When I was in college I was pretty broke so I started a business in Missoula, Montana in my tiny 75 square foot bedroom in a 6-bedroom house where I lived with 4 girls and 1 other guy.
I had no space and very little money but sometimes our constraints are advantages.
I was an outdoor athlete along with many others in Missoula, so I used my Dad’s company “Equipment Sales Company” (a company that built machines for the ceramic wire industry) to open accounts with outdoor gear companies. I posted handwritten signs around town “Wholesale Outdoor Gear 30-50% Off. Call 406-555-5555”
They would order the gear they wanted, save a ton of money on gear and I would get a 10% cut risk-free. It wasn’t huge but it paid rent. I’ve gone on to start 3 or 4 more businesses, help turn around a $50M company, help raise money and build a company into its IPO and I’ve got a few new projects I’m working on. I have a different perspective on things, but sometimes you need money NOW.
A lot of us are broke but the thought of starting a company is intimidating. We don’t know where to start or what to do. We’re afraid we might do something wrong or we need an accountant or an LLC, SCorp, CCorp, and so on. In short, we talk ourselves out of doing it because we’re afraid of the scary monsters in the lurky business forest.
But it’s not that scary. You just haven’t seen the forest during the day when the ferns and trillium are lit by sunlight. There are no monsters, just opportunities, and you’re standing there in the middle and I’m going to try to help.
Before you start, this is what I recommend:
1. Write down ideas every day. What’s an idea? the idea and the next step it takes to start the idea.
2. Look around at your resources: somewhere to live, a talent, a car, bikes, boat, skills like cooking or drawing, maybe you know something unique, maybe extra space, a dock, a piece of land.
3. Be specific about how much money you need. Maybe it’s $50 for food or $1,000 to pay your mortgage.
4. See where you can cut expenses now so you can relieve some pressure. Give yourself some freedom.
5. Forget about the big details. Once you get traction (money coming in) worry about the rest. Maybe you never need a business structure and can just stick to nothing and file a Sole Proprietorship at the end of the year with your taxes.
With our smartphones and the web in full force, you have a powerful platform and tools to make money.
Here are 7 of the ways you can make money NOW:
1. Rent your space. Use Airbnb, Vacation Rental By Owner or Craiglist. I was in Maui and people were renting tents in their back yard in Hana for $45/night with sleeping bags, refreshments and breakfast. There are no boundaries anymore. Rent your couch, rent your deck, rent your sleeping bag. Turn a room into a pirate ship and rent it. Throw in an eye patch and hot buttered rum. Offer your space for storage- use a small corner of the garage and rent it for $100/month. Maybe your shed. Anything you have – get creative. Rent the space that is just sitting there.
2. Rent tools. Growing up I was oblivious. We had a barn full of tools we hardly used: a wood splitter, a chipper, power tools, several lawn mowers. I could have put an ad in the paper and rented the tools and made a ton of cash (well, a ton for a kid anyway). Use Craigslist and rent your tools. Someone needs that tile saw in your basement.
3. Sell your food. My aunt won Illinois State Fair awards for her chocolate chip cookies. Her recipe could be bigger than Famous Amos. In grad school I built her the front page of a website called “Aunt Bee’s Bakery.” It had bees buzzing around a chocolate chip cookie and the chips were each a different menu option that popped up on scroll over. She hasn’t done it but maybe you can. Sell food in parking lots in front of busy stores, rent a small space and start a little tail gate restaurant at a food truck lot. Offer to cook for parties. Sell at Farmer’s Markets or other events. Dave’s Killer Bread started this way and is huge today. Grow something (no, not that) – trees, flowers, vegetables, anything, and sell it to local stores or florists or nurseries.
4. Build stuff. In 2004 I cofounded a company called ii inu (ee-ee-new; Japanese for “Good Dog”). It was a designer pet products company started when my partner created a cool looking collar for her dog. People stopped her to ask where they could buy. First we built them ourselves, then I outsourced manufacturing to a company in Seattle. Within 6 months we were in stores in 36 states and 12 countries. Our cost was $2.40-$4.30 and they sold for $42-$60 retail. It was a good business. What can you make that someone else can buy? Sell it on Etsy.com, eBay, get a Shopify web store or in local stores. No local stores? Find other stores and call them or send a free sample.
5. Offer other services. If you’re a student you should launder peoples clothes for $7.50/basket. 100 loads is $750/month. Maybe it’s 1,000 loads. Offer to create facebook pages and twitter accounts for $20/month for businesses. Get 10 businesses and you’re making $200/month for just a little effort. Get 100 businesses and you’ve got $2K/month. Would that change your game? Do yardwork, mow lawns, serve elderly or handicapped by running errands, offer a coffee delivery service to offices near you. Drive someone – sign up with Lyft or Uber and user your car as a service. People in cities are making $50K/year doing this. Think of a service you can offer right now to people in need. One idea I think would be a great business is helping other people convert their extra space to being Airbnb ready or driving people to airports at 1/2 the cost of a town car. Decorate Christmas trees, power wash decks, string lights or shovel driveways.
6. Entertain people. Can you play music, edit video or do some other fun thing? Offer to perform at parties or services for local active events. Teach music or sports or tutor kids in those activities. Belly dance. I know one girl who teaches belly dancing and practically owns the market for belly dancing costumes.
7. Help local businesses make money. What local business can you help? Approach restaurants, stores, anyone and offer to help them advertise or run special events. Take a % of the money from each event or that day’s sales. Help a different businesses every weekend and observe to find more services they need or opportunities to extend the money you make.
But there’s just one catch. In any of these ideas, do it differently. Be remarkable. Give people more than they expect:
-if you’re mowing lawns, dress up like a clown. Be “Clown Mowing”. Every time a car passes they will be like “hey there’s a clown mowing a lawn!” When they need their lawn mowed, they will want you. Maybe they’ll start using you every week just for laughs
-if you’re renting a space on Airbnb throw in more than the guest expects. If they rent your couch, throw in dinner or a free Netflix movie. Surprise them to the upside so they give rave reviews or come back again
-if you’re cooking something throw in a sample of something else you cook or give them a recipe for anything they’re interested in. Help them learn to cook themselves
Being remarkable will do two things: 1. It will get you a lot of attention. Imagine how many people would share “Clown Mowing” on facebook, twitter and Instagram. 2. It will make you more money. More people will want to have that experience and they’ll be willing to pay more for it.
Colonel Sanders started KFC by selling chicken at his gas station. Ray Croc wasn’t too good to flip burgers. Conrad Hilton started with one crappy hotel, built a business, lost it and rebuilt it. You’re not too good for whatever idea you have. Just do the work.
When I feel uninspired or unmotivated I remind myself that everything, EVERYTHING, starts small. Microsoft was just a few guys in a room. Facebook was one kid in his dorm. Famous Amos cookies was an eccentric guy and a recipe. McDonald’s was a single diner. One thing is all it takes.
Right now I am working on at least 3 projects. I’ll share the details when it’s time. Some of it won’t work out, hopefully some of it will. No matter what, I’m not going to stop, because everything I want is just ahead.
And when I feel like stopping, I go to Wikipedia and read about Colonel Sanders, Conrad Hilton and others who started from nothing.
Sometimes I wonder what is missing in the world today because so many other people quit just before they became a huge success.
If you feel like quitting, read these stories and don’t give up. I believe in you: