It was August of 2004. I would be starting my first year of college in a few short weeks. My new school, Dakota State University, was in Madison, South Dakota, which boasts a population of just 7,000 people. Madison only has a single grocery store and a handful of restaurants and retail stores to choose from. I was excited to start my computer science degree, but had no idea how I was going to pay for it at the time. I was flat broke and had less than $500.00 in my checking account. I had to come up with $5,000 out of pocket each year to cover the tuition and fees that weren’t covered by the few small scholarships I received and the federal student loan I had taken out. My parents couldn’t afford to help me pay for college. I desperately needed a part-time job during the school-year if I was going to be able to afford to come back to school during the Spring semester.
I got in my 1995 Dodge Intrepid on a hot summer day and drove to the small college town where I would be going to school in hopes of finding a part-time job. Since I worked at a gas station in high-school, I applied to work at both of the service stations in town. I looked into finding work on-campus, but quickly found out the only way that freshman get hired on campus is if they qualify for Federal Work Study (I didn’t). I applied to work at Madison’s lone grocery store and the two small department stores that were in town. I put in applications at a few retailers on Egan Avenue (Madison’s Main Street) and even put in an application at McDonalds as a last resort if I couldn’t find anything else.
As you might have predicted, the only place that actually called me back was McDonalds. I had absolutely no money to my name and no other way to make money. Working at McDonalds as a fry cook for $6.50 an hour was the only way that I could ensure that I would be able to make tuition for the Spring semester. There was a lot not to like about working at McDonalds. Management would regularly schedule me to work from 4:00 PM to Midnight when I had classes at 8:00 AM the next morning. I would spend hours on end in a hot kitchen standing at a deep fryer cooking French fries and fried chicken at 350 degrees. It was also my job to wash grease-soaked dishes for hours at a time. There were a few fun people to work with, but there was also an uptight manager that made it his personal mission to make sure that I hated my job. I almost always came home covered in grease and dirty dish water. Even after I would take a shower, I still smelled like French fries. The one small benefit was that McDonalds allowed employees to buy food at half-price before and after their shifts. I’m pretty sure I lived almost entirely on the Dollar MenuTM during my freshman year.
During my freshman year at college, I afforded myself $100.00 per month to live off of. The rest of the money I earned had to go to pay my Spring tuition bill. I couldn’t afford to go out to eat with my friends. I couldn’t afford to go to the movies. I couldn’t afford to take a weekend trip to anywhere that anyone would actually want to go. Most of the $100.00 I lived off of was to put gas in my car and buy a few meager groceries. Thankfully, my parents covered my health insurance and car insurance while I was in school. I’m incredibly grateful for the help that they provided me. While I had the basic necessities of life taken care of, there wasn’t anything left over at the end of the month.
Enough is Enough
A couple of months into my Spring semester, I decided that I had had enough. I was sick and tired of coming home from McDonalds at midnight covered in dish water and congealed grease. I was done being ordered around by a tyrant manager that enjoyed assigning me to the most menial and disgusting work available. I was fed up with being broke and not being able to scrape together a few dollars for movies or any other forms of entertainment. I didn’t know what I was going to do the next school year, but it sure wasn’t going to be slaving over a deep fryer or a kitchen sink. I was going to turn my life around entirely and it was going to start with my job.
The best work opportunities for Dakota State University students were on campus jobs while I attended. Those jobs usually involved office or computer work and usually weren’t that difficult. Unfortunately, most on campus jobs were paid for by Federal Work Study, which I didn’t qualify for because my parents made slightly too much money. I made a list of every on campus job that wasn’t funded by Work Study and applied to most of them. The only two departments I skipped over were food service and facilities maintenance, because I didn’t want a repeat of my experience at McDonalds. I also joined a number of university clubs so that I looked well-rounded to the faculty members that would be evaluating my applications. I slaved over the applications and made sure that I had them in early so that I had a good chance to be considered. While most of the jobs I applied for on campus said “no” to me, three of them said yes. My hard work had paid off. I really wanted to pay-off my student loans and have some money to spend freely, so I said yes to all three departments that wanted to hire me.
The first job I had been offered the following fall was for a technology fellowship with the College of Business and Information Systems. It was an incredibly sweet deal that paid $15.00 an hour for 11 hours per week of work. In that job, I helped manage a computer lab, built a variety of websites for organizations on campus and did whatever else they told me to. The second job that I had was working as a study skills tutor for remedial students at the Student Success Center on campus. That job paid around $7.00 an hour for six hours of work per week. The third job that I had gotten was writing for the campus newspaper, The Trojan Times. I was the News Editor during my first two years at the paper and served as the Editor-In-Chief of the paper during my senior year of college. While that job didn’t pay much, it was the first opportunity that I had to write professionally. Between the three jobs I had at college my Sophomore year and the summer job working at a gas station in my home town, I was able to increase my income from $13,000 my freshman year to more than $30,000 during my sophomore year.
While making $30,000 in a year isn’t something that anyone is going to do a whole lot of bragging about, it did make me recognize that my financial situation wasn’t carved in stone. If I was willing to work hard, improve my skill set and take advantage of opportunities when they show up, I could dramatically change my financial lot in life. I may have been broke at the time, but I didn’t have to be broke forever. I had no idea how successful I would become during the next ten years. However, I knew that if I was willing to learn and take advantage of the right opportunities, I could create dramatically more wealth than any of my class mates.
My First Big Opportunity
During the fall semester of my junior year in college, I had a relatively low academic work load and decided to take on a side project so that I could flex my writing muscles and learn more about web design. The end result was my now-defunct personal finance blog, American Consumer News. The first iteration of the blog was called Getting Green and it was hosted in a free Blogger account. I literally spent no money getting it started, because I didn’t have to and I didn’t have a ton of extra money sitting around. My first blog post went live on December 26th, 2006 and I had officially become a personal finance blogger.
I had no idea that you could actually make any meaningful amount of money from writing on a personal finance blog, but then I started to receive emails from companies that wanted to pay me to put their ads on my website. Companies like Mint.com and Prosper.com that target savvy consumers knew that their target audience was on websites like mine, and were happy to pay me $150.00 per month to have an ad slot on my website. At the same time, a website called Associated Content started paying people $5.00 to $15.00 to write articles on just about any subject. Since you didn’t have to give them an exclusive on anything that you wrote, I resubmitted all of my articles to them and was making $500 to $1,500 per month from Associated Content for nearly a year.
During my first year of running an online business, I had made a whopping $12,600 between website sponsorships, Google AdSenseTM and Associated Content. The business didn’t really take off until 2008 when I had the idea to run multiple personal finance blogs at once. I figured that if advertisers would be willing to buy ads on one of my websites, they might be willing to multiple ads on multiple websites. I knew I couldn’t do all of the writing myself, so I was able to hire a handful of writers and have them write on my websites for $6.00 to $8.00 an article. At one time, we had five different personal finance blogs running and a team of seven writers cranking out articles. During that business’s peak in 2008 and 2009, I had stopped writing all together and was taking home around $60,000 each year after expenses.
My time at Dakota State University came to a completion in May 2009 when I had completed the two degrees I had been working on. During my graduation ceremony, then South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds gave the commencement speech. He spoke about how universities can create opportunities for students to do great things and highlighted me and my business as an opportunity of what’s possible for students to achieve. I was the only student who was mentioned by name during his speech. The governor’s speech confirmed to me that my financial turnaround was getting some real traction and others were starting to notice.
After college, I moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to be closer to my then girlfriend (now wife) and to work at a local website design agency as a programmer. While my day job paid around $50,000 per year, I didn’t have the guts to try to go full time with my business because I didn’t think the business model was sustainable over the long term. The business slowly began to unravel in 2010. The social media marketing strategies we had used to attract traffic over the years had become less effective. Google also began to punish websites like mine that sold link advertisements on their websites.
The final nail in the coffin for American Consumer News happened on February 23rd, 2011 when Google updated its search algorithm to punish websites that had a lot of short-form content that they viewed as non-authoritative. Just about every personal finance blog got hammered by this change, known as the Panda Update, and my websites were no exception. More than 50% of my website traffic disappeared overnight and revenue immediately started dropping. The business became a shadow of its former self, making just a few thousand dollars each month. Eventually, I cut my losses on my personal finance blogs and sold them off.
The MarketBeat Story
I had been knocked to the ground by being too reliant on a single marketing. If I wanted to make a go of running a real online business, I knew that I would need to do something different. I would need to develop a business that leveraged multiple marketing channels at once and would still generate revenue even if any given marketing channel dried up. My one website that was spared from the Google algorithm update was an investing news website called American Banking and Market News (now called MarketBeat.com). It didn’t rely on website search traffic and continued to receive a few thousand visitors per day from places like MSN Money, Twitter, MarketWatch and Yahoo Finance. There was a large opportunity in reporting financial and investing news through American Banking and Market News and it quickly became the core of my company.
We immediately recognized that many investing news information websites promote their products and services with a lot of hype and sizzle. Inevitably, their products and services fail to meet the expectations that they set in their marketing material and their customers leave dissatisfied. We set ourselves apart by only offering raw financial data, information and news so that our subscribers can do their own analysis. We will never try to convince our subscribers to follow a specific investment strategy or buy a specific stock.
MarketBeat also got a lot of initial traction by offering the most comprehensive summary of investment analysts’ stock ratings on the web. There were a lot of places that reported analysts’ ratings changes on the web, but they were all incomplete. We found every data provider that offers analysts’ ratings and compiled them into a single database that is more comprehensive than any other source online. Reporting on analyst ratings’ changes continues to be the most used feature of MarketBeat.com.
MarketBeat has published financial news on our network of websites since the business began in 2011. We also publish a summary of top news headlines and analyst ratings changes in our daily email newsletter, MarketBeat Daily Ratings. We have been able to grow our newsletter to more than 400,000 subscribers in the last five years. We also sell a variety of premium subscriptions to our newsletter subscribers that range from $15.00 to $35.00 per month. Finally, MarketBeat offers a variety of web-based tools on its website and a mobile-app called StockAid.
The business generated $276,000 during its first full year of operations in 2011. As I grew my email list, integrated new marketing channels and discovered new ways to attract advertisers, the company’s revenue skyrocketed. I quit my day job in 2012 to go full-time with my business. By 2015, the business had grown to more than $2.7 million while maintaining a profit margin of 82%. Because of the company’s rapid growth, it was highlighted on Inc. Magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing privately-held companies in America in 2015.
Where I’m at in 2016
A lot has changed in my life during the last decade of my life. In the fall of 2004, I was a broke college student with a crappy job, an unimpressive income, student loan debt and a negative net worth. I now have a personal net worth of more than $10 million and an annual income of more than $2 million per year. I’ve truly had a massive financial turnaround during the last 10 years of my life. We have a paid-for home, no debt to our names and a well-funded retirement portfolio. My wife and I could live off of our savings and investments for at least the next fifteen years without making any additional income. We have attained true financial freedom.
My family also has the privilege of traveling where and when we want without having to worry about the cost of travel. We firmly believe that creating memories and having unique experience through travel brings much more joy and happiness than having a lot of possessions. Last year, we took our son Micah to Disney World for a week. We stayed in Animal Kingdom Lodge and had giraffes and other wildlife right outside of our window. We were able to spend a week in Las Vegas and watch a number of live shows and see Jay Leno perform on stage. Finally, we had the opportunity to spend a week in L.A. in October. We spent some time on the beach, saw the Space Shuttle Endeavor at the California Science Museum and participated in a taping of an episode of The Price is Right (one of my wife’s life-long dreams).
While not worrying about how bills are going to bed paid and traveling are both fun, the best part of having some money in the bank is the opportunity to be generous to those around us and to the non-profit organizations that we care about deeply. It truly is better to give than to receive. It’s incredibly fulfilling to know that hungry people have been fed, that women and children have been rescued from the sex trade and that the poor-in-spirit have heard the Gospel in-part because of God directing money through my business to these ministries and non-profits. There’s not a single possession that I own or experience that I have had that gives me nearly as much joy as the opportunity to give.
There have been a number of other major changes in my life since 2004. I became a Christian in 2005, which dramatically impacted my outlook on life and money. My wife Karine and I met in 2008 and were married in 2011. We have two wonderful children, Micah and [Secret Baby Name Here]. I completed a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2008, a Master of Science in information systems degree in 2009 and a Master of Arts degree in Christian leadership in 2011. I also co-founded two other businesses, GoGo Photo Contest and USGolfTV. GoGo Photo Contest helps animal shelters raise money through online photo contest fundraisers and USGolfTV is a digital publishing company in the golf industry.
What is a Ten-Year Turnaround?
A ten-year turnaround begins with the recognition that your current financial plan won’t lead to the long-term financial results that you desire. Maybe you have too much debt. Make you aren’t making enough money. Maybe you aren’t saving or investing enough. Either your current financial plan isn’t working, or it isn’t working fast enough. Maybe you have never even sat down and thought about what your long term financial goals are and whether or not they are achievable. Maybe you have set lofty financial goals, but have no idea to achieve them. Maybe you’re doing okay in life and just wish you could get more financial traction. If you want to achieve your long-term financial goals and become financially free before you’re too old to enjoy the benefits of financial freedom, you are going to need a new plan. That plan is the ten-year turnaround.
A ten-year turnaround is a decade long sprint of hard-work, education and wealth building in order to transform your personal finances, achieve your personal goals and attain total financial freedom. You will develop new skillsets and abilities so that you can create value in the marketplace and increase your income. You will work harder than you ever have worked in your life. You will put yourself out there, create your own luck and seize opportunities as they arise. You will become a person of wisdom, discernment and integrity so that you become a personal capable of handling a large amount of wealth. Finally, you will learn essential money management and investment strategies to help you move up the wealth ladder in the most effective way possible. As you develop new skills, increase your income and learn to manage your money better, you will create the economic engine needed to fulfill your personal and financial dreams. The ten-year turnaround is a recognition that the best way to attain total financial freedom is to work hard over a long period of time and learn working hard over a long period of time and learning along the way.
At the end of your ten-year journey of personal development and wealth building, your personal finances will look fundamentally different than they do today. Of course, there’s nothing magical about a ten-year period of focus compared to a nine or eleven year period of focus. However, I truly believe that anyone can achieve total financial freedom over a period of about ten years by following the recommendations outlined in this book. By developing a plan, increasing your income, practicing discernment and investing wisely, you can build a significant amount of wealth in much less time than you might think.
A Note about Matters of Faith
Throughout the book I will make periodic references to my personal faith in Jesus Christ and how that has affected my view of money. This book isn’t overtly preachy or intended to evangelize, but I think it’s important to let my readers know where I’m coming from. I personally believe that everything is owned by God and that we are simply managers of his wealth (Psalm 24:1; Deuteronomy 8:17-18). I believe that giving to those in need is a fundamental part of life that cannot be ignored (Luke 6:38, 2 Cor 6:8-10) I believe in the biblical principles surrounding money, such as planning for the future (Luke 14:28), that savings are important (Proverbs 21:20), that debt should be avoided (Proverbs 22:7), that greed is incredibly dangerous (Luke 12:15, 1 Timothy 6:10) and that contentment, not wealth, is the key to personal happiness (Hebrews 13:5).
If you aren’t a Christian, know that 95% of the content in this book will apply to everyone regardless of their faith or lack thereof. Most of the ideas and recommendations in this book are practical wisdom that anyone can use to move toward financial freedom. If there’s a paragraph that references a biblical worldview of money that you don’t agree with, skip onto the next paragraph. I truly believe that Christians and non-Christians alike can benefit from the recommendations in this book and hope that you will give this book a chance even if you have fundamentally different religious beliefs than I do.
What You’ll Learn in The Ten-Year Turnaround
My first book, 40 Rules for Internet Business Success, contains a collection of principles and strategies that I’ve used to build my online business. My second book, Email Marketing Demystified, offers a step-by-step guide for any business owner to implement email marketing in their business. These two books both offer incredibly practical advice about how to succeed as an entrepreneur, but they don’t show you how to become a person with the right character, mindset, knowledge and ambition in order to succeed in life and in business. In my third book, I’ve decided to take a step back and show you how you can become the type of person that you need to be in order to be massively successful with money throughout your life. Whenever I’m hanging out with other entrepreneurs, I frequently get asked how I’ve had so much financial success at a relatively young age (I am 30 years old). This book is an attempt to answer that question.
If you would like to become a millionaire and attain financial freedom over the course of the next ten years, this book is for you. The Ten-Year Turnaround is a mix between a personal finance book and a personal development book that will show you how to become a person that has what it takes to create and maintain massive amounts of wealth throughout your life. This book is not a step-by-step financial plan that will show you exactly what financial steps to take and when to take them. This book is also not a collection of inspiring stories that provide little actionable information. Rather, this book will help you develop the mindset, the habits and the knowledge needed to build wealth and attain financial freedom. It will also give you a better understanding of how I think and what kind of rules, habits and principles that I have followed to achieve significant wealth at a relatively young age. I do not claim to be a personal finance or a personal development expert. I am not a financial advisor, a lawyer, an accountant, a doctor or any other profession that might qualify me to offer actual professional advice. As always, consult with a professional if you aren’t sure about any financial move you might want to make. The ideas and strategies outlined in this book are simply what has worked for me during the last decade and I believe they will work for you as well.
The Ten Year Turnaround is broken up into two different parts. The first half of the book focuses on how to transform your life so that you become a person capable of producing and maintaining wealth. You will learn what it actually means to be wealthy and what impact that will have on your life. You will create a future economic vision for your life and develop a plan to achieve that vision. You will learn how to increase your income through salary negotiation and entrepreneurship. You will learn how to master the art of personal networking and make job opportunities show up at your door. Finally, you will learn about life-long learning and how to practice discernment so that you can create more economic value over time and have the wisdom to make tough decisions. Some of these topics may not seem directly related to building wealth. However, you have to master a wide variety of skills that work together to successfully create wealth and hold onto it after you have earned it.
The second half of the Ten Year Turnaround is focused around practical money management skills. While you will learn everything that you need to know to become a person that can produce wealth in the first half of the book, having a great income won’t do you much good unless you know how to manage it effectively. In the second half of the book, you will learn how to create a budget that actually works for your family. You will learn about the appropriate use of credit and debt in your life. You will learn how to invest your wealth so that it will create a life-time income stream to live off of. You will learn about taxes, insurance and risk mitigation. Finally, we’ll cover how to effectively give to charity.
Each chapter in the Ten Year Turnaround begins with an inspirational “wealth quote” that will show you how truly successful people think about money. At the end of every chapter, there is a list of specific action steps that will move you closer to your goal of true financial freedom. In the appendix, I have included a list of books that I believe every life-long learner should read.
I’m not promising that you’ll get rich quick by following the ideas outlined in this book. It takes a lot of work over a long period of time to achieve personal financial freedom. I first became a millionaire when I was 28 years old, which was eight full years after I had set on a path of increasing my income and being better with my money. If you’re not willing to work more than 40 hours per week or don’t want to turn off the television at night, this book probably isn’t for you. If you just want to get your personal finances in slightly better shape, you should probably go read a book by Dave Ramsey or Clark Howard. This book is for people that want exceptional financial success and are willing to work exceptionally hard over a long period of time to achieve it. If that’s you, let’s get started.