Gotta love ‘em. I know I do. There’s a cottage industry in Positive Thinking 2.0. If you’re sitting in your boring everyday job (you know, the one with employer paid health insurance and the 401(k) match), you’re probably right in thinking you could make a lot more money in your own business, enjoy it more, and set your own hours. At least half your co-workers think that, too, (about themselves, of course—not you). Deep down in our hearts we know we’re all creative and have a great novel in us, could make extraordinarily beautiful or innovative widgets, or provide such an extraordinary service that the queue in front of our door will be longer than the one in front of the local Apple store when they introduce iPhone 21.
There are plenty of book authors, and lately e-book authors, webinar providers, and meet-up conference purveyors, who are happy to take your money and feed your dreams. The genre has such a long history that I can’t even think who the granddaddy might be—maybe Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich). Thing is, each of these guys (and for some reason nearly all of them are guys) has a nugget of truth in them. And every one of these gurus make it sound so easy. After all, they’re not telling you how to go get a law degree, or a CPA, or a CFP® (forgive self-serving comment)—things that will take a significant amount of education, study, and passing of exams before you can even hang out a shingle. No, they have titles like The $100 Startup (as opposed to the $25,000 or so it probably takes to set up a small law, accounting, or financial planning office) or The Laptop Millionaire.
I think we should treat these books as inspirational rather than practical. I sold real estate for seven years at a time when a book called Nothing Down was extremely popular. In that seven years, I never ever saw anyone successfully execute the strategy, nor did any of my colleagues, although I saw a few people (including real estate agents) try. The author of that went bankrupt in 1996, but still makes a ton of money, apparently, selling books and being a motivational speaker.
The $100 Startup is more interesting. I’ve mentioned the author, Chris Guilleabeau, before—he’s a world traveler and travel hacking expert. It’s fun to read, just don’t expect a blueprint. It’s a collection of anecdotes about people who have started businesses on a shoestring—retail, small service & design firms, and consumer products, mostly. They’re mostly not making a ton ($45K-$75K seems to be success).What isn’t emphasized is that nearly all of these took a ton of work and even if people are traveling the world now, a lot of planning, research and false starts went into most of their successes. The stories are quite inspiring, but you couldn’t just pick this up and start a business. No mention of the really boring but essential stuff, like how to learn Quickbooks in a hurry.
The Laptop Millionaire had some good suggestions as to how to work the internet to develop and promote your fledgling idea, but you’re going to need a lot more specific information on SEO in order to actually accomplish it.
So, am I saying that you can’t quit your job and make your fortune? No, not at all. But even a successful arts start-up requires developing BUSINESS, not creative skills. Tons of people have great ideas, far fewer can bring them to market (which I am loosely defining—whether it’s a book, any kind of indie project, or yet another piece of marginally tested software).
Here’s what I see with people who I’ve met personally who have actually brought it off:
- Have a war chest. You’re going to need enough to live on for at least a year. Then you’re going to cut your spending by 25-50% so you can live on that money for at least two years. Even if you land clients right away, collecting off of them (particularly in a service business) can be a trick. Paying suppliers can only be put off so long.
- Have investors who will cover the cost of actually running the business end. Not your salary, just equipment, supplies, promo & design—whatever it takes. That investment can come from you (in addition to living expenses), a spouse, parents, the bank—whatever you can get.
- Do it nights and weekends before you quit the day job. Sure, this means working a lot of hours—but not any more than you’re going to be once the business is in start-up.
- Land your first client, produce your samples or prototype, or whatever it takes before you quit your day job. You may not even like the idea as much once you have to work it.
- Learn to sell. If you have a product or service that can be peddled by cold calling, be sure you can do it (it’s the cheapest outlay of money). If it requires being sold on the internet, learn everything you can about SEO, web advertising and promotion, etc.
- Learn to write. Even though nobody reads anymore, many businesses require producing A LOT of copy—help guides, blogs, white papers, manuals, FAQs, articles.
- Learn all the office systems—Quickbooks, CRM, CAD, whatever you might need, you’re going to be doing it yourself. Get it set up before you quit the day job.
- Spend as little as possible. Sure, you can hire out. Sure, you can pay for it. Right.
- Don’t raid the 401(k) unless you’re under 40. Then, you might have a chance to replace it. If you make a big success, you can laugh at the 401(k) as chump change. If not, you’ll be really glad it’s still there.
- Try to structure the business so it can run or make money at least in part without your hourly involvement, and so that eventually someone else can come in and run it or buy it.
If it were easy, everyone would do it. But if no one tried, we’d still be hammering antelope with rocks. And I’d be writing this on my old Underwood. Hats off to dreamers.