When half of college graduates can’t find jobs, and those of us who do have jobs can barely pay the bills, the system is clearly broken. Gregory Downing says the only solution is to shift to a whole new way of thinking about work and wealth. Here, he offers 15 surprisingly simple laws that can help anyone become a successful entrepreneur.
There used to be a simple formula for building a good American life: Go to school and make good grades. Then go to college. Then find a job with a good company. Work hard. Save money. Finally, enjoy a decent (if not lavish) retirement. For years, the middle class has dutifully followed this path. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the most exciting life but it paid the bills and maybe even allowed for a week or two of vacation every year.
Amazing how much can change in a decade or two. These days the traditional path leads only to daily stress, crushing debt, and uncertainty about the future. The most remarkable part is that so many people continue to blindly follow it, when what we really need to do is make an about-face and learn how to think about work and wealth in a whole new way.
“Consider that probably half of all college graduates are moving back home because the jobs just aren’t there,” notes Downing, author of Entrepreneur Unleashed: Wealth to Stand the Test of Time. “In some cases they’re saddled with student loan debt in the six figures. Meanwhile, the price of everything from food to gas to healthcare to education itself continues to rise.
“Clearly, the system is broken,” Downing adds. “It’s time we realize, as a society and as individuals, that we need to make a huge mental shift. The government can’t save us; it’s in dire straits, too. Neither can any teacher in any traditional school, because the education system is caught in a time warp where college degrees and 401(k)s are the be-all end-all. The only one who can save you, and your entire family, is you.”
Downing is referring to entrepreneurship. He knows firsthand how dramatically it can transform your life. Once a car dealership manager working grueling 80-hour weeks, he is now a millionaire many times over who takes four months of vacation a year. He made his wealth as a real estate investment business owner and motivational speaker, and he says regardless of the field you may choose, entrepreneurship is the only logical path to financial freedom in a global economy where all the rules have changed.
First, let’s be clear: The entrepreneurship he espouses is NOT the “open your own restaurant and bust your butt working there seven days a week” variety. Rather, it centers on generating multiple streams of income (earned, passive, and portfolio) so that the money you make is not directly connected to the time you spend. (“Time is more valuable than money” is one of Downing’s favorite mantras.)
A single paycheck, even two paychecks added together, is no longer enough to allow a family to live comfortably and provide for the future. “If you’re lucky enough to get a good job—and that’s a big if—you might be able to scrape by, but you’ll work yourself into an early grave. And, of course, if the job goes away, the money stops. It’s no way to live—and it’s no way to teach your children to live.
Anyone can make the leap to entrepreneurship, and, subsequently, financial freedom, insists Downing. Sure, you may have to learn new practical skills—but mostly it’s a matter of changing your mindset. Once you break free of “middle-class programming,” half the battle is won.
The 40-some Universal Laws of Being an Entrepreneur revealed in Downing’s book sum up the mindset needed to be successful. Here are 15 of them:
“I will always do exactly what I say I will do.” Most of us do keep our word to others, or at least try to. And of course being trustworthy is critical to your success. (How else will we find investors and get return customers and referrals?) But what about the promises and pacts you make with yourself? Most people are far more likely to break agreements with themselves than they are with others. Yet since becoming an entrepreneur requires a dramatic change in both mindset and habits, you won’t get far if you keep letting yourself off the hook.
“It’s easy to justify breaking an agreement with yourself because no one will ever know,” Sometimes we even do it unconsciously. But make no mistake: Your private decision has consequences for both your future and your family’s future. That’s why this law is so important—in fact, it’s the one on which all the others hinge.
“Breaking any kind of commitment—even those that may seem insignificant—hurts us because our subconscious gets accustomed to our ‘crying wolf.’” Then, when we want to make a big change in our lives, our subconscious simply doesn’t believe us. It will actually work against our success. So when you don’t do what you say you are going to do, you are actually giving yourself permission to falter, to quit, and to fail.
“I will take action in my life—now!” I’d like to build my wealth. I want to start my own business. It would be great to be in firm control of my financial future. These are nice, positive thoughts, but when they’re not paired with action, they are nothing but daydreams. Only action—not plans, not goals, and not ambition—gets results. Every day that you don’t take a concrete step forward is another day of the status quo, another day of accepting a mediocre, hum-drum life.
“Life rewards action.” And yet, most people just keep going through their daily motions, procrastinating, thinking their ideas to death, and never moving forward on them. Every morning, ask yourself, What action can I take today to move toward my dream of financial independence and self-reliance? Then do it, for your own sake and for the sake of your family. Otherwise, one day you’ll look back at your life and realize that while you had good intentions, you did not create results.
“I will remove all unconscious, negative, and scarcity-based programming.” Downing says the middle class has been “programmed” with belief systems that weren’t designed to help us attain wealth and that, indeed, barely work at all anymore. But because everyone around us is buying into the formula, we assume it’s the “right” way. We all have an inner “sheep” that is afraid to go against the herd, that fears it will be punished if it goes against cultural norms. And that’s a shame, because while we’re staring at the hindquarters of the sheep in front of us, we’re ignoring a huge world filled with riches for the taking.
Today and every day, consciously evaluate and reconsider what works for you as you strive toward a life of wealth and abundance. First, think critically about risk and reward, and determine how to effectively balance the two. This involves looking closely at your emotions, your willingness to take action, and your desire to move forward when an opportunity to build wealth arises.
Often, you’ll find that fear, not a rational reason, is holding you back. “Through this process of evaluation, you’ll gradually reprogram your beliefs about the fear of investing, the availability of money, and the lack-mentality that is so common in our society. And as you begin to experience greater rewards, you’ll confirm the beliefs and actions that create wealth.
“I will remain aware that I am 100 percent responsible, 100 percent of the time, for the results in my life.” It’s easy to blame disappointments and failures on everything other than ourselves. For instance: “I could be a lot wealthier if the economy hadn’t tanked.” Or, “How was I supposed to know that there would be a storm and I’d have to clean out my savings to replace my roof?” While it’s true that you can’t always foresee or control what happens in your life, you can choose how you respond to those circumstances.
“I get it—life has a way of kicking in the door and derailing your plans. There are bills to pay, problems to solve, and circumstances that need attention. You need to deal with these issues, but you cannot allow them to stop you. Every day, you must make time to move toward the life of your dreams, no matter how small that step is. If you aren’t taking steps to change your reality, you forfeit the right to complain about it.”
“I will invest in a financial education program to master the skills of being an entrepreneur.” For decades, American schools have taught (and are still teaching) students that they’ll need to give the best years of their lives to employers so that they can retire on 40 percent of their working salary. (That’s assuming they can get a good job at all in today’s economy, of course.) It stands to reason that if you want more out of life, you’ll need to seek some non-traditional education that will help you cultivate the skills that will enable you to generate multiple streams of income.
“Building wealth takes work, dedication, commitment, and an increased level of knowledge.” “Unless you win the lottery, there is no such thing as getting rich quickly, without any effort, and without spending any money. This doesn’t mean getting your MBA. It does mean investing in a real-world education from others who have succeeded in doing what you want to do.
“I will remain coachable.” The annals of history are filled with the tragic downfalls of leaders who got “too big for their britches,” refused to consider the advice and expertise of others, and ran their organizations and empires into the ground. Entrepreneurs, by nature, are go-against-the-grain types. It’s easy for them to assume they know best and disregard good advice from those who’ve been there. Don’t fall into this trap. Not only should you carefully consider advice, you should actively seek it out.
“The greatest athletes in the world have coaches, and the president of the United States has advisors,” points out Downing. “Why would you or I be any different? Other people have done what you want to do and know things you probably haven’t even considered. If you seek those individuals out and actively learn from them, you’ll minimize mistakes while growing your business as effectively as possible.
Keep in mind, though, that a true mentor won’t just tell you what you want to hear—he or she will tell you what you need to hear. “Sometimes it’ll be uncomfortable, and you’ll be tempted to disregard the advice. Don’t. Leave your pride at the door and always remain open to learning new ways to approach business problems.”
“I will stop doing minimum wage activities.” Our culture puts hard work on a pedestal. From sayings like “If you want the job done right, do it yourself” to the belief that the longer you stay at the office, the better employee you are, it’s clear that Americans think that spilling one’s blood, sweat, and tears is a noble calling. Not so. If you don’t separate yourself from the mundane and the nitty-gritty, you might just micromanage your business away from success.
“You must stop telling yourself to work harder, and learn to work smarter.” It’s crucial to understand that the work of an entrepreneur is the work of the mind: thinking, planning, creating, leading, and providing oversight. If you want to reach the highest level possible, you have to leave tasks that can be accomplished by others to those with the knowledge and skills to do them.
“I will always remember that time is more valuable than money.” Chances are, you grew up being taught that the way to support yourself and to get ahead in life was to trade your time for money. In other words, if you spend 40 or more hours a week doing what your employer wants, you’ll be paid for 40 or more hours. But once those 40 hours are gone, they’re gone forever. You’ll never get back the time you could have spent playing with your kids or hiking in the woods or volunteering for your favorite charity.
Linking time and earning potential is middle-class thinking. Of course, you probably can’t quit your job tomorrow. You will have to put in some long hours up-front. But eventually you’ll have systems set up that allow you to profit from time put in by others and to reinvest your earnings so that you can generate even more income.
“A true entrepreneur understands time is a precious commodity and must be used wisely and efficiently.” You can and must devote your time to creating wealth, planning and building business systems, and leading your team. Once you have this foundation firmly in place, you’ll find you’re free of the obligation to work nine to five.
“I will maintain a credit score of 760 or higher.” Your credit score is the gate standing between you and the success you dream of. That’s because lenders use credit score ratings to control the amount of money in the marketplace. If they want to increase the flow, they lower qualifying scores. And if they want to decrease the flow, they raise those scores. As an entrepreneur, it’s crucial for you to be able to borrow money whenever you need it—regardless of what the market is doing.
“In 2011, the scoring for ‘A’ credit was raised to 730,” shares Downing. “Therefore, you should choose to have A+ credit with a score of 760 or higher. Not only will this score allow you to borrow money any time, it also means that you’ll qualify for lower interest rates. Overall, make it a priority to become a master at understanding, evaluating, and controlling your credit score and credit availability so that you’ll never find the gate to the resources you need closed and locked.”
“I will no longer view debt as negative, because I will use credit to invest so I can get out of destructive debt for the rest of my life.” We’ve all heard the horror stories: families so sunk in consumer debt they were forced to declare bankruptcy and individuals whose educational debt haunted them for the rest of their lives. In part because of these cautionary tales, we’ve been programmed to believe the only route to financial freedom is becoming debt-free.
“It’s not that debt itself is bad—it’s that the way the average American uses it is destructive.” “From this day forward, commit to using debt to invest and build your wealth. Yes, debt can be financial quicksand. But used wisely, it can also give you leverage and make you rich.”
“I will no longer listen to people who are not where I want to be financially.” The saying “Those who cannot do, teach” does not apply to building wealth. It would be foolish to take financial advice from someone with one stream of income who consistently lives paycheck to paycheck (Newsflash: That’s most of America), or to adopt a wealth-building strategy from an entrepreneur whose business is constantly in the red.
“I’ve noticed that the people with the least amount of money tend to have the most advice,” confides Downing. “Don’t listen to them! Instead, seek advice only from those who are where you want to be financially. Of course you should be respectful of others’ opinions, but also realize that you’re on a different financial path from most people, and that they will not necessarily understand or approve.
I’m not saying to stop interacting with those who disagree with you about your entrepreneurial ventures. Some of them may even be close friends or family members. Just steer clear of talking about business. You don’t want to be talked out of what you know in your gut is the path to financial freedom.”
“I will fulfill the unmet needs of others.” You may love French pastries and open up a bakery, but if no one in your area craves croissants, your shop will flop. Yes, it’s a simplistic example, but the principle behind it holds true: If your business doesn’t address and fulfill an unmet need, it’s not going to be successful. Period. And in today’s highly competitive world with a business on every corner, it’s critical to identify what others aren’t doing (or aren’t willing to do!) so that you can compete and win customers.
“Unmet needs aren’t always readily apparent or visible.” To identify them, you need to ask yourself questions like, What problems are keeping my potential customers awake at night? What do they want that they aren’t getting? What would make their lives easier? When you have some answers, work on creating a unique approach to delivering that product or service.
“I will always be on time.” You might think rushing into an appointment a few minutes late isn’t a big deal. If so, you’re wrong. For one thing, lateness—especially if it’s chronic—increases stress levels and causes you to be in a more frazzled state of mind than might otherwise be the case. Obviously, neither one of those things is conducive to your best performance. And even more importantly, lateness is a character issue.
“When you’re late, you’re being disrespectful to others, because by not managing your time well, you’re wasting theirs,” Downing says. “Think about it: The first five minutes of a meeting determine the mood, so if you sweep in at the last second completely disorganized, you aren’t setting your colleagues up for success.
“Plus, if you’re late to a more private appointment, you will have to work through what is essentially a broken agreement. And if you’ll recall, not breaking agreements is a cornerstone of all the Universal Laws of Being an Entrepreneur. When you’re not on time, you’re essentially breaking your word to yourself and the others in the meeting—a double whammy.”
“I will become a master at creating systems and processes.” This is all about building a business that runs—and can continue to run—effectively and efficiently. Why? Because you don’t want to have to spend your oh-so-valuable time reinventing the wheel and micromanaging others.
Becoming a master at creating duplicable systems and processes means that you’ll need to understand the steps that lead to success, clearly define them, write them down, and explain them to your team. But once you’ve done all this work up-front, you’ll no longer have to run your day-to-day operations. You’ll be free!
“I will build the right relationships with the right power team members.” If you’re truly working toward creating wealth, you’re not going to be building one small business that you personally operate and run. Instead, you’ll be creating multiple, duplicable small businesses that are constantly creating new streams of income for you. You’ll need to be able to hand off tasks and duties to others. And that means you’ll need a strong team of the right people doing the hard work for you.
Your power team is the power behind your skill as an entrepreneur. That’s why it’s critical to evaluate these people personally and make sure they’re right for the job.
This is also why it’s so important to be respectful and helpful to everyone you meet. You never know when you’ll be making a connection that can benefit you next week, or next month, or next year. They may become power team members and they may also refer customers your way.
Life is really just a series of choices. We decide whether to watch TV after work or spend an hour on our action plan, whether to take the class or not take the class, whether to hold the cards or place the bet. Most people take the path of least resistance and go with the herd. Those who don’t are the ones who will create rich, full lives that are truly worth living.
Gregory S. Downing has dedicated his life to teaching his students that every family can truly control its financial future and create a generational legacy with profound, yet straightforward advice and guidance. As a nationally and highly respected author, speaker, family expert, and organizational consultant, his advice has been sought and put into practice by thousands of people from all walks of life. With over 20 years of experience in management, leadership, training, and business ownership, he has proven that his principles of legacy parenting, business promotion, entrepreneurship, and real estate investing both work and create bonds of relationship that go beyond the ordinary.