How to Build a Business that Brings You Freedom

Vlad got in touch with us via Twitter – he’s an escapee-entrepreneur who has created a free course on how to design a scalable business, called 10 Steps to a Scalable Business.  Below he shares his thoughts on his six-week ‘workation’ – a prototype of the life he is building for himself. You can also share your own business ideas in the comments below, and he’ll personally take the time to give you individual feedback. (Photo credit here.)

Take a moment to look at the photo above. Beautiful, isn’t it?

This was a view from my (temporary) office, in a small fisherman village on the Croatian island of Mljet, Dubrovnik archipelago.

Instead of pointless watercooler chatting, I would take a break by swimming in warm and clear waters of the Adriatic sea. I would take afternoons off to enjoy time with the love of my life.

All the while getting so much more done than in an average day at the hectic office. Completely focused on work that matters.

This summer, I took a 6 week “workation”. It was a prototype of the life I am building for myself.

Ever dreamt of building a business that will bring you such freedom?

2 Warning Signs that your New Business will Enslave You

Many businesses start out of an opportunity. Someone needs your skills. There is little risk, as you start with a contract. Then you find another client. And another one. You enjoy working for yourself, and taking on challenging projects. Congratulations! You have now escaped the corporate world by becoming an independent consultant.

Unfortunately, one of the two scenarios play out.

In a first scenario, you find yourself going through phases of “famine and feast”. There are periods when you have to work nights and weekends to deliver. Followed by the periods where you wonder if you’ll ever get business again. The uncertainty drives you crazy. Balance and a steady flow of income seem to be an unattainable dream.

In the second scenario, you hit a good market, and you keep on getting new customers via word of mouth. You know how much a good client is worth, and you never say no. You work long hours, nights and days.

Suddenly, you are having 5 demanding bosses instead of one. On top of that you have become a workaholic.

The only way out seems to hire someone to help. But finding good people is tough. Training them and making sure your quality standards are respected too. In addition, your risk increases. You have to pay your staff up front, and your clients pay late. You find yourself running after new projects, instead of doing what you love.

How comes some people get to live their dream, while others get enslaved?

What Your Mother Didn’t Teach you About Business Design

The two scenarios painted above don’t have to play out that way. You can build a business that runs without you having to push all the time.

Such business requires some sort of a system. A system where most of the components are simple and repetitive enough that they can be automated.

Escape the City is an example of an awesome service that doesn’t enslave its founders (thanks Vlad!). You’ve probably come to their home page from a Google search, a tweet, or a blog article. They didn’t have to call or mail you to get you to their page. Instead, they have designed their web pages and web campaigns to be found. And none of their staff has to sit in front of you to convince you to sign up. This is a job of the compelling copy and images that explain the promise. And it goes on like that once you become a member. They have thoughtfully designed a system that can run almost entirely on its own.

To build such a business, you have to conscientiously work on the business, not in it. Your first job as an escapee-entrepreneur is to design a money making machine.

How to Get Started?

Here are actionable steps for you to take right now:

  • Find Your Idea: Write down a list of all the things you are passionate about.
  • Think about your business as a system with components that can (eventually) be automated. Answer these questions: What problems do other people have that you can solve based on your passions? Who are those people (aka customers) that you can help? What is it that you can sell to them? How will you find those first customers?
  • Share your idea in the comments, and I will personally take the time to give you individual feedback, and brainstorm with you on the ways to improve your business design.
  • Adele

    Vlad, thanks for this post – could totally relate to that “famine and feast” cycle, having freelanced/contracted for years… some members might be shy to put their ideas out here in public; is there an email address they might be able to reach you on instead?

    • Vlad

      Hey Adele,

      Thanks again for the opportunity to chime in on your blog.

      Anyone can reach out through vlad@10steps2.com.


  • Nicolas

    Hi Vlad! Thanks for this post. But I am a bit suspicious to be honest. So let’s give it a try.
    My passions are flamenco guitar, capoeira (brasilian martial art), traveling (backpacking) and anything linked to culture (museums, exhibitions). I am not too bad at cooking, singing, sailing (kitesurfing, windsurfing) and snowboarding.
    As an ex-investment banker, I have technical skills in credit/risk analysis, financial modelling, presentations, high level negotiations and sales.

    I look forward to having your feedback


  • Nicolas

    It seems that I deleted one line when I posted the above comment:
    I am currently interested in opportunities in development finance in emerging markets.


  • http://10steps2.com/scalable-business/ Vlad

    Hey Nicolas,

    Ha, a challenge! :-) Thanks for being brave and reaching out.

    Quite an impressive list of skills you got there! Do you enjoy teaching others? Online education is getting big.

    What do you mean exactly with “opportunities in development finance in emerging markets”.

    If your challenge is to come up with a concrete business idea, try this:

    0. You already listed your passion and skills

    1. Now for each passion and skill, list 2-3 problems that you could help people solve

    2. List your problems, and rank them from 1-5 according to
    (a) customer pain level (5 – big pain)
    (b) how many people have this problem (5 – many)
    (c) how well it matches your passion

    3. Pick top 5-6 based on your ranking, and next to each, write a one sentence idea on how you would ideally solve that problem based on your skills and passions

    4. Perform a web research for each of these problems and try to find out about existing solutions to those problems, and if people are today ready to pay for solving them

    5. Score your ideas on a scale from 1-5 based on
    (a) How used are people to pay for solving this problem (1 – a land of freebies, 3 – there are some paying products out there, 5 – people regularly budget this)
    (b) Are there Internet or information-based product in that space (1 – none, 3 – tons, 5 – a few products, and there seems to be a room for more)
    (c) How well do you think you could solve it (5 – I would be awesome)

    6. Pick top 2-3, and outline a couple of bullet points for each of them. Answer these questions: What problems do other people have that you can solve based on your passions? Who are those people (aka customers) that you can help? What is it that you can sell to them? How will you find those first customers?

    If you want, share your ideas with us, and we can brainstorm further on them together.


  • http://nicolina.andall@gmail.com Nicola

    Hi there Adele – I loved your posting – one of the few that has inspired me to actually post!

    I’m a company commercial lawyer by training with many years working in private practice. I “sort of” escaped to become a freelancer – but am going through the famine/feast scenario that you mentioned! I’m currently waiting to go back on assignment – but my agency is being very tardy to say the least.

    I’ve taken the opportunity to totally reconnect with my mum an children – and it’s been fantastic. During this time – I’ve been helping a small group of children with their school work – tremendous results. It reminds me that I am very passionate about training and presenting in my corporate life. I love seeing that “lightbulb moment” when people suddenly “get it”. I’m also very good at writing (goes with the territory of practising law). I love interacting with people and helping people to solve problems.

    I’m also quite passionate about singing and playing piano.

    I love the idea of using my talents and skills to build a business so I can start living life “my way” …. But how? Help!

    • https://twitter.com/adelebarlow Adele

      Hi Nicola – thanks for posting :) Glad to hear you’ve taken the opp to reconnect with your family – when I was going through my ‘famine’ parts of the cycle, I got to spend way more time with my friends/family and other areas of my life, which, looking back, I wouldn’t trade for anything – there’s much more to life than work! Have you read the $100 startup? http://100startup.com/ — quite inspiring. I’ll let Vlad way in with specific advice, but checking out his free course may help too?!

    • http://10steps2.com/scalable-business/ Vlad

      Hi Nicola,

      So glad my post got you to post back! :-)

      I had a similar experience. The more flexible hours I spent starting my own business had a very positive impact on my relationship with my wife. Especially the time we spent away workationing.

      You have really interesting combination of skills, and I can imagine several ways in which you could turn those into a business that brings you fulfillment freedom.

      You know, it’s difficult to do it like this, over the wire. If you want, I could fire up my Skype, and we could just a couple of minutes brainstorming together.

      What do you say?

      Just mail me at vlad@10steps2.com

      Best to you and your family

  • http://nicolina.andall@gmail.com Nicola

    Hi there Adele / Vlad

    Thanks for your responses! You’re right – I wouldn’t trade this time for ANYTHING …. It’s fantastic…. The only thing that would make it better is coming up with a business idea! Very happy to connect with you both offline to investigate further!

    Thank you!


    • Adele

      You’re welcome Nicola! Best place is to catch me is at Esc events… hope to see you at one of them soon :)