointers to get you off to a good start.

First, don’t quit your service business yet. Just as you started your service business as a side hustle to escape your 9-to-5 job, now start your coaching/eCommerce/digital product business as a side hustle to escape your service business.

Second, if you want to go with coaching/digital products, start with content creation right now. That’s the one factor these business models hinge on, and it requires a lot of initial legwork.

You can either create this content yourself or you can hire someone to do so. Since you now have a positive cash flow from your service business, the latter is an option.

If you do outsource, pay massive attention to quality control. It is tricky to find writers or videographers that produce truly captivating, well-ranking content.

Besides quality, you also need to pay attention to quantity. There is a certain volume that you need to reach in order to get enough traffic, which you can then convert into paying customers.

For a blog, we are talking around 300 to 500 well-written, long-form articles. For a YouTube channel, the number can easily be twice as high, and for social media, you can multiply that number again.

Don’t just produce any content. At least with blog content and YouTube, you need to do your keyword research first. There is no point in creating content for keywords that have no search volume or that you have no chance of ranking for. Study up on your SEO.

Alternatively, you can buy traffic through ads and funnel that to a sales page. Here, your potential customer is being persuaded to sign up for a free download offer. Once that happens, you can now build the relationship through automated email sequences.

To be clear, the same kind of funnel also needs to be built if you opt for the organic traffic model. But the basis of that funnel will be organic, not paid traffic.

From my experience, the organic approach has more potential for growth. The funnel strategy is quicker to implement, but eventually hits a ceiling. Plus, your customers will relate to you more if you regularly put out high-quality content.

I caution against the social media route, unless you have a personal brand and are exceptionally good-looking. Even then it will be hard. The entry barrier is too low. There are lots of pretty people with a camera out there.

But producing hundreds or thousands of high-quality, SEO-optimized blog posts or videos — that is hard. Therefore, the entry barrier is much higher. Which plays into your hands, if you are smart, hard-working, and long-term thinking.

Option 2: Create “Passive Income”

The so-called passive income option for how to escape your 9 to 5 comes in three flavors:

  1. Set up a completely automated business (the “Tim Ferriss” model)
  2. Invest in a high-risk, high-return asset (the “crypto” model)
  3. Invest in a low-risk, low-return asset (the “MJ DeMarco” model)

The Tim Ferriss Model

This model is based on the book “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss. The idea is to create a fully automated business system which will continue to bring in money, even if you only spend four hours a week supervising it. You are then free to pursue your dreams via dreamlining.

The two prime examples in the book are drop-shipping businesses (Ferriss talks about selling French t-shirts) and digital product businesses (Ferriss suggests how-to-ebooks for technical subjects).

By starting and automating such businesses, you will supposedly be free to do whatever you want. Your time will be yours, yet you will still have plenty of money to play with (or so the theory goes).

You achieve this either through technological automation or by hiring people from developing countries, or a combination of the two.

If that sounds all too good to be true, well, it probably is. There is a plethora of arguments against the 4-hour workweek model, some of which I will reference now.

First, the success of this kind of business hinges on you finding a product that:

  1. No one else has already thought of
  2. Requires little investment
  3. Is in high demand

It is virtually impossible to find such a magic product.

But even if you were able to find such a magic product, what would keep competitors from copying your product? They would try to get their share of the pie as quickly as possible.

And what happens then? Because most of your competitors won’t have the objective of working as little as possible. They will have the objective of maximizing profit.

Where you outsource your product creation to China, your competitors might create their products themselves, paying great attention to detail. Where your customer representatives are based in India, they might personally answer customer inquiries.

In short: By providing greater value to the customer, your competitors will soon push your fully automated business out of the market.

One last observation. Tim Ferriss has never been able to produce evidence of existing four-hour workweek businesses.

Yes, he cites plenty of case studies on his website. But if you look closely, almost all of these case studies just talk about starting an online business. But there is hardly any mention of how many or few hours are necessary to maintain these businesses.

The reason is obvious: All of these businesses, at least the successful ones, require way more work than just four hours a week. The premise of the book — automate your online business, so you get your time back — is completely absent.

Despite all these flaws, I still recommend the book. Tim Ferris does make some great points when he questions the status quo of work. For that alone, it’s worth reading it.

But in general, I would strongly advise against any kind of so-called passive income model. They simply don’t work. There are no hacks to being a rich and lazy person.

The Crypto Model

The second option is to speculate. Examples include:

  • Investing in risky options on the stock market
  • Being an angel investor in startups
  • Trying to earn off bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies

I call this the crypto model just for convenience, but your high-risk investment doesn’t have to be about crypto.

This is essentially playing the lottery or betting on a horse at a racing track. You cannot know the outcome. A few people win big, but the majority loses their money.

I am not a fan of this model. It doesn’t make sense to risk it if there is a surefire process to escape your 9 to 5 — starting a service business.

But that’s work, and many people don’t want to do the work. Yet there are no shortcuts. If there were, the knowledge of them would spread like wildfire and everybody would be taking them.

Also, this model is only an option if you already possess significant funds. For most people who are trying to figure out how to escape their 9 to 5, that means taking out loans. Please don’t do that.

The least appealing aspect of this model is that success does not depend on you, but on other people.

Let’s say you want to invest in a startup with a brilliant idea. Things that could go wrong:

  • The team might not work together well and eventually fall apart.
  • A key member with a certain skill might leave.
  • Other investors might interfere.
  • There might be legal troubles with a competitor.
  • An outsider might steal the idea.

Trying to escape your 9 to 5 is essentially the attempt to free yourself of outside dependencies. Why would you then enter into more dependencies? With this model, you are simply giving up control, hoping for the best.

I am not saying this is not a gamble worth taking if you already have a significant amount of wealth, and you are just playing with a fraction of it.

But if this is your chosen method for escaping your 9 to 5, and you are betting all you have, then I would strongly advise against it.

The MJ DeMarco Model

Traditional investing, e.g. maxing out your 401(k), is not a way to escape your 9 to 5. The ROI is too low. Once you have amassed enough money, there is not much life left to live.

But that changes if you have substantial funds to start with.

Let’s say you inherited $10 million. At a conservative return rate of 2%, you would have $200,000 available each year to spend, without having to work for it.

So, to escape your 9 to 5, you would have to come up with several million dollars fast (5–10 years) to invest in conservative options. After this, you’d be free.

The most well-known proponent of this model is MJ DeMarco, author of “The Millionaire Fastlane” (worst book title ever). Become self-employed, earn big fast, invest, retire.

I have zero experience with applying this model. But I’ll still offer some critical observations and will be happy to be proven wrong.

First, to get rich in a short time frame, you cannot enjoy your work. You must put in 10 to 12-hour days for 5–10 years straight, in a money-maker industry you probably won’t like.

So, you postpone all pleasure until you are rich. Before that, you suffer. For most people, that will be hard to go through emotionally.

Second, what happens once you make it? Does happiness ensue, like the gurus claim? If so, then it is quite strange that all the gurus went on to become authors or YouTube personalities.

Maybe being rich without a meaningful mission in life is not that rewarding.

Third, even if you manage to pull this off, you will now be busy managing your wealth. There is a reason why there is a whole industry — portfolio management — specializing in this service. It’s like doing your taxes every day for the rest of your life.

The bottom line is — be honest with yourself. Do you have the drive to become a multi-millionaire in 5 years? Will you be content not having a purpose? Does managing your money sound like fun to you? If you can honestly answer “Yes,” then you might be one of the few cut out for this model.

Option 3: Live Extremely Frugally

Instead of substituting your 9 to 5 through a different mode of income, you can also quit it altogether. For that, you need to radically cut your expenses. There are four ways of doing so:

  1. Save most of your money from your day job and retire early (the FIRE model).
  2. Retain a small apartment while spending very little and only work the occasional substitute job (the “Robert Wringham” model).
  3. Go off-grid, e.g., build yourself a cabin in the wild and live off the land (the “Walden” model).
  4. Become a voluntary bum, camping outside, collecting food from dumpster diving (the “Daniel Suelo” model).

The FIRE Model

FIRE stands for “Financial Independence, Retire Early.” The idea is that by saving up as much money as possible and investing it wisely, you can retire in your 30s.

In this sense, FIRE overlaps with the passive income option, which we already talked about. Specifically, it is somewhat similar to the MJ DeMarco model. Here too, the idea is to suffer now, so you don’t have to suffer later.

But unlike the MJ DeMarco model, it doesn’t require you to leave your 9 to 5 and become a multi-millionaire entrepreneur. The focus is on extreme frugality. By saving 70 percent or more of your income, you will free to quit your 9-to-5 job in 10–15 years from now.

This is a good model for more risk-averse people. You can stay where you are; no need to turn your life upside down.

But you need to have some monkish qualities. 10–15 years is a long time. Couple that with you giving up on your reward systems (weekends out, vacation time) and most people won’t be able to go through with it.

But if you can muster that level of asceticism, this might be a great option. And you might find out in the process that consumerism is not that rewarding anyway.

The Robert Wringham Model

This model is named after the author of “Escape Everything.” Wringham is an opponent of wage slavery, attacking it from a lefty angle (which I don’t necessarily share).

For a while, he lived on 700 Canadian dollars a month. He chose to cut his expenses as much as he could, so he would only have to work occasionally as a stand-in librarian. Other than that, he would spend most of his time as he saw fit.

I can attest that this model works. In 2019, I cut my expenses to around 800 dollars a month, which allowed me to take on very little work as a freelance writer and focus on a book project at the time.

But for the freedom of time you gain, you pay for with other types of freedom. Primarily, you cannot travel. But you can also not consume freely. Think clothing, eating out, or partying.

So you need to assess what is most important to you. If you value your time above everything, then cutting your expenses Robert Wringham style is a great way to go. But if you also like to travel, the digital nomad option makes more sense.

The Walden Model

If you go with the Robert Wringham model, your two biggest expenses will be accommodation and food. The Walden Model, named after the book by Henry David Thoreau, tries to eliminate even these.

Thoreau famously lived in a self-built cabin near Walden pond in Massachusetts for a little over two years. He grew the bulk of the food he ate — beans, a few rows of peas, corn, turnips, and potatoes.

His stated goal was to create a maximum of free time, to write, and to discover himself. Judging by his book, he succeeded in doing so.

There is no reason you can’t do so, either. There are plenty of modern day escapists living similar lives. Mark Boyle is a good guy to check out.

The downside is that you will be lonely (if that is a downside) and that you won’t be able to travel, as you are reliant on your cabin and your vegetable garden. But you won’t have to work a 9-to-5 job anymore, not even occasionally.

The Daniel Suelo Model

Finally, there are a few people who take frugal living to the max. Daniel Suelo is one of them. As chronicled in the book “The Man Who Quit Money,” Suelo completely quit the system for several years.

Most famously, he stopped using money in the fall of 2000. For shelter, he camped in a natural cave outside Moab, Utah. For food, he would either gather wild plants or dumpster dive. If he needed a computer, he would use the public computer at the library.

He also did several long trips traveling as a hitchhiker, going as far as Alaska, spearfishing wild salmon to survive.

That is the great advantage of the Daniel Suelo model — you can travel, while still not having to work. You are not bound to a cabin in the woods or your vegetable garden.

The downside is that you live like a hobo. Which, at least according to Suelo, is not a bad way to live.

Conclusion

How to escape your 9 to 5? It depends on your values.

If traveling is important to you, go with the digital nomad option. The quickest solution to getting started is a service business. There is no initial investment, it’s easy to find clients, and you can eventually automate it (to an extent).

Be sure to:

  • take the initial financial decline into account (it’s temporary)
  • be helpful (your clients’ happiness is paramount)
  • build a financial buffer (things will go wrong)
  • transition to direct clients (that’s where the money is)

If you value your free time more than anything, radically cut your expenses. You won’t be able to travel, but you will have almost all of your time to yourself. Living on only 700–800 dollars, you can get away with working for half a week per month. All the books you ever wanted to read, all the conversations you ever wanted to have — they are now yours to be enjoyed.

Alternatively, you could go FIRE. Keep your annoying day job for now, but save upwards of 70 percent of your income. After 10–15 years, you can quit your job and never have to work again.

If financial freedom is what you are after, go all in on building a multi-million dollar business and then investing the profits conservatively. But be honest with yourself: Do you have the drive and the raw talent to pull it off? Many people like the idea of it, but they don’t like working 12-hour days for the next 5–10 years. Also, consider that managing your wealth is a job in itself. By no means will you only be idle at your beach house.

Forget about other kinds of “passive income.” There are no 4-hour workweek online businesses, and gambling on startups or crypto is just that — a gamble.

As I mentioned above, I think most people trying to figure out how to escape their 9-to-5 life will find that starting a location independent service business will be the sweet spot for them, with the option of later transitioning into a more scalable and/or more passion-centric business model.

It has revolutionized my life for the better. I hope it will revolutionize yours as well.

How To Escape the 9 to 5 — A Step-by-Step Guide for 2024 (2024)
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