Working smart means taking life off the clock

A self-confessed serial entrepreneur cut his hours by starting a new business, writes Anneli Knight.

A self-confessed serial entrepreneur cut his hours by starting a new business, writes Anneli Knight.

Three years ago, Shane Ridley, 34, was working long hours in his recruitment company when he decided to take his family on an extended holiday. But he wasn't sure his business would cope while he was away.

About the same time, Ridley - a self-described serial entrepreneur - read Tim Ferriss' seminal book The 4-hour Workweek and a few ideas came together for a business that didn't demand all his attention.

"I was looking for a business that was non-principal dependent, highly scalable and non-time critical. I looked at a raft of opportunities and identified software training as appropriate to mould this business structure, as well as growing a thriving business," he says.

Ridley used his background in recruitment and workforce development to create and launch OTrain, which builds online systems for employee training.

"We basically started it under the four-hour model," Ridley says. "We identified a couple of different areas in the organisation that we needed and began a global search for talent."

Finding reliable, highly skilled, self-motivated staff is a key ingredient for success for a four-hour business structure, Ridley says.

He spent a couple of hours a week searching for staff - using oDesk, Freelancer and LinkedIn as well as more traditional recruitment websites. His first staff member, a project manager with an IT software design background, who is in the US - is still with the company three years later.

In the early stages of building OTrain, Ridley spent only two hours a week on the business while he wound down his traditional recruitment company.

He says the four-hour working week approach is useful for serial entrepreneurs because an idea can be tested with a minimal investment of time, leaving time to run other businesses.

Once he realised the potential of OTrain, he was able to hire more staff, under a business structure that required his attention only for key decision making.

"I have a content call every Tuesday morning with my content team. We talk about what's happening with clients and any problems we need to look at. Every Wednesday morning I have a software development call with my executive team where we look at strategy and new features we will test and roll out to clients," he says.

Once top staff are in place (he now has nine around the world), there are three more essentials to success in a four-hour working week, Ridley says.

First: "Staff have to understand the mission and the vision. If your staff don't know what they're working for, they'll make short-term decisions which are often the wrong decisions."

The second is clear communication of expectations. "Be clear what is negotiable and not negotiable."

The third is letting go. "You've got to let your staff make wrong decisions. Eighty per cent becomes good enough, otherwise you get drilled down in trying to get it to 100 per cent and that defeats the purpose."

Earlier this year, Ridley was able to take his family on a 14-week world trip. During that time, he spent only four hours on the business and returned to find his client base had doubled.

Ridley has decided to dedicate his attention to the business full time for two years to accelerate it through a growth phase.

"I realised you can build a four-hour work week cash-flow business and maybe make $100,000 a year. But if you want to build a million-dollar business, I'm not convinced you can do it in four hours a week," Ridley says.

But it is still a priority to make sure his time is his own.

"[Beyond the four hours] the rest of my week is discretionary," he says. "I'll lock it in if I want to lock it in ... It's still going to be fairly heavy lifting, but it's not like I'm working a 120-hour week or anything like that. I'm water-skiing today."

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-hour Workweek, will be speaking in Australia next month. See

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