Surviving and thriving "Off The Grid"

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Ever since I was 14 or 15 years old, I desired to live “off the grid”.

This didn’t mean living in Montana and growing my own food. It meant becoming independent of the corporate suit-and-tie world and not living under somebody’s thumb.

My dad lived his life under somebody’s thumb and for example one time he was “forced to resign.”

(Don’t you think sometimes there’s more dignity in being outright FIRED, than pretending, for the sake of appearance, to go along with somebody’s decision to throw you under the bus?)

“Off the Grid” was already the direction I was headed at age 17, when I met Dr. Lee. I already had a business building and selling stereo equipment and was pursing that with passion and vision.

My first business mentor, Dr. Sang Lee

My first business mentor: College prof & Management consultant Dr. Sang Lee

Dr. Lee was a friend of the family and he was the highest-paid faculty member at the university. He was author of 20+ books, a conference speaker and an internationally known management consultant. His modest luxury contrasted sharply with our own frugality.

One night he bought me and my brother a Coke and told us his story. He’d grown up in the Korean war and was reduced to stealing vegetables to feed his brothers and sisters. Once in desperation, he prayed, “God if you get me out of this mess I’ll work harder than anybody.”

Work hard he did. He came to the US, got his Ph.D. and rose quickly through the ranks of academia. Now in his early 40’s he was the chairman of the management department at the University of Nebraska and he charged $3,000 to $5,000 per day for consulting.

(Remember, this was in 1986, when $5,000 a day was real money.)

He said, “People ask me, why do you charge that much money for consulting? Well it’s not for money, it’s for respect. When a CEO is paying you five thousand dollars a day to tell him what’s wrong with his company, then when you sit down and tell him, he takes NOTES.”

I’m writing that one down. Thank you for that bit if insight, Dr. Lee.

He advised me: “Perry, you should go to college. Someday you might decide building speakers is for high school kids and you might want to do something else.”

This was the first time I had ever seen hard work as something pleasurable and rewarding. For the first time I saw it was possible to work hard and GET AHEAD. That hard work could earn you wide respect and a sense of accomplishment. That work is not a necessary evil but something that can be genuinely rewarding and engaging.

A major, major shift in my thinking.

His talk about taking academia seriously struck home too. It’s one of the reasons I pursued an engineering degree, something I’ve always been thankful for.

The academic grid was a soul-less grind. I liked the *idea* of a university but I didn’t like the university itself. The 23 hours of calculus and advanced math was a bitch. In my engineering classes I was a B and C student.

I would always think of that proverb that goes, “The A students become professors and the B students work for the C students…

“…then eventually one of the C students donates the money for a performing arts center.”

I always felt myself being beckoned to leave the grid and go to that entrepreneurial version of growing your own food in Montana. Some people are just blessed [cursed] with independent spirits. Some of us just can’t slide into the boring routine.

That conversation with Dr. Lee on a Friday night was profoundly influential. Today I’m an “off the grid” college professor of sorts. A college professor for ragtag entrepreneurs and corporate rejects, one who almost never wears a suit and who lives on a different grid, the Internet.

Where the geeks, freaks and misfits congregate.

Congratulations, if you’re still reading, you’re probably one of us.

On the grid, your education comes from institutions and such. But seasoned entrepreneurs know that MBA’s are, for the most part, permanently damaged and unable to compete with us street fighters. Mercifully, there are exceptions, but the typical MBA is a domesticated animal.  An obedient machine destined for the corporate world.

"What should I do next to grow my business this year?" Take my 2-minute quiz and I'll show you where you'll get the most bang for your buck.

Off the grid, your education can come only from other entrepreneurs, and the school of hard knocks. Class takes place on the street and in informal mentorship, coaching and peer advisory groups who meet in shorts and flipflops in undisclosed locations.

People ask you what you do for a living and you don’t really have an explanation that is readily understood. “I sell stuff on the Internet” will have to suffice. Normally it’s so wonky or specialized that it’s not part of everyday lingo.

In the education department, Books, newsletters, CD’s, online discussion boards and the occasional seminar were enough to wrest me free of the Dilbert Cube.

But once I was out I needed much more than that in order to survive and thrive. Because the irony of this game is this:

1) There are no secrets. At least 98% of you might want to know about marketing and business success is out there on the Internet. Much of this information is free. That’s the YIN.

2) But there is a YANG. The yang is, knowing which of the free advice is good and which is bad, and which applies to you, is a steep challenge.

Case in point: Your email is flooded with perhaps reasonably good advice from all kinds of people.

But only 1% of it applies to you RIGHT NOW.

50% of it, good as it is, is a VERY bad idea, right now.

Most people apply the right advice at the wrong time and spend the rest of their life and their life savings going around in circles.

I don’t know about you, but I’m too risk averse for that.

The Secret Societies and the closed-door coaching sessions are mostly about identifying which of the 743 good ideas is the BEST one to execute, right now.

Which is why, since I left the Dilbert Cube in 2001, I have never spent less than $10,000 a year on education. Some years, double or triple that. Before that it was more like $1,000 a year.

I wouldn’t be caught dead NOT being a member of a private, peer-to-peer coaching group.

Sometimes it’s possible to form these for free. However the quality of the membership and the advice you’re getting from the other members is always in question.

If you spend $14,000 a year to be a member of something like my own Roundtable group, what you’re paying for is 1) knowing that the other members are HIGH quality and meet significant qualifications, and 2) having a group leader who undoubtedly has his head screwed on straight.

Butter does not sharpen iron. Iron sharpens iron.

I would credit my own post-Dilbert cube trajectory to having made very, very few significant mis-steps. Because whenever I had a major decision to make, I earnestly sought advice. If I was launching a new campaign or working through problems with a client, I always made sure I obtained the best advice money can buy.

There is a LOT of foolishness out there. I pay attention to very, very few people. I take advice from very few people. For example, on Twitter I’m considered a “Twitter Snob.” I’ve got 2814 followers and I’m only following 24.

In the Twitterverse, that’s an unthinkable ratio.

(For now. A significant percentage of people on Twitter really do have something useful to say. That will change as Twitter grows….)

I’m just taking 80/20 seriously. 80/20 says, 50% of your best results come from 1% of your available choices. That, my friend, is a mathematical fact. It’s as unchangeable as gravity.

Success is mostly a matter of sidestepping the foolish decisions. Foolish decisions set you back; wise ones move you forward. The difference between backwards and forwards acceleration is huge.

Our next Roundtable meeting is mid-May in Chicago and the entrance ramp to Roundtable is the 2-day, 4-man intensive. Next one is April 29-30. I have two seats left. Find out more and apply here:

Perry Marshall

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About the Author

Perry Marshall has launched two revolutions in sales and marketing. In Pay-Per-Click advertising, he pioneered best practices and wrote the world's best selling book on Google advertising. And he's driven the 80/20 Principle deeper than any other author, creating a new movement in business.

He is referenced across the Internet and by Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, INC and Forbes Magazine.

2 Comments on “Surviving and thriving "Off The Grid"”

  1. Dr. Sang Lee seems like a very inspirational person, thinking that he would be charging 3-5 grand over 2 decades ago for consulting. I am pursuing my degree in computer science now and hopefully one day I will be able to make just a fraction of that amount, I would be happy with that. :)

  2. Perry,

    You are RIGHT ON with this post. I taught in the academic world for over ten years and thought as I was teaching that college was one of the biggest rip-offs ever, unless you wanted to work in a profession that you absolutely needed that college degree to get a job and get ahead.

    Over the past few years, I have been making more and more money online. I’m very picky about the information I pay for and have found that if I pick and choose the free information for what I need at the moment, I actually get a better education than if I paid for it. That said, I have gotten some of the best information from what I have paid for, and that includes the Adwords ebooks I’ve bought from you.

    As for your Twitter remark, I’m a snob too. I have better things to do than read tweets all day long and get nothing else done. My time is money in the bank… I love people that that tweet with information that I can use and viewpoints that tax my brain. The few that I follow meet those guidelines.

    Jim Bruce
    Ristvin Marketing

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