Episode 2: Learn To Earn

Want a million bucks? Go sell your TV!

Consuming information is one thing, developing new skills is something else. 

In this episode, Niel Malan explores why knowledge alone is meaningless unless it’s applied. 

Using real-world examples, he explains why it is so important for entrepreneurs to put into practice what they have learned in books, videos, from mentors, online, etc.

Niel also delves into his past to illustrate how the saying “it’s who you know, not what you know” is nonsense, and shares the story of why he did not give a broke man money, but rather told him to sell his television.

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Hey everybody, welcome to the second episode of Elite Entrepreneur, and today’s title is Learn to Earn

Today, I’m going to reveal the shocking truth of why I told a person that was broke to sell his TV… but not for the reasons you think. 

Welcome to the Elite Entrepreneur show. This is the show where we help entrepreneurs to become more relevant and to become more savvy in running a modern digital business. 

The word “elite” by definition means a select group that is superior in terms of ability and qualities to the rest of a group or society. 

In our minds, an Elite Entrepreneur is an individual that is superior in two ways… Now, when I mean superior, I don’t mean that they’re better than other people, I mean that they are elite. They are cuts above the rest of other entrepreneurs, and that gives them the edge to become more successful. 

And the two ways in which I believe that they are elite is their ability to learn, and even more importantly, their ability to master new skills. 

I’m going to prove to you throughout this episode why I believe the ability to learn and the ability to master new skills is the ultimate form of leverage. 

But before we dive into the content, I want to just give you a cautionary note: There’s a really big difference between consuming information and developing new skills, and they are not the same thing.

Let me give you an example. For many, many years, I used to get these big audiences in front of me when I was still doing classroom training. I used to ask, “Guys, how many of you know exactly how you should exercise?”

You know, there’s some version of you should exercise five times a week. You should raise your heart rate for more than 30 minutes. You should make sure that you eat enough green vegetables, that you shouldn’t eat fatty food. You shouldn’t eat refined carbohydrates… and pretty much everybody that’s honest, raised their hands. 

Then the next question is, “How many of them consistently apply your knowledge that you’re acquired?”

And then usually everybody bursts out laughing and look around sheepishly; and the ones that do [exercise] proudly raise their hands. And those are the ones in pretty good shape. 

So, it’s a fun way to illustrate a point: Acquiring information does not mean that one applies the information. 

There definitely is a distinction between learning and skills development in my mind. The textbook, a dictionary definition of “learning” is as follows: The acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience of being taught. 

So it does contain skills in there. I prefer the definition of skills – by definition it is “the ability to do something well, expertise”. 

So knowledge alone, unless it’s applied, is completely meaningless. That is why I really focus on the skills development component. 

But first you have to acquire the knowledge. So I just want to make that very, very clear: I’m not talking about only passively taking in information. 

A final note on the story. I was in Cape Town in South Africa a while back and I shot one of these scenic ads on the beach. It’s probably one of these ads that got you to watch the show… you were probably like, “This guy! I can’t get rid of him on my newsfeed!” Anyway, thanks for being here. 

I shot this ad. It was quite a controversial ad where I dispel the myth that I believe is quite harmful. And the myth is that “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. 

So many people espouse this advice as though it’s true. It’s not what you know, yt’s who you know. 

I’m going to tell you that is complete rubbish. That is not the truth. And I’m going to prove it to you with three quick stories from my life. Those who know me, have probably heard me tell the stories… 

I’m going to be real quick about it. I was an awful student in school, I just couldn’t study, I had severe ADD all my life, until it’s day I’m taking medication for it. I had severe learning disabilities. So by the time I finished school, I’m pretty certain my teacher made me pass high school just to get rid of me because I was a bit of a troublemaker. 

When I left school, I had no career prospects. I couldn’t go and study, I could hardly read at this point. I mean, I could read, but I couldn’t read a book from cover to cover. I get so distracted, you know, I had to go and do a million other things. 

So, I had no skills. I wasn’t good at anything. Honest to God, I wasn’t even with sports. I mean, I had this back disease [which thankfully I outgrew as an adult]… But while you’ve got this as a kid, as a teenager, your back is constantly in spasm and aching. 

Anyway, I had this learning disability. I wasn’t good at sports. I really wasn’t good at anything. I was good at making trouble. That was about it. So by the time I left school, I had no skills and I had to take what I could get. Right? 

I was a waiter at this awful coffee shop where hardly anybody ate anything. I don’t know, this sounds weird, but it’s one of these coffee shops where people went and had a glass of water and a coffee and they never took anything. It was dreadful. 

I said, listen, I’m going to starve doing this job, I’d better go and find something else. And the only thing I could find was commission-only sales jobs. So, the very first commission-only sales job I got was from a company called House Wares Limited. What they had were these catalogs from which you sold really expensive cook sets and cutlery sets and expensive knives and forks and all that kind of stuff. 

You had to basically walk around, ambush people who looked like they had money as they’re walking down the streets and go, “Hi, do you want to buy a cook set?”.

I got slapped once… I honestly got slapped. It’s not even a joke. I was in Pretoria in South Africa in an area called Church Square. There was a lady that walked past me, and she looked very well-to-do and she was perfectly dressed. You know, she just looked like she had money, and I jumped from behind the statue and she freaked out. She gave me a [slap] and that was it, I resigned on the spot. 

The next company I worked for, we had to take these really big coffee table cookbooks around to office blocks and convince the people to put it on the coffee table. After a couple of days you come back and take an order to see how many they want. That was a great idea, except for two of the books that I left went missing and I had to pay for it. And after I sold nothing, I was in the negative with that job. So I left that one too. 

Anyway, I sold Encyclopedia Britannica. I mean, that was so ridiculous. The day I arrived… they had told me to bring a backpack… and I was like, you’ve got to be kidding. They weren’t, I literally had to put this the entire Encyclopedia Britannica on a backpack and physically show it to people. It was awful. 

I couldn’t sell. I mean, the less I could sell the more anxious I got, it was awful. 

By some chance I got this job as a telesales person in a gym, and these guys offer a base pay, or a basic salary as we call it in South Africa. It’s really little, hardly anything. But at least its something and all I’ve got to do is pick up the phone book and convince people to come into the gym after a hard day’s work. Then all I do is show them a tour of the facilities and then sell the, a membership. Easy, right? Well, not so much. 

Turns out it was quite difficult. In the very first month that I tried, I didn’t make one sale. I don’t think I got one person to come into the gym, and I was just like, “Oh my goodness, are you joking? I am not going to succeed with anything in life.” 

I was just so broke. I hadn’t earned anything from any of my jobs, and I was such a failure. It was horrible. 

I was down on myself, but I was really lucky because the company that I worked for had this sales training program coming up from a guy called Anthony Morrison. 

I went to this program and I sat there – it’s the very first time I went to like a short course, a class on a particular skill. I showed up, ready to learn. I sat there and I took notes and everything. At the end of the day, my arm was sore because I was so committed. 

I studied it that night, and the next day I went back and I studied it again. I studied it over the weekend and I was convinced I was going to nail it, and I went back the following week… and I sold nothing. 

I was like, are you joking? Like what is it going to take? I just said, “I have to get past this block, right?” 

So, I had this book that someone gave me called Sales Cybernetics, I think it’s called. I think it’s got a little bit about the psychology of selling.

I had this really beaten-up old Ford 100 truck that I was driving, and you still had the cassette tapes. I managed to get my hand on a cassette tape on selling as well. I think it was, I think it was Tom Hopkins, How to master the art of setting

I just decided that day I don’t care how slow I’m learning but I’m going to learn how to sell. And I learned and I learned and I learned…

I went through this audio tape, you know, like after it’s been swallowed a few times, thing was horrendous. And this book with folded ears and coffee stains. It was a mess.

But I kept at it and I just didn’t have an option, honestly. My family wasn’t wealthy. I had no other thing that I could do. Nobody else could support me. So I was all desperate. 

Long story short, I finally started making sales, and that was amazing. The first month I sold hardly anything, and then all of a sudden I had this tipping point where I started selling. I learned how to apply those skills that I got. 

I think it was the second or third month that I was there, I became the number one salesman in that club. And there were seven sales guys, right? 

In hindsight, none of them were particularly good. 

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I became the number one salesperson in that club and I just kept at it. I develop such an appetite for learning.

The following month I became the best salesperson in the region. I can’t remember how many salespeople there were, but probably about 150 in the region, maybe 200. 

The months after that, I become the number one salesperson in the country. I remember there were 430 sales people all around the country, and I got this big award. 

Then what people did was they started sending new sales managers and new salespeople to me to teach them how to sell. 

Here’s the guy that hardly graduated from school, right? And I hated selling. I absolutely despise picking up that phone and calling out of the phone book because I know how many people were going to swear at me. I felt like this real snake oil salesman, but I had my back against the wall. I just didn’t have anything else that I could do. And it was amazing. 

I think it was about three years after that, sorry, about two years after that I become a branch manager and then a regional manager for this company, just because of my sales acumen. 

When the company decided to start franchising, they’re gave me one of the very first opportunities to buy the franchise. I was still broke. I mean I was making money, make no mistake, but I was spending it. You know what it’s like, you grew up as a kid and you’ve got nothing… I was buying the cars and like treating all of my friends to drinks and all that, it was crazy days. 

I remember I had a credit card, I was the only one of my friends that had a credit card and I used to pay for everything. So I was still broke, right? But I was making money at least. 

Anyway long story short, I said to them I can’t pay for the gym. They said it’s fine, I can pay them over 18 months. We know you’re good for it. And I did it. 

By the age of 26, I became a millionaire. 

When I say a millionaire, I’m not talking about a paper million, I had a million bucks cash in my account and the business was paid off. 

Now a whole bunch of horrible things happened after that. I lost all that money, I was really stupid at the time with money. 

But the point is that the ability to sell was not a skill that I had at first. I had no network. I had no people that I knew. I didn’t have any rich uncle that could put me on to anything. But at the age of 26 I was able to become a millionaire. I had my first business paid off cash, because I learned one skill. 

The second time that I recall that this really happened to me was in 2013. I had this coaching practice where I had classroom training programs, and by then I’d been training entrepreneurs how to run better businesses for I about 13 years. 

I used to run these ads on billboards, on print media, radio, etc. I tried twice before to do digital marketing or hire agencies because digital scared the crap out of me. They both lost my money. 

So I was like, digital is a lot of rubbish. 

One thing I tried was a social media crowd and the other was a Google thing. Anyway, I thought digital doesn’t work. I’m not interested. I’m going to stick to print, I’m going to stick to radio, until everything stopped working. 

I remember, in 2018 my cash was drying up again and I took out this really expensive ad in a very prominent South African business publication called Entrepreneur magazine, I guess it’s prominent in the US as well. Double page spread. It cost me like 60 000 or 70 000 rand and I remember I made no sales from it. The phone didn’t ring once. 

Okay, it maybe rang a few times. But I didn’t make one sale and I was desperate. 

I was running out of cash. My seminar rooms became emptier and emptier, and I just didn’t know what else to do. 

I’ve always been a very good marketer. I’ve taught myself those skills, but everything I knew – how to write direct response sales copy and print media – stopped working. I thought I had really good radio ads, but that stopped working. The return on investment wasn’t there. 

And I was sitting at my house just having this déjà vu feeling of just having risen to success and then facing my own demise again. I was like, why does this keep happening to me. I keep on making money and then all of a sudden something happens… this time the market changed. 

Digital showed up on my radar again and I was like, “No, no way…” 

I tried in the past, I tried to learn Google ads… but my ADD was so bad at the time, I didn’t know how to keep it under control yet, I just couldn’t finish courses. The stuff I tried on YouTube didn’t work and it’s just a mess. Then I gave it to these agencies, right, top agencies. They also screwed it up. But I had nothing else that I could do. 

So a friend of mine said, “Listen, you’re going to have to learn this yourself.”

And I was like, but how? I don’t know how to do this. 

To cut a long story short, I was really lucky. 

On my Facebook newsfeed there was an ad that popped up from the guys that created Webinar Jam. They had this deal with this lady with purple hair who had this course on Facebook ads. And I think the reason why I bought it was because she was so way out. She looked really weird and I’ve always felt really weird. So I was like, well maybe she can teach me. 

I glued myself to the seat, I glued myself to the computer screen. I studied and I studied and I started watching the videos. I had to watch every video five times to make sure that I did it correctly. I learned about landing pages – I remember how hard that was – and I had to learn about domains and DNS system and that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. 

But again, my back was against the wall. I just couldn’t do anything else, nothing else worked. And I was running out of cash. I was running out of time and I just pushed myself through the discomfort of learning this damn internet marketing thing. 

I was just hoping and praying it was going to work, because that was my last resort. 

But let me tell you, I showed up. I watched all the videos and I watched it a thousand times. And the very first campaign I ran, I succeeded. I shot the lights out and it changed my business literally overnight. 

I went from having empty rooms to having full training programs again. I was running four or five training programs at a time over a 14-month period with auto continuity, and I went from almost living almost hand to mouth to being in a very strong cash position every single month. 

At the start of the month with my direct debits that I was collecting from clients, I was already in the profit with some huge margin, and it allowed me to really grow my business to the next level. 

Now what caused that? It’s not a network. It wasn’t someone that introduced me to someone that gave me a lot of money. No, it was a skillset, right. It was a skillset that I acquired that took me to the next level. 

The last time that this happened, and I’m going to keep this one short… my biggest weakness in business has always been people. I’m very abrupt in my nature, very direct to a point where it’s often quite destructive. I was really not good at communicating with people. I would assume people knew what to do, how to do it well and I always felt I was a problem. 

Then one day I realized, hold on… you spend your career learning about sales and marketing, that’s what you’re great at; have you really spent the time to learn how to build a great team? I had to be honest with myself, I had not. 

So what did I do? I had four employees at the time and I buried myself in the study of effective management. Instead of reading a thousand books, I picked two or three books that I felt could really give me the edge. Again, I read the books and I read the books and I read the articles online and I studied them. 

I applied myself and I implemented new software to help me to execute some of the principles, and we’ve now grown in in a year from four to 27 employees in one year. 

That’s not really the impressive part. The impressive part is knowing what I know now, I would employ all 27 again – and I could never before in my life say that because I always was so disappointed in people. 

That is as a result of new skills that I learned. I learned how to put in proper communication systems with my team and I learned how to set goals in such a way that my team members are inspired to achieve them, instead of me micromanaging to get there. 

I learned how to recruit well, how to hire A Players. I learned how to build a culture because of skills that I’ve learned. 

I think by now you are starting to get the idea, this whole idea that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is complete rubbish. 

It is absolutely, categorically, factually inaccurate and incorrect. I’ve just proven it you. 

So those of you who feel “I’m socially inept, I don’t know anybody, I’m new in the country that I’m living in, I’m not particularly networked, I’m weird, I look funny”… it doesn’t matter. 

You don’t have to know anybody to succeed in life. You can literally start knowing nobody and you can still succeed because you learn the right skills. 

I believe the biggest leverage an entrepreneur has in their life is, the vehicle to become an Elite Entrepreneur, is really twofold: The skills you acquire and the knowledge you . 

That’s how you become an Elite Entrepreneur. That’s your departure point. 

Because the thing is, if you become a machine that can find the great knowledge, you can internalize it and put it into action. 

Let me tell you something, the world goes quickly and we move at the speed of light, and you have to be able to adapt and you have to be able to learn incredibly fast. 

Now, is there no value in who you know. Of course there’s value in who you know. But isn’t that just another skill? Because so many people that I know didn’t grow up with good fortune to have this big network. How do you develop a network? Isn’t that just another skill? 

Coming back to the advice I gave this person who was broke. I said to him: Sell your TV. And this guy is like, “Why would I sell my TV? I can’t get a lot for a second-hand TV.”

I said that’s not the point. I’ll said sell your TV disconnect your cable (as they call it in the US, in South Africa we call it DStv), because you pay a lot of money for that stuff. Stop paying for that. 

Sell your TV, get a bookshelf and put it where your TV was and go and buy books. I’m not even talking about Kindle. Take all the time you would’ve sat in front of the television and learn and study. 

You need to read at least one book a week, that’s only like seven hours. Take one new action every single week from one book that you’ve read. 

Over a 20-year period, that equals 1 000 books and a thousand new actions that you took. It is impossible not to create wealth. 

It is impossible to not become an expert in your field if you do that. If you take the actions! I’m not saying just read the books. 

Today, honestly, that is my best advice. 

People that show up to me and say, “Niel, I’m starving, struggling, I am broken.”

I had a guy asking me the other day on Facebook: “Niel, I want you to give me 9 million rand.” 

That’s our currency in South Africa for those of you outside of South Africa. 

Nine million rand, no questions asked, no strings attached. I said to the guy, “Listen, why don’t I just make it a round ten and throw in a brand new Merc with that. 

And he said, awesome. He sends me the bank details.

This guy thought I was serious. 

I said, “Listen buddy, were you fully compos mentis when you sent me that email. I mean, I want to support you, but I need you to understand your thinking. Why did you send that to me?”

He said he knows we are doing really well and if I give him all this money, you can do a lot of good in the world and he can support charity.

I said, “Buddy, you are not ready for charity. You’re not ready to go and support anybody. You need to learn to support yourself. And if you’re asking a stranger for money, I can tell you already, you’re thinking is your problem. That’s why you are broke. You think money’s going to come from someone else that has it that they are going to give it to you and all of a sudden you’re now going to be able to go and save the world. You’ve got it wrong, pal.”

And he said to me, well what should I do? 

I said, “Do you own a TV?” 

He said yes. 

I said, “Do you have a subscription that you pay for every single month?”

He said yes. 

I said, “Well, sell your TV, cancel the subscription. All the money that you get from the TV and all the money you save from the subscription, start buying books on business, on sales and marketing, on personal development. Because that’s where you need to start, with the mindset. Turn your TV time in to study time.” 

I don’t know if you took my advice. I doubt if you did, to be quite honest with you. But that is my advice. 

My number one piece of advice for people that are constantly broke, that are constantly out of cash and constantly starving and struggling, is first learn, and then you earn. 

It is impossible to raise your earnings until you raise your learnings. 

One of the things that I often run into is people say to me, “Neil, I love learning and I do listen to podcasts but I am not a reader. You know, it takes me so long to read.”

I’ve read well over a thousand books in my life. When I said I was a slow learner, I meant it. I learned how to read books and I’m going to give you guys a formula for learning that I think is going to make it easy for all of you guys, to just up the amount that you learn.

First of all, I want to say set a challenge to you to read 50 books a year. The average nonfiction book is shorter than average fiction book. The average fiction books about 70 000 to 120 000 words. 

The average nonfiction book is about 50 000 to 70 000. 

I’m going to work on 50,000 words to illustrate a point. 

Fifty books times a 50 000 words is two and a half million words. It takes about one minute to read 250 words. So it takes about 10 000 minutes to read 500 books – that is only 167 hours. And if you divide it, it is only 27 and a half minutes a day. 

Now, anybody that tells me they don’t have 27 and a half minutes a day to read a book, is lying through their teeth. 

It’s not difficult to read the books. You’ve simply got to make the time for it. 

Another way to do this audio books. One of the reasons why many so people sign up for our Agency FastTrack program to learn how to run a digital business, is because they are sick of sitting in traffic. The average audiobook is between seven and 11 hours. According to an audiobook publisher, the name escapes me now, it takes seven to 11 hours to go through the average nonfiction audiobook. 

If you take up the speed a little bit to 1.3, 1.5, it can go a lot quicker. That’s only one hour of traffic day. 

Well, I guess if you take working days into account, maybe one and a half hours of traffic a day.

The next thing that you can do: Podcasts. While you’re in the car and while you’re on the treadmill, listen to podcasts. 

So please go and subscribe to the Elite Entrepreneur show and get notified on your favorite podcast listeners – whether that’s iTunes, whether it’s Stitcher, doesn’t really matter. You’ll get a notification to say we published. And listen to other business schools, and learn skills with podcasts. 

Mentorships… one of the best ways that you can learn. Honestly, I think nothing beats a mentorship. If you can find a mentor and if you can find people like ourselves that literally handhold people through the journey of learning, you can condense the amount of time it takes to learn skills.

But the number one way that you can learn new skills is by taking action. It is taking action on ideas, because an idea hardly ever works in practice the way it’s taught in theory, and the quickest and easiest way to learn is to take massive, massive, massive amounts of action.

Because remember, knowledge acquired is meaningless until it’s knowledge applied. You cannot develop a skill until you take meaningful and consistent action. 

So I have two questions for you: What learning method can you create a habit out of starting today? Is it reading 27 minutes a day before you start your day or before you go to bed? Is it subscribing to an audio book? Is it subscribing to a podcast? What is your preferred medium? Are you more of a visual person and you want to watch shows like this on YouTube – because you can subscribe to the YouTube channel as well. I’m just saying. 

Are you more of an auditory person? Are you the kind of person that likes the tactile feeling of books? And that’s how you learn better. You’ve got to customize your own learning journey to yourself. So what is your number one reading method that you can create a habit out of, starting today? That’s question number one. 

I want you guys to comment on this page, tell me what is your preferred learning method that you are going to make a habit out of today? 

And the second question is, what one skill have you learned in the past that took you to the next level. This is a really fun exercise because I’ve done this for so many different people. I said, let’s see if it’s true for you as well. Was there a time in your life when you went from here to there because you learned a new skill. Most people can’t think of one immediately, but when they really ponder it they’re like “you’re right, there was this particular time where I was battling with this thing and I really invested in myself to learn the skill, and everything got better”. 

The reason why I want you to identify this because the more your brain connects “learning to earning”, and learning to take you to the next level, the more you believe it. 

The more you’ll do it, and it becomes a self-perpetual cycle. 

So please do me a favor, in the comment section, answer both questions. What learning method can you apply today that you can make a habit out of? And what learning skills development process did you guys do in the past that took it to the next level.

I’d love to hear from you. 

Also, we want to know what you think, so let me know what other topics you want me to address. Let me know what your questions are about marketing, about digital entrepreneurship, about thriving in a virtual world, how to survive ADD, or anything you want to know about. 

So those of you that are watching on YouTube, please hit the subscribe button and hit the like button, because it shows us to more people on YouTube. Those of you listening on podcasts, please go and rate to us on iTunes, or on Stitcher, and just put in a little testimonial – if you liked it of course. It really just helps us to get a pretty high quality ranking, and remember to subscribe, because then you get the notifications that it’s coming out. 

Those of you ready to take the next step in digital and take charge of your life, to have less time in traffic and more time learning and more time earning: book a 15-minute complimentary strategy call with one of my coaches to see if there’s a way that we can help you. 

Those calls are awesome. They are completely free of charge and my team is standing by to help you.

I just want to tell you thank you so much. I appreciate you. Thanks for tuning in and thanks for making the comments. 

I can’t wait to hear what you say about this episode and I’ll see you in a couple of days with episode number three. Thanks for tuning in.