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I have a penchant for books about entrepreneurship and starting a business from almost nothing. Books about ideas, making those ideas work for you and the importance of building a sustainable company. So when I got asked to review Seth Rotherham’s foray into the world of lessons learnt from starting an online business I thought, why not? The book, titled Work is a Sideline. Live the holiday, arrived at my desk via a messenger fairy with a note of thanks (pressure!).
Rule one on reading a book is to never judge it by its cover. It’s a ghastly thing but in this case I couldn’t help it. Perhaps it was purposefully ironic (I am desperately hoping), perhaps not. Either way there was a horse and a man in white on a beach and it reminded me a strange cult that asked you to give up your life and all your money for it.
But we will come back to this later…
I opened said cultish-looking book and 70-pages (about two hours reading time) later I was done. I was caught somewhere between amazed and confused. Here was this book with a great case study on starting an ecommerce business and yet it felt incomplete.
Rotherham’s book is based on the four hour work week philosophy popularised by Tim Ferriss in his 2007 bestseller: The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. The concept is to work smart not necessarily hard. The logic is that if you are efficient, you will get the same results and perhaps more rewards than slaving away.
Understanding the four hour work week
In the book, Ferriss uses the acronym DEAL for the four main chapters and the entire crux of the four hour work week. DEAL stands for: Definition, Elimination, Automation and Liberation. Each of the four key chapters focuses on the crucial journey of an entrepreneur and how to go about achieving set out goals easily. Defining what you want, getting over fears and seeing past expectations. Elimination deals with making time management is a none issue by applying the applying the ‘Pareto principle’ or ’80-20 Rule’. Then you move on to automating your source of income, by using existing resources such Google AdWords and outsourcing. Finally, liberation is dedicated to the successful automation of one’s lifestyle breaking own the borders of geography.
Now that you have a basic idea of the four hour week principle it is easy of place and contextualise Rotherham’s very light read. His book is proof that the four hour work week can be achieved with some simple and tactical plays by an entrepreneur. What is interesting about this book is that its author does not pretend to have a crystal ball in which the perfect simulations are play out. He actually simply recounts his experience as an entrepreneur starting a very boutique ecommerce play in a market where online purchases are still novel.
Ecommerce is easy, if you know what you’re doing
These days when we think or use the word “ecommerce”, it usually has a market share meaning and the ever-present profitability question comes to mind. Why are you starting an ecommerce business when not everyone has access? Don’t you know that to actually make money with ecommerce you have to be really big and be prepared to lose money? There are many deterrents to doing this, logistics being the biggest. On the other hand, it is one of the quickest businesses to start as long as you work smart.
If you battle with these questions and are figuring out how to get into this much-contested space of online shops, then Rotherham’s book provides a very practical how-to guide. The book covers setting up a website, making it discoverable and dealing with the muddled world of online payments.
In the 70-pages that brings us to the conclusion of Rotherham’s need to live a Jay Z-esque lifestyle with a yacht in the Riveria, there is some advice on managing people through subtle manipulation and better phone management — which basically amounts to not picking up the phone unless it’s making you money. “People need to be guided — they need instructions,” he says.
…back to the cultish book cover
If we go back to the cover of this book and think back to the man in white, walking a horse on the beach, beckoning you into his cult, it makes perfect sense for entrepreneurship. Most entrepreneurs get into the space to be able afford to this easy relaxed life. The reality is that what you actually get is a lifetime membership to a cult that demands all your time and all your money.
As noble a tale as this book is, for most entrepreneurs this isn’t actually the reality if you want to build a sustainable business.
Work is a sideline. Live the holiday is available on Amazon and through Rotherham’s site for R250 ($25).