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Financial freedom you say?

That doesn’t sound like something we usually talk about here at Health Room…


It’s not exactly my bread and butter. “Steps to achieving financial freedom” probably wouldn’t be my choice topic if I was ever asked to go on Mastermind. But they (whoever they are) claim that variety is the spice of life…

So today I’d like to take the opportunity to share with you something a little different. It’s a project I was kindly invited to contribute to a couple of months ago by a nice guy named Dustin.

The task:

To share my tale. And more specifically, to share the biggest challenges I’ve faced, lessons I’ve learned and tidbits of wisdom I’ve picked up on my journey to building an online business.

My story, along with those of 14 other much more successful, much more knowledgeable, and much better looking entrepreneurs, forms a whole chapter of a brand new book book entitled:

The Winding Road to Freedom: 15 Entrepreneurs Share Their Journey to Financial Freedom.

As the title suggests, the book is jam packed full of useful info, big ideas and actionable tips that you can extract and then apply in your own quest to living a more financially secure life.

Whether you’re looking to build your own business, or simply be a bit more savvy with saving money – the big goal is to help you create the life you wanna live.

Below you’ll find a sneak preview of my chapter in the book. In it I share everything you might want to know about my backstory, my journey so far and all the (hopefully) useful things I’ve learned on the way.

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The Foundation

It feels a little strange to be sat here writing about my story, with the goal of inspiring someone out there to take action and get to where they want to be in life.

I tend towards the introverted side of the spectrum, so talking about myself has never been a strong point. But then as I finish off the first round of editing, I realise that I’ve made plenty of mistakes and toiled with enough first world struggles over the past few years to learn a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t, in relation to building a successful business.

Even though I’m not currently at a point where I would declare myself financially free, I do feel as if it’s a path that I’m heading towards in some shape or form, which is precisely why I was asked to contribute to this great project. Progress has been made, and if I gaze hard enough, the future looks promising.

So as an average Joe and a relative newcomer to this world of building financial freedom, I guess it figures that other average Joes and newcomers out there could extract some value from my story after all. That makes me feel a bit better, so let’s get started.

As a Personal Trainer, Nutritionist, and Online Content Creator in the healthy living space, I suppose it makes sense that my tale begins with movement.

Human movement that is. Indeed that’s where everyone’s story starts – whichever way you look at it. But I mean it in a more ideological sense, as opposed to literal.

Ever since I can remember, the practice of human movement has been a central focus in my life. More specifically, my interest falls on the nuances and complexities behind feats of strength, flexibility, endurance, skill, and all-round human performance.

Although I’ve lost sight of the significance of staying true to my passion a few times, it’s always been patiently sitting there in the background – the keystone, holding everything else together.

The thug lyfe to financial freedom
Playing some ball with one of my oldest buddies. The thug lyfe chose us...

It all started in the sleepy town I grew up in, near the valleys of South Wales. Close to the wilderness of the mountains, but not too far from the convenience of the city. I was lucky to be brought up with a loving family and a close-knit group of friends, and movement was one of our core bonding points.

Football was initially the main medium. I loved it, and played as much as I could from the time I could walk, until my late teens. There’s something special about battling alongside your closest buddies whilst your family watches in support. Words can’t quite do it justice.

Hiking, running and climbing trees in the above-mentioned mountains were other big outlets for moving. I dabbled in athletics too, mainly focussing on jumping over poles, sandpits and hurdles.

As I transitioned through my teen years, the movement theme followed me.

I became hooked on martial arts, which at the time it seemed like a strange transition to make, but it makes sense now that I look back at it. As a young child, my idols were the Power Rangers and Spiderman – this was just my way of becoming more like them.

It started with Tang Soo Do, and soon evolved to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Thai Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts. I trained and competed whenever I could, picking up more than a few injuries on the way.

Lifting weights and performing bodyweight exercises were the next natural progression. They came hand in hand with the martial arts and the goal of becoming the most well rounded athlete that I could be. I strived for general athleticism – being equally comfortable lifting a heavy weight as embarking on a long hike. Striking a balance between all the components of fitness, and being useful in an emergency.

Handstanding to Financial Freedom
Cool handstand, bro. Not all that related to financial freedom, but hey ho. 

This desire to be a good athlete soon evolved to the goal of becoming the best version of myself. With that I dived down the deep rabbit hole of self-improvement. I devoured everything I could. From strength and conditioning and healthy eating, to mindfulness and recovery techniques, and everything else in between.

It was almost an obsession.

I read countless books and article, watched videos and listened to podcasts, acquiring as much knowledge and as many different viewpoints as I could.

By my late teens I knew deep down that this was all I wanted to do with the rest of my life – to learn and practice movement and self-improvement, and share my ideas and findings with others. But I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. That was the big sticking point.

Anything that did come to mind, I quickly dismissed as being unrealistic, or too risky. It’s a bold reflection of the world we live in.

Security is the name of the game, and there was no security in a half formed vision.

So, like many childhood dreams around the world, the idea was placed on the backburner.

In the meantime, I was working hard at school. As I mentioned above, being a naturally introverted, anxious young lad has its disadvantages. For one, I couldn’t talk to anyone other than those closest to me without going a bright shade of red. But on the plus side, it did help instil a pretty solid work ethic. Perhaps that also came from the sport background. I don’t think I’ve ever been particularly talented, but I do know how to grind and get things done. Others might call it being stubborn…

As my senior school years loomed ever closer, I knew that I needed to make a decision. The next step had to be taken, but I had no idea what they should be. Up until that time, it seemed as if everything was on autopilot. There was always a natural progression – year 7 was proceeded by year 8, and so on. I wasn’t required to critically think about anything much.

With a little guidance, I eventually decided that a degree in Earth Sciences might be a way to go. I really can’t tell you why or how I came to that decision. It may well have been that I saw a friend going for it, and I decided to follow suit.

What I do know is that I soon received an offer to study at Imperial College in London, and after my grades came through, that’s where I was headed.

The Lonely Desert

University was a shock to the system. To say I struggled with it would be an understatement. And I realise how facetious that statement seems, and that there are millions (if not billions) of people in the world that would have traded places with me in an instant.

Nonetheless, as a shy, quiet, family boy, I didn’t handle the change very well. The move to the big city, the workload, the new people – these things all added up, resulting in a shed load of stress, and even bouts of mild depression. Academically, I always felt a few big steps behind my new peers too. I felt as if I didn’t belong, and that something just wasn’t right.

Action shot
Action shot during an amateur university MMA comp. The rest were of me getting my butt kicked…

As you may have predicted, I found comfort in my training. Martial arts, football, interval training, running, climbing, swimming, gymnastics, Olympic lifting – anything to keep me moving. Anything to distract my anxious mind.

My mantra was to go hard or go home. It sounds pretty cool, but it only works for so long.

The hefty combination of mental and emotional stress, the physical toll I was putting on my body, and the nagging feeling that I should be elsewhere – it accumulated to near breaking point.

I’d had minor issues with mouth ulcers since my late teens, but these got a whole load worse at university, sometimes to the point where I would be unable to eat or talk properly. I was also constantly tired and getting digestive issues, along with niggling injuries and back problems. It got to the stage where I was not even able to train regularly, so my only outlet and coping mechanism was now unavailable.

All the warning signs of adrenal fatigue were there, but at the time I was too stubborn to stop and listen to my body.

The low point came in early December 2012, when I received a set of blood test results that suggested the likely possibility of Crohn’s disease. Although there was never an official diagnosis, I was faced with the possibility of a lifetime on medication.

That was the big wake up call. Perhaps a little naively, right at that moment I decided that the pills and potions were not for me. I wanted to solve this problem on my own, or at least give it my best shot.

It sounds a little silly, looking back, but I truly believe that it set the wheels in motion for me to forge a different path – ultimately one to a more fulfilling way of life, and the possibility of financial freedom.

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From Camel to Lion

Steps to financial freedom MetamorphosisGerman philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was an interesting character. He’s one of the people I stumbled upon during my early investigations into personal development, recommended to me by a good friend.

One of my favourite ideas he put forth was that of the spiritual metamorphosis, and his archetypes of the camel, lion, and child. Nietzsche considered these to be stages of spiritual growth that humans are able to transition through.

Like many others, for a good portion of my life I spent the majority of my time in the camel phase. What does that mean exactly?

I may have interpreted this in entirely the wrong way, but here’s my understanding:

The camel is said to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They’re in many ways submissive creatures, living life on other people’s terms, and being weighed down in the process. They’re reactive, spending a fair amount of time stressing about things that are out of their control. It can be an exhausting existence.

This is how I often felt, without really knowing it. And it was no one’s fault – it’s just the way things were. I did the work I was supposed to do, trained for certain sports on certain days, went to the university that I was fortunate enough to be accepted to.

But at the same time I was reactive and self pitying. I felt sorry for myself, but did little about it. And I may well have stayed that way had I not gone through the health issues and transformative process at university.

As Nietzsche once said:

In the loneliest desert a second metamorphosis occurs, the spirit here becomes a lion; it wants to capture freedom and be lord in its own desert.

This is exactly what university symbolised to me. A lonely desert that allowed me to start uncovering the real me.

This lion phase is characterised by rebellion. By forging a new way. By becoming the master of his destiny. Instead of being submissive and trudging along on a predefined path, the lion is proactive. He stands up against the dragon of societal norms and says “I will!”. He fights that dragon until he get’s where he wants to be.

This is the fire that began to grow inside me during my time in London. I can’t remember exactly when, but I know that it happened sometime around that first doctors visit.

I realised that I didn’t want to head down a career path in the Earth Science world. One that might well bring me financial success, but would provide me with no satisfaction. For some people it’s exactly what they’ve always wanted to do. But it wasn’t for me.

I knew that something related to health and fitness was where I needed to head if I was to really follow my passion, so I started making changes in that direction.

I wasn’t quite a brave enough lion to pack in university altogether, and I’m glad that I didn’t. But I did complete a Nutrition Diploma alongside my final year. More recently I qualified as a Personal Trainer too, but that’s skipping ahead a few years…

Throughout this transition phase, I continued with my insatiable thirst for knowledge relating to training and healthy living. This led to a number of transformations, including adopting a plant based diet, building a regular meditation practice, and altering the way I trained in order to put less stress on my body.

None of the above came easy at first. But when I delved into the habit changing process itself, things became much clearer. I learnt about not just what to do to live a healthy, more meaningful life, but also how to create lasting, sustainable changes.

To this day I still get the occasional flare up with the health issues, and they may never go away entirely. But my relationship with them has improved. I try not to view the symptoms as a burden, but instead as an opportunity to practice mindfulness and learn more about myself.

This whole process of mild rebellion, learning, and growing got me thinking about how I could use my new found knowledge to help others do the same, and gave birth to the idea of forging my own path.

The Birth of Health Room

The HERO Podcast, Luke Jones, Health RoomAs graduation loomed, I was at the risk of slipping back into the camel stage a few times. I was still applying for Earth Science related jobs, and even attended a few interviews. But even though I finished with good grades, my heart wasn’t in it, and employers could probably tell.

One night near the end of my stay in London, I was struggling to sleep, which was unusual for me. I’d been thinking for months about what I was going to do upon graduating and churning ideas around my head, but sleep typically came easy.

This night, something was different. It sounds corny, but all of a sudden ideas just started coming to me. Inspiration hit, and I poured my heart out onto a side of A4 paper in the early hours of the morning.

Funnily enough, I still have the piece of paper today, and I read over it from time to time. Most of the things I wrote down have in fact come to fruition over the past few years, which goes to show the power of setting your intentions.

So what did I write?

The paper was split into two halves, the top one of which was structured around a three-step process:

  1. Create a blog. It would be centred on nutrition, fitness, and pretty much everything else under the health and personal development umbrella. The blog would be a way for me to learn new things that I was interested in, and via videos and articles, share my ideas with others in order to help them.
  2. Build a following. Once I’d found my voice, the next step was to find people who could benefit from what I was creating. I wrote about how I would build a presence on social media, and develop a list of email subscribers that I could share my ideas with.
  3. Develop products and services. The next step was to monetize my site. This was to be in the form of eBooks, online courses, affiliate products and online personal training and nutrition consultations.

How I was going to put those three steps into action, I had no idea at the time. I didn’t have any experience with website design, copywriting, video production, online marketing, or sales. I was a complete novice, starting from scratch.

But what I did have was a big reason why and a strong desire to succeed. And as motivational speaker Dr John Demartini said:

“If your why is strong enough, the how’s will take care of themselves”.

In case you’re wondering, the bottom half of the paper was dedicated to coming up with a name for my brand. I jotted down a few different ideas, but the one theme that kept coming back to me was that of the HERO.

As I mentioned earlier, I’d always been fascinated with superheroes. Particularly those that were seemingly ordinary people who suddenly realised their potential to do extraordinary things. I liked the idea that anyone could become the hero of their own story, and this is a key message that I wanted to get across to my future audience.

I also wanted some sort of play on words, or an acronym. Hence the final name: Health Room, and herohealthroom.com.

The Ups and Downs of Building a Blog

Health Room started as a blank installation, initially hosted free with WordPress.com. I managed to fumble my way through the initial setup, learning on the job about everything from coding to graphic design. It’s a prime example of my stubbornness shining through, and my early inability to ask for help.

In my very first article on the site I talked about how complex the notion of health actually is. How it’s made up of many different interacting components. That the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that no one (me included) really had the answer. It’s another key message I wanted to get across with the site, and one that I try to carry forward today.

I didn’t want to put myself across as an expert in anything in particular, and even though I’ve gained a fair bit of knowledge and experience since starting the business, it’s something I’m still mindful of today. I’d rather be known as a self-experimenter and sharer of ideas, as opposed to someone who has all the answers.

And idea sharing was something I did a fair bit of in the early days of the site. It went hand in hand with the mission of recovering from my own health issues. I would read about certain habits or practices that had been studied or proved beneficial to others, test them on myself, and share my thoughts on the blog.

Initially I wrote as much content as I could, putting out 2-3 articles each week. I was having great fun, and learning a lot about myself and the world around me on the way.

But there were a couple of issues:

The first was that I had completely forgotten about step 2 of the master plan – building a following.

Like most new bloggers I thought it was all about publishing great content, and then traffic would generate itself. It would go viral, as they say.

The reality was that even though I was sharing some pretty useful, interesting ideas, the only people reading them were my supportive girlfriend, family members, and a handful of people I’d interact with online. I had no email list, no social media following, and no one paying any interest whatsoever in what I was doing.

The second issue was that because of the lack of step 2, step 3 (making a living) was irrelevant.

I wrote an eBook on plant based nutrition and offered online coaching, but had no one to sell those things to.

I was fortunate to have the support of my loved ones during those early times, both financially and emotionally. Some did struggle to understand what it was that I was trying to achieve, but I don’t blame them whatsoever. It was hard for me to articulate it at the time, and I didn’t know enough to provide them with much confidence.

I hit another stroke of good fortune by receiving a young entrepreneurs bursary from the Welsh government, which helped keep me going. Without it I may well have packed things in and wouldn’t be sat here sharing my story today.

But I knew that the bursary (and to some extent, the patience of my loved ones) probably wasn’t going to last forever. I had to figure out how to turn this blogging thing that I enjoyed so much into something that was profitable.

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From Blog to Business (And The Beginning of Financial Freedom)

So began my real journey into learning about building an online business. I sought out the best websites I could find on doing just that – Copyblogger, Backlinko, and Quick Sprout just to name a few.

I soaked up the knowledge from these online experts and applied things as best I could.

Some of the major changes I made after the first year of Health Room included:

There were a million and one other things that I adjusted and tweaked, but not all of them turned out as I hoped. As Pareto’s 80-20 principle describes, it’s likely that 20 percent of your efforts bring in 80 percent of your results. So the ideas above are my 20 percent – they’re the ones that that really started to pay dividends, and still do so today.

My 80 percent, or the things that haven’t worked too well for me so far include:

By making mistakes and learning from them, slowly but surely my traffic began to creep up. In a year we went from a few hundred unique visitors a month and no email subscribers, to 30 thousand a day, more than 2 thousand email subscribers, and a number of highly ranked blog posts that continue to bring in organic traffic and potential customers.

I’m well aware that I’m still a small fish in the ocean of online business, and that the stats above are nothing to scoff at. But I’ve reached a formula that’s working for me, which is such an important part of growing. There’s no one-size fits all approach. I can now replicate that formula, making a few tweaks here and there as I go, and I truly believe that growth of Health Room will only accelerate.

The great thing about developing a modest following is that it has allowed me to understand what people really want to learn about, and has allowed me to develop products and services targeted to their needs.

Healthy Habits 101 SidebarI created an online course last year called Healthy Habits 101:

It helps people bridge the gap between having an idea, and taking action. It provides you with the framework to develop new healthy habits, and get rid of any old ones that are holding you back. So far we’ve had more than 3 thousand people sign up and take the course, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

The course, alongside my HERO Store (where I share a range of health and fitness related affiliate products that I use and believe in) and online fitness and nutrition coaching, have allowed me to monetize my blog in a way that provides maximum value to those that visit.

However, I’d be lying if I said that Health Room alone is currently an enormous enterprise that provides me with complete financial freedom. I’m still not quite there yet, but there is another part of my business that does help keep me going…

The Freelance Game

Guest blogging was initially a way for me to grow my site, but it sparked the idea of getting paid to produce content for others. Wellness companies and brands were bound to be looking for people to help out, and I now had the resume to say that I had been featured on fairly notable sites in my niche. It seemed like a natural progression.

After a little research, I signed up to the freelance platform Upwork, and began working as much as possible alongside my usual Health Room schedule.

I started by writing blog posts, web copy and nutrition plans for a range of small businesses in the wellness niche, but soon realised that the skills I had been developing since starting Health Room were transferable to other areas – from financial planning sites and film production companies, to businesses selling supplements or garage doors.

Luke Jones Entrepreneur Freelance Upwork ProfileThe same basic principles apply.

Initially I worked for little more than a few cups of coffee per hour, but as I gained experience with a wide range of clients, my reputation on the site began to grow, and so did the rewards I received for providing my services.

One thing that I was fortunate enough to realise quite early on during my freelancing journey was the value of listening. Again, us introverts are not always that great at talking, but we have a habit of listening and analysing. I applied this mind-set to my freelance jobs, really trying my best to understand what the client wanted before we went ahead.

Fast forward a few years to the present day, I’m now included in the Top Rated talent pool on the site, and have been fortunate enough to work alongside a number of high profile companies both in and outside the platform.

Check out my profile here if you’re ever in need of a content creator/marketer. 

As well as the monetary benefits, freelancing has also provided me with the chance to hone my craft. I’ve been able to develop my skills and figure out what works and what doesn’t from a content creation and marketing standpoint, and then take these ideas back to improve the other half of my business, Health Room.

As I stated in the very first paragraph, it feels strange to talk about myself as some kind of success story. But I suppose it goes to show that even if you have no background in writing or formal qualifications in online marketing, there are still plenty of opportunities if you go looking for them.

Never Quite Being ‘There’

Building an online business is like a never-ending tunnel. The finish line doesn’t ever appear. You’ve never really made it – there’s always something bigger and better to move on to. More projects to complete, more people to reach.

This is something that I’ve realised over the past few years. I’ve devised milestones that I wanted to hit and slowly ticked them off one by one. But for almost every milestone that I reach, another one pops up in my head that I can add to the list. It’s a constant cycle.

The trick, I’ve realised, is to take a step back now and again. It’s still something I’m working on – I’m definitely no expert at it.

Acceptance, non-resistance, and gratitude. Three keys to financial freedom, and a fulfilling life. 

But through my journey I’ve noticed how easy it is to get caught up in the race of reaching the next rung on the ladder. Living this way, life just passes you by. You’re predominantly concerned about the future, and you miss out on the present.

By applying self-reflection from time to time, you get the chance to take things in and really acknowledge your achievements. Not in an egotistical kind of way. It’s more akin to the practice of gratitude.

This brings us to Nietzsche’s final stage of spiritual transformation: the child.

Being a lion is sometimes necessary to get on the path you want to be on. But similarly to that of the camel, it’s not always a pleasant existence. Fighting dragons all day long can become exhausting…

From my understanding, the child phase is about acceptance, gratitude, and non-resistance. The child lives in the present moment, and open to all possibilities. They see the world with awe and wonder. They play, with intent and with full attention. This is the stage that these days I endeavour to be in as much as possible. I dip in and out of from time to time. We all do.

It’s akin to the flow state, where whatever you’re doing in that moment feels exactly how it should. There’s no mental or physical fog holding you back. You’re inspired, creative, and unstoppable – a conduit for ideas from a higher place.

That’s why these days I make sure to set time aside to play – be it with ideas for Health Room or in my own movement practice. It’s time to just be and go with the flow. Being present and having this childlike mind state is in my opinion on of the keys to happiness, health and success in every area of your life – including business.

The Takeaway Message

The Health Room of today is very different to the Health Room of 3 years ago, and I’m sure it will be just as different 3 years into the future. Constant evolution is the key factor – never stop learning, and never stop growing.

Putting together this chapter has been a surprisingly useful experience for me. Writing everything down has helped me to make a little more sense about my journey so far, what’s worked for me, and where I want to head in the future.

Even if it’s just one small titbit of wisdom, I really hope that it’s provided you with something of value. And if not, thankfully there’s 14 other people in this book who no doubt have a plethora of wisdom you can devour.

To make things a little easier to digest, if I could distil the lessons I’ve learnt over the past few years down to a few succinct bullet points, they’d look a little something like this…

Key lessons for financial freedom:

In essence, the takeaway message is to follow you passion, embrace mistakes, ask for help, listen to your followers, enjoy the journey, and make time for play.

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