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This guy wants to earn $2100 online. Here’s what I told him…

Last week I received the following message from Bernard (not his real name), in response to one of my emails about working online (emphasis mine):

I’m a 25 year old Irish medical student who got offered a 3 week placement world’s leading Emergency Department in Cape Town South Africa. Sounds great but I’ve 8 months [to] raise $2100 to grab this opportunity by the balls. I’ve a degree in Psychology and i’m 75% a doctor with the audacity and personality to seize whatever opportunity comes my way.

What kind of online business would you recommend Bernard start building so he can earn that $2100 as fast as possible?

Here’s what I told him:

You said you have 8 months to earn the $2k.

Honestly, with that much time I’d say just get a decent offline job working evenings and weekends, preferably one where you can learn some online skills as you go. That way you’d have a steady income and you’d be building some skills you could use later for an online business if you wanted to.

You could easily enough make $2k in 8 month online as well, but only try that if you’re really eager to build an online business.

I wanted to share this with you because although I write a lot about building an online business and encourage lots of people to do so, it’s not the right path for everyone.

In fact, here are 2 good reasons why you should forget about starting an online business and go get a regular job (or keep your current one) instead.

1. To Earn

If you’re broke, get a job.

Pretty much any job will do at first, since for some magical reason it’s easier to find another job when you already have one.

Work the window at McDonalds if that’s what it takes to start putting some money in your bank account.

Work hard, display initiative, see if you can rise through the ranks and up your payscale. Don’t just punch in and go through the motions. If you’re going to be there anyway, you might as well make the most of it.

Some people subscribe to the idea that you work better when your back is against the wall, so being broke can help you be more creative and give you that extra dose of determination required to make your own business succeed.

No doubt that works for some people, but for most of us a much better plan is to get yourself a regular paycheck, pay off your debt, and save up 3-6 months of living expenses.

Once you get to that point, you’ll be free of financial stress and you can figure out ways to free up some time to work on your own thing.

2. To Learn

Years ago I stumbled across a blog of some dude – let’s call him Harry – who was learning how to climb.

His self-assigned mission was to go from zero to hero on the rock wall in just a few short months.

With such an ambitious goal, Harry got busy brainstorming ways he could hack his environment to make success more attainable.

Here’s what he came up with:

“I concluded that the best way for all of these goals to manifest, would be to get a job over the winter at a rock climbing centre.”

This struck me as somewhat genius.

Perhaps the only “better” way for Harry to reach his goals would have been to spend a ton of money on a personal rock climbing coach and gym fees.

But by getting a job at a rock climbing centre (which he did), Harry not only managed to flip the financial part of the equation, but he also surrounded himself with a bunch of rock climbing experts and gave himself almost limitless opportunities to practice.

With that in mind, it’s worth taking a minute to ask yourself:

What do I want to learn?
What do I want to get better at?


  • Get a job as a salesperson or assisting one.


  • Get a job at a gym.

Auto repair?

  • Ask if they need any help down at the local auto shop.


  • Get a job as a farm hand and learn to grow your own food.

Get in, work hard, learn what you want to learn, get out.

Again, I know this might seem contrary to all my usual advice about building an online business and why that’s a great thing to do.

But regular employment isn’t always a bad thing.

9-to-5 isn’t the enemy.

You just want to avoid working endlessly at a job that gets you nowhere (or a job you hate).

Because we’ve only got so much time on this rock.

Best not waste it.

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  1. This is so true! I love this “Get in, work hard, learn what you want to learn, get out.” 10+ years ago I dreamed of living in a monastery or temple, but i’m being questioned: “So, who is going to support you? How would you make a living? You still need to eat.” So I thought of working my ass off working a 9-5 job and save as much monies as possible so i could try to retire early as i age, and then i could do meditation retreats in a temple without having to worry about my financial stability. Today, i work a day job in temples and found a meaningful way to use my talents! I do not have to sign attendance or punch cards to announce to my boss i’ve reported for work (freedom! I’m in the right place). I am allowed to do walking meditation and sitting meditation any time i wish to without it interfering with my work, i get to meet interesting and challenging people from all societies and industries; I knew i was here for a reason, to meet and interact with people, to design solutions to tackle difficult people coming in and out of the temple, at times it really tested my patience and in the process i may grow. In addition, I sketch and doodle at random in the temple (you can view the sketches on my blog), i’m integrating my dream lifestyle with my work, and i’m still opened to what will happen next as i still let room to not knowing. Keep going for your dreams and passion. Don’t give up. Nothing would be out of reach if you are determined enough to pursue it. 🙂 ~ Girl Who Sketches From Temples – I Pray, I Work, I Draw

  2. Niall, I really endorse the idea that people should get a job that will enable them to learn something new and benefit from over the long run. Even if your work is not very enjoyable, or is stressful,as long as it allows you to learn new skills that can be applied to future and better opportunities it will be worth it. Learning skills that will enable one to develop sources of income that lead to independence will even better. Without this learning factor and independence goal, most jobs are likely to lead to dead-ends and boredom, and a feeling of being unfulfilled.

    Thanks for the article.

  3. Hey Niall,

    Your post resonated with me.

    I went full time internet marketer in 2009.

    Things were a little rocky and eventually I had to go back to work, as an IT contractor.

    I was dreading it but, you know what, it gave me a foot in the real world again.

    I’m current again in the regular job market so I can get contract work easily again, but that’s not really the biggest benefit.

    The biggest benefit was what I learned about myself. I really thrived back in a social atmosphere again. I had forgotten that I was actually bloody good in the work place and all my managers loved me.

    There were still negatives too. But all in all, though I’m working on my IM again and taking time out of the job market for a short while, I see myself returning.

    A lot of entrepreneurs love to bad-mouth the world of work. It ain’t THAT bad. It has many positives that a great many entrepreneurs aren’t willing to admit, lest it hurt their ego.

    So why not enjoy the best of both worlds?

  4. Indeed, 2 very valid reasons to get a job. Anyway the article still leaves an open question: what do you do if you have savings to get by (without having to work)? Should you stick with the fixed income provided by the job or should you experiment with alternative (more freedom-oriented) money-making activities? 🙂

    1. If you’re not learning much in the job, I’d recommend breaking free to experiment with alternative money-making activities. If you don’t need the earnings and you’re not learning, the job is pretty worthless.

  5. I agree with you. I’ve been unemployed for a year ever since having quit my nightmare of a job doing social work. At first, the freedom from work obligations felt amazing!! I went on multiple solo road trips funded through meager savings. Unfortunately, fast forward 12 months later and I’m miserable again. This time it’s a misery caused by the lack of a purpose in life. I’ve also become extremely isolated since everyone I know is either working or preoccupied with significant others. It sucks feeling so needy and lonely! I’ve been trying to meet new people by joining meetup.com, but it always feels like shit whenever someone new asks me, “so what do you do?”, and I can’t come up with anything without feeling like a liar or a pathetic waste of life.

    So yup, you are quite right. It’s time to get a job. Any job will do.

  6. It so happens you always right whats happening next to me. Its some kind of telepathic skills man :)..

    I have my final round interview on Monday.
    Finally moving from freelancer to a regular 9-5 job. Just looking forward to crack the interview and get into the new world.

  7. It’s interesting to see your pragmatic nature continue to grow in the past few months Niall. It is keeping readers like me intrigued and coming back. The job thing is very important to learn from and once you accumulate a good amount of savings then decide where to go from there.

  8. I couldn’t agree more Niall. I have worked for small businesses for years and now I work for a multi-billion dollar corporation and it has been a fantastic learning experience seeing how a big business has become so big and why certain small businesses haven’t grown at all. It’s so cool to see both worlds.

    Now I can use the many years of sales training to begin taking folks on guided rock climbing trips in the Zagros mountains 🙂

      1. The misses and I are working towards it. We cannot wait to leave Orlando, Florida for the mountains 🙂

        I’ll shoot you an e-mail sometime this week.

  9. Over the past few years there has been much made of walking out of the office, breaking out of the cubicle cage, stick it to the man, down with the system, etc. I understand the need for change if you are in a job doing something you don’t have passion for, or are in a toxic work environment… but for many things, working collaboratively in a structured environment where experienced persons mingle with inexperienced persons can be freakin’ awesome!

    Personally, I can’t imagine doing real, meaningful and sustainable public health work on my own, from my home. In my current job I have already learned so much from the conversations that happen after meetings, and the opportunities I am invited to experience simply because I am in the department with people doing incredible work in community health programs. Yes, my ‘office’ is a desk in the copy room, I punch a time-card and get paid crap, but that is not important. What matters is I love my job, and I think other people could benefit from searching for a job they love, instead of walking away from formal employment all together.

  10. I, too, just had a the realization that jobs are not really the enemy. I’d squawk about how getting a job would be bowing down to authority, giving up on my personal endeavors or dreams. But that’s not the case. Point: one can’t support themselves without some income, and while I don’t like the monetary system, it’s not something that’s going to change over night. It’s just how the world – more or less – works at this time.

    More recently, I got a job at a Gamestop. It’s retail, so there’s times where selling stuff is necessary. However, I always saw it as trying to get over on the customer and make more money. Not my thing, so I rejected the thought of learning sales. But upon some reflection, I realized that ‘hey, I’m here, why not learn it instead of rejecting it. It’s not going to turn me into some money grubbing jerk, and the experience may help me down the road’. It’s also a new way of dealing with people, which I love to do.

    In a way, it’s easing for an entrepreneur such as yourself to make a statement like this about jobs. Personally, it lets me know that I’m not giving up or giving into the system, which I’ve felt like I’ve done lately. So, Niall, Thank you for posting this.

    1. Thanks for reading, Andrew. I wish I’d developed the same attitude as you while at some of my past jobs. So many opportunities missed out on because I was scared to try sell and push myself out of my comfort zone.

      But hey, still plenty of time for me to learn those things 😉

      To address your last point, I think the key with having a job is to recognize that point we cross when we’re no longer staying in it for the learning or earning, but out of habit and convenience. That can be the tricky bit, recognizing that transition and forcing ourselves to make the right changes.

  11. I was unhappy with working as an assistant in a financial office when I “interviewed” at a ballroom dance studio. Basically, if you don’t struggle to learn material and you can communicate kindly and clearly you are welcomed to come back to continue learning. You are expected to learn about 6-10 patterns in about 8 dances as both the lead and the follow within a month. At that time you will be given the new students to engage them and sell them a long term program. This is a crash course for sure! I learned a lot about selling in this position. Especially about disarming the person by counteracting their “nos” before asking them for a yes. I also lost about 15 lbs in the first month and continued to become very lean. That hard to tighten area under your upper arms trimmed up quick! I was so drawn to dancing because I immediately felt challenged and goals or milestones became clear and measurable. The clients were of such varied backgrounds that I gleaned valuable life lessons from our conversations that would have been unlikely for me to obtain otherwise. Their perspectives and experience inspired me to see myself and my potential differently and often, I too inspired them in life altering ways.

    If you are out of work, working part time or are retired, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you going to your nearest franchised ballroom to see about employment with free training. You are free to decide teaching is not for you at any time. You can walk away with a better education than the students in a fraction of the time. Don’t forget the weight loss and improvement in agility and balance! All free! With the exception of shoes ($50-$150).

    1. Wow, never would have thought that ballroom dancing could lead to so much goodness. Sounds like the program you joined up to was really well organized, Christy. More power to ya!

  12. I think this is a great post. There tends to be a lot of anti-job sentiment in the lifestyle business community which can come across as preachy and pretentious in my view.

    I like how you’ve shown that there are better ways to look at a job than it being some miserable task.

  13. Yes to this post! I would also like to add that while it might be possible to learn certain skills without a job, it is hard to beat the efficiency of being taught by people who already have the skills and in an environment where you have to practice using them all the time. When I’ve tried to learn things I’ve had no idea how to do without a job, I have ended up spending either a lot of time or a lot of money (or both) in trial-and-error situations that often ended up going badly. Learning something in a job environment allows you to avoid that to some extent because you can ask the experts questions without having to pay them! As 9 to 5 can be frustrating, but it is not the enemy.

    1. Very true, Jennie. I think about my efforts to learn rock climbing versus those of Harry Cloudfoot mentioned in the article. I’m trying to figure it all out on my own because I can’t afford to invest in a coach, while he’s learning from pros every day simply by working alongside them.

  14. Definitely agree with you. In fact, I strongly encourage my clients who want to start their own business in a new field to get a job in that field first. Starting ANY business involves a steep learning curve. Always a good idea to start with some knowledge of your industry and the stuff no one tells the outsiders! But I also like your idea simply for skill building. With the right strategy, you can see how someone could turn “job hopping” into “brilliant”.

    Great post, Niall!

  15. I completely agree with you, Niall. I recently worked as a street fundraiser more for the social immersion of the coldest sales environment I could think of (and get a job in, without any previous experience).

    I definitely expanded my social capabilities and learned to become completely comfortable approaching strangers and asking for their time and money (for the charitable cause I represented). As you put it, I was able to turn the financial tables on learning some pretty advantageous social skills and attitudes.

    I definitely learned a lot from my time there and then one day I decided that I had learned enough and that I didn’t need to stay anymore.

    Great points in this blog Niall!


    1. Love that, Frank. Fair play to you for getting out there and doing those kinds of cold approaches. I can only imagine how challenging (and rewarding!) that must be.

  16. Hey Niall,

    I couldn’t agree more. I have spent the last few years avoiding a job, trying to justify that I needed the time to study. The reality is, in the last few weeks I’ve gotten way more done while working at a local italian restaurant and I’m learning loads there too. The owners take real pride in their place and I’m real proud to work there, I’ve already learned so much about running a business gotten a glimpse of the time, effort and care it takes to really provide a service that you believe in, and that can make money too. I eventually want to open my own social enterprise type place that works towards helping people make the rite of passage to a life that they enjoy, while doing their bit to make a positive impact in their community whatever that might mean to them. Working in this place has already shown me some great skills that I can easily transfer. Before, I would have waited and started my own thing, but now, I realise that this will help me get there, and its enjoyable work too, with a young vibrant staff and cool atmosphere.

    Thanks for the post,

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