There are four sequential steps that literally take an entrepreneur from start to finish on their quest for financial independence. Here they are, simply stated:
- Optimize what you have.
- Eliminate all reductive debt.
- Establish significant cash reserves.
- Invest for long-term goals and plans.
Steps one to three are foundational and must be completed before embarking on step four. This focus on the first three steps will help you as an entrepreneur create more cash flow and operate debt free. But, this foundation is critical to building a strong and sturdy “house” of investments.
Unfortunately, most financial plans don’t address many of these steps that must be completed before investing. Instead, Wall Street advisors focus on selling products like life insurance, annuities or stocks and bonds to their prospects. The result is, people end up with financial products but lack a coordinated plan to fund their retirement. This creates a situation of vulnerability and, for many, a latent sense of anxiety in knowing that they’re simply not prepared to retire.
But, the four sequential steps are focused on you and your success. As you complete them one after the other, you gain confidence and momentum.
1. Optimize what you have.
Most people don’t realize the power they have to take control of their finances and create the cash flow to fund their long-term plans. This step involves maximizing your business’s profitability, continuing your education, cutting costs and saving taxes. The key to launching this step and continuing to live by its precepts is having a strategic plan and a team of advisors to help you make progress year after year.
2. Eliminate all reductive debt.
There are two kinds of debt: reductive and productive. Reductive debt is generally debt used to acquire “stuff,” things that are consumed or depreciate in value and things that never provide an income. Think of bad credit card debt, which needs to be eliminated. On the other hand, productive debt is used to acquire assets that appreciate in value and/or provide income. In this Step, you will eliminate all reductive debt, build your credit and utilize productive debt. I like to refer to this step as almost debt management. Productive debt nurtures and grows your wealth until you have financial freedom.
3. Establish significant liquid cash reserves.
You need liquid cash reserves for two reasons:
- When things go wrong, we need these reserves to help us weather the storm and avoid credit card debt.
- We need access to cash to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.
In fact, this second reason is important, and I can’t over emphasize it enough. I know as an entrepreneur that opportunities are constantly arising. Maybe it’s because we’re looking and it’s just our nature, but it’s true — problems arise as a business owner, and opportunities jump right in front of you. Either way, you need reserves, and further, more significant reserves take you from living paycheck-to-paycheck to having six to 12 months of your earnings or monthly expenses available at all times.
4. Start investing and building different buckets of wealth.
Once Steps one through three have been completed, it’s time for you to work on this final step of the process. Most people jump to this step too soon (even though it may be with good intentions). Surely, this is the fun part of retirement income planning. Seeing your investments grow and provide great returns is rewarding at many levels. Still, without having all your investments working in concert, it’ll be difficult to achieve the degree of financial freedom you’re trying to obtain.
The four essential elements
These four sequential steps come with four essential elements. That’s why it’s called the 4 x 4 plan. When combined together, the power you have as an investor, business owner, and wealth builder is unimaginable. Every step of the process needs to be measured against the following four elements. They provide perspective and direction to achieve your financial goals.
- Independence planning
- Asset protection
- Estate planning
- Tax planning
1. Independence Planning. This is the process of converting your earnings into investments that will provide you the income you need to live the life you want when you choose to no longer work. Everyone’s at a different phase of their financial life. When one is younger, the focus is mainly on asset accumulation. The goal is to earn a living. Then, as one’s income grows, the goals evolve into saving and investing enough money to finance a lifestyle today and ultimately accumulate enough assets to finance a lifestyle that can be sustained in the future. Generally, people refer to this as retirement. I prefer to refer to it as financial freedom or independence — when your assets are sufficient to provide you with an income so that work is no longer a requirement.
2. Asset Protection. Protecting what you have from those that would take it from you is asset protection. The takers can be creditors, relatives, the government and others. Your assets not only include traditional things like stocks, bonds and real estate. For many, their single biggest asset will be their ability to earn an income over their lifetime. This needs to be protected, too. The goal is simply to create barriers and boundaries that prevent and/or deter others from taking what you’ve earned.
3. Estate Planning. Think of this element as asset protection once you’re no longer here to physically protect your assets. The goal of estate planning is to ensure that what you’ve accomplished in your life will be passed on as a legacy in a manner that you choose.
4. Tax Planning. Taxes are life’s single biggest expense. Yet, like most expenses, paying taxes is a choice you get to make. It’s not that you get to choose if you should or shouldn’t pay taxes. It’s simply a matter of making tax-efficient financial decisions.