2 years ago, I was hesitating between keeping my 9–5 job, or quitting and creating my own business. I had experienced making my first online dollars with writing, and I was starting to make enough money to wonder: *“What if I started spending as much time on this thing as I spend on my 9–5 job? Maybe I could 10x the amount of money I’m making?*”
At the same time, what would end up being the biggest pandemic of our modern times was starting to unfold, and the world as we knew it was about to change. Nobody knew how the economy was going to react to this new threat, and I wasn’t sure what to do either.
I had done some quick back-of-the-envelope maths, and I figured I needed money to increase my brand awareness by spending on online ads. I also wanted to hire someone to help me with churning out more content and getting started with videos on Youtube. To do all this, I needed an influx of cash and I thought of asking for a bank loan.
On a Tuesday morning, I called my banker and explained my dilemma to him. I spent around 10 minutes pitching him why I needed money, after which he replied:
Look, I’ll be 100% honest with you. Don’t borrow money. You’ve started to make some great “side hustle money” last year, and yes, it could turn into something bigger. But it also couldn’t, and with the current economic context you don’t want to take the risk of having a failing business and owing money to us at a 5% to 10% interest rate.
I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, asking for $10,000 to grow my business, essentially putting money in this guy’s pocket (thanks to the interest rate and the commission), and he was telling me not to do it. I replied:
But I need more content and more brand exposure, I need money to invest into those things. It can’t be just organic.
He kept going:
I know nothing about blogging, content, writing… I’m a finance guy and I look at numbers. What I do know is that if you combine your income from your job last year and your side hustle income, you’ve made a lot more money than the average Joe. And it’s kind of a conundrum to tell you “Don’t borrow money” because you actually have a great credit score. But look at it this way: you’ve gotten this far financially with zero loans from us, so why not try to keep growing that way?
He had a point. But I still couldn’t believe he wouldn’t “take my money”. Ever since that phone call, I’ve tried to come up with different reasons as to why my banker wanted to talk me out of borrowing:
- Maybe I didn’t actually qualify to borrow more money, because we already had a mortgage to pay off, and he was not fully transparent.
- Maybe a $10,000 loan was not on his playing field, he only worked for bigger commissions.
- Maybe he was instructed to not give out loans while banks were trying to figure out where the economy was headed with the pandemic.
- Or, maybe he was just an honest guy who didn’t want to rip off a customer trying to start his business, and maybe he was just right.
It’s been 2 years since that phone call. I haven’t borrowed a penny to grow my business. I doubled my business income year to year, and this allowed me to actually try and invest in those things I thought were necessary to grow my business, without getting a loan.
- I’ve sunk a great deal of money into Google and TikTok ads, without seeing any return on my investment whatsoever. My digital products can’t be profitable with ads because the price point is too low, and TikTok views are completely irrelevant to my type of content.
- I’ve more than doubled my paid memberships for online tools, but only a few remain vital for my business. The others make almost no difference.
- I’ve hired an accountant and realized I could keep my books myself after wasting $2,000 on his services.
This is all money that could have stayed in my pocket rather than being wasted on failed attempts at growing. But at the end of the day, you learn from your mistakes, and I can write those blunders off my taxes.
My banker was right to advise me against borrowing, because it’s better to borrow from and invest in yourself than to ask a bank. There’s no interest rate, and if you’re good at budgeting, you can absorb the losses and move on. It’s a trial and error process, and I always made sure to stay in the green, no matter how much money I decided to invest/experiment with.
I’ve spent money on gear and software I ended up not using, services I could do without, and I’m grateful I don’t owe all the money I spent on this useless stuff to a bank, with a 5% interest rate on top of everything.
As I said, I doubled my income year to year from 2021 to 2022 and that was great. But the most important metrics from that period have nothing to do with money.
- I doubled my audience size, from 8,000 to 16,000
- More than 1 million people saw my work online
- My videos were viewed more than 35,000 times
All this contributed to bringing more money into my bank account, but it didn’t require any financial investment. It just required putting in the work.
- I put out more than 57 articles over that period
- I started publishing Skillshare classes
- I started publishing Youtube videos
- I wrote a top-ranking article on Google that brings in traffic to my website
My banker was right. What matters is to focus on putting in the work, the rest happens automatically, and often exponentially. It took me 2 years to reach 2,500 followers. It took me only 1 more year to reach 16,000.
Putting in the work always gives the best outcomes:
- If your work pays off, your business grows. No need to invest a ton of money into growth, just think of creative ways to extend your reach.
- If your work doesn’t pay off, you learn from your mistakes. Remember that you haven’t failed as long as you don’t stop, and every day you keep going, thousands quit.
I recently called my banker for something unrelated to my business (buying a car, a horrible financial burden but a necessary purchase now that we live in the countryside).
I quickly mentioned to him the progress I had made with my business. He congratulated me and added:
Since our last phone call, interest rates have stayed the same at best, increased at worst, so it was a smart decision to not get a loan, especially considering your “organic” progress. And although those are great numbers, you’re still a very small business in our eyes, so I would definitely wait a few more years to grow even more, and then maybe you’ll be in need of a loan. But until then, only invest in yourself, and keep putting in the work, you’re doing great!
I guess if there is one lesson to remember here, that’s the one: invest in yourself before letting others invest in you. If you can’t keep your own books and stay accountable, no one will, and by borrowing money you’ll risk taking on more than you can chew. Learn to do things yourself before even thinking about delegating.
Yes, if you’re looking at launching a startup, a business with multiple employees and a lot of customers, of course, you need seed capital, investors, and business angels.
But if you’re a freelancer, looking to start your one-man company and grow steadily, stay away from banks, and focus on putting in the work. The rest will follow naturally, and often exponentially.
Thanks for reading, and remember to enjoy the journey.