Over the past few years, serial entrepreneur Erlend Bakke has earned a reputation as an international expert on using automation and outsourcing to grow your business. Leading by example, he currently owns three companies and manages teams in multiple countries. He works mostly from the comfort of his home, alternating between San Francisco, London, Oslo, and Davao City in the Philippines, generating a steady multiple six-figure annual income in the process.
Today, Erlend spends most of his time training entrepreneurs in how to start, run and own freedom businesses through his seminar The Freedom Bootcamp, his membership website, and his weekly Hardcore MBA Podcast. He is also the author of the #1 International Bestselling book Never Work Again, and he speaks regularly on the topics of entrepreneurship, automation and outsourcing.
Without question, Erlend is a true lifestyle entrepreneur. He’s built and maintained multiple successful companies, all while enjoying a location-independent lifestyle that many entrepreneurs dream of one day achieving. But Erlend did not set out to become a lifestyle entrepreneur. In fact, when Erlend started his first company, he quickly became consumed by his work, eventually facing exhaustion and burnout. That experience was a wake-up call for Erlend, and the turning point which set him down the path of learning to utilize automation and outsourcing to run his business more efficiently and create more freedom.
In his interview with us, Erlend reflects on his journey as an entrepreneur, and shares some valuable insights to help other entrepreneurs avoid the trap of becoming a prisoner of their own business.
From an early age, Erlend had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur. His family was not an entrepreneurial family, and as a product of Norway’s traditional school system, he definitely wasn’t conditioned to think like an entrepreneur. Erlend was taught that in order to make money, he would have to work for others. Following the traditional path, Erlend went on to study industrial design in Edinburgh, followed by brand strategy at Brunel University in London.
As a university student, Erlend’s dream was to work as a branding consultant in London. That dream was realized shortly after graduating when he was accepted for a position with a marketing firm in London. Eager to succeed, Erlend was constantly pitching new ideas for the company to his boss. Unfortunately for Erlend, most of his ideas would go unacknowledged, and it soon became clear that he did not fit in very well with the overall culture and vision of the company. After several months, Erlend was fired from his dream job.
Getting fired from his job was a devastating experience for Erlend, but it gave him the opportunity to really think about what he wanted to do with his life. He went for a few other job interviews, but ultimately he decided that the time had come for him to become an entrepreneur.
Instead of immediately starting his own business, Erlend reached out to a friend that had recently started a 360° product photography company and asked to work with him instead. In exchange for a salary and a 10% equity stake in the company, Erlend started working with his friend to help grow the business. That was in 2007, and over the course of that year, they were able to grow the company from one to ten employees, becoming the largest provider of 360° product photography in the UK at the time.
After that year, Erlend decided it was time to start his own company. He sold his 10% equity stake back to his friend and relocated to his hometown of Oslo, Norway to start the same type of business. In 2008 he founded 3Sixty, a business that he still owns today.
Today, Erlend has minimal involvement in the day-to-day operations of 3Sixty, but that was certainly not the case in the beginning. During the first few years, Erlend worked incredibly hard (as most entrepreneurs do) to build his business, neglecting virtually every other area of his life in the process.
“I was trying to make a lot of money extremely fast. I just wasn’t a very patient person. Everything had to be speedy. I had the mindset that I wanted to make money really fast, I wanted to buy all these things, and I also had this vision that it had to happen before I was 35. I thought that if I could make enough money, I could prove to my peers that I was successful.”
After about 3 years of running his business, Erlend experienced something that caused him to completely re-evaluate his priorities. It happened while he was attending the National Achiever’s Congress in London. As he was trying to take notes as he listened to the speakers, respond to emails from his phone, and plan a dinner party all at the same time, he started to experience what he describes as a funny feeling. He excused himself from the conference to go lay down on the grass outside, but that didn’t help. His head was throbbing, his body felt stressed, his heart rate was increasing significantly, and he started to feel dizzy. Thinking that he was having a heart attack, Erlend headed straight for the hospital.
To his relief, Erlend was told that what he experienced was not a heart attack, but most likely a stress induced panic attack. He was advised to stop working and relax for a few months. Fortunately for Erlend, he did have some people and systems in place to help manage his business while he took some time to rejuvenate. To his surprise, the people on his team quickly assumed the responsibilities that Erlend had been handling by himself for so long.
“What happens when you let go is that, if you’ve found great people to work with, they’ll actually step up and take the responsibilities for you. That’s why it’s important to build great teams. Having a great team is the foundation for your business. Actually, the word company means group of people. If you’re a solo-preneur and you’re the only person working there, it’s not a company, it’s actually just you. But if you have a team, it’s a company. A lot of entrepreneurs forget that.”
Realizing that he could still earn an income by having a team and systems in place that ran his business for him was a major wake-up call for Erlend. From that point forward, Erlend focused on creating more efficiency in his business so that he would have more freedom and flexibility in his life.
When Erlend started his second company, an image editing company called 3SixtyFactory, he couldn’t afford to hire employees in his hometown of Oslo, Norway. Instead, he placed a few job ads online and accepted applications from people in the Philippines. He hired five people at once for one month, and at the end of that month he chose the candidate most suited to work with him. That person became the co-founder of 3SixtyFactory, which is based out of the Philippines and now employs 20 people.
After successfully utilizing outsourcing to build his second company, Erlend realized that there must be other entrepreneurs out there who could benefit from doing the same thing. That’s when he decided to launch his third business, Mr. Outsource, a recruitment company that helps connect entrepreneurs with virtual assistants in the Philippines.
“The important thing with recruitment is finding the right person for you, because the person that is right for me isn’t necessarily right for you. A quick way to figure that out is to do a talent dynamics test which gives you an overview of what kind of characteristics you have as an entrepreneur. Then you need to build a team around you that supports how you are.”
As you can imagine, Erlend has become a strong advocate of delegation. He strongly believes that all entrepreneurs should learn to delegate as much as possible to other people. The reality is that the majority of new businesses fail within the first few years of being launched, often because the entrepreneur who started the business no longer has the stamina to continue. They experience burnout, just as Erlend did when he started his first company.
“One of the biggest problems for entrepreneurs when they start off is that they don’t delegate. They don’t have the skillset to leverage other peoples’ time. They don’t trust employees. They’ve been bruised by them before. They don’t trust them to deliver as high a standard as they do.”
The entrepreneurs who succeed are the ones who develop the skills to build teams and leverage other peoples’ time and expertise. They invest the time and energy required to provide proper training to their team members. Erlend advises against trying to handle everything yourself, as tempting as it may be. Learn to create systems and processes in your business that can be managed and maintained by other people. You’ll likely discover that most people can handle the tasks that you give them, as long as they are taught to handle those tasks in a way that makes sense to them.
We asked Erlend to give us some examples of how he automates certain procedures in his business in order to maximize efficiency. Since Erlend hosts a podcast, he shed some light on the systems he and his team created to maintain that podcast. Not surprisingly, most of the tasks involved in maintaining the podcast are not Erlend’s responsibility. His role is to find guests for his show and record an interview with them.
After Erlend records a podcast interview, that recording is sent to three people. The first person is charge of editing the podcast interview and uploading it to iTunes. The second person is in charge of writing a text summary of the podcast interview. The third person is in charge of creating a short YouTube video to help promote the respective podcast interview. Each of these people were provided with specific training that outlined precisely how their task was to be completed, which eliminated any confusion or inconsistency.
“The way my mind works is I look for activities that are repetitive, because there are two things that you can outsource: repetitive tasks and project-based tasks. Building a website, for example, is a project-based task. It has a start and an end. What I look for in my business are patterns. Publishing a podcast every single week is a pattern, so we made some documentation and a video on how to publish a podcast.”
Although publishing a podcast interview may be a simple example, it helps to illustrate the extent to which Erlend strives to make every single aspect of his businesses as efficient as possible. For his company 3SixtyFactory, they have a 300-page manual which outlines everything from legal details, to payment processing, new employee induction, and so on. They have a working procedure for the entire company, and everybody that joins the company is required to read it as part of their training. Thanks to those documented working procedures, Erlend now does very little to manage the company; it basically manages itself.
As an entrepreneur, one of the most effective ways to immediately reduce your workload and free up more time in your schedule is to hire a virtual assistant (VA). A VA is someone who works for you remotely, and that assumes responsibility for a lot of the administrative and/or technical tasks involved in running your business. Many highly skills VAs are based out of countries such as the Philippines and India, and can therefore perform virtually any task that does not require their physical presence. Depending on where you live, hiring someone from another country may be less expensive than hiring someone locally.
Erlend recommends that all entrepreneurs start off by hiring what is called a General VA. A General VA is someone who can do a lot of the tasks that you do, but that aren’t necessarily the best use of your time as an entrepreneur. To determine what those tasks are, take out a piece of paper and a pen and complete the following exercise:
Completing this exercise should give you a very clear picture of the various tasks that you could potentially delegate to a General VA. Keep in mind that a General VA, as the term implies, should only be responsible for handling general tasks (tasks that are repetitive and easily learnable). If some of the tasks on your list are highly specialized tasks such as graphic design, software development, audio or video editing, for example, then you should hire additional help. Once you have a General VA, you can even have them help you recruit the people that are needed to handle any specialized tasks.
By implementing the strategies that Erlend shared with us, he was able to completely transform his businesses, and consequently, his lifestyle. Today, Erlend enjoys a unique combination of freedom and location independence that very few entrepreneurs ever experience. His companies continue to operate with little day-to-day involvement on his behalf, and he is able to focus on other aspects of his life that are important to him. To help illustrate the impact that utilizing automation and outsourcing has had on his lifestyle, we asked him to describe his typical daily routine.
“I always get 7-8 hours of sleep. When I wake up I’ll drink half a litre of water, then I’ll do about 25-30 minutes of meditation. I breathe in a certain way that creates calmness in my body and extreme focus. I typically don’t have meetings until 11am. In the morning I prefer to think about my day, exercise, go for a walk, or read a book. I’m a slow starter in the morning and I know that. I try to have lunch with somebody, and I try to find some cool destination to go to – like a place with a view. Then I work for anywhere from 1-5 hours in the afternoon, and then I’ve got my free time. Some evenings I do webinars, where I train people online how to outsource and how to automate their businesses. I try to relax before I go to sleep. I’m not the kind of person who can just lie down and fall asleep. I need about 30-60 minutes to unwind, calm down, and get ready to sleep.”
When Erlend started his first business, his main focus was to make money. To him, success meant building a lucrative business quickly, driving a nice car, living in a nice apartment, and so on. And after a few years of building his business, he did achieve success according to how he defined it, but it came at price. The stress induced panic attack that sent Erlend to the hospital served as a wake-up call for him, causing him to re-evaluate his priorities, and eventually, redefine what it means to be successful. Today, Erlend has a completely different definition of success, and he’s reminded of it every time he gets on a plane.
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“Every time I get on a flight, I realize that I don’t have any control over what is going to happen to this flight, and I ask myself if this plane was to crash today, am I living the kind of life that I should be living? Am I staying true to myself? So I think success for me is when I can live every day and be successful where I am right now, having achieved what I have done, because the train never reaches the station. It’s the journey that’s important, not the destination. Success is being able to look back on your day and on your life and think I did okay. I did great. I did what I needed to do. No regrets.”
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