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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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The money trap

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?

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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.

Big successes who started small

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.

Know thyself

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.

Pay attention to your passions

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.

Know your network, but do it yourself

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.

#StartYourBusiness

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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.

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Opinion Editorials

What Swedish Death Cleaning your office looks like

(PRODUCTIVITY) If you need any motivation to clear the clutter check out dostadning, aka Swedish Death Cleaning. It won’t kill you but it’ll make you feel super metal while you clean.

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You’ve probably heard of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” as one of many titles focused on keeping your life organized and stress free. However, I bet you’ve never heard of dostadning, or, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.”

Alarmed yet? Don’t be; while it’s exactly as morbid as it sounds, it’s not as morose as you would think.

Dostadning, sometimes called “death cleaning” is a Swedish term referring to a process of permanent cleaning conducted throughout your Golden Girl years, usually starting around age 50. The goal of the process is to alleviate the burden of tidying up from your surviving family once you pass away.

It is currently having a day in the sun thanks to Margareta Magnusson, who is publishing a book on this topic.

The process is rooted in common de-cluttering mantras; only hold onto things that you actually use and actually bring you joy. Nothing you can’t find in your other “simplify your life” bestsellers. However, the spectre of the end of life does hang over the process, and that results in a few unique elements.

First of all, talk of death cleaning is highly encouraged amongst family and friends. Not only does this create accountability, but it also reduces the stigma around the process of passing on.

There’s also the idea of giving things you don’t want away as gifts to friends. It’s a way of creating happy memories for others, little pieces of yourself that can stick around.

In addition to creating these new memories, dostadning encourages personal reflections on your old memories. Clearing out clutter means making more space in your life for things that truly matter; anything negative or neutral gets the metaphorical boot.

That simplicity and self-reflection is a form of self-care, bolstered by the fact that, post-cleaning, you are supposed to treat yourself to something you like.

Because of the focus on long-term organization, dostadning stands out as a more long-term solution, as opposed to the temporary fix of “tidying up.” No matter where you are in life, it’s important to remember to make time to address the cause of clutter, rather than addressing clutter as a symptom that needs a band-aid.

Perhaps you could dostadn your desk? You’ve probably got a few receipts from lunch last month you don’t need anymore or maybe you’re a water bottle collector — you know the ones that get a water bottle and don’t finish it but then get a new one anyways and then somehow wind up with a collection of bottles on and around your desk? Maybe you’ve kept every single stapler you’ve ever been given but let’s be real, do you need 5 staplers?

Maybe your clutter isn’t on your desk, but it’s in your drawers. Or maybe, just maybe it’s in the break room. Wherever your clutter lie beginning to simplify and purge things will make you (and your co-workers) happy.

By focusing on changing the way you organize things as a whole, you may find your efforts to reap longer-lasting returns.

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Opinion Editorials

Disrupting the idea that tech is the disrupter of modern business

(OPINION EDITORIAL) In a world of streaming, apps and have-it-now, it is easy to think of technology as a disrupter. But is that the issue or the symptom of a bigger issue?

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Customers matter

Amazon didn’t kill the retail industry, they did it to themselves with bad customer service. Netflix did not kill Blockbuster, they did it to themselves with ridiculous late fees. Uber did not kill the taxi business, they did it to themselves by limiting the number of taxis and with fare control. Apple did not kill the music industry, they did it to themselves by forcing people to buy full-length albums. AirBNB did not kill the hotel industry, they did it to themselves by limited availability and pricing options. Technology by itself is not the real disrupter.

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Being non-customer-centric is the biggest threat to any business. Not my words, they’re rad. That’s Davis Masten, making an elegant and effective argument for the disruption business model. Let’s get less concise.

User experience

Mr. Masten absolutely isn’t wrong. Every success story he lists got its customers based on a smooth, convenient user experience, and I’ll wager everybody reading this has a hilarious horror story about at least one of the failures.

He does undersell tech a bit. The music industry didn’t force people to buy full albums. You could buy all the singles you wanted. They were just a pain in the posterior to sort and store. Then, iTunes. If AirBNB is killing hotels it’s doing it darn slowly (which I guess might be worse?) and Netflix coexisted with Blockbuster until the former went streaming.

But that’s a quibble. Even in cases where the new model didn’t disrupt the old one until certain tech was in place, that tech was invariably in the service of a convenient, cost-effective user experience. That’s Mr. Masten’s point. Whoever wins at that, wins. Truth.

The question I really want to address: what then?

What then?

That’s a question the disruption business model has a bad habit of not answering. Well, I mean, there’s the Uber answer, the Uber answer being “behave contemptibly for years on end until your own shareholders kick you out despite you making them money.” Never give the Uber answer.

It is not a good answer.

For folks looking to be Travis Kalanick in 2013 without being Travis Kalanick in 2017, a level of responsibility is called for. As Mr. Masten points out, “disruption” usually means a smoother, simpler user experience beating the tar out of an older, clunkier one. That’s great!

It also comes with collateral damage.

Terms of employment

The ride-sharing model – and this is everybody, I’m not just picking on Uber – depends on drivers being legally self-employed. AirBNB depends on hosts not having to meet hotel regulations, and guests not expecting them. Put differently, if Uber and Lyft had to pay a living wage and offer benefits, or AirBNB hosts had to meet hotel cleanliness standards out of pocket, those services would keel over and die in a week.

That cash-in-hand approach absolutely makes things simpler for the company and the customer.

To be especially callous, it may also encourage a better user experience because workers are broke and terrified of losing their jobs, unlike, for instance, unionized cab drivers.

It’s also precarious in the extreme, and not just for employees. The Uber/Netflix model is a confluence of easy user experience and the technology that empowers it. That being the case, there will be a new “disruption” every time the tech gets measurably better. Conservatively, we’re ten years out from self-driving cars. Executives at Uber, Lyft, Amazon, Grubhub and every other “disrupter” that uses vehicles – so, all of them – would probably like that to be five years. Their drivers probably feel otherwise.

That’s the Uber error (I have now resumed picking on Uber).

They missed that “customer-centric” means more than “convenient.”

It also means “up to the customer’s standards of good business.” They couldn’t manage that even when it came to their own internal culture, and they paid for it with a public scandal, a non-negligible market segment who refuse to use their brand on principle, and “Uber, but for…” becoming a punchline.

Sustainability of disruption

The disruption model, which was synonymous with fast profits from streamlined processes, is rapidly becoming synonymous with fast failure, toxic corporate culture and horror stories of low pay and poor treatment of customers and employees alike. For those of us ancient enough to remember it recalls the change in public perception of the term “dot-com,” and seriously, short of literal Internet access, anything affiliating your business with the dot-com bubble is not your friend.

That’s still reversible, and Mr. Masten provides a superb starting point.

“Disruptive” companies generally do their disrupting by streamlining user interaction, and whether you’re writing an app or running a bank, user interaction is the most important thing.

Customer-centric

But user interaction isn’t limited to purchasing your service, and Econ 101 notwithstanding, customers buy based on more than who offers most for cheapest. In the frighteningly transparent 21st century, being customer-centric means addressing human values along with economic ones, guaranteeing that when you profit, so do your customers and employees. If your standards don’t stand up to the people who buy what you’re selling, you will not be selling it long.

That’s what “customer-centric” means. You can’t disrupt forever. Eventually, you have to build.

#Disrupters

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Opinion Editorials

How to impress people by being stupid (and when not to)

(EDITORIAL) Did you know that admitting you don’t know something can be a respectable business move? But in other situations, you better avoid it.

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You want to impress people, right?

My first job was at my aunt and uncle’s children’s bookstore, long before it was legal for me to work. My aunt drilled into me the best customer service tips I’ve received in my life. By age 13, I could answer the phone like a pro, help an aimless mother compile a bevy of meaningful gifts based on her child’s age, I could operate a register, and knew when to be patient, when to rush, when to jump, and when to sit still.

If I didn’t know the answer to any of her questions or the questions of a customer, “I don’t know” was never an acceptable response. “I don’t know, but I will find out for you right now” sufficed, but “I don’t know” was deemed ignorant, rude, and in some cases, disrespectful.

42Floors.com Founder, Jason Freedman has waxed poetic about the power of the phrase “I don’t know,” noting that when you use the phrase, even if you think you look stupid, it validates everything else you’ve said as honest rather than salesy bullshit, and rather than your just nodding your head in agreement with everything, even when you’re lost. Go read it so the rest of this editorial makes sense…

Contrasting my experience with the phrase with Freedman’s has had my mind in some knots today as I’ve sorted out why I agree with both my aunt and Freedman.

I realized that there is context in which using the phrase is actually appropriate, and advantageous, because looking stupid can actually lend credence to your words, but at some times, it is a lazy response to a request.

So which is better?

So, which is it? Use the phrase liberally, add “but I’ll find out,” or strike it from your vocabulary?

When speaking to a boss or someone that is requesting something from you, take my aunt’s advice and admit that you don’t know but that you will immediately learn the answer. If you are pitching to investors or talking to potential hires or partners, use it liberally to strengthen your other answers. You get the picture.

Freedman is right – there is value in using the phrase, but in some situations, there is value in adding the followup that you’ll find out immediately what the answer is. Both scenarios may make you feel stupid, but they both have a tremendous amount of value and are instant trust builders.

This editorial was originally published in 2014.

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