For too long, and for too many, the gruelling nine till five has been de-rigueur. We all have saleable skills – that’s why we are able to find employment – but we often choose to stay in jobs we dislike rather than daring to break free and go it alone. For more than a decade, John Williams, the best-selling author and founder of The Ideas Lab, has been helping thousands of individuals to escape the nine to five and set up their own businesses, getting “paid to play” as he calls it.His new book, ‘F**k Work, Let’s Play: Do What You Love and Get Paid For It’, provides the definitive guide to launching your own successful enterprise and reaping the rewards this brings. By Timothy Arden
It’s a new year and the time when we all look to what the future will bring. For many of us, however, the prospect of remaining in our current day jobs for another 12 months won’t fill us with much enthusiasm, for numerous possible reasons.
Perhaps you feel like you’re in a rut, or that you simply dislike where you are now. You may have come to realise that you’re wasting your talents working for someone else when you could, instead, be doing something more creative and fulfilling, on your own terms and with the real potential of significantly increased earning power.
In reality, most people live like this, wanting to set up their own freelance business or consultancy but, at the same time, being too scared or too unsure of how to go about it.
If one thing 2020 taught us, with the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, is that life’s too short to waste on things that don’t truly matter to us.
It has also exploded the myth that work has to revolve around an office. Millions of professionals were forced to work from home for the majority of the year and quickly came to realise that remote working is just as effective, if not better, than being chained to a desk.
For these reasons, it can well be argued that Covid has only accelerated the desire for those with the skills to become their own boss. Now all they need is the know-how about how to turn that long-held dream to reality, and that is where bestselling author John Williams comes in.
His new book, ‘F**k Work, Let’s Play: Do What You Love and Get Paid For It’, was penned just as the pandemic began to hit, and is underpinned by a motivational urgency that grabs readers by the horns and reveals what needs to be done to establish a profitable, sustainable future for their own ventures.
It is accessible to all, but will be of the most value to those who have marketable and specialist skills that others are willing to pay for, such as management consultants, legal professionals, IT specialists, computer programmers, therapists and counsellors, NHS doctors, accountants and so on.
These readers may still be in employment but are determined to free themselves, or they may already be self-employed and are now wondering how to scale their business.
In either case, the core advice that Williams offers in the book remains the same: package your knowledge, skills and expertise to create a unique business and brand that both you, and your intended customers, will love.
Through his company The Ideas Lab, providing consultancy and online courses, Williams has helped thousands of individuals over the last 15 years transition from employee to SME owner.
As part this, he runs a three-month online ‘Pioneer Programme’ which assists in identifying the particular areas of their expertise and experience that they can convert and scale into a stand-out business.
Williams previously drew upon this for his bestselling book, ‘Screw Work, Let’s Play’, released in 2010 and which has since been translated into 10 languages. Something of a cult hit, it focused on how people could incorporate creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship into their lives and succeed in their goals.
It was, in a sense, a visionary book as Williams – who himself quit his day job as the head of a media technology consultancy team at international financial firm Deloitte to go freelance – foresaw multiple factors converging to change the world of work forever: automation, outsourcing, the global marketplace for skills, and the explosion of free and affordable online marketing tools.
A decade on, those factors are all now fully established, providing individuals with a cornucopia of additional resources at their disposal if they are prepared to commit to their ambitions, and few valid excuses not too.
As Williams confidently states, “We have a hundred times the opportunities now for making a living doing something we love.”
The new title – published, as with its predecessor, through Pearson Business – is fully updated and expanded with a wealth of both fresh and tried-and-tested advice based on his experiences and insights, as well a host of inspirational entrepreneurial case studies to see how winning ideas have been put into practice, transforming “playful, quirky projects” into “incredibly cool international businesses”.
The main body of the book is arranged as ‘10 secrets’ to doing what you love and getting paid for doing it. They are laid out sequentially, to take the reader from a starting point of having no idea about what they would enjoy doing as a living – ‘Secret one: How to work out what you really really want’ – to identifying what a “rich life” means to them, be it financial wealth, greater freedom to travel or relax, or even changing the world depending on their ambitions, as encapsulated in secret 10, ‘How to play your way to the rich life’.
While it may sound slightly fanciful, ‘F**k Work, Let’s Play’ is pragmatic and practical through and through. Williams does not believe in simply doing what you love and hoping the money comes. Many people, for instance, love playing a musical instrument or pottering in a shed, but it’s highly unlikely that you could make a living off of it.
One of the core concepts is to focus on the “sweet spot” between what you love doing and what people actually need, and are therefore happy to pay for (‘Secret two: How to choose what to do next’), how to fully exploit digital marketing and social media to bring your business to the attention of customers (‘Secret six: How to play the fame game and win’) and how to win that first “play cheque” for your new business while still in the security of employment (‘Secret eight: How to win your first play cheque’).
Along the way there are lots of extra tips to learn and benefit from, including ‘The 21 myths of work’ that have been handed down from our parents and grandparents, and which we need to give up in today’s work environment in order to have a great life.
As mentioned, Williams wrote the book just as the world was waking up to Covid and, as such, F**k Work, Let’s Play also considers how to succeed in the current global economic climate.
Far from being a reason to put ambitions on ice until a degree of normality returns, the author actually thinks it can work in our favour. As he notes, “More people became millionaires in the Great Depression than in any other time in American history because start-up costs are so much lower in a depression.”
So, if you honestly wish to cut the apron strings and set out on your own entrepreneurial journey, then there’s nothing preventing you, except yourself.
As Williams compellingly frames it, those who find the courage to do so “are part of a growing tribe around the world who are not content just to make a wage to pay the rent, but want their lives to be about something larger.”
This book shows exactly how to do it, so if you yearn to join the self-employed revolution and become something larger than you are now then you’d be well-advised to pick up F**k Work, Let’s Play and make 2021 the year that this bold declaration becomes reality.
John Williams is author of F**k Work, Let’s Play: Do What You Love and Get Paid For It, published by Pearson Business and described by The Sunday Times as “A compelling 10-step escape from corporate life that could spell a rash of resignation letters.” It is out now on Amazon, in paperback and eBook formats. Ten percent of book royalties benefit War Child UK. There is also a free ‘F**k Work Let’s Play’ Facebook group that people can join, and a free ‘5-Day Standout Business Challenge’ to participate in. Find out more at www.fworkletsplay.com.
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE IDEAS LAB FOUNDER, JOHN WILLIAMS
We speak to bestselling author and The Ideas Lab founder John Williams about what it takes to launch your own business, the common pitfalls to avoid, and why now is the perfect time to get going.
1. Many people consider launching a new business to be risky. What essential steps should someone follow before quitting their day job?
A. I would encourage you to prove your business is going to work before you quit your job. That is as simple as winning your first clients or customers. It’s usually possible to do this without risking any significant expense and you don’t even need a fancy website. Once people have paid you money several times it means you have found ‘product/market fit’, as it is called in the start-up world. That means finding a way to take the things you enjoy doing and packaging them into something people are happy to pay for. After that, everything comes down to standard marketing practices to grow the business.
2. You have helped thousands of people break away from the rat race to launch their own successful businesses. What success stories have touched you the most?
A. I love to see my clients escaping jobs and dead-end freelance careers to create a unique business that has real meaning to them – whether it’s Jody Day creating a global support network for childless women, Saskia Nelson saving the dating world from terrible dating profile photos, or Rick Spruyt connecting people in his industry all around the world and creating a seven-figure business in the process.
3. Some people who go self-employed do very well but others find themselves underearning and unable to afford time off for holidays. What is it that makes the difference?
A. Too often, beginning freelancers and consultants market themselves in very broad terms, saying they can help anyone do anything. But when you do this, you get thrown in with everyone else in your field and become commoditised. That means you are forced to drop your price to win work.
Instead, ‘superniche’ to focus on one thing you are really great at, or one particular kind of person or business you help. People pay more for specialists. If what you’re offering is your own knowledge and expertise, you will win more work at a higher price if you create a specific package, solution, course or consulting programme that addresses one particular problem people are experiencing. I love helping people to do this because the effect on their business is so remarkable.
4. In light of advancements in technology and recent crises such as the Covid pandemic, what do you predict as the future of work?
A. I have seen more interest than ever this year in what I do and I think the pandemic has been a big part of it. Some people have, unfortunately, been forced to rethink their work; some have discovered they can work from home and realised that, perhaps, they could go one step further and work for themselves. And many of us have taken the shock of what’s happened this year as the impetus to explore work that has more meaning to us.
On top of this, we have more online tools available to us than ever that we can use to create and promote our own businesses. So there has never been a better time to launch your own thing.
5. Some people have the talent to start their own business but nevertheless remain with their employer until the day they retire. Why do you think this is, and what would you say to them?
A. Some simply prefer employment. They just want to turn up, do their work and not take on any of the other aspects of running a business or marketing themselves. But for those that crave freedom, autonomy, and creativity, self-employment is a far better option. The problem is that, too often, they are taken in by the myths around it: that it is riskier, that they need lot of money to get started, or that they need to quit their job before they can start. That’s why I challenge the 21 most common myths of work in my new book, F**k Work Let’s Play.
6. How would you advise someone who has a skilled job but doesn’t know what they want to do for their own business?
A. The best way to find out what you would enjoy as a business is to try it. Conduct what I call ‘play projects’ – short projects where you focus on one thing for, say, 30 days and dive into it. This means not sitting and Googling the topic, or building a website for your future business. It means actually doing the work you enjoy. Find your first client, even if it’s for free or at reduced cost. Run your first event. Create your first commission. You will learn much more about where to focus in the doing of it than you ever will sitting around and thinking. It’s more fun, too.
7. If you could offer one piece of advice to a new business to bring in more customers, what would it be?
A. I believe that you shouldn’t just create a business you enjoy but also find a way to market it that you enjoy too. Some people like the technical side of complex online advertising campaigns, others like public speaking or appearing on podcasts and in the media. Find a method you enjoy and you will do more of it!
8. You quit a lucrative job at Deloitte, declaring you never wanted to work another day in your life. What prompted this, and do you have any regrets?
A. At this point I could never go back to a job. I’m basically unemployable and I’m fine with that! Once you learn how to make a living without a job, you realise that even if one business were to fail, you can always create another one. My only regret is that I didn’t learn all the business and marketing skills from a coach or mentor earlier on, because it was when I finally worked with someone more experienced than me that my business really took off.
9. What gave you the idea for launching The Ideas Lab, and what are you most proud of with this business?
A. I have always loved new ideas and have spent my entire career in innovation of one kind or another so it’s a real joy to be spend every day helping people find the unique angle on what they do that makes them stand out. My biggest pleasure is seeing clients end up with a successful business that only they could have created.
10. What can people expect if they enrol on your Pioneer Programme?
A. You’ll discover that 90 per cent of what most beginning entrepreneurs spend their time on is a waste of time and energy (and what you should really be focussing on), and that if you have some real knowledge and skills – and dare to stand out – you can charge two times, four times, or more compared to others in your field. You might also discover that what you think of as a weakness could be your greatest asset in business and a key point of differentiation when it’s used in the right way.