If I was broke and homeless, here is what I would do to start over (again)

It was April 24, 2001, and I had just shut down a tax prep office with 15 preparers that completed a five-figure 1040 volume, and that hadn’t even existed five months earlier.

It was my last day on active duty in the U.S. Navy, and I was heading back home to Oregon. I only made it to Colorado, but that’s a totally different story.

As I left Norfolk, VA that day, I was obviously thinking about my future. Given my nuclear training, I assumed that the legacy of my Navy experience would be a career in nuclear power. The strange task of building a tax prep office from scratch to service the largest concentration of military personnel in the world was something I viewed as nothing more than the grunt work I had to do because I was on the short end of my enlistment.

I never thought it would become my career.

And that’s one of the great things about life: You just never know where it’s going to take you.

If I had had a crystal ball at the time, I would have treated that tax season differently. I would have actually learned how to prepare a return, rather than just treating it as an IT problem, among other things. It could have been a tremendous learning experience, if I had allowed it to be, and it would have put me several years ahead in life.

As I started civilian life, tax or accounting never even crossed my mind. And later in 2001, I chose a woman over a nuclear power job in New York. Then I somehow ended up in real estate. Then I ended up divorced, bankrupt, and homeless.

So seven years after my first tax season, I ended up having my second, entirely out of necessity. I consider it somewhat humorous that this period of my life was bookended with tax work. Some people might even say that my return to the tax field was inevitable.

In retrospect, I sometimes wish that I had gone into tax or accounting straight out of the gate when I left the Navy. But at the time, I didn’t respect it as an occupation, and I didn’t understand the value of the skill set.

But now I do. And I hope that you do, too.

Tax preparation is a skill. Tax resolution is a skill. Marketing is a skill. Your skill set is your livelihood, and that livelihood gives you a lifestyle.

A commercial fisherman knows the right bait to use, how to find the best fishing spots, and the best time of year to fish. Those are his skills, and those skills produce a livelihood and a lifestyle.

Living in a car is also a skill, one that I happen to possess. It’s also a lifestyle, one that I know all too well.

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The bank can take the house, and the bankruptcy court can take everything else. But your skills belong to you for life.

Short of major health problems, major cataclysmic disaster, or war, the only thing you ever need to get back on your feet when you’re down are your skills.

And let’s face it, the IRS ain’t going nowhere, and business owners are always going to need to know their numbers. Our profession has been around since the dawn of civilization, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Your skills are your Golden Ticket.

If my life suddenly became a real-life episode of Naked & Afraid, I know that I can rely on my skills to get me back on my feet.

I’ll skip the water, fire, food, shelter, and clothing portion of this recovery operation. Let’s also assume that I manage to trek back to civilization, and that I’m in the United States. All games need a set of starting conditions, so these will be mine. Yes, I’ll be using a game analogy, because I have come to view economic life as an artificial game not unlike Monopoly, because, well it is a game, and it’s completely artificial. But that also is a story for another post.

So our game is Economics, and we use money to keep score. In our game, we have various ways to obtain money, and then we use money to obtain other goods and services. Some of these goods, which would be free if we didn’t play Economics, are necessary just to survive. Others just make life much more comfortable.

To get started, I would do whatever was necessary to obtain a tiny amount of money. Seed money is necessary to start the whole process. Playing Economics doesn’t work at all without some startup money. I would walk into every business I could find, offering to do whatever grunt work they needed done, for whatever they were willing to pay me.

Whether this work was pulling weeds, patching the roof, changing oil, reconciling accounts, doing outbound telemarketing, or representing them in an examination, I would do it. That first bit of seed cash is necessary to play Economics.

I will point out that many homeless people are capable of reaching this stage, but simply don’t. Those with mental or physical disabilities may not be able to do it on their own, but I see many homeless people that could definitely reach this stage.

With a little bit of seed money, I would work on making myself more presentable. It’s amazing how cheap a shower, haircut, and fresh clothes from a thrift store can be. It’s even more amazing what that can ll do for your self-esteem, confidence, and ability to be taken seriously.

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From here, even though I might be living in a cardboard box in an alley, and dumpster diving for food, the process of building a high score in a game of Economics becomes the same for everybody: Use your resources wisely, combined with your skills, to multiply your money.

I would do “seed money” work as necessary until I could obtain a pre-paid cell phone. A phone is an incredible force multiplier in terms of economic productivity. Think of it as a power-up in our game of Economics.

With a phone, and a trip to the library, I can obtain various basic telemarketing lists, then call those lists. I simply direct solicit my tax and accounting skills.

This one marketing method, using the telephone, is sufficient to get me into a much, much more comfortable lifestyle. Like, a van. Vans are great, compared to a cardboard box. In fact, if I’m on the phone selling tax resolution services locally, I could most likely get enough cash to buy a van with just one paying client. This is an example of a higher value skill, which brings tremendous advantage in a game of Economics.

Once I’ve upgraded to a van, my next goal is to get an executive/virtual office that I can work from. This will require several hundred dollars per month, but having a clean, quiet place to work from (instead of the library or the homeless shelter) will help my business tremendously. I can still get to this point strictly via the phone.

In short order, I’ll have enough points, errr, money, to get online. Online tools provide me tremendous business growth leverage, even if I’m doing all the work myself. Using both free and paid online marketing, as well as some very affordable marketing automation tools (such as email autoresponders), I can leverage myself.

With some more capital coming in, now I can leverage other marketing media, such as broadcast media, direct mail, etc. The multiplication from these sources quickly makes me too busy to do everything myself, and soon I become an employer.

The process of financial recovery isn’t really that complex. It just takes the will to do it, to take action. The most important thing to never forget is that you possess a financially valued skill, and the skill set for marketing and selling your tax/accounting skills is itself a skill set, one that can be learned.