Businesses You Can Start

Looking for a business you can start on a budget?

This great article from Entrepreneur catalogs 63 Businesses to Start for Under $10,000.

Some can be launched for less than $2000:

  • Resume Service
  • Personal Shopper
  • Alterations
  • Valet Parking
  • Children’s Parties
  • Cake and Cupcake Bakery
  • Personal Chef
  • Music Lessons
  • Arts & Crafts Instructor
  • Pet Sitter
  • Gardening Consultant

… and the list goes on.

Others services require more capital but are still within reach of us mere mortals. You don’t have to plunk down you life savings on a fast-food franchise in order to get started in your own business.

Look through the list and see what lines up with your talent and desires.

Also helpful is The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau.

Passive Income

Do you prefer the passive income approach and have what it takes work really hard up front?Check out Pat Flynn’s podcasts at SmartPassiveIncome.

Franchises

If you do have some money to invest and you prefer a proven brand with a built-in business model, check out Entpreneur’s big list of franchise opportunities.

 

Starting a Small Business

A business of your own. You’ve got the itch, now how do you scratch it? What comes next depends on where you are on the journey to start your own small business…

Daydreaming

daydreaming

Image by martinak15

If you’re just thinking about doing something, but you don’t know what, start by taking a personal inventory:

Pre-Launch

pre-launch
image by Andy

We all know that not every business idea is a good one. Before you launch your baby into the wild (and your time and money with it), find out if you’re on a reasonable track.

Take Action

This is an action-oriented site. Take action today towards your dream!

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement.”

~ Bo Bennett

Suggested Reading

Working from Home

working-from-home

Maybe you’re just sick of the commute. Sharing the freeway with crazy people is getting old. I don’t blame you. Idiot sightings are up and it’s hard to get through an intersection in one try with everyone feeding their phone addiction.
Maybe you’re dreaming of starting something special. A service that comes from the heart, dished up for people that you care about. The world has waited too long for this, you say. It’s time. You’re gonna launch it and the fuzzy slippers routine is the way to go.
Whatever your motivation to start working from home, you know it’s not going to be easy. There are obstacles, risks involved, and things to prepare for. The big come-on for starting a small business from home is, “Free! I’ll be free!” Waving goodbye to your tyrant boss will make you feel more independent, but there are many time-sucking denizens lurking in your home-office future.

When I made the leap, my manager Fred told me, “Michael, you’re underestimating the amount of administrivia that our company takes care of for you.” That was the understatement of the decade. Of course, no one article is going to stop you if you’ve decided to make the leap to start your own small business. This article, however, will help you jump with your eyes open. This is my collection of things to think about as you settle into the starting blocks and look down the lane towards the finish line.

Schedule

PRO

  • Increased flexibility. Getting to that soccer game is no big deal.
  • Energy management. Take a nap if you need to and then hit it hard again. No one is watching.

Environment

PRO

  • Casual dress
  • Productivity — your personal work style — is totally up to you
  • Part of your home is now tax-deductible for the business

CON

  • Distractions (kids, partner, roommate, visitors) can steal your productivity
  • Transitions are abrupt. You can go from deep into a deal into holding a sick child.
  • Organization is all you. If you can’t find it now, it will get worse.
  • Feeling isolated. Somewhat offset by networking and social media.
  • New staff likely will not appreciate the lack of office amenities
  • Line between work and family/leisure gets blurred. Work is always available and you must be able to walk away from it.
  • The informal setting can lower credibility with clients and prospects
  • Productivity depends on you being really good at self-management
  • The family loses some living space to make room for your office
  • Family may resent your staff as privacy invaders

Expenses

PRO

  • Lower overhead by dodging an office lease
  • Fewer lunches out (maybe – depends on your networking needs)
  • Lower car-related expenses
  • Lower dry-cleaning bill (casual dress)

CON

  • Must acquire your own health insurance
  • Computer, business phone, printer, Internet, teleconferencing software, accounting software, online file sharing, etc.

Relationships

PRO

  • No boss
  • Less stress because you are in control and don’t feel as rushed

CON

  • Lots of quasi-bosses: prospects, buyers, clients, vendors, business partners
  • Harder to form new relationships without daily contact
  • Less people to learn from when you work alone
  • You wear all the hats: boss,  bookkeeper, customer service, printer repair.

Caution

Make sure you check in with your County and State to make sure that your specific type of  business is allowed to operate from a private residence. Check out the official SCORE guide on the subject.

These links contain overlapping ideas about working from home but they are just too funny to summarize!

One make or break quality of successful starters is having good habits. To see how daily habits shape your destiny, check out The Compound Effect from Darren Hardy. Don’t let the size fool you. This little book is a life-changer.

Make sure you test your business idea out before wasting a lot of money and time on a dud.

Image by Shannon McGee

Myths about Starting a Small Business

atlas

When I set out to study and catalog the myths (lies) we have been told about starting a small business, I honestly thought that I would find ten or so. After reading 11 articles on the subject, I was shocked to find 71 topics listed. Apparently, there is a boat load of crappy information running around in this category. No wonder we are confused and discouraged about what to do!

I have trimmed the duplicates, combined a few items, and removed the myths that cater to large enterprises in order to keep the list smaller and focused on the those who are starting a small business. Keep that in mind as you read through the list. This isn’t about creating and launching Apple or Facebook or Uber. It’s about starting something small on your own that will probably change as you get into it.

Since the words that we ingest matter, I am going to state the myth and then restate the corresponding truth. Read the whole table for understanding. Then read the right-hand column by itself to affirm your ability to start your own small business.

Myth vs. Reality

Myth (Lie) Reality (Truth)
Find money Lots of people bootstrap their business.
You must be technical You can learn the technology needed.
Find a unique idea and keep secrets Talk with people you trust and you may find partners and customers. Ideas are not usually unique.
Prepare an exit strategy Focus on building a great product and serving customers.
Quit if you fail Learn from failure and start again smarter. Lots of founders fail before they succeed.
Build it and they will come A real business has marketing, sales, product development, relationships, etc.
Work 24/7 and do everything yourself Delegate. Stop working when you become unproductive. Rest to avoid burnout.
Know what you’re doing Believe there is something that needs building. You’ll figure out what it is as you go.
Create a full business plan Outline what you’re going to do and how you plan to measure it. A few pages of clarity is enough to start.
Start at the right time Start now.
Hire staff Keep overhead low. Stay lean and outsource.
Focus only on the product Plan for marketing too.
Finish the product, then market it Test your idea. Confirm that you have a product that people want.
You’ll be your own boss You answer to your customers
A business is the best road to riches Starting a business is risky. If money is your driver then learn new skills, network and stay promotable.
Take lots of risks Make careful, calculated bets
Rent office space Avoid overhead. Work from home or the coffee shop. Find Coworking spaces are popular for startups.
More features will improve your product Stay simple. Deliver benefits to customers, not features.
Do what you love and money will follow Some passions cannot be monetized.
Go for the largest market Large markets have fierce competition. Pick a niche where you can make a loud noise.
Your business must grow Growth is not the same as improvement. Seek a size that is stable and has a good margin.

Believe in yourself and your ideas. Believe in your passion to provide a great service that people want. Believe the truth… and begin!

Why do people really start a small business? Find out in the classic book The E-Myth Revisted by Michael Gerber.
Image credit: Gabriela Fab

Side Hustle

Street_musician

You don’t have to leave your current job to start a business if your goal is just to make an extra car payment each month. Instead, think about starting a small, part-time business on the side. If it goes well, you can invest more effort and grow it until you feel secure enough to make the jump to full-time in your new career.

Now this will be obvious, but some businesses can’t be started as a side gig. Heart surgery is really hard from your basement and space walks, well, they take a lot of infrastructure. Both of those jobs require an all-in commitment and lots of specialized training to pull off. Simpler jobs like a professional passenger pusher, mourner, or snuggler require that you be physically present to render those services. Yes, I’m serious and no, you can’t phone these jobs in.

There are plenty of jobs, however, that lend themselves quite well to the side hustle approach. Here are some of the more obvious choices…

VIRTUAL

These jobs can often be done remotely because the product is delivered electronically or the job involves labor that is unsupervised:

  • programmer
  • graphic artist
  • bookkeeper
  • Excel expert
  • writer
  • online tutor
  • portrait painter
  • goods reseller
  • drop shipper
  • survey taker
  • ad watcher
  • contest winner
  • website builder
  • phone support

IN PERSON

These jobs usually have to be done in person:

  • waitress
  • barista
  • hotel clerk
  • photographer
  • gym receptionist
  • babysitter
  • nanny
  • personal tutor
  • car washer
  • dog walker
  • store clerk
  • personal chef
  • elder care specialist
  • personal shopper
  • baker
  • organizer
  • massage therapist
  • landscaper
  • lawn mower
  • interior decorator
  • house painter
  • driver (Uber, Lyft)
  • food deliverer

RESOURCE SITES

Here are some websites to get you started hunting for freelance work.

Suggested Reading

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau.

Got a brilliant idea for a new business? Test your idea before wasting time and money on it.

Why Small Businesses Fail

shipwreck

I digested and condensed all the top reasons why small businesses fail from the top sources (NY Times, Forbes, Inc, Guardian). Scan this list of pitfalls to make sure you’re not going to be blindsided.

  1. Demand Shortage. Maybe you jumped onto the trend at the peak (2008 real estate anyone?) or you didn’t see the disrupter coming (sorry RIM) but the crowd just doesn’t want what you’re selling. Make sure that you have a profitable business model and a healthy target market.
  2. Incompetence. If you are arrogant or a perfectionist [stares at his shoes] or paranoid, you’re getting in your own way. A business round table group like Vistage can help you get out of your head and form a sound opinion about your own skills and growth needs.
  3. Excessive Growth. You take on too much and become the victim of your own success. I grew one of my businesses too slowly and created a headache for myself. Some do the opposite and get overextended like an army cut off from its supply lines.
  4. Poor Information. You don’t watch the numbers or watch the wrong ones. My CPA gave me three numbers to track for my consulting business. Understand the financial drivers in your industry.
  5. No Cushion. Bad things happen. The timing doesn’t always work. Obey the number one rule of business: Don’t run out of cash!  Borrowing is evil unless you have the cash to pay it back. If only I had a dollar now for every dollar I didn’t have then! Price intelligently, know your profit margin, and protect your cash flow.
  6. Bored Customers. Unless you live in Lake Wobegon, not all companies can be above average. Some of them are below the bar and your customers know it. Giving up on great service will take you out of the game. There’s always a new, fresh face coming along and they sell basically the same thing you do (according to your customers). You don’t have a relationship with a market. You have a relationship with people — customers. Are you connected in ways that are meaningful to them?
  7. Operational friction. Your overhead is too high or your process sucks. Get lean or get clobbered. The market is no place for the fat or lazy.
  8. Burnout. Many businesses thrive on the owner’s energy. A downturn follows an owner who is fried, or getting old, or has a family event that takes them out of play. I once got a gig after the previous consultant, who was going through a divorce, stood up one day and said, “I can’t do this any more,” and walked out.
  9. Management malfunction. Even small companies need vision and planning. Set standards. Measure things. Require character. Even one toxic relationship can put your dream in the ditch. Heaven help you if it’s your partner. Mind your core values and protect your culture.
  10. Inattention. Are you trying to do business in the 21st century with methods from the 80’s? The marketing world has changed and that change continues to accelerate. Where are your customers putting their attention? Have you asked? Is your message clear on that medium? What are your competitors doing? Can you afford not to know?
  11. Over-concentration. It’s tempting to give all your attention to that demanding (and hopefully profitable) customer, but failure to diversify can kill your business. One of my favorite people in the distribution business lost his main account and the firm he had taken over from his father went into a death-spiral. More than money was lost.
  12. No Backup. Every business has risks. Do you know yours and have a plan to address them? If you lose a key asset, can you replace them with someone qualified? Is your data backed up? Do you have redundant distribution channels? Did you know that cyber theft shuts down 60% of its small business victims?

Want More?

Try this in-depth look at 200 start-up postmortems.

Suggested Reading

Image credit: Geee Kay

Is This for You?

Is starting a small business for you?

This is the red pill post. If you’ve already made up your mind to start your own business, you can skip this page. But if you’re still on the fence or just want a reminder of what you’re up against…

Many Businesses Fail

“According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 50% of all new businesses survive 5 years or more, and about one-third survive 10-years or more.” ~ SuccessHarbor

So the first five years is a coin toss. Look at the person next to you. One of you won’t make it. At the ten year mark, one of your Three Amigos business buddies will be still standing. You can improve your odds, of course, by learning why small businesses fail.

You Have a Choice

two-doors

Zappos offers new-hires $2000 to walk away and not take the job they have just interviewed for. They know that not everyone is going to like the company and fit into their customer-service zealot culture. They are doing both Zappos and the would-be employee a huge service by letting them walk away early instead of making both sides suffer through a bad fit.

I’m offering you a similar but much bigger deal. Behind door number one is a steady paycheck, promotions, paid vacation, health benefits and the opportunity to dodge the scar tissue and angina that goes with running your own business. Behind door number two? It’s all you, baby.

Should you make the leap or keep the paycheck? It’s not an easy question, but I’ll give you my 57 cents on the subject ($0.02 adjusted for inflation). All those magazine covers touting the brave new world of being self-employed? There’s a good chance they’re not talking about you or me. The press loves to glorify the outliers — the few who make it big. Take a thorough inventory of who you are and what you are up against before making the leap.
Take inventory of who you are and what you are up against before making the leap. Click To Tweet

Decision Factors

Look over the following lists and see how many of the items you can relate to…

Keep the Paycheck if you:
  • Fit in with your team
  • Like predictability
  • Enjoy the group
  • Whine about bureaucracy
  • Need to make money
  • Admire your peers
  • Dream about your own business
  • Enjoy free pizza Fridays
  • Caught the game this weekend
  • Talk security with your spouse
Start a Small Business if you:
  • Feel like you don’t belong
  • Get bored easily
  • Like being alone
  • Make bureaucrats angry
  • Need to create things
  • Know you can do better
  • Write business ideas weekly
  • Forget to eat while blogging
  • Don’t know who was playing
  • Talk adventure with your spouse

Reality Check

Can a list of bullets really predict your future success as a small business owner? Of course not. Every person who starts a business is a different and some ideas are riskier than others.

When I started my software business in 1997, I did so with the understanding that my friend had “a few months” of contracting work that he thought I could help with. I was sick of working for someone else and knew I could do it better myself. I was the classic E-Myth case study, having an entrepreneurial fit. I told my wife that I was going to quit my steady job working for a local consulting company and she said, “That’s nice, dear. By the way, I’m pregnant with our third child.” I asked her to wait a couple of weeks and see. Maybe she she was wrong. Good timing on my part, right?

That first contract lasted 18 months and the business ran for 15 years. According to the stats, I beat the odds. But… it was possibly the worst financial decision I ever made. Those fifteen years were filled with all kinds of ups and downs:

  • The joy of landing a new client
  • The depression of losing a client when the NPO changed directors
  • The client who stiffed me for $56K
  • The heartache of my first (and hopefully last) lawsuit
  • Very Lean years and almost lush years

Notice I didn’t say it was the worst decision. Just the worst financial decision. I could have made (and saved) more money by staying employed as a software pro, provided that I didn’t go insane. There are other reasons than money to make the leap, as hinted at by the bullets above. It could be that you’re not good employee material. Perhaps you value your independence above all else. Maybe it’s an undeniable sense of mission. Just don’t ignore the very real risks.

Before you leap into the void, do some reading on Starting a Business to gain confidence that you’re leaping for the right reasons.  And good luck!

Suggested Reading

Pros & Cons of Starting a Small Business

pros-and-cons

Ignorance may be bliss some days, but not when starting a small business. It’s better to go with the adage, “Forewarned is forearmed.” Knowing both the positive and negative aspects of becoming a business owner will help you make the right decision for you and your family.

The list below is a categorized compilation (that’s fun to say) of a dozen articles on the advantages and disadvantages of starting your own small business.

CATEGORY PROS CONS
Money You can make more than an employer will pay you You will risk your own funds with no guarantee of a paycheck
Control You are your own boss You must keep your promises to customers, employees, partners, and vendors
Direction You get to pick your mission and the type of customers you want You are responsible for all the tough choices about the product or service, the right market, the right strategy and tactics for making your business model work
Risk You get to roll the dice yourself You have to deal with snake eyes
Location You decide where and when to work You bear the burden of whatever overhead you choose (office, equipment, etc.)
Success Limited only by our own talent and effort There are no guarantees; Resilience is a commonly touted requirement for founders
Values You set the initial values for your company Hiring people just like you will create a stunted, one-dimensional team
Responsibility You will have autonomy to make every decision You are responsible for all the tough calls
Initiative You get to test your own ideas You own each failure
Stability No one can fire you; You directly influence your own prosperity Your income may go up and down
Staff You control who works for you and how much you grow You have to hire enough people to prevent burning people out, manage them well, deal with performance issues
Health Flexibility to schedule exercise and pick restaurants Pressure to work too long and not take care of yourself
Stress No one is telling you what to do There is always more work to do; You can feel overwhelmed
Interests You can work on what excites you The boring details of legal and accounting have to get done
Family, Friends, Hobbies, Vacation Freedom to set your own hours Pressure to get critical things done and maintain cash flow; Family and friendships can suffer
Learning Develop broad knowledge of business; Try new things You have to do things you don’t like until you can afford help
Influence You have direct contact with customers and partners You must be able to sell your product or service
Confidence Running a business can bolster your self-belief Working alone on tough decisions is difficult; You must be able to handle failure

Now that you know, how do you make the decision to start your own small business or not? What is about you that will weight the scales in your favor to succeed? Check out this list of decision factors.

Image credit: All Reverse Mortgage