Benjamin got started in the business world at the age of 19.
He’s grown his business to 17 employees, but only spends 1-2 hours per day managing it. How? Implementing automation. So of course, we interviewed him on the podcast (Episode 21). We also met in person when Ben came to visit the 4YFN and the Mobile World Congress happening in Barcelona. And after digging a little deeper, I realised there was potential for a second interview for younger audiences. 😎
What I really like about Benjamin’s approach is how honest and simple his responses are. His message is sincerely ‘anyone can do this, you just need to be willing to get started’. A lot of actionable advice and interesting ideas in this interview, so make sure to take notes! 😛
Who are you, where are you from and what do you currently do?
My name is Benjamin, I’m 24 years old and I’m from Germany. I’m currently living in Bochum and I’m an entrepreneur running multiple agencies as well as a startup.
The cool stuff
What brought you to start your first business at the age of 19?
I simply thought it would be cool to start a business at a young age. I was really aiming to start the business at the age of 18. When I started university I signed up the company at the same time, which was when I was 18.
What was your mentality?
Really my mentality was more ‘Let’s try this out and see what happens’. I had funding from the government to finance my studies, but I wanted side pocket money besides that. I had a friend selling websites and earning 1,000€ per website! So I thought what he was doing was pretty interesting and that maybe I could do something similar.
But honestly my mindset was pretty relaxed, I did not have a ‘trained mindset’. I was more like a student who had never been to university, who was enjoying life and thinking of getting into web design.
What did you do about university?
University was never a top priority for me. I was working full time on my business and it was hard to manage between exams and being self-employed. For 3-4 months it was pretty hard, and after several exam periods making things difficult, I decided to stop university for 1 year and see where my business would go.
And it’s when I decided to commit full time to the business that it really took off. 📈
Walk us through the process of starting your business: what is this business about?
At the beginning I was just doing web design. I was designing websites for people and simply learning on the go. I would get my professional skills by working with clients, and I eventually ended up developing mobile applications as well as digital marketing.
Where and how did you gain the skills to sell?
Ever since I was 13 years old, I was interested in HTML. I remember printing hundreds of pages about the topic and learning as much as I could. I even tried building websites for free at that age, and trying to convince friends to let me build them websites.
So I was interested in the topic at a young age, and had a few skills, but really the proper skills didn’t come until I started working for clients. I’ve always been pretty good with design and could produce pretty good results. The first client I ever had is still a client, and probably didn’t even notice that I was just starting out – he’s still very happy with my work. Building websites is a good way to get started with the programming world.
Check his portfolio and work at Benjamin Schleier 😛
How did you get your first clients?
I started by messaging a few people on some platforms, and eventually cold calling them. Honestly, back then I was very shy. I would sit for 20 minutes just preparing for the interview with the client. But this really forced me to get out of my comfort zone. I would usually meet clients in person and sometimes online.
When and how did you hire your first employee?
I was freelancing for 2 years before I hired my first employee. I had been experimenting with other freelancers beforehand, but this was my first proper employee. It kind of happened by chance – the employee was not happy working for his boss and after my job with the boss ended, the employee called up and asked to work for me instead. 💁♀️
Now I have 17 employees, and I hire them online as well as through recommendations.
Did you have an office? Where did you work from?
When I first started I did not have an office. It was hard for me to get motivated, and I felt lazy and not at all focused on my goals. Once I got a bit of cash flow I rented an office for 400€/month. At the time, I had no idea where I would get the 400€, but really renting the office was a very important step for growth. I had a conference room where I could meet clients, and probably got some jobs with clients I might not have had before without the office.
Co-working spaces are also a good option if you’re a freelancer without employees.
What were the biggest obstacles?
Definitely having employees. It’s tough and it’s hard. I’ve made wrong decisions and suffered from it. Having stable cash flow is also hard, and it’s not great when you have an angry client who’s a difficult person. If they don’t pay you once, the situation gets tough. But I’ve had a huge chance to learn about what difficult people are like.
Would you recommend others go from freelancer to managing an online business?
Yes, it’s much better if you learn the skills all yourself as a freelancer. It would be very challenging to start an online business without the experience of managing clients. I believe it’s some of the necessary steps.
How are you as a leader? How do you improve yourself?
At the beginning, the job interviews I did were pretty relaxed, even too relaxed. I made good and bad hiring decisions. Now I’m much more professional – I would recommend anyone to look up how to do a proper job interview before getting started.
As a leader, I’m constantly trying to improve. I read a lot of books and think of the different areas I could improve on. It’s hard to recommend specific books, but start by figuring out the topics you want to learn about (a good start is: How to Win Friends and Influence People). Practice the skills from the book and then apply them to real life.
Now you spend one hour a day on this business. Where are you know? How did you automate it?
I got my first employee in 2016, and it was all pretty unstructured. For 2017 my goal was to build more structure and a proper team. For 2018 I wanted to build lasting structure, and a business which could function without me. Automation is just a matter of defining the structure of your business, learning how to delegate and talking to your team.
Where did you first get the idea/mentality to automate your business?
I read several books that inspired me, notably The 4 Hour Work Week. Mostly I always had the mentality, in the back of my mind I knew I wanted the business to be automated.
What do you spend your 1h per day doing now? And what do you do with the rest of your time?
Sometimes it’s half an hour, sometimes it’s 2 hours. I mostly spend the time talking to employees, to clients, preparing invoices and sending out proposals. And with the rest of my time I’m currently building a new startup to develop some newer projects and ideas.
What are you doing with the freedom that you have now?
I’ve realised that what I really like doing is building businesses. What I value most is freedom. So ideally I would like to travel around the world for 1 year or 2 as a digital nomad, and then I would like to invest in startups.
I like working with people on startups and having a personal input to make businesses grow. So in my spare time I would like to build businesses, be a little less active and more passive.
How can other 20 something year olds start an online business with no experience or skills?
I suggest to start as a freelancer, start small. And once you have the skills, turn it into a business. Take my smaller brother who is currently 23 as an example. He has no experience or skills, and I’m guiding him so he can get started too.
Make a list of the skills you have and of the skills you want to have, then sign up on various freelancer platforms and start working with clients. 💁♀️
Can anyone do it?
Yes, most people can do it (yay!).
Would you say managing this online business ‘fulfills’ you? What is your goal with these businesses?
It really depends on the projects. If you have stressful clients, the work isn’t very fulfilling – but this happens even when you have a job. I find building and managing multiple businesses fulfilling.
When it comes to technical work, I enjoy designing and programming, but only when I can pick the project I want to work on. If I like the client and the project, then I am more than happy to do it myself. Being able to select which project to do is a pretty amazing luxury – and if I don’t like it, I get my employees to do it!
What’s the big goal?
Complete automation is the big goal. I want to build a passive cash flow and to be able to select more the different projects I want to do. My long term goal is to build more businesses in areas that I enjoy, and to have an impact on the world with my own startups.
Conclusion by Financially Mint
Wow! What an amazing journey Ben has gone through. I think there are a lot of golden nuggets we can take away from this interview:
- Before building an online business, be a freelancer. Then you get good at your skill, learn how to work with clients and delegate efficiently.
- You do not have to be a programming whizz to get clients and you’ll learn the most on the job.
- You don’t have to go to university to start an online business (do a year of self-education instead)
- Building websites is a great way to get started with clients in the programming world
- Renting an office (or a co-working space) will force you to take the work seriously and can be a big step for growth
- Automation is about having systems and structures in place. Learn how to make your business work without you.
- A great way to learn how to be a good leader and put the right systems in place is by reading books (surprise, surprise!)
The best part of this interview is that Ben really breaks down how he got started. And if we look at the root of it, the process if pretty simple. Find a skill you can do well, freelance for a bit, get some clients and then outsource your work to others. Yes, I’m currently trying it out with my own freelance work, and I encourage you do it too. The key word here is automation – the minute you stop exchanging time for money, the world really is your oyster. 🍥