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How To Build a Successful Business Whilst Paying Off Debt

by James Anderson
Posted: December 08, 2016

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If you're serious about building a business, it goes without saying - you need a solid business plan, dedication, perseverance and passion. But what is a good plan of attack for building a business if you are also in the midst of paying off debt?

At some point in their lives, most people find themselves in consumer debt, whether it's a mortgage, student loans or credit cards. It's not something to be scared of - it's just a fact of life and about commitment to a responsible money attitude.

You CAN start a business whilst you're paying off debt, as long as you're financially responsible and brutally honest with yourself about the situation.

So how do you go about starting and growing this business, whilst paying off your loans or a debt? Successful Business Owner, Entrepreneur and Fitness Trainer, James Anderson, has had first-hand experience with the matter. Here, he pens his story of how he built a six-figure business whilst paying off $100K.

Business Entrepreneur explains how to build a successful business whilst in debt
Business Owner and Personal Trainer, James Anderson / Image courtesy of PHAT Fit 

I’ve tried to start this article a couple of times now but have found myself just writing a long winded “poor me” story about how I got myself into a $100K debt in the first place. 

So, instead of drumming up the past, I’ll try to just give you a quick summary and then get onto what I did to get out of a $100K debt whilst building a six-figure business.

Debt story summary: 

  • I had been an established personal trainer at a big box gym for 7 years earning a good income. 
  • I left the industry to start a café and wine bar with a friend. 
  • Over the following 2 years, I worked anywhere from 50-90 hour weeks trying to make the business succeed. It didn’t, and we eventually failed. 
  • During this time, I lost my mother to a long battle with cancer. 
  • Soon after losing my mum, I also split up with my partner. 
  • I was suffering severe anxiety and depression
  • After considering all my options, I decided that rather than going back to the gym, I would instead start a boot camp business on Bondi Beach. 
  • I thought that I should take the business side of things more seriously so chose to join a hi-level business mastermind group which was going to cost me $35,000. I didn’t have the money to pay for this so took on a payment plan. 
  • I had a maxed out credit card with a debt of $13,000. 
  • During my final 4 years at the gym, I didn't pay income tax or lodge a business activity statement.
  • After working with an accountant, I finally caught up on my tax obligations only to find out that I owed $53,000. 
  • This left me with a grand total of $101,000 of debt to pay off. 

Ok, now that's out of the way, this is what I did (and what you can do) to build a successful business while getting out of debt.

1.    See it for what it is, not worse than it is 

Often times we create a mountain out of a molehill by catastrophising our complications, making them insurmountable before we even have a chance to try. 

Don’t do that. See your challenge for what it is - mine was debt. It wasn't life or death; it was simply owing money (a lot). 

Now, I am not saying that you should dumb it down or disregard it either. After all, I was $101,000 in debt and no amount of “hope” or positive thinking was going to magically make it better. I had to fix this.

2. Take action

Ok, first things first. I immediately restructured the payment plans over a longer period to free up some cash flow to help me build my business (as well as being able to maintain a roof over my head).

I then cut down my expenses and lived as frugally as I could. 

I also developed my “100 List” and called everyone on that list. If you don’t know what the 100 list is, then read this. If you don’t have time for that then the short of it is the 100 list is simply a list of 100 people that you know that you may be able to utilise to help you grow your business

And that’s what I did. I knew the only way to fix the money situation was to earn money offering my services and that the more people I contacted, the faster chance I would have of getting myself out of the debt. 

3.    Take a longer-term view

I read a quote by Bill Gates which stated, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

As soon as I read that, it clicked, if I had any chance of getting out of this debt then I needed to switch my focus from the day-to-day to the year-to-year as building a business whilst paying down debt was going to take even longer. Which leads me onto my next point.

4.    Find the light at the end of the tunnel

I won’t lie and say the last five years of my life have all been peaches and cream. It’s been an incredibly long road that’s had some laborious twists and turns. 

I knew that the road was likely going to be dim so I used the thought of reaching all my business and personal goals as my guiding light, everything that I'd ever wanted sitting on the other side of this debt. 

You need to see what is not now but will one day be - that's where you should find your focus point. 

5.    Work like crazy 

"If it was easy, everyone would do it.” I’ve heard hundreds of successful entrepreneurs say this exact thing. 

Building a business isn’t easy, there’s not a straight line to success. It takes time, flexibility, resilience and a ton of hard work.

Early on after starting my business, as well as during the quieter months I took up second and even third jobs to ensure that I could maintain the financial resources to continue to pay off the debt whilst investing in the business development

You should be using all the resources at your disposal to hustle your way through the challenges.

6.    Change your perception, change your reality

I was so frustrated with the world initially, it wasn’t until my business coach pulled me aside and said that if I was any hope of being able to mentally manage this process, then I would have to change the way I viewed the debt. 

So, after thinking about it for some time, I started viewing it not as a debt, but simply a financial investment in my business education!

Because if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. 

As I write this I am now just two weeks away from being completely debt-free for the first time in 5 years – that’s 260 weeks or 1,825 days. Over this period, I was also able to build a successful boot camp in one of the most highly competitive areas in Australia. 

Now, please don’t think I am telling you this impress you, I am merely trying to impress upon you that you can do whatever it is you want in this world if you’re willing to put in the time, effort, focus, and commitment that it takes. 

And just so we’re clear – although I am truly thankful for being at the end of this road, I will also be forever grateful that I got to travel it. 


If you're an aspiring entrepreneur or simply planning a fruitful career in Business, get all the tips and advice you need to know from Australia's leading business experts.


James Anderson

James is the owner of a women’s only tribe based at Bondi Beach that focuses on strength and conditioning team training for optimal outcomes and long-lasting solutions.

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