Monthly Archives: November 2016

Some Businesses You Can Start With Almost No Cash

If you’re like millions of Americans, you dream of starting your own business. But of course, there are dozens of obstacles that may keep you from actually doing that. You might not have enough motivation, for example, or time to actually see the work through; or you might not even have a solid idea to begin with — yet.

But where most people get stopped cold is their realization that it takes money to start a business — money they don’t have.

Still, consider: There are loans, grants, and other fundraising options, like crowdfunding, available to get you what you need; so money is not a good excuse not to start a business. And, beyond that, there are certain types of businesses you can start with almost no cash.

What it takes to start a business
Your first step is to explore what it takes to formally “start” a business, and which of those items cost money.

Planning. You’ll need to come up with a business plan and financial model, of course, but you can do this on your own, for free.
Business license. If you’re planning on creating a partnership, LLC or corporation, you’ll need to file some paperwork — but it probably won’t cost you more than a few hundred dollars, depending on what licensing you need. The Small Business Administration has plenty of resources to help you figure out what you need, how to obtain it and how much it will cost.

A domain name. You’ll need to invest in your online brand early on; while I suggest going as professional as possible, you could also use a bare-bones approach to launch, if yours is a minimum viable product. Often, a catchy domain name is all you need to define your brand at the start, and one can be bought for as little as $10 (if you can find one that isn’t taken!). I use GoDaddy to buy domains.

A website. Website builders these days are free and intuitive to use. You won’t expend anything but time to build your first site. I recommend starting simple with a widely-used website platform, like WordPress.
Marketing. While marketing has a reputation for being very expensive, there are actually a ton of really effective tactics that can be performed with only an investment of your time. Social media marketing, SEO and content marketing all fit within this category — and, honestly, those are really all you need. For help, see The Definitive Guide to Marketing Your Business Online.
Equipment. Equipment, offices and other tangible assets are cash killers, but not all businesses need them. Some businesses don’t require any of these things, as I’ll explain shortly.
Products. Finally, all businesses need to sell something, which usually means some up-front investing. However, many services can be performed with an investment of time rather than money.
Types of businesses to start
So, which types of businesses can be started without a heavy financial burden in any of the above areas?

1. Personal creations
First off, there are personal creations, like arts and crafts. For example, if you’re a painter, you could sell your works of art with an investment of nothing more than art supplies and your own time. Platforms like Etsy, eBay and Amazon cater to creators and make it easy to turn a profit from your work.

2. In-home services
Services don’t cost you any money up-front because they’re intangible goods. And if you’re working in people’s own homes or neighborhoods, you won’t need a physical headquarters for your business. For example, you could start a babysitting service, a dog-walking or pet-sitting service or something like landscaping or snow-plowing.

3. Repair or skill-based services
If you have a specific skill, you could use your skilled labor as the main revenue driver for your business. For example, if you’re a handyman, you could cater to homeowners who don’t know much about home repairs.

Just like in-home services, these types of gigs don’t require you to have a physical establishment and don’t require you to invest in anything up-front, except perhaps the tools or equipment you’re going to need for the job, which will vary in cost.

4. Consulting
Many workers think about becoming entrepreneurs only after getting several years of professional experience under their belt. Think about the industry you’re in, and how much you’ve been able to learn in that time. Up-and-coming professionals, or startup business owners will likely be glad to pay you for your expertise. Consulting is a service that costs only time to produce, but can be highly valuable as a career opportunity.

5. Resale
The idea behind resale is simple: You acquire products and sell them to other people. You can use dropshipping or wholesaling to acquire these goods. With dropshipping, you’ll ship directly from the manufacturer (and turn a lower profit), but you’ll need almost no startup cash. With wholesaling, you’ll need more money and space up-front, but you’ll end up with more control and more money.

6. Micropreneurship
Of course, you could also piece together your own miniature business through micropreneurship and shared-economy opportunities. For example, you could drive for a service like Uber, or rent your home out through AirBnB or find similar services that make use of what you’ve already got.

After you get your business started and start earning revenue, your lack of startup capital will become less of a problem. You can reap the profits from your venture and reinvest them, or use them to start an even bigger business.

Hopefully, you now realize that you don’t need a lot of up-front money to start a business. In fact, you can start one for almost nothing. You just need to know what types of businesses work best in that model.

Turn Your Hobby into a Profitable Business

Do you have a life skill that you’re currently only using in your free time? Though you may assume it’s only suitable as a hobby, there’s a chance you can monetize it and turn your talent into a money-making business venture. That’s if you know what you’re doing, of course.

How to monetize your hobby
Hobbies that could potentially be monetized and turned into businesses include painting, woodworking, baking, web design, dog training — literally anything that provides value to others.

The problem is that many of us are afraid to take action, even when we know we have a marketable skill, because we are afraid of failure. We fear that if we attempt to monetize a hobby and fail, we’ll no longer feel joy or satisfaction from the activity at all… or others will regard us differently.

This can be a scary proposition that may prevent many talented individuals from pursuing their dream. If this sounds familiar to you, then listen up.

Trying to monetize a hobby isn’t easy, but on the other hand, it certainly isn’t rocket science. With a little preparation and strategic execution, you can enjoy a positive result. Here are a few tips:

1. Create a plan
In order to begin monetizing your hobby, you have to devise a game plan. This plan will obviously have to be tweaked along the way, but it’s worthwhile to have a strategy in place from the start.

This is something Tom Hess, a successful guitar teacher, regularly tells his students if they express an interest in someday becoming music instructors as well. He advises them to start part-time and gradually shift into full-time work.

“Fill up all your available time on nights and weekends with students and save all the money you make (do not spend a penny!),” Hess says. “Once you have saved enough money to cover four to six months of expenses, quit your job and go all-in to build your guitar teaching business even further.”

This may not be your particular game plan, but you need one of some kind. There’s nothing smart about diving in blindly and hoping things work out.

2. Get your first sale
You don’t need to go from hobby to million-dollar business in a matter of days. Your number one goal in the beginning stages is to get your first sale. Whether that means making a $5 sale or signing a $5,000 retainer, your first sale is the hardest and most important sale you’ll ever make.

There are plenty of strategies for actually getting your first sale, but it all depends on the product you’re selling. If you’re selling a service, you may want to start by offering a free trial and generating some word of mouth. If it’s a product, good product placement and advertising in the right places can lead to a sale. (Social media is especially powerful if you’re trying to reach the masses with minimal resources on hand.)

While you may believe in your product, it’s important to remember that other people have no reason to believe in it. You haven’t proven yourself yet. Hustle hard for that first sale and then turn one sale into two, two sales into four and so forth.

3. Maximize your time
For many people, working a full-time job and then spending extra hours pursuing a hobby isn’t practical. Between kids, significant other, friends and social requirements, you simply don’t have enough hours in the day.

In the initial stages, you’ll have to get creative about how you use your time. Perhaps you need to wake up an hour earlier than you’re used to and get some stuff done before your regular job.

Alternatively, it could mean involving your kids in your hobby so you can spend time with them while still accomplishing new things.

4. Build an online presence
In business today, everybody needs an online presence to generate activity. This means creating and maintaining a website, social media profiles, and everything else that goes into branding yourself as a professional.

Related: How This Army Veteran Turned His Hobby Into a $20 Million Business

“Keeping consistency in the way you present yourself will give you a more established image, which in turn will result in more fans,” graphic designer Christopher Young says. “If you are unsure of how to start, look for established musicians that produce similar music and borrow from their ideas. Art is not created in a vacuum; it’s okay to draw inspiration from other people’s work.”

5. Network
A few people will stumble across you online, but a lot of business success happens via word of mouth and networking. You have to be prepared to be active on this side of self-promotion, as well.

Find clubs, conferences and groups in your specialty that cater to other professionals in the niche. You’ll learn a lot at these events and get the chance to mingle with people who are at the same stage as you, and preferably a little further. Just be sure you have an elevator speech prepared for moments like those.

“People are bound to ask ‘So, what do you do?’ Have an ‘elevator speech’ ready so you know exactly what to say,” artist Quinn Dombrowski advises. “It only needs to be a few sentences — a minute or less — about who you are and what you do. If they’re interested, they will follow up with additional questions.”

6. Treat it like a job
The final piece of advice is to treat your hobby like a job. If you want it to become your main source of revenue someday — or at least a sustainable second stream of income — then you have to give it the attention it deserves.

Carve out time to work on your hobby, read about the industry, learn about sales and marketing and dedicate yourself to steady improvement. This is how to achieve positive results.

The longer you wait to take action, the more you’re likely to talk yourself out of pursuing your hobby. Though it wouldn’t be wise to dive in prematurely and present a low-quality product or service, you don’t want to overthink the challenge either.

If you’re looking for more information on how to turn a hobby into a revenue-producing job or side gig, you can learn a lot from listening to what others have done. Two really wonderful websites are Side Hustle Nation and I Will Teach You to Be Rich. Each offers exceptional business advice that sort of bridges the gap between hobby and business.

There’s also something to be said for learning through trial and error. If you’re good at what you do and there’s a market for your hobby, then there’s no reason why you can’t monetize it and earn a second stream of revenue. Dive in and see what happens.

Tips To Find Your Profitable Idea

Most people get really anxious when it’s time to start developing ideas for their business.

Lots of people love the idea of brainstorming ideas…but can never actually find an idea that they like enough to execute. I’m not sure if there’s some weird internal test that gets run in our heads that makes us believe an idea isn’t “good enough” — but for whatever reason, it seems like there are two huge problems when it comes to developing an idea:

1. We don’t think we have any good ideas, so there’s nothing we can possibly see succeeding. This is the guy who’s always telling you about a new project he wants to start, then you find out two weeks later he’s already abandoned it.

2. We think we have too many good ideas, and we are completely confused as to which one we should run with long term. This is the guy who always has 12 projects brewing at the same time, all in various stages of progress, none really doing well.

While these seem to be opposing concepts, they often ensnare us in the same dilemma: half-starting and eventually quitting. So where should you be focusing your time and energy? How do you know if your idea is good enough to “make it.”

First, remember something crucial: All businesses — services or products, online or offline — are a direct response to a problem. The purpose of a business….the only reason it exists, in fact, is to solve a problem. You should be actively thinking of how you can solve other people’s problems. On a day-to-day basis, you should be thinking about thing you and others around you struggle with…then find ways to solve those headaches through an idea, device, service or piece of software.

Better yet, start pretending you’re Olivia Pope and become relentless in your approach to problem solving and “fixing” things.

Coming up with fresh business ideas shouldn’t be something that you just do once a year when you need some money. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you must fundamentally change the way you look at the world, always seeking out opportunities to serve other people and get paid in return. With this in mind, your well of creative inspiration will never run dry. There are four places I look when I want to come up with a new business idea quickly:

1. Hobbies and skills you’re already good at.
Everybody has SOMETHING that they’re good at. The problem is, most of us take our skills for granted. We don’t appreciate the fact that the knowledge and abilities we have at our disposal could be very valuable to someone else.

Maybe you’re bilingual, or you can play an instrument.

Perhaps you know how to organize the HELL out of a closet.

Maybe you’re really good at cooking…or building websites.

You might have even successfully completed a few triathlons.

All of those are things that other people want to be able do for themselves, but in many cases, can’t. If you’ve spent considerable time learning to do something — either in school, as an apprentice, as a hobby or even as a recreational activity — that time has immense value. Rather than learning to do what you’ve done or putting in months (or years) of work grinding away, many people will be more than happy to pay you in order to get what they want much more quickly.

You can teach someone else how to do that. Or if you don’t want to teach it, you can simply use that skill to provide a service and do the work for them.

2. Things you’ve done for work.
SPOILER ALERT: “Learned at work” skills are a great place to look when fishing for your first profitable business idea. If you’ve ever held a job, that’s proof you have at least one skill or idea that somebody is willing to pay money for!

Like most people, you may be under the assumption that your hourly wage/salary reflects the actual value of your skills — but here’s the thing: there is no “actual” or innate value of a skill, service or idea.

Washing dishes could be a $7/hour skill…or a $15/hour skill depending on whose plates you’re cleaning.

Building a mobile app for your employer could be one of the hundreds of other things you do every year as part of your $60,000 salary.

Your salary doesn’t reflect true value, it just reflects your employer’s estimation of how much they can afford to pay you after they’ve accounted for all their expenses + made a healthy profit.

If you have a boss, you’re not making as much money as you could be for your time. Period.

Here’s a partial list of all the things taking money out of your paycheck before you even see it:

Recruiting costs — the employer has to find you and get your attention. This happens online, at career events or by putting a sign in the window. Every position needs to be filled — all the way to high level recruitment for senior positions. Costly, to say the least.

Training — it costs money for the materials you’ll need to get started. Things like computers, software, uniforms, desks, stupid potted plants, and that ergonomic mouse pad that you didn’t ask for with the weird hump by the wrist hump. All that’s coming out of your salary. You’re welcome!

Health insurance — If you’re full time (40 hrs), insurance is costing you, and it’s probably more expensive from your employer than it would be to purchase your own.

Financial programs — some companies offer 401K matching programs, stock options and other financial incentives, which are great. But will also cut into your salary in many cases.

Overhead — this includes any physical office space and all the utilities and other recurring costs that come with the building the employer occupies.

Management and executive salaries — yeah…often quite disproportionate.

By the time your salary is up for discussion, it’s less about what you’re worth and more what they can afford. In some cases, someone working a job that deserves $100,000 is getting $50,000 or less!

The skills you acquire along your journey are yours to use as you wish, at a price that you command.

Now, your job is just to identify which of your on-the-job skills is ripe for the picking, start developing your idea and then find your customers.

Ready to start your business but don’t know where to begin? I created this free guide for you to realize your future isn’t far off.

Related: This Founder’s Best Advice for Entrepreneurs: To Succeed, Entrepreneurs Need to Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

3. Things people ask you for.
Besides the seemingly interminable amount of time spent in school, I think one of the biggest turn offs about a career in medicine would be the relentless questions from well-intentioned civilians looking to “pick my brain” about a medical problem they were having.

“Do you have a quick second…I wanted to get your opinion on something.

[DOESN’T WAIT FOR PERMISSION]

I’ve been having this weird pain in my chest. It’s a bit like indigestion…but it’s a little bit sharper. I usually always get it after I eat spicy foods. Any idea what that could be?

[DOESN’T WAIT FOR RESPONSE]

Yeah, because I checked on WebMD and they said I should get checked for polyps on my spleen if it doesn’t subside in about a week or so. What should I do for polyps?”

On and on these questions would go. But I guess that’s how it goes with many professions, right? If you have a friend who is an attorney, you might find yourself shooting him a text that says something like, “Can you go to jail for unpaid parking tickets…hypothetically?”

Point here is that whether you realize it or not, we lean on experts to help us figure things out, and if people keep asking you for help, advice or insight in a particular area, there’s a good chance that others look at you as the expert or “go-to” in their circle of influence.

You have to start paying more attention to things that people ask you for. If someone asks you to help them with something, your mind should immediately begin assessing whether this is something that could become profitable.

Do you have friends who are always asking you for diet advice? What about people who are constantly asking your your insight about their relationships? Maybe friends and family call you to watch their dogs when they go out of town.

Start paying attention to the things that people require of you, then eventually, you’ll get paid to do things that you used to do for free.

4. Things you want to learn.
After teaching college test prep for a while, my second successful freelance business that I quickly scaled to over $100k was a web design company called Primal Digital. Guess what? I barely knew anything about web design in the beginning!

The idea started on a whim. I’d already had a bit of success with my first business as an SAT tutor, and I was looking for something that I could do from my house. I was not an expert by any means. I knew just enough to get a basic one-page site up on WordPress and that was about it. It’s almost embarrassing to think about as I type it now.

I set up my web design company’s one-page website with a very fancy theme to give the appearance that I was much more established than I actually was…and proceeded to start posting on popular freelance job boards like Upwork (Elance/oDesk at the time) and a few others.

Within a few hours, I started getting bites for $1,000, $2,000, even $5,000 jobs!

How was I able to get away with this?

My first few clients were happy to pay me because even though I wasn’t a world class expert, I still knew more than they did about building a website. Remember, for someone who doesn’t use computers much outside of Google and Facebook, even setting up a basic WordPress blog is a damn near mystical process. I worked my way up doing simple work, and as my skill set improved, I was able to charge more and more for my services. I essentially paid myself to learn how to build websites.

You could do the same thing easily.

Find a skill or idea that you’re a beginner in…but that you want to become really good at. Then gradually improve that skill set and find customers who are willing to pay you as you learn. It’s like paying yourself to go to school for something that you actually care about.

You don’t have to start as an expert. It’s ok if you haven’t done this before. You’ll get better with time — and you can get paid in the process.