Creating a business that doesn’t have a huge operating cost or need tons of capital has been at the heart of my friend Chris Guillebeau’s blog The Art of Non Conformity since its inception. And finally, someone wrote a book about how to do it.
If you’ve been wanting to start a very small business to support your freedom, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Chris’s book. The best part about is that it’s not just some guy telling you how to do it that hasn’t actually done it himself. This book is based on dozens of solid case studies and information about how other people have done it in a wide variety or markets with skills they already have.
Chris was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the book that I thought would be helpful to our community. Enjoy and then leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of the book. :)
What’s the big message behind $100 Startup, and what called you to write it?
The big message is freedom, specifically the freedom found through creative self-employment, and how readers can achieve it. The model is based on a multi-year, data-driven study with 1,500 people who had all created successful microbusinesses without spending a lot of money and by using the skills they already had. I wanted to extract their lessons and share specific case studies that could be replicated elsewhere.
I like the word calling. In this case, I traveled the world and kept meeting unexpected entrepreneurs, the people who had started these kinds of businesses. I was challenged and personally inspired by their stories, so my goal was to craft their stories into a blueprint that readers could follow on the road to their own freedom.
Do you think money and resources are the biggest barriers for most people to start their own businesses, or do you think there’s something else that holds people back?
Definitely not, and I’m guessing you don’t either. I think the biggest barriers are uncertainty (in various forms) and the lack of knowledge. Plenty of people are already motivated to create change in their lives, but they don’t know which next steps to take. The $100 Startup is an attempt at providing 300 pages of next steps, with lots of checklists, examples, and action plans.
As for uncertainty, that’s a bit tougher. As you allude to in the next question, people have all kinds of fears and insecurities, especially the fear of failure. One thing that may help is to consider the role of risk in your life. For most of us, self-employment was often considered the risky choice, whereas the traditional job market was considered the safe choice.
But these days, a lot of people are taking a hard look at those definitions. If you can start a business quickly, without spending a lot of money, where is the risk? Meanwhile, the traditional job market continues to shrink, with no shortage of people unable to find work in the field in which they trained. That’s why many of us find that it’s actually a much less risky decision to go it alone, taking matters into our own hands and creating our own security.
I think often people don’t get started because they’re afraid their idea will fail or it won’t actually be something they can invest in long-term. What advice do you have to people that want some extra reassurance?
I’d tell them to read your blog! You deal with this question very well.
And I’d guess I’d also ask them, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if it doesn’t work out?”
As for long-term, I’m not sure that anyone’s first project needs to be something they’ll stick with forever. For at least ten years I did all kinds of things that I wasn’t willing to invest in long-term. I eventually grew to the point where I wanted to create convergence in my work and think more about legacy, but in the beginning my main motivation was “How can I pay the bills so I can worry about other things?”
Do you think that solopreneurship and microbusinesses are the next evolution in the world of work?
Perhaps, and I think we’re just beginning. As you know, solopreneurship isn’t necessarily new. I used to visit villages in Sierra Leone where everyone was essentially a solopreneur, simply because there was little to no formal economy or traditional jobs to be had. However, what’s changed in the depth and breadth of connections we can make, with all kinds of people all over the world.
At the same time, other factors are encouraging the spread of solopreneurship. More people are aware of options and opportunities than ever before. Online shopping used to be a fringe activity, but now it’s completely mainstream to buy shoes online or even “shop” for a prospective partner. Then with the negative economic news that comes out every day, more and more people are seeking alternatives to traditional work. Those who are already embracing these forms of self-employment are early adopters, but soon we’ll see a whole revolution. (Or at least I hope so.)
What did you learn launching this book?
I learned a few things. First, I was surprised that almost everyone in the study was very open in discussing the internal workings of their business, including the financial details. I asked people to disclose how much money they made and how much it cost to start the business because I wanted to create a highly-specific resource—but I expected a little resistance to that request, since most people aren’t comfortable talking in public about their income.
Instead, what I found was that almost everyone was willing to share. Several of them said things like, “I don’t usually talk about money, but if it helps someone else, I will.”
On a practical standpoint, we had a strong launch and debuted on all the major bestseller lists. On Amazon and BN.com, we even outsold The Hunger Games for three days straight. (Spoiler: 100% less children die in The $100 Startup.)
However, I did have one commercial disappointment. We were #1 on USA Today and BN.com, but on Amazon I was only able to get to #4. The thrilling 50 Shades of Grey series, which has sold 10 million copies (!) in the past six weeks, was impossible to topple from the top 3 spots. Therefore, to compete with that series, I’ve decided to add more sex scenes to future editions of the book. Stay tuned…
What’s next for you? Is there another book in the works?
I love writing books and am beginning the long process of planning the next one, which will be more about the love of adventure and my quest to visit every country in the world. But I also have a few other things going on: 8 countries I still need to visit in the next 8 months, the upcoming World Domination Summit with 1,000 people coming to town, and various other projects.
Truly, I feel very fortunate and grateful to be able to do what I do every day. If I wasn’t keeping busy with work that I enjoy, I’m sure I’d be depressed. So instead of letting that happen, I just keep going.