If You Want to Get Rich, Work for Free!


A guy who does contract labor for one of my businesses came to me this morning to ask for more money. I was surprised at how carefully he had thought out his plan. I’ll call him “Keith” to protect his identity.

First, he listed all the money problems he was having. “My car needs work, I have no savings, I have a bunch of credit card debt.” Then he suggested he could take over some tasks that I do. “I could cover your work on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings,” he said, “and that would leave you more time to do marketing or whatever.”

Now, if you own a business, you’re probably thinking that I should be doing back flips, right? Here’s a guy offering to take away some of my daily grind to give me more time to develop my business. As a matter of fact, he’s pretty good at the work, and almost every one of my clients who works with him likes him a lot. And, he works for a reasonable hourly amount. So where’s the problem?

Here’s the problem: I’ve been meeting with this guy once a week for the past year and a half to help him learn about business. I’ve coached him on marketing, encouraged him to go out and find new clients, set up systems for him to generate new business, and have done just about everything I can think of to put him in a position to help grow our business, which could potentially net him a ton of money. Yet, he’s still thinking like an employee.

What would I say to him if he was sitting right here? I’d say, Keith, what you should have done is come to me and offered to cut your own wages! If you want to get rich, work for free! As long as you look for and receive an honest hour’s pay for an honest hour’s work, you’re going to be an employee. Only when you get your mind around the idea that real wealth is created rather than earned will you begin to realize your potential as a member of our organization. Or any great organization.

If that sounds like a crazy idea, let me give you a concrete example (I’m going to use made up numbers to further protect Keith’s identity). In this particular business, we’ve found that,given our current level of effort and expenditure on marketing, with normal repeat clients and new clients through word of mouth, we can expect to average about $80,000 a month in gross income. We’ve been doing it long enough to know that that’s pretty much how it works out, and until we come up with a breakthrough way to market our services, we can depend on that average over the long haul.

By the time we pay our fixed overhead, health insurance, employees, corporate taxes, investors, and me, there’s about $10,000 left to pay Keith and our other independent contractors, and to reinvest in the business. I know it’s not a ton of money, but I like the business and it spins off a lot of other interesting work for me. Anyway, the pool of money available to pay Keith is finite given our current setup, and the more we pay Keith, the less we have available to be creative in trying to grow the business.

So I’ve got ten apples and you want four. That leaves only six apples for me, and if you’re still hungry in six months, I know you’re going to come back to me for another apple. But let’s flip the paradigm on its head. What if you could increase the number of apples I have, with the promise that you’d also get more?

“Why would I want to do that?” you might say. “I could just go out and start my own business.” Sure, but think about two things. One, if you could, why haven’t you done it before now? And two, if you start a business yourself, you have to be prepared for all the work involved: incorporation, setting up the office(s), hiring employees or independent contractors, dealing with vendors and, the most critical and challenging part of every business, marketing. What if I told you that instead of doing all that work, you could concentrate on only one aspect of the business, get really, really good at it, and potentially make tons of money?

Well, that’s exactly what I’ve been telling Keith! I have a business with an absolutely rock solid service that’s head and shoulders above everything else in the area. The facility is in place, the reputation is impeccable, and the follow-up service for the clients you’d bring in is fantastic. In fact, I give him lots of opportunity to serve those clients and find other ways to generate income from them. All he has do to help is find a way to bring in new clients on his own initiative.

If you make the number of apples I have get bigger, I’ll give you some of those apples. I’m happy to give you more apples because more clients means more word of mouth, more momentum, more energy in the room, more opportunities for growth, more ways to serve both the existing clients and the new clients. Everybody wins!

I interact with a lot of folks in their early twenties, and when they’re getting into the job market, a lot of them talk about jobs they’ve considered. You’d be surprised how often one of them says, “that job sucked. They wanted to pay me almost nothing in base salary, and I’d have to earn commissions.”

I tell them this: “if you want to get rich, go back to those guys and tell them you don’t want the base pay at all. Tell them you’ll work on pure commission for six months. Get another part time job to pay your rent if you have to. Doing pure commission sales could be one of the most important learning experiences in your business life.”

I’m sure you get the point. The reason I tell them to work for free is that if they learn to create wealth for other people, rather than trying to earn money, they’ll be able to create wealth for themselves! Earning money means you’re limited to the hours you can work and the pay you can convince somebody to give you. Creating wealth means you’re limited only by your imagination and ability to learn.

If you want to get rich, work for free!