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Opinion Editorials

Starting a business when you’re broke (and how to make it work)

(EDITORIAL) If money isn’t always a prerequisite to entrepreneurship, how can you start something from nothing?

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Breaking into the business world can be an intimidating venture, especially if you don’t have the money or experience to back up your ambitions. Experience, however, can be earned – or at least approached through a “fake it until you make it” style approach. But what can you do if you dream of launching a business but you don’t have the cash? Is money a prerequisite to entrepreneurship?

Money helps but isn’t a requirement for those hoping to start their own business – you simply need to get creative. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few things to consider.

One of the best ways to build your confidence around the topic of entrepreneurship is to refocus your attention towards those who also started from nothing, but have since made it big.

Steve Jobs started out tinkering in his garage as a teenager and went on to found the tech giant Apple, while multimillionaire consultant Sam Ovens publically discusses his finances – he was broke just a few years ago but had made over $10 million dollars by the time he turned 26.

Such stories attest to the fact that anyone can ascend to great heights.

Even though many people think money is the most important part of any business endeavor, successful people will tell you that true self-understanding far outranks cash on the list of necessities. Take some time to reflect on your goals and on how you view yourself as you pursue them.

If you think you can’t achieve your goals, then you won’t be able to. The mind is a very powerful thing.

If introspection reveals that you’re low on self-esteem, work on improving your view of yourself and begin developing a more positive perspective. You may find it helpful to write down what you think and then revise this description, working all the time to internalize this improved view of yourself. Though it may seem like a pointless process at first, you’re actually participating in your own transformation.

Another key determinant of success that far surpasses money is passion.

People succeed when they pursue goals that matter to them on a deeper level.

Typically this is the case because passion leads you to accumulate expertise on your chosen topic, and this will draw people to you.

One incredible example of the transformation of passion into profit is 17-year-old Jonah, who makes thousands of dollars a month selling watches online. Jonah comes from a family of jewelers, so he had ready access to the necessary knowledge and cultivated an outstanding selection of timepieces on his site, but it was his ability to combine his material knowledge with real understanding of his customers that made his business successful.

At the end of the day, he wanted his customers to have the perfect watch, and he brought his own passion for the field to bear on creating that experience.

Finally, if you hope to start a business but don’t have any cash resources, the best thing you can do is learn your field and network with those in it – without bringing them on board as professional partners.

It helps to have contacts, but you can’t grow a fledgling business by paying others to do the hard work.

Hunker down and work from home, working at night if you have to keep your current job, and start from the position of humble aspirant. If you show you’re committed to the real work of starting a business, you’ll find that others support you.

If you hope to start a business, but don’t have the money, don’t despair – but also don’t put your dream on hold. The only way to build the foundation you need to live that dream is by doing the hard work in the here and now.

Lots of people started just where you are, but the true successes are the ones who had the courage to push past the barriers without worrying about the financial details. You already have what you need, and that’s the passion for innovation.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. When he's not consulting, glued to a headset, he's working on one of his many business projects. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Opinion Editorials

How to find the sweet spot between procrastination and desperation

(EDITORIAL) Many intelligent people find themselves stuck in analysis paralysis (procrastination) and missing their window of opportunity. Others make decisions without enough information. How do you find the sweet spot between the two?

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I need to confess something to you

So, a little confession’s good for the soul, right? I feel like I need to confess something to you, dear reader, before we jump right into this article. What follows is an article that I pitched to our editor some months back, and was approved then, but I’ve had the hardest time getting started. It’s not writer’s block, per se; I’ve written scores of other articles here since then, so I can’t use that as an excuse.

It’s become a bit of a punch line around the office, too; I was asked if I was delaying the article about knowing the sweet spot in decision making between procrastination and desperation as some sort of hipster meta joke.

Which would be funny, were it to be true, but it’s not. I just became wrapped up in thinking about where this article was headed, and didn’t put words to paper. Until now.

Analysis by paralysis

“Thinking about something—thinking and thinking and thinking—without having an answer is when you get analysis by paralysis,” said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Matt Bowman, speaking to Fangraphs.

“That’s what happened… I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, or if I was doing anything wrong. I had no idea.” It happens to us all: the decisions we have to make in business loom so large over us, that we delay making them until it’s absolutely necessary.

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Worse still are the times that we delay them until after such a time as when making the decision no longer matters because the opportunity or market’s already moved on. So we try to find the avenues for ourselves that will give us the answers we seek, and try to use those answers in a timely fashion. Jim Kaat, the former All-Star pitcher said it well: “If you think long, you think wrong.”

Dumpster Diving in Data

In making a decision, we’re provided an opportunity to answer three basic questions: What? So what? And now what?

The data that you use to inform your decision making process should ideally help you answer the first two of those three questions. But where do you get it from, and how much is enough?

Like many of us, I’m a collector when it comes to decision making. The more data I get to inform my decision, and the sufficient time that I invest to analyze that data, I feel helps me make a better decision.

And while that sounds prudent, and no one would suggest the other alternative of making a decision without data or analysis would be better, it can lead to the pitfall of knowing how much is enough. When looking for data sources to inform your decision making, it’s not necessarily quantity, but an appropriate blend between quantity and quality that will be most useful.

You don’t get brownie points for wading through a ton of data of marginal quality or from the most arcane places you can find them when you’re trying to make an informed decision. The results of your ultimate decision will speak for themselves.

“Effective people,” said Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, “know when to stop assessing and make a tough call, even without total information.”

Great. How do I do that?

So, by what factors should you include (and more importantly, exclude) data in your decision making?

Your specific business sector will tell you which data sources most of your competitors use already, as well as the ones that your industry disruptors use to try to gain the edge on you.

Ideally, your data sources should be timely and meaningful to you. Using overly historical data, unless you’re needing that level of support for a trend line prediction, often falls into “That’s neat, but…” land. Also, if you’re wading into data sets that you don’t understand, find ways to either improve (and thus speed) your analysis of them, or find better data sources.

While you should be aware of outliers in the data sets, don’t become so enamored of them and the stories that they may tell that you base your decision making process around the outlier, rather than the most likely scenarios.

And don’t fall into this trap

Another trap with data analysis is the temptation to find meaning where it may not exist. Anyone who’s been through a statistics class is familiar with the axiom correlation doesn’t imply causation. But it’s oh so tempting, isn’t it? To find those patterns where no one saw them before?

There’s nothing wrong with doing your homework and finding real connections, but relying on two data points and then creating the story of their interconnectedness in the vacuum will lead you astray.

Such artificial causations are humorous to see; Tyler Vigen’s work highlights many of them.

My personal favorite is the “correlation” between the U.S. per capita consumption of cheese and people who died after becoming entangled in their bed sheets. Funny, but unrelated.

So, as you gather information, be certain that you can support your action or non-action with recent, accurate, and relevant data, and gather enough to be thorough, but not so enamored of the details that you start to drown in the collection phase.

Trust issues

For many of us, delegation is an opportunity for growth. General Robert E. Lee had many generals under his command during the American Civil War, but none was so beloved to him as Stonewall Jackson.

Upon Jackson’s death in 1863, Lee commented that Jackson had lost his left arm, but that he, Lee, had lost his right. Part of this affection for Jackson was the ability to trust that Jackson would faithfully carry out Lee’s orders. In preparing for the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson approached Lee with a plan for battle:

Lee, Jackson’s boss, opened the conversation: “What do you propose to do?”

Jackson, who was well prepared for the conversation based on his scout’s reports, replied. “I propose to go right around there,” tracing the line on the map between them.

“How many troops will you take?,” Lee queried.

“My whole command,” said Jackson.

“What will you leave me here with?,” asked Lee.

Jackson responded with the names of the divisions he was leaving behind. Lee paused for a moment, but just a moment, before replying, “Well, go ahead.”

And after three questions in the span of less than five minutes, over 30,000 men were moved towards battle.

The takeaway is that Lee trusted Jackson implicitly. It wasn’t a blind trust that Lee had; Jackson had earned it by his preparation and execution, time after time. Lee didn’t see Jackson as perfect, either. He knew the shortcomings that he had, and worked to hone his talents towards making sure those shortcomings were minimized.

Making trust pay off for you

We all deserve to have people around us in the workplace that we can develop into such a trust. When making decisions, large or small, having colleagues that you can rely on to let you know the reality of the situation, provide a valuable alternative perspective, or ask questions that let you know the idea needs more deliberation are invaluable assets.

Finding and cultivating those relationships is a deliberate choice and one that needs considerable and constant investments in your human capital to keep.Click To Tweet

Chris Oberbeck at Entrepreneur identifies five keys to making that investment in trust pay off for you: make authentic connections with those in your employ and on your team, make promises to your staff sparingly, and keep every one of them that you make, set clear expectations about behaviors, communication and output, be vulnerable enough to say “I don’t know” and professional enough to then find the right answers, and invest your trust in your employees first, so that they feel comfortable reciprocating.

Beyond developing a relationship of trust between those who work alongside you, let’s talk about trusting yourself.

For many, the paralysis of analysis comes not from their perceived lack of data, but their lack of confidence in themselves to make the right decision. “If I choose incorrectly,” they think, “it’s possible that I might ________.” Everyone’s blank is different.

For some, it’s a fear of criticism, either due or undue. For others, it’s a fear of failure and what that may mean. Even in the face of compelling research about the power of a growth mindset, in which mistakes and shortcomings can be seen as opportunities for improvement rather than labels of failure, it’s not uncommon for many of us to have those “tapes” in our head, set to auto play upon a miscue, that remind us that we’ve failed and how that labels us.

“Risk” isn’t just a board game

An uncomfortable fact of life is that, in business, you can do everything right, and yet still fail. All of the research can come back, the trend lines of data suggest the appropriate course of action, your team can bless the decision, and you feel comfortable with it, so action is taken! And it doesn’t work at all. A perfect example of this is the abject failure of New Coke to be accepted by the consumer in 1985.

Not only was it a failure to revive lagging sales, but public outrage was so vehement that the company was forced to backtrack and recall the product from the market. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way they’re supposed to.

You have to be comfortable with your corporate and individual levels of risk when making a decision and taking action. How much risk and how much failure costs you, both in fiscal and emotional terms, is a uniquely personal decision, suited to your circumstances and your predilections. It’s also likely a varying level, too; some decisions are more critical to success and the perceptions of success than others, and will likely cause you more pause than the small decisions we make day-to-day.

In the end, success and failure hinge on the smallest of factors at times, and the temptation is to slow down the decision making process to ensure that nothing’s left to chance.

Go too slowly, however, and you’ve become the captain of a rudderless ship, left aimlessly to float, with decisions never coming, or coming far too late to meet the needs of the market, much less be innovative. Collect the information, work with your team to figure out what it means, and answer the third question of the series (the “what”) by taking action.

#TakeAction

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Opinion Editorials

How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.

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Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?

A new published in the Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.

But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.

Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?

The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.

However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”

The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.

The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.

In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.

In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”

Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.

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Opinion Editorials

4 ways to earn more respect in any group (personal OR professional)

(EDITORIAL) In this world of high velocity and high volume, finding ways to get people to see things your way and rally with you is difficult, but not impossible.

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We’re all being smothered by false standards. Hoards of voices tell men to be “more assertive” and “take control,” while letting women know that their ticket to getting things done is to “smile more” and “be approachable.”

As entrepreneurs, we are really looking for the answer to one simple question: How can I make it happen?

We want to know how to make the dream work, and how to get people to rally behind us to lead our projects to success.

We are looking for actionable, specific advice that we can take NOW – not lofty, vague ideas that hide under the guise of “psychology hacks” (what does “be more alpha” really mean anyway!?).

The thing is, topics like charisma and influence are often made much more challenging than necessary. At the end of the day, social interactions are governed by one simple rule:

A group, is a group, is a group.

People like Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss are able to teach the concepts of influence and leadership to a mass audience because all groups are controlled by a few key fundamental principles. Gaining an understanding of these principles allows you to gain respect and influence in any group you would like, and use that respect and influence to organize and guide people toward your goals.

Whether you are looking to inspire more prospects to convert to customers, want to create more cohesion amongst your team in the pursuit of your vision, or simply want to network more effectively, there are overarching themes that are sure to add a strong boost in the effectiveness of your actions as an entrepreneur.

And beyond all else, this is the most important one of all:

Look for what people want, and give it to them.

People join groups because it provides them the ability to have experiences they may not otherwise get to have. That said, everyone in the group is looking to the group to provide them with something. People may join a friend group in order to have fun and talk to people about the things they want to talk about, while people may join a specific career path for financial gain.

Now this all seems rather obvious, but where people tend to make mistakes is that they forget that everyone in the group has a specific motivation for being there. If you do not appeal to someone’s reason for being in the group, they will not see you as a valuable contributor to the group, and may treat you poorly as consequence.

If someone in a your friend group wants to have fun, and they do not see you as someone who can provide them with fun experiences, they will be neutral towards you at best. If they find it fun to see your reaction to their disrespect, but don’t see any other way to have fun with you, they might even be openly hostile toward you.

Likewise, if a coworker sees you as someone who is going to make their job more difficult, and you are not in a position of power over them, they are going to see you an unnecessary source of pain, and may mistreat you as a result.

As an example, let’s say that in a project you are running, there is a web designer in your group, Anna, who takes every opportunity she can to undercut your authority and make you appear incompetent in front of the others. There isn’t any outside tension (such as a conflicting friendship or sexual desire), and seeing as this is your project and she doesn’t have any stake, there is no angle for her to practically assume control of the project, so you just can’t understand why she has decided to make you the target of her tirades. You just chalk it up to being a big ego.

“Are you sure THAT’s the message you want to go to market with? I mean, I’ll put whatever you want on the webpage, I guess.”

“Why do you think it’s so important that we have the supply chain ironed out when we haven’t done any market testing yet? Are you trying to make this fail?”

Of course, every time she openly questions your decisions, the others on the team start to buy into her campaign against you. Lately, others on your team even follow suit, and question your decisions even when she isn’t in the meeting. While leading this project has now become an incredible pain, as everyday you face a volley of questions and dubious team members, this is your BABY, and you know it has serious potential to be something big once you get it to market, so what are you to do?

At this point, I’m sure any reader with an “alpha” mentality is thinking to themselves: “Well, why would you even put up that? Just drop her and hire someone else.”

While I can see that logic, it’s a short-sighted response, and it doesn’t cover all the bases.

What about a situation where you don’t have any other options, because her skillset is in the exact niche you need and it would be hard to find an adequate replacement? What about the blowback from the rest of your team if they see that you fired someone for speaking out? If they have truly vital insights that may save you from going the wrong direction, they may feel that they now need to keep their mouth shut while you plow your way to failure. How do you know that the others would stop questioning you after you fired her? If they are already questioning you on their own now, they already have strong enough doubts in you that her presence is no longer necessary to stoke the fire.

If this designer and her need to question you at every turn is the thing that is holding you back from getting taken more seriously by the group, then there is a much easier way to go about it.

Don’t ask: Why does Anna think she knows everything better than I do?

You need to remove the focus from yourself.

Ask this instead: What does Anna have to gain by attacking me?

When you look at it this way, you can see that Anna’s motivation to question you does not stem from the actual doubt of your decision making ability, but rather from the attention she gets from the others in the group when she does. In fact, when you look a little closer, you may realize that if Anna isn’t questioning your actions, the others on your team don’t give her opinions on anything much consideration.

As a web designer, Anna is often at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to business ventures. But she is an entrepreneur too. She wants to do big things. She wants her voice to heard, and her thoughts to have weight. Questioning you is just the easiest way to be heard.

So how do you make her stop? You give her the voice and consideration that she wants. When there is a meeting about the status of the project, and the team is deciding on next steps and priorities, ask her for her opinion and make sure people listen to it. Ask her to share her thoughts on the different parts of the business in a 1-on-1 setting, and give her thoughts ample consideration before deciding whether they hold merit. Comment on her good work in front of the group and make sure she knows how much you value her input to team, and how vital she is to the project’s success.

Show her that you hear her.

Yes, if you believe that web designers DO belong at the bottom of the food chain, this is going to be hard to do. It’s going to be especially hard when she has directly attacked your authority (and ego) in front of the team time and time again. And yes, when you first start to do it, Anna will likely think you are being condescending and simply try to attack your ideas and authority even harder.

However, once she sees that you are able to give her what she wants, she won’t feel the need to question you anymore. In fact, since you are one of the only people in the group who are giving her the attention and respect she wants, she may even start to DEFEND you when other people try to jump on your case.

If you aren’t getting the respect you feel you deserve in a group, figure out what people want, and find a way to give it to them. When you do, they will see that you make a much better ally than you do an adversary, and will look to you to help them achieve their group goals, elevating you to a level of more respect and leadership in the process.

When it comes down to it, it’s street-level knowledge: you have to help others to help yourself.

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