Edit: (April 19, 2021) For context, back when I wrote this post in 2014 I was just starting up my freelance web design business in Hawaii. Little did I know that a year later I would go back to school to get my degree, and 2 years later I would be moving to Oahu. My business did well, but in time I focused on school and ended up working in a variety of positions in Honolulu. But I still feel that a lot of how I work was improved by my experiences working with Justin and his business.
At first glance it would probably seem like flipping houses, doing wushu and designing websites doesn’t have that much in common. However, I’m realizing that there are some striking similarities between the three and, even more than that, there are universal truths which span the entirety of business building, athletics and life.
What is House Flipping?
For those of you who don’t know (or have a total misunderstanding) house flipping is the process of purchasing a house (usually run-down and neglected), investing resources (time, money, labor, equipment, etc.) to increase the value of the house, and then selling the house at a price that brings in a profit.
Like any business there are a dozen different ways to skin the proverbial cat. Some people are very unscrupulous when they flip houses — using shoddy materials, sub-standard supplies, and basically trying to pull the wool over a home buyer’s eyes.
But there are also many real estate investors who truly work to add amazing value and bring a house to a position where it would be a joy to live in.
One such house flipper is the guy I’ve been working with for the past year and a half, Justin Williams. I’ve been helping him build and create a website, podcast, online community and coaching program over at House Flipping HQ (www.houseflippinghq.com), and besides bringing in a really good return (we’ve generated around $200k in gross revenue in 10 months) it’s given me a serious inside look at how house flipping works, and specifically Justin’s approach to running a business.
The Five Hour Work Week
Justin has been flipping houses and building his business for the past 7 years. He currently flips around 100 houses a year generating 7 figures in income. That might not be spectacular in itself, but what sets him apart is the fact that he has put systems in place that allow him to work around 5 hours a week in his business.
That’s right. He makes 7 figures and flips 100 houses a year while working 5 hours a week (or 260 hours a year)!
When some folks hear that they scoff.
Why? Because many of them have the idea that house flipping equals being intimately involved in every part of the process. It is beyond their paradigm to conceive of someone outsourcing or systematizing real estate investing to such a huge degree.
But that is Justin’s special skill. He’s been called the “King of House Flipping Systems”, because his entire job in his business is to put himself out of a job in his business. Just like Tim Ferris in the Four Hour Work Week, he’s been able to analyze the business of real estate investing and created a system for his business that keeps things running with minimal time investment on his part.
Back to Basics
When Justin teaches his students on his podcast or his coaching program how to flip houses, he always emphasizes the same few principles over and over. In fact, it’s at the point now where he’s almost a broken record because he’s constantly having to say different versions of the same things in the hopes that it gets drilled in to people’s heads.
But as I’ve been working with him for the past year and a half, learning how he teaches house flipping and his philosophies on business, I’ve noticed that a lot of what he talks about applies to all businesses, not just house flipping. These are tried and true fundamental principles that span the entirety of business.
In fact, they go beyond business. I’m realizing that these principles apply to wushu as well. Because ultimately these are all skill-based mediums. And when developing a skill in business or sports, many of the same things apply.
I decided to take this opportunity to look at the principles of what Justin teaches and see how it applies to my own business as a web designer and life as a wushu athlete.
As I said, at first glance buying, rehabbing and selling houses doesn’t seem very similar to a client services-based design business, or practicing martial arts, but let’s do a bit of exploration and see what we come up with, shall we?
Principle #1: Fundamentals
It probably goes without saying that you have to study what you do. But what is amazing is that there are really only a handful of things that are fundamental to any one given skill set. The rest? It turns out they don’t really matter all that much.
For martial arts, the fundamentals really boil down to either properly generating force through your body, from the ground to the point of impact, or transferring force coming at you in to another direction. Basically it is about understanding the transfer of physical energy. If you can do this well, then you are 90% of the way to being proficient in wushu. All techniques are derived from this principle, so it is the root of what you need to learn in wushu, whether it is a kick, punch, block, sweep, jump or stance.
For real estate the fundamentals are about effectively analyzing properties and getting houses under contract at a price that will bring a profit. That’s it! You can have a totally successful career as a house flipper (or more specifically a wholesaler) by just dialing in those two skills! Notice there is nothing about picking out paint colors or dealing with contractors. (Don’t believe everything you see on HGTV!)
For web design the fundamentals are actually less about knowing how to code a website or design a mockup in Photoshop, and more about being able to listen to a client and understand which of their options will provide the best solution. With just those two skills you can have a career in web design (or more specifically web consulting).
There is a disconnect I sometimes see when people think of fundamentals vs. advanced techniques. Newbie house flippers often start off thinking about the rehab process or putting together a list of private money lenders instead of putting up bandit signs and sending out direct mail. New wushu students often look at the nandu (difficult maneuvers) as being a different set of skills than jibengong (basic techniques). Or some beginning designers might see high level photoshop mockup skills as being different than talking to potential clients about their business needs.
And we might have a general understanding that you need to work on your fundamentals before you can work on the high level stuff. But it’s more than that. The better your fundamentals the higher the level of your advanced techniques will be. It might seem like the two are only mildly related, but there is a direct correlation between how well you can execute a basic action and how high your advanced levels will become.
Figure out what the core fundamentals are to what you want to do, and drill them like a crazy person until you are amazing at them. This attention to fundamentals, more than anything else, will build up your abilities and allow you to reach the highest levels.
Principle #2: Smart Focus + Massive Action
Once you have a handle on the fundamentals a lot of people have the inclination to just get busy with “busy work”. They design business cards, or play with their website, or buy the best wushu pants and shoes. But none of those things are true actions that provide results.
Justin talks all the time about taking massive action, but he also emphasizes the importance of taking the right type of action and focusing on things that bring results.
In house flipping that action is related to the fundamentals. Direct marketing, networking and analyzing properties.
In fact, he runs a challenge with his mastermind group where they get points for taking specific types of action, and NOT on the results of those actions. You don’t get points for making $10,000 on a deal, but you get points for knocking on doors to prospect for deals. Why? Because knocking on doors (or getting out there and taking action to bring in deals) is the only way to really build your business.
In wushu you don’t get points for being the best dressed person in the wushu guan. And you don’t get points for watching the most wushu videos on youtube. Your points are accumulated when you go 100% all-out on a gruelling training session. Or you get points for doing dozens of mabu–gongbu transitions. Why? Because THOSE are the actions that will improve your skill in wushu.
And in a web design business you don’t get points for spending all day on Lynda.com learning the latest design software, and you don’t get points for having the coolest dual monitor work station on the block. Your points are accumulated when you talk to potential clients, identify what they need, and send them a proposal that shows you know your stuff. Why? Because that is what brings in projects and allows you to actually DO the act of building websites.
It’s all about understanding the highest and best use of your time and energy. Focus on those tasks and actions that actually generate results, and the results will speak for themselves.
Principle #3: Fail Forward Fast
So, once you understand your fundamentals and you are focusing your actions on the tasks that create results, what is next? Will success suddenly follow?
There’s a funny thing about success. As a general rule it doesn’t come freely to everyone. You have to work for it. And not just work for it — you have to fail for it.
Darren Hardy (Editor in Chief of Success Magazine and author of The Compound Effect) talks about success and failure being on opposite sides of a pendulum, and in order for you to swing to the side of success, you must first pull strongly to the side of failure, pain and frustration.
In terms of wushu, when you started training did you have the perfect zheng ti tui (front stretch kick)? Of course not. But the only way to develop success with any wushu technique is by doing it incorrectly over and over again until you weed out all the mistakes and can perform it the right way. There is a reason we do thousands upon thousands of repetitions. Because kung fu is defined as a high level skill which is the results of “intense effort” over a long period of time. Notice that there is nothing in that definition that says kung fu is the result of “tons of success” over a long period of time. 😉
For house flipping, there are so many unknowns and variables that a first time house flipper doesn’t yet understand (even if they study for years) that it is almost impossible for them to get the perfect deal right off the bat. There is a ton of angry sellers, doors slammed on your face, rejections to your offers and plenty of failure to go through first. But every time you experience some failure you learn another way not to get a deal or talk to a seller and you improve your technique.
With web design, there is an entire process that is put in to a proposal just related to bug checking. Why? Because there will ALWAYS be mistakes in the code you write or the designs you created. That’s why it takes so much longer for a new web designer to make a website than someone who’s made a bunch of them. There are just that many more failures that a new designer needs to experience and understand before they can get through them all and find any success.
We all fear failure to some degree. But those who learn to view failure as an avenue to success — as a path to wisdom and understanding — are the ones who find success first. Fail forward fast and learn from your mistakes. Then fail again, and again. Because the only natural result of massive failure is an understanding of what it takes to get massive success.
I’ve learned a ton from Justin about flipping houses. But I’ve learned even more about how to build a business the right way. So, while I’m about to embark on my own business building journey and will soon be saying goodbye to the House Flipping HQ project, I take with me an MBA’s worth of education, and a deep appreciation to Justin for everything I’ve experienced.
It hasn’t always been a walk in the park, and sometimes we both wanted to kick each other into the deep end of the pool, but at the end of the day I think we both have a lot of respect and appreciation for the skills each of us brings to the table.
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S., I am appreciative of having had this experience for the past year and a half. It’s been an incredible journey and I can’t wait to see what happens for both of us in the future!