number-3

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

It’s official: I’ve been tracking my debt for exactly three years.

While I didn’t post my first financial update on Man Vs. Debt until a year later, I first sat down and wrote my detailed list of debts – the one you see listed on my Joan’s Finances page – on April 14, 2011.

Taking inventory and facing what I owed was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but the effect it’s had since then has been nothing short of amazing.

In exactly three years, we’ve paid off $33,422.83 in debt.

And since I’d figured out our worst-ever total debt (as of January 2011, a few months before I did the detailed debt-by-debt breakdown), we’ve paid off $37,504.24, or 41.82% of our total debt.

Looking back at $33,422.83

On one hand, that’s pretty amazing news. 41% debt-free? That’s a serious number!

On the other hand, this month is hard for me. It’s exactly three years since I started my hardcore debt-repayment plan, true. It also marks the point at which we originally expected to be debt-free. Thanks to setbacks of numerous kinds, many of which I’ve been chronicling here in the interim and some I haven’t been able to share, we’re not even halfway there yet.

That hurts to write.

This journey is hard – much harder than I realized it would be three years ago. 

I truly thought that once I started doing the “right” things, the debt would just keep going down, month after month, and … BOOM. Three years later, it’d be gone.

Instead, three years later, I’m looking at three more years – if not longer.

That feels so awful that I’ve been toying with the idea of not writing this post. I’ve done everything I can to stall, to stare off into space, to come up with “important” things I could write about instead, or at least to come up with ways to gloss over the bad parts and then quickly turn the story to the better ones.

I want to do what I’d encourage any Man Vs. Debt reader to do. I want to celebrate the progress I’ve made – and to be clear, there’s much I’m happy about.

But tonight, when I sat here thinking about why I originally started sharing my story, I realized I have to be honest about the rough parts.

Because I don’t write to make myself feel better – well, not really.

When I’m doing what I really am meant to do, I write to connect people. My biggest goal here at Man Vs. Debt is that everything I write makes at least one person think, “Wait, really? I’m not the only one?”

And that means I have to be honest, because I want it to be OK for all of us to feel this way: I’m ANGRY.

I’m angry at a lot of situations in my life that, while outside my control in some ways, have made this journey longer and harder.

I’m angry at myself for not being debt-free by now as planned, obstacles or not.

I’m angry at myself for not being happier about the progress that I have made.

I’m angry at myself for being angry about all of these things, because they’re kinda … dumb.

But you know what else? 

I’m not going to quit.

Looking ahead from $33,422.83

We have paid off an average of more than $10,000 a year for three years straight.

We’ve taken our awfulest credit card ever down from more than $36,000 to just over $14,500 – knocking it more than in half.

And while we have $52,181.99 to go - not that I’m counting or anything! - I also have a plan.

I firmly believe that if I could pay off just under half the debt, I have all the tools I need to make it the rest of the way.

It might not be fast, and that might make me angrier than I can say.

But I’m going to make that anger work for me.

That’s the coolest part about tackling things the Man Vs. Debt way – emotional impact matters. That’s our debt tsunami philosophy: Figure out what makes you angry, or sad, or otherwise SUPER emotional. And then use that to stay motivated.

Even when three years doesn’t seem to make a dent. Stay motivated.

Even when crap happens. Stay motivated.

Even when you want nothing more in the world than to give it all up. STAY MOTIVATED.

I might not be thrilled – but I’m ready for what’s next.

Are you in with me – for three more years or more?

And what are you doing to keep yourself motivated for the long haul, even when it’s awful?

I want to hear your stories in the comments.

We’re in this together.

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wrestlemania-29

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

You guys are going to think I spend my Sunday afternoons watching America’s best not-exactly-a-sport sports, between today’s post and the one from last month about 4 Personal-Finance Lessons from NASCAR!

I spent THIS Sunday watching… you guessed it… WrestleMania 30, thanks to my roommate’s subscription to the WWE Network, which I admit I watch with rather startling frequency.

The funny part is, while I’ve enjoyed professional wrestling since I was in high school, I’d never spent any time – or money – on it since. Until WWE Network came out in late February.

And now, even more than the wrestling itself, I’m fascinated with the business decisions behind the plan. The WWE Network business model is forward-thinking, audience-focused and designed for growth - key lessons that entrepreneurs and side hustlers can really learn from!

Be forward-thinking

Professional wrestling in its modern incarnation has ALWAYS been a cable TV thing. The Pay-Per-View model has worked for decades – and made WWE and its predecessor organizations briefcases full of money.

Fundamentally, the Pay-Per-View model is still working for WWE. Last year’s WrestleMania 29 event garnered the WWE company $72 million – its highest-grossing event of all time.

But for how long does it make sense to share those profits with cable and satellite companies, when the company can reach its fans directly via web and app, and in so doing, can control all of its own advertising and sponsorships, collect its own audience data and, yes, not split the profits?

And, for that matter, WWE and its predecessors have not only new events at their disposal, they have a vast archive of previous events that fans are clamoring for. Why not find a way to monetize that repository of content?

That’s the coolest lesson from the WWE Network’s launch, to me: Be willing to look aheadWhat’s profitable now is great. But is your business – whether it’s walking dogs in your neighborhood or delivering sports entertainment around the world – poised for what’s going to be profitable next? Is it taking advantage of the latest tools when doing so increases profitability and sustainability? Are you making the best use of the systems or products you’ve already built?

Interested in reading more about this? A couple of great reads about the digital-direct delivery model are CNN’s WWE: Ultimate SmackDown Stock and Bleacher Report’s Examining the Legacy of WWE and Pay-Per-View. I encourage you to read these even if you’re not a wrestling fan, if you’re serious about thinking ahead with your business.  Not specific to wrestling (gasp) but to business, Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow is a good look at not just innovation but being willing to stand out from the crowd in business. And finally, on the topic of monetizing your previous work, check out CopyBlogger’s A Ridiculously Simple Way to Get More Revenue and Build Your Audience. While that’s designed for written content, I challenge you to figure out how it applies in other industries too!

My business takeaways: As a freelancer, I know what’s profitable for me NOW. It mostly involves doing the technical/coding work on people’s WordPress-powered websites. That’s awesome, and I’ll continue to do it. But I’m working hard to expand my knowledge specifically in the areas of responsive design and app development, because that’s where my current clients will need help moving forward!

Your challenge question: Where do you see your company – or your industry, if you’re not self-employed – making money in five years? What’s one thing you can do to better position yourself for that time?

Be audience-focused

Interestingly, the WWE Network subscription model – anywhere from about $10 to $20 a month depending on the term of service you choose – is looking to be another great revenue source for WWE. But here’s the crazy part: WWE Network subscribers get access to all 12 of the yearly Pay-Per-View events included in their subscription. Are they crazy??

NOPE. This focus on building a devoted audience is probably the most brilliant business move I’ve seen in a long time.

Here’s what I figure. Normal WWE Pay-Per-Views are $44.95 apiece, and WrestleMania will set you back $59.95. Those prices are just high enough – and that one-time payment method is just volatile enough – that it’s way too easy for me to look at the checkbook today and say, “Hmm, nah, I really can’t spend that much.” And in between Pay-Per-View events, wrestling wouldn’t be top-of-mind. I wouldn’t think to come home and spend my evening vegging out to it!

As a business owner, I’d rather have a subscriber paying me $5 to $20 a month for a product STEADILY than have a one-time or occasional influx of $50 or so.  So yes, absolutely, “give away” those premium products to your steady customers – because that’s how you keep them as steady customers!

And, in reverse, what an awesome way to attract NEW (hopefully longtime) subscribers: If you’re going to spend $60 on WrestleMania, why not just drop that same amount and pick up a six-month subscription to the network? Same investment, more content for the purchaser, and potentially new loyal audience member for WWE!

The Netflix-style model works. A relatively small amount of money paid once a month, automatically, for unlimited access to a library of content you could never possibly tap the bottom of? This is a stellar plan and one that focuses on building audience, not just revenue.

And guess what? When you build a valuable audience – one that talks about your brand on social media, one that engages with your content regularly, one that  you build revenue in ways you’d never dream!

Interested in reading more about this? This Business Insider piece, Building Loyal Audience? That’s a Business Model is a good intro to the concept of building a strong fan base. The Motley Fool has a neat look at exactly how many subscribers WWE Network needs to break even (or better) in The WWE Network Will Succeed. And a book on my to-read list about building your audience is called The Human Brand, which digs into case studies from companies that have done the best job building a lasting fan base over time.

My business takeaways: This one resonates with me because I work full-time for a local news company, where audience has been the order of the day for quite a while. Newspapers, obviously, have always relied on a subscriber model in addition to single-copy sales, so there’s a big parallel there. In the digital world, the news industry has to offer insane value to make its digital subscriptions worthwhile, and each organization has to figure out what content it can provide that readers can’t get anywhere else. Meanwhile, as a freelancer, I quickly learned that I can make good money doing one-time odds-and-ends jobs, but to have dependable income, I need to find a set number of steady, repeat clients. That’s my subscriber audience!

Your challenge question: Do you have a devoted fan base? Do you have people who market your product or service for you for free because they’re excited about it? Do you have customers or clients who would support anything new you create because they are that sold on the quality of your work? What can you do today to create one more new regular client for your product or service – or for your employer’s?

Design for growth

The WWE Network is covering all its bases. You can stream on your computer, your phone or tablet (including Kindle Fire), Roku, via a PlayStation 3 or 4 or Xbox 360 app… with more devices on the launch schedule. Deciding not to tie the WWE Network subscriptions to one device or platform means  the WWE company has been designed for growth. 

Any individual platform might cap the WWE Network out at only subscribers with that particular technology. And tying their business model to just one – like, say, if they’d opted to create a cable network or sync themselves to Netflix or something – means that if that platform fails or becomes obsolete, so does your service.

Meanwhile, the apps are super-well designed. They’re clean and easy to navigate,with room for TONS of features and content to be added. The “second-screen experience,” in which you can be watching video interviews on your iPad while watching a cage match via your Roku, is surprisingly good, and again, there’s room for a bunch of new tie-ins using this method.

Oh, and while they’re still ramping up the U.S. product with the aforementioned archive content, there’s also a roadmap for launches in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and some other countries. While that’s never easy, the multi-platform approach makes it possible, and the same framework, built once, can be reused with only minor tweaks globally.

Finally, there’s the technology infrastructure itself.

Interestingly, I love what WWE did regarding this: It partnered with the company that streams Major League Baseball as “technology partner,” so that it didn’t have to deal with the scalability problem on its own. (It also hired a customer service firm named Harte Hanks, which proved brilliant when, at launch, me and a LOT of other viewers had trouble with both payment-processing and streaming due to a level of demand that was well above anything anyone had ever seen before.)

The cool thing is, I’m writing this before Wrestlemania officially starts (because, duh, I’ve got to be able to watch it), but so far, more than an hour into the preshow, I’m having NO streaming or quality problems. I attribute that to designing for growth – choosing the right partners, who would promptly address any issues and keep them from happening again, and allowing WWE to focus on the content and not troubleshooting its tech issues.

That’s designing for growth. I actually wince when I hear about small companies that refuse to hire additional staff or form strategic partnerships. Yes, you can handle your customer-support tickets at the rate of one or two a day from 50 sales, but what if you’re successful and sell 5,000 of your product or service? Does your system scale, are you prepared to hire staff if you need them, or are you going to limit yourself to only what you can get to in your free time? That’s NOT designing for growth.

Interested in reading more about this? SO AM I. But I’m not happy with most of the recent articles I’ve read in various business sources about scalable business, so if you’ve got one to share, please leave a comment, because I’d love to be able to point to a good resource in this area. Most I’ve read are designed for people looking to raise millions in venture capital, and what I’m really trying to get at is that even small businesses need to be scalable and growth-focused!

My business takeaways: This is something I struggle with in my freelancing: I trade time for money, and that isn’t scalable over a certain point. In fact, right now I’m capped out; I truly can’t take on any more work. Recently, I’ve found some trusted friends who’ve been able to subcontract with me on certain projects, and that’s been a lifesaver, but even that requires some time commitment on my part to serve as a liaison and so on, but I need to figure out if there’s something more in my future than working at an hourly rate (even if it’s a high one!) Specifically, my goal is to launch two products this calendar year (one in the homeschooling space, another in the customer-service space) so that I can create an additional stream of income even during those times I don’t have time to trade for money.

Your challenge question: Is your business – be it product or service – designed for growth? Are you tied to a particular tool or technology to excess? If you’re an employee, is your job designed for growth, or if a piece of technology changes, will your knowledge and skills become obsolete? What can you do today to increase your marketability?

Maybe you’re not a wrestling fan. Even so, there’s some SERIOUSLY good business going on in the ring right now. I hope you’ll consider the lessons you can learn as a side-hustler, entrepreneur or employee…

… and I hope you’ll share your thoughts with us in the comments!

(Bonus: If you watched WrestleMania last night, you BETTER tell me your favorite WrestleMania moments in the comments!)

What do you think?

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you-buy-it

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

Two summers ago, while visiting an art museum in Washington, D.C., we came upon an exhibit in the process of being installed. Huge letters and swaths of red, black and white covered every square inch of wall and floor.

When I saw it, I took the photo above, hoping it would serve as a reminder to go back and see the finished exhibit and revisit the phrases plastered throughout.

WHOSE VALUES?

FORGET EVERYTHING.

YOU WANT IT. YOU BUY IT. YOU FORGET IT.

And while I haven’t gotten back to see the final installation of Belief+Doubt (I hope to – it’s on display through the end of this year!) … the phrases have stuck with me, and I’m reminded of them at the weirdest times.

[Like when I look in my closet and wonder...]

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42-graffiti

julian-100Julian Hayes II is a fitness and lifestyle coach and writer based out of Nashville, Tennessee. He is the creator of 206 Fitness. Why 206? Not only is 206 one of his nicknames, but there are also 206 bones in the body. He believes anyone can achieve the body they’ve always wanted while still living a fun and adventurous life. Read more about him and download his free ebook on how to achieve the body you’ve always wanted while owning life at 206fitness.com and connect with him on Facebook & Twitter.

I am $42,000 in debt and I’m absolutely loving life right now.

Yes, you read that correctly.

$42k in debt.

To the majority of people, this sounds like an insanely large amount of money.

Except me.

Seriously, this is nothing to me.

[Allow me to explain...]

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books-to-read

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

I love to read.

It doesn’t really matter what it is – barring anything else handy, I’d happily read the back of a cereal box at breakfast – but since I was about 3 years old, I’ve rarely been without a pile of books in progress.

In January, I set a goal on Goodreads to finish 75 books this year. I started out great – averaging almost a book a day.

But life happens, and the books piled up into the stack you see above, unfinished and, in most cases, not even started!

[The mental drain of being "behind" is just too much...]

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1040-tax-form Image courtesy of our friend PT of PT Money (www.ptmoney.com)

 

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

Tax season is hitting full-force here in the US! Our taxes have been done since early February, thanks to my own OCD record-keeping and our accountant’s desire to get us in and out as early as possible each year, what with our 80 streams of income and all that.

But after a couple years of paying in some hefty figures around this time of year thanks to self-employment taxes and some other strangeness, this year, we are getting refunds from both state and local.

Those checks hit my bank account this week, and as I share my financial update for this month, I thought it might be a good time to talk about tax refunds – and the best plans for them!

[Here's a look at our plan for March and beyond...!]

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