- From Brisbane, Australia
International Business Advisor, Speaker & Author at JacobAldridge.com
- Business Model: Freelance
- $14,000+monthly revenue
- $10,000+monthly profit
- All info self-reported by interviewee
- Published February 6, 2020
- Reviewed and edited by Rita Epps
Who are you and how do you make money online?
I’m Jacob Aldridge. I’m an international business advisor, keynote speaker, Guinness World Record holder, published author, TV show host, start-up investor, loving father, and an amazing husband.
Crunch Accounting in the UK called me “the ultimate remote worker”. I’m also really modest.
My primary income is Business Coaching & Advisory.
I work directly with business owners, usually 1-on-1 via Zoom, when they find themselves stuck and need a trusted advisor who understands all the different aspects of the business (Wealth, Growth, Revenue, Productivity) in a practical way.
My business model isn’t unique, but in a world where the average business coach lasts less than three years…
…I’ve been doing this successfully since 2006 and actually still work with my first ever client.
So I practice what I preach, including having my own coach, and offer clients a comprehensive business methodology from Start-Up to Sell-Up.
Last year I earned just over $200,000 AUS, which is all Gross Profit and works out at about $10,000 per month after expenses and taxes.
That was working part-time because we had our first baby and visited 21 different countries.
(All the figures I’m sharing are in Australian Dollars, since that’s where I pay my taxes. It basically converts 1:1 into US Dollars – the exchange rate is weak right now, but when I’ve worked in the US or with US peers we charge the same number of USD as we do AUD and the market accepts that.)
What does a typical workday look like for you?
My business is online, and our lifestyle is semi-nomadic (we’re working on that).
Most of my dollar-productive activity is in face-to-face conversations with my clients. These are usually done through Zoom wherever I am in the world.
I also aim to spend some time each year near my larger clients in Australia and the UK so they receive some in-person love. And I speak at many conferences each year, so my income isn’t totally online (but could be).
I like to book my client sessions in the mornings. I’m a slow-paced “Maker”, so afternoon meetings mess with my energy.
I’ll either have meetings all day, or aim to have them only before lunchtime. Time-zones mess with this, as I have clients around the world so often end up with early evening calls as well.
I love working evenings, but on my more creative endeavors – whether that’s writing blogs or preparing strategic recommendations.
Afternoons are for Admin or Business Development activity.
I aim to keep a few days every month clear from any phone calls so I can work on my strategic priorities.
Lately, that’s been finalizing The Start-up Business Guide which went on sale this January.
Next week I do the test recordings for a co-hosted podcast on experiencing IVF from the man’s side.
Before I went location-independent, my average client was larger and I would normally spend a half-day or a full-day in their office, designing strategy with the leadership team.
That’s hard to do remotely, so now most of my clients are 1-on-1 or 1-on-2 with the business owners, CEO, or key individuals. Less contact = smaller fees = more clients, or at least more meetings each month.
It’s not ideal for me, but it’s a trade-off for the travel.
The biggest shift in the past year hasn’t been truly taking the business “on the road” to try the Digital Nomad life…it was welcoming our first child.
And to be honest, I’m still learning the new routines and how work will fit into the new normal. For instance, a lot of my ‘Afternoon’ tasks have been shifted to ‘After Bed’ tasks, which probably isn’t sustainable.
There’s no doubt I would be earning more money if I was based in one location.
Some clients want me in-person only, and some services I offer – like the leadership teamwork or off-site Retreat facilitation – can’t be done properly online.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea for your business?
I fell into business coaching by accident, and I am still surprised it worked out so well.
Even though my business today is an evolution of the one I started in 2006, it helps to think about them as two separate enterprises: before I went online, and the current business.
The first business is where I learned my business skills.
After university, I struggled to find a decent job.
Mostly because I was a deep generalist with no desire (or need) to focus on one industry or career.
I landed a job as the State Operations Manager for a real estate franchise, because they needed someone with a broad range of experience across things like training, auditing, and IT.
That was the first time I had a job that had time out of the office, on the road – I was helping offices all over Queensland, which for context is the distance between London and Istanbul.
I really, really liked not having to clock into an office and sit at a desk all day.
But wearing a tie and earning not much – both sucked.
So I went looking for a similar career that paid a little better.
Luckily for me, I met some ‘business coaches’ who were expanding into Queensland and were willing to underwrite my business and training while I got started.
That was April 2006, although in many ways I didn’t take my business seriously until 2010 when my beautiful wife and I decided to move from Australia to London in the middle of the global financial crisis.
I arrived in London with limited savings or contacts…
…and had to get hustling in the Wintertime (there’s a longer story behind that!)
Making that situation work for us – both financially and for the travel lifestyle we wanted – wasn’t easy. I’m still really proud of how I dealt with that.
We returned to Australia at the end of 2012 to start a family. Little did we know that 6 years and 9 rounds of IVF were going to be required.
But as those years dragged on, the concept for our current business model – international business advisor, traveling the world working while also building wealth for our financial independence goals – began to form.
Travel is a huge focus for my family.
Living in Australia we were a long way from everywhere, so we decided to build a business that would allow us to base ourselves elsewhere for chunks of time.
We committed to this course with a new Business Vision and Strategy in January 2016, so when our daughter was born in March 2019 we were ready.
There were two key moments that helped us agree on a location-independent coaching business.
The first was sitting in Manarola, on Italy’s Cinque Terre, in 2012. We were halfway through a three-month holiday moving back to Australia, and I was going stir crazy not working.
I had to stop for a day and work on a business idea – just to stay sane.
We had a healthy conversation about how to combine our love of travel with my need to work…Seed planted!
The second key moment was about half-way through 2013. I was back home building my practice in Australia, and found that after the global financial crisis the market was flooded with “business coaches” – it had basically become a euphemism for “I got laid off by a bank and needed to do something”.
To help position myself above the fray, I retitled myself on LinkedIn as an “International Business Coach” (because I had worked in multiple countries by that point).
The very next day another coach I knew called me to ask if I could help him run some training programs with HSBC in Hong Kong.
How did you prepare to launch the business?
Launching the current online business was a gradual and deliberate process.
In 2017, one of my top business priorities was learning to coach through Zoom / Skype etc, and finding more remote clients who didn’t want or expect me to work with them in person.
Because I already had a long history of business coaching, the skills, profile, and networks already existed.
I just needed to re-position myself towards remote coaching…
…rather than the larger in-person projects.
Remote coaching differs from doing it in person, as it’s much harder to hold the energy of the room your client is in.
Pauses risk becoming distractions, and there’s always the temptation for the client to check some emails thinking I won’t notice.
I quickly realized that 1-on-1 or at most 2-3 clients on a call at once was the maximum that I could achieve in a coaching space, and that requests to work with a bigger group required a training solution.
I kept my prices high.
At first, it was a minimum of $800 for a monthly, two-hour coaching call.
Now I charge $1,000, with no ongoing commitments or lock-in contracts.
My coach for comparison, charges $1,200 with a minimum 12-month commitment (and is worth it).
Of course, I was flexible when it comes to enterprise-pricing, especially when it helped me build the story of working internationally and remotely.
So my largest (by headcount) client has me coaching about a dozen of their international leaders each month, directly or in small groups, and we do shorter sessions with them at a much lower per-person investment.
They were a great client when launching – it allowed me to legitimately say, ‘I’m currently working with clients in 5 different countries, and most Australian States’.
For a high-risk purchase like Business Coaching, experience brings credibility which makes the next client more confident to invest.
By mid-2019 I had wrapped up most of my local commitments in Australia.
There are definitely some teething issues still to overcome, but on July 25th that year I hopped on a plane to the USA and had 23 flights in the subsequent 20 weeks to really road test the new business.
And it worked!
How much money did you have to spend to get started?
Since it was an evolution of my existing business, startup costs were minimal. However, it’s worth breaking down some of the key investments:
- Laptop, Phone, etc. You don’t need to be state-of-the-art here. I’ll be replacing both of these this year and have budgeted around $1,000 for each because I want some specific video-editing capabilities.
- Training to be a Business Coach. The awesome Shirlaws induction program I did in 2006 is sadly no longer available. It took 18 months, included loads of time on the road – including time earning money working as a coach – and cost about $15,000. There are way cheaper courses, but most of them are on ‘how to be a coach’ not ‘how to start a successful coaching business’.
- Marketing. You don’t have to spend much on marketing, if you have an existing network to work with. This is where building the business before traveling the world or going exclusively online really helps.
From my experience coaching other coaches over the years: conversion rates from AdWords, buying mailing lists, cold calling and so on are fairly low. If the LifeTime Value (LTV) of a client is $10,000 – of course, they may pay off, but it’s a fine line between winning 1 client and winning 0 clients.
- Ongoing Coaching. I work as a coach because I know good coaching works, and it helps business owners. I’d be a hypocrite not to put my money where my mouth is.
Once you feel comfortably trained, go and find a coach you can afford – a rule of thumb is working with someone who charges 20% more than you do, though I also swap in specific coaches for areas I want to focus on.
- Software. I spend a little on things like Dropbox, Zoom, Private VPN, WordPress hosting, plus some one-off purchases (I invested in Camtasia a few years back; this week I subscribed to SalesQL to export all my LinkedIn Contacts’s email addresses). $100/month is a reasonable budget, but if you have more time than money you can get by on less.
- An Office. A good home office is great. When traveling, I pay extra for accommodation that has space for me to make coaching calls without disturbing the family.
It seems most co-working spaces are open plan, maybe have a small, uncomfortable space for quick phone calls, or offer private offices on larger membership fees (which works if you’re not nomadic). You can’t be a coach in an open plan environment.
Just make sure wherever you do the calls, it doesn’t look like an unmade bed – I’ve worked from courtyards in Paris, balconies over Lake Como, and squished into a spare bedroom in Salzburg. In every case, I did the legwork to find a spot where the background matched my fees.
The biggest expense is going to be time.
Especially time not earning as much money as you did before.
Coaching is a good career to start as a part-time side-hustle, as long as you put in the business development time – sales and marketing – every week.
Talk us through your first few months (or first year) in business.
I remember in my original business having a particularly bad day in early 2009, right when the global economy was bottoming out.
I had 5 sales meetings booked for that day…and every single one of them canceled.
At the time I was part of a national coaching group (I paid them a percentage of my income, and they provided a lot of Branding and Admin support) so I sent out a group email to the whole country sharing what had happened.
Over the rest of the afternoon, I received about a dozen replies all sending love and sharing what was going on for them. Why do I tell that story?
Business coaching is an emotionally intense career.
Owning a business is an emotional roller-coaster, and you’re not only riding that yourself, but you are also helping every one of your clients do the same.
You’re charging them for the privilege, so there are no “off days”, or more specifically, any off days you have can be quite expensive. I’ve fortunately only had two sick days that have impacted clients in the past five years, but each of them lost me $2,000 in revenue.
Some client sessions are intense, and you will be exhausted afterwards.
Early on, when you’re doing more sales activity than actual work, you’ll have super exciting wins and some super disappointing losses. Having an emotional support network is so helpful in this situation.
I’m fortunate to have my beautiful wife, who is an integral part of my business every day.
She’s able to take my daily download, let me shake it off, and not jump into any emotional palaver. Mentors or Buddies can play the same role.
Last year, truly leaning into the new remote business, also reinforced the importance of business development activity.
I had a clear three month lag between activity and revenue.
I sent a newsletter just before flying out in July, then did nothing…and sure enough, in October my revenue dropped from $16,500 to $6,800.
(We knew it was coming, and decided to accept the consequences to enjoy more time traveling as a new family. November was a big month of activity and that’s paid off in early 2020 with monthly income climbing back towards $20,000.)
You don’t have to work crazy hours, you just have to be focused and productive.
And if you are a digital nomad, work has to be one of your ‘big rocks’ – you’re working and traveling, not working if you have any time left over.
How did you make your first $100 online?
Way back in February 2010, we decided to move from Australia to London. To help with the transition, I went looking for client projects I could do in either country.
I landed two of them – doing all the marketing for an Australian coaching business, and helping a UK coaching business build their online product.
That was my first taste of having location independent online income – and I loved it.
Unfortunately, the great recession saw both companies contract.
The UK business actually shut down the project 3 days before we boarded a plane, so we left for London with zero income.
We learned from that experience when we started building this current business model.
More clients, and never stop doing the business development activity.
My first genuine “can you coach us remotely” client started in January 2018.
I had known that business since 2009, I actually flew myself to Sydney in 2017 to attend their internal conference which reignited the relationship and opportunity.
How does the business make money today?
Let’s breakdown my 2019 financials and look at the sources across the 5 Attractants. I earned $200,000, of which:
- $155,000 was Repeat work from Existing Clients
- $12,000 was Referrals from Existing Clients
- $10,000 came from Marketing & Advertising (that’s 1 client from Organic Google).
- $15,000 came from Strategic Referral Partners
- $8,000 was from a Volume Play, specifically a conference I had spoken at the previous year.
More from Existing
I achieve the great ‘More from Existing’ repeat clients with three main approaches.
Firstly, manage expectations and energy:
…tell the client what you’re going to do with them, do it well, then make sure you tell them you’ve done it (because they will forget).
My favorite question is “What is the most valuable thing you’ve received from our coaching / this session?”, which reinforces their return on investment and keeps them eager to stay or return as a client.
For those I haven’t worked with in a while, there are my general Newsletter campaigns (while this stopped in the second half of 2019, prior to that I published a business video every Friday morning for three years) and ad hoc phone calls to…
…genuinely asking how they’re doing, and generally what they’re seeing or experiencing in the business world right now.
Obviously all those Existing Clients had to come from somewhere at first.
A quick glance points out one that came from Google, while the rest were referrals from either other clients or strategic referral partners.
Referrals from Existing and Strategic Referral Partners
I didn’t prioritize my marketing or asking for referrals last year. My revenue target, because of the new baby and travel, was $100,000.
The $200,000 I achieved was my top stretch goal.
This year, with targets of $250,000 / $350,000 / and $400,000 I will reinstigate my simple approach to asking previous and current clients for referrals.
This is a topic that gets a whole chapter in my latest book, but the simple truth is that most business owners never ask the question, or when they do they’re not specific enough.
Similarly with Strategic Referral Partners, who go out of the way to actively refer to me.
I built those relationships quite deliberately, found how it would benefit them to help me, and then give them a very transparent update about my business and my client’s needs on a regular basis.
Marketing and Advertising
Several years back, I made it to #1 on Google for the search phrase “business coach Brisbane” (where I live) or if anyone searched for “business coach” with location services showing they were in the greater Brisbane region.
This is an updated version of the page that got to #1. At one point that was bringing in about 3 leads per month, almost all of them too small for my fees.
I addressed this by publishing my fees online (that page is a little out of date) which removed most tire-kickers…
…and indeed other coaches referenced on the page have received clients as a result.
I’m not opposed to investing in marketing – some of the best clients I’ve worked with have come through live events – but I haven’t needed to and I’m not sure what the right marketing strategy would be for remote clients.
This is my category for the big activity that puts you in front of scores or hundreds of potential clients at once.
At present, this is conference speaking – a tricky one to do if you want to be truly online-only, but potentially fabulous if you’d like a reason (or even to be paid) to travel somewhere.
A single Conference I spoke at in 2018 led to two paid keynote presentations and one coaching client in 2019.
My biggest expenses in 2019 were:
- License and Back Office Fees – $20,000 (mostly the first 6 months of the year, when I still had an office)
- Coaching and Training – $15,000
- Travel – $8,000
- Admin and Marketing Support – $4,000.
While I’d love for all our travel to be tax-deductible, that’s not realistic.
However, with clever planning, you can make the most of client visits and conferences.
What are some of the challenges particular to this kind of online business?
Any form of Consulting or Advisory can be fantastic in the short term. Because you’re selling your existing expertise at a great hourly rate, and if the first clients want you to deliver work immediately, you can.
The challenge over time is that I’m still basically selling my time, and while I can grow that by increasing my rates…
…my business still requires me to be available for clients at set times every month.
I’ve tried multiple ways to scale with more people.
But I’m not interested in taking on staff and our nomadic lifestyle doesn’t blend easily with business partners.
Ultimately the answer is productizing my business methodology.
My current belief is that the days of building a product online and then marketing it are mostly gone.
The necessary approach in 2020 is building the audience and then finding the right pricing and packaging to sell into them.
To that end, my primary 2020 focus is ‘Content Creation’ as the source activity that will lead to a 10X larger audience as an outcome.
If I miss my commercial goals but achieve that, I’ll still be delighted.
Of course, I’m in a financial position to be able to miss some financial goals.
Many new consultants underestimate just how much ‘sales’ activity needs to go into building a successful business.
I always say you need to find new clients four-at-a-time.
Because finding them one-at-a-time just creates a rollercoaster of revenue ups and downs.
If you were starting the same business today, from scratch, how would you do it?
First and foremost, decide whether to be online-only from the start or whether to accept a few years of in-person consulting work.
The latter is probably easier and can be more financially rewarding, and can evolve into online-only if you want (like my business).
Either way, let me answer this question by using one of the strategic frameworks I use with clients – so an example of consulting work as well!
The top 3 priorities of any start-up business:
- Product-Market Fit
- Business Model
- Sustainable Sales.
1. Product-Market Fit
In consulting, the product (what you sell) is you and it’s the clear methodology you apply to achieve an outcome for the client.
Too many new consultants, confident in their own experience and ability, go to the market and try to sell themselves as “able to do everything” or “trust me, I can help”.
It’s way too vague and clients can’t buy that.
While I now have multiple products across Wealth, Growth, Revenue, and Profit that I can slice and dice – they all follow the same structure (which is basic project management, so feel good about stealing this):
- Business Review – either a workshop to agree on priorities, or a deep dive analysis of their business through documents and interviews.
- Strategy Design – agree and document what the business needs to change in order to achieve their outcome/s.
- Execution – help the client through the inevitable roadblocks that arrive through implementation.
If I were starting today, I would focus on revenue in a business.
Being able to demonstrate how you helped increase revenue shows the client a clear ROI that will encourage them to keep investing in you.
As a specific product you could sell:
- Review a business against each of those headings (and how well clients move from one to the next). Charging anything from free (not recommended) up to $10,000 for this piece of work. Make specific recommendations about what they need to do next, which leads into…
- Help them design the strategic change in the 3 (maximum) areas that need the most work. Deliver some quick wins, but keep this big picture and long term. Charge anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 for this. The final part of Strategy Design is agreeing with the Implementation Plan, so you can…
- Help with implementation on a monthly retainer ($1,000 – $4,000). As Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. Executing a project means lots of being punched in the face, so there’s massive value in you helping them over the line.
Some basic project management skills – like why project management sucks – can help here as well.
See, how much easier it is to explain what you’re going to do and the value you bring, when you have this structure compared to “trust me, I can help”?
Don’t fall into the temptation to make your offering too bespoke.
Have a clear, limited set of services that you offer because that makes it easy for the client to buy.
Now, if this is the Product you’re going to sell, who is the Market you think will buy it?
(By the way, if you have no idea what Product / Service to sell, you can go find the market first and see what they need.)
I like small to medium B2B businesses, mostly $1.5 million to $17 million in revenue or 12-96 staff members. They’re big enough to have money, and small enough to make fast decisions.
They also generally have only one or two owners, so coaching them remotely can work – much better than herding a dozen accounting partners into a board room.
And because they’re B2B not B2C, I also understand their clients.
Achieving the Product-Market Fit is an iterative process – it takes up more than 5 chapters in my Start-up Business Guide.
The basic principle starting out though is this: talk to as many people as you can, ask them for help and feedback, and keep refining your message until people say “How can I buy this?”.
Start with your existing networks (even if they’re not your target market, ask who they can introduce you to) and talk to other successful business owners in your space.
The best people are always happy to make time to help others.
2. Business Model
Broadly, your business model is the process a client takes moving through your business to get their outcome (and happily pay your invoice).
For consultants, this usually looks like a consistent methodology and is linked to the product chat above.
Consultants have a really simple business model – you’re exchanging hours for dollars.
The basic business model framework is Volume x Margin.
In other words, what volume of work do you want to do at what profit margin / fee?
Today, my target is 4 small clients at $1,000 each per month plus 4 larger clients averaging $4,000 each per month.
When I started, I was happy to work much cheaper…
…though never for free.
I’m mentoring one new coach at the moment who is charging $250 per month to clients. At maximum realistic efficiency, he could work with 10 clients per week.
He would be working harder than me, with many more clients, and earning half as much.
But that’s what he needs right now, and long before he has 40 paying clients his rates will start increasing.
3. Sustainable Sales
Consultants need to maintain business development (marketing and sales) activity, always.
Even clients who love you will eventually want to pause, or change the dynamic of the relationship.
And it’s possible for your style and energy to go stale over time.
Right from the start, choose a Marketing Strategy that fits into your personal Bullseye.
But don’t fall into the trap of thinking Inbound Marketing and Content Generation will suffice. These won’t pay off for some time… right now, you need to do Outbound Sales Activity.
(Quick side note: If you think Sales is a dirty word, business consulting isn’t for you. You have to sell yourself. Moreover, all of your clients are in the business of selling something, and if you don’t appreciate that you won’t be able to properly help them.)
Outbound Sales is just relationship building.
My start-up targets (each time I’ve moved countries) are 5 phone calls a day and 4 meetings a week, ideally with all of those meetings on the same day so you have focused sales energy.
I’m an introvert. Talking to that many people is exhausting.
One of the best coaches I ever worked with used to average 25 phone calls a day and 10 meetings a week – even when he was full of clients.
Needless to say, he made more money than me (but I like my life way better).
When you meet people, get them on your Database and add them on LinkedIn. This is where your marketing content starts to make a difference.
Be clear what you’re selling (the Product), how much it costs and what the client’s ROI will be. Make it easy for prospects to say ‘No’, because that also makes it easier for them to say ‘Yes’.
If anyone would like me to go into more detail on this…
…I’m happy to do a free webinar for eBiz Facts readers.
Just drop a comment below and if there’s enough interest we’ll set it up in the coming weeks.
What books, podcasts, courses or other resources would you recommend to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
If you’ve never run your own business and don’t know how to structure your product or service methodology, do consider some of the programs out there which can teach you to be a business consultant:
- Gazelles have one of the most comprehensive systems currently available.
- And remember my earlier point, so you can spot the difference between a course that will teach you to be a good consultant vs. the one that will teach you to run a good consulting business – which is way more valuable.
If you have some idea of your Product, there are some helpful resources. I don’t much like business books that talk only about the good stuff (set a vision, culture eats strategy for breakfast, start with why and it will all magically work).
So two that I do recommend are:
If I could give all my stuff away, I still wouldn’t because sometimes people need skin in the game to value it. But:
- Blackboard Fridays is a set of 134 business videos I hosted, over 12 hours of great bite-sized business tips and frameworks. All available for free on YouTube.
- My most recent book is The Start-up Business Guide: 50 First Steps Successful Founders Complete in Their First Year. I’m really proud of that and some of the bonus resources we’ve included.
And if you’re just looking for a community of other awesome people looking to create great things, mostly in the consulting or solopreneur space:
- Dent’s Key Person of Influence program exists in many countries around the world, and is also supported by some great podcasts and Daniel Priestly’s awesome books.
📚 Editor’s note: see our ultimate list of the best books for online entrepreneurs.
What are your top 5 business tools?
I use and recommend:
- WordPress for websites that are easy to update every few years (as mine is currently doing).
- MailChimp for Email Marketing and as a basic CRM.
- Audacity and Camtasia for audio and video editing.
- Zoom for video calls.
- LinkedIn as your little black book of business contacts that updates itself.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Come see me at JacobAldridge.com and subscribe to my awesome business + quirky newsletter. My modesty is really on display there.
- If you need to put aside a whole day and just binge on my wisdom (understandable, you’re only human) then the 134 videos on Blackboard Fridays or the 50 chapters of The Start-up Business Guide are amazing.
- A collection of my more interesting public presentations (everything from Embracing the Feminine Energy in Business through to me talking about growth while dressed as Santa Claus) is available here.