Anyone who knows me is well aware of the esteem I hold for Malcolm Gladwell. He and I share the same fundamental curiosity about this world, and his efforts to answer his own burning questions simultaneously answer my own.
One of my favourite Gladwell books is Outliers, in which he attempts to determine how successful people get ahead; is it luck, genetics, hardwork, or otherwise? To do so, one of the cohorts of data he presents is a list of the top 75 richest people who ever lived, from pharaohs on forward. As he points out, what instantly jumps out is that almost 20% of the names on the list come from a single generation. As Gladwell himself puts it:
If you were born in the late 1840’s, you missed it. You were too young to take advantage of that moment. If you were born in the 1820’s, you were too old: your mindset was shaped by the pre-Civil War paradigm. But there is a particular, narrow nine-year window that was just perfect for seeing the potential that the future held. All of the 14 men and women on that list had vision and talent. But they also were given an extraordinary opportunity. . .
Essentially, the time was exactly right for people to make something of themselves; the industrial revolution and its antecedent properties created an environment where even the little guy (men like Frederick Weyerhaeuser, Marshall Field, and Philip Danforth Armour) could create the American Dream for themselves.
The Journey of 1000 Miles Starts with a Single Click
We may not be able to capitalize on the industrial revolution, but I believe we are extremely lucky to be living through another incredibly powerful movement – the digital revolution. Just like the industrial age allowed entrepreneurs certain advantages, the digital age gives us tremendous power over our own destinies; whatever we can dream, we can create.
It’s okay to be skeptical; it can seem like launching your own business is impossible. And that’s exactly why I wrote this blog, to hopefully give those of you sitting on fantastic ideas the tools to make them a reality. Even if you can’t afford to work on your new business full-time, these tools will at least let you get started part-time. The sites below put the power in your hands to start a business not tomorrow or next week, but today.
Tool #1: A Word Press Blog
Chances are if you’ve been sitting on a business idea, the cost of a website has been a significant roadblock for you. Purchasing a fully-functional website can be an expensive and uncertain process, especially if you’re never been involved in building one before.
But, that doesn’t mean you can’t have your own space on the web to spread your brand’s message. WordPress is a fabulous (and free) blogging platform that allows you compose and post your own content on pre-made attractive, easy-to-use themes.
Even if you’re not ready to launch right away, an on-going pre-launch blog can be invaluable in building buzz and spreading your message, getting your audience warm before you actually go live with your new product or service.
Tool # 2: Online Retail Portals
Let’s say you’re a little further along, and are ready to sell product online. Opening your own bricks and mortar store takes boatloads of cash, and it can take a long time to get your product on to prominent retailers shelves, especially if you’re not an established business. Selling via your own ecommerce store is an option, and it gets more affordable all the time, but there are still promotional costs that can drive up the cost of running your own store.
Thankfully there are a number of online retailers who allow you to own your own corner of an ecommerce store. Sites like Zazzle.com, which allows graphic designers to sell their own designs on tshirts, mugs etc., or Etsy.com which lets crafty folk sell handmade or vintage items, art and supplies. Shopify is a similar idea, with a more general slant.
Of course, each site wants a piece of every sale you make, but it’s still an affordable way to dip your toe into ecommerce, without diving in headfirst.
Tool #3: Social Media
So let’s say that you’ve gone ahead and launched your business – now it’s time to promote your new venture. Unfortunately, traditional methods are not exactly ideal:
- Local newspaper ads – ineffective
- Radio ads – any station with traffic is expensive, any station that’s cheap doesn’t have any listeners
- Major newspaper ads – any kind of frequency is expensive
- TV ads – out of your budget
- Yellowpages ads – how are you even using a computer grandpa?
But, all is not lost – social media is here to give you a voice to broadcast your message, and connect with customers.
Many brands have found their path to success through social media; where would Blendtec be without their landmark web series “Will it Blend?”? Likewise, online stores like ModCloth have embraced social media and blogging to such an extent that they literally place their success at the feet of their online efforts.
Use tools like Facebook and Twitter to spread your message; not only are they cheaper than traditional media, they can also form stronger bonds with customers.
Tool #4: Crowd-sourced Funding
Your idea might be a little bigger than what your finances can cover. Finding interested investors can be difficult, especially for small business people just starting out. Sources of capital are out there though, even for low-income earners, provided you meet certain criteria.
For example, Kickstarter funds creative and artistic projects via crowd-sourcing. Users perusing Kickstarter can choose to fund artistic projects that catch their eye, but the investment amounts are typically low (generally people are chipping in $5-$20). But, the power of crowd-sourced funding isn’t the individual donations, but in the sheer volume of donations; those $5 donations add up once thousands of people get on board.
For example, Kickstart famously featured an artist’s desire to create a Robocop statue in Detroit. 2718 users donated an average of $25 to make the project a reality.
Depending on your situation, you may qualify for other sources of funding, like micro-lending site www.kiva.org, or other similar microloans programs available through some credit unions.
Don’t let a lack of funding torpedo your business – your idea might be such a good one that others are willing to make a small investment to see it come to fruition.
Screw the Old Boys Club
The biggest difference between the business climate of the industrial revolution and today (besides the technological advancements) is the open environment we live in today. If you look at Malcolm’s list of the richest people in history, you’ll notice that there is exactly one minority on there – the “Witch of Wall Street” Hetty Green.
Thankfully our culture is much more open to people of any background finding their fortune. Don’t let big banks, or fancy suits try to dissuade you from starting your business – there’s plenty of ways you can start your own business without relying on traditional methods. Blaze your own trail, and create a story that people tell long after you’re gone.