Money, competition, and the payoff has been my “M.O.” since I was 4-5 years old. It is in my blood to make money and looking back at everything I am amazed that I got away with so much. At that young age, I went to the cellar of our house on Roosevelt Ave, in Taftville, CT and found a pile of magazines in a crate. This became my first venture into a “business” which was selling pornography to kids. I tore out the pages and folded them up and off I went around my neighborhood. I was selling them for $0.50/page and they were very well received, well, almost. I remember very clearly when the phone rang and it was another parent accusing me of selling these to their son. My mother said I wouldn’t do such a thing and hung up the phone. She turned around and ask me if I did it. I looked her dead in the eye like a stone-cold business kid and said, “No, I didn’t”, and the rest is history.
Let’s just say that I had a lot of freedom to travel outside in the early 1980’s. That was a much different time in American history, and I took a lot of liberty that many kids could only dream of. I was a lot of everything from troublemaker, instigator, prankster, entrepreneur, and goofball to name a few. All of this taught me a lot about supply & demand and how a basic company works. I just hope the statue of limitations has expired on that story.
Everything I did was on a shoestring, which includes to the present. Building a company either takes time, or money. That’s it. It’s not a new concept, but I do feel that in some cases it has been slightly less talked about. In the last 15 years a startup was considered to be a Silicon Valley tech company that is searching for angel investors or venture capitalist that want to hedge a bet that the company will sell for billions of dollars in a few years. These startups are not what I am referring to at all.
A startup is a business that is created by someone to make money or create a charity in a very loose sense. It’s a simple definition and one that I am constantly meeting on social media, my other websites, and in person when people tell me what business they are building. I love entrepreneurs that are always looking to create the next big wave. My favorite part is when I hear that they are doing it on a shoestring budget. It’s also priceless when I tell them that I am doing it with my company too. The trade off for having little to no money because you are going to be spending a lot of your time on building it.
Time Is Everything
I won’t cover a ton of startups that have money. Instead, I will focus on time because that is what a shoestring is. You will need to find the time to manage your job that pays the bills and the one you hope will, someday. My mother told me when I was young that the best investment you could make is in yourself. I took that in several ways:
- I always educate myself versus outsourcing when possible. That’s watching YouTube videos, Lynda.com, reading books, taking classes…etc. I get my hands dirty.
- I reinvest 100% of profits back into the company, always! This is a must to make it bigger and stronger.
- Look for wins when and wherever possible. This is connections with people that can help, buying on the cheap and selling high, offer huge quality and low cost, and hustle.
- Don’t just talk about it, deliver and execute instead.
- Lastly, there is no replacement for customer service. You get to make a first impression once, don’t forget that…ever.
Something From Nothing
I took $20 that was in my pocket in 2003 and bought 20 embroidery patches from a guy in South Korea and put them on eBay. I sold them all that evening. I then had $100 to spend. So I went back and bought 100 more. I kept doing this as I traveled around the world and had constant inventory being delivered to my home in Augusta, GA, and a brand to build. I didn’t spend my success away. Instead, I built it by re-investing the gains right back into the company. I then spent the next few years hustling. My secret weapon in taking my competitors clients was customer service. I would take phone calls at 2am, on the go using my cell phone, and even stepping away from a party for a few minutes just to close a deal. Taking on all the work myself saved money and gave me a way to create income.
I did everything in-house. I designed, shipped, processed, photographed, and so much more. My wife would literally come into my office at 2am to get me to go to bed. When you have the drive to push hard to build something special you just have no choice. This passion and unbelievable dedication helped me build company #4, U.S. Challenge Coins, LLC into something amazing. It didn’t last long though because of many issues that I won’t dive into here because it’s a lot to chew on. I will consider writing about it in length later on, but it would probably be a short eBook.
The biggest take away is to be sure that you want to spend all of your time working. If you have a family and a full-time job then it becomes harder. I am very lucky to have my wife that supports my crazed ambitions. Seriously, just having someone that believes in you and supports you goes a long way. Besides customer service, this is probably a contender for #2 must haves.
Outsourcing When Possible
Another way to build a business is to outsource smartly. Don’t just hire anyone without digging into portfolios and reviews. Choose a freelance website that you like or do what I do and use Craigslist in the country you want to hire from. For me personally, I recommend Manila, Philippines for many proficient workers looking for jobs. Know who is working on your stuff and keep those connections when you meet amazing people. Also bargain as much as possible. You can get a lot done for a fair price if you know what to look for. With every single interaction I was building a Rolodex of names and services they provide. Connections are priceless when you have to outsource a lot of the work, and I easily have 100+ contacts that can do almost anything I need.
Keep in mind that outsourcing takes money and I am not going to spend much time on this, but to say that you should only outsource what you have to or what makes sense to do. Data entry is cheap, and some other copy & paste job as well would make sense. Do as much as you can in-house and save your dollars for other things like paper for the printer, or light bulbs for your office.
Ramen Noodles & Keep Your Company
If you want a Silicon Valley startup, then live cheap, pay for as little as possible, and don’t hand out chunks of your company for capital unless you absolutely have to. You probably want a MacBook for development work so search for a “Facebook group flea market” in your city or region. I snagged 3 MacBooks (Pro & Air) for $600 each at different times using those flea market groups.I am promoting Macs because it comes equipped with everything to develop. I have tried on Windows and Linux and neither provided the ease that OSX has. Not a fanboi, just a realist.
I also take pride in ownership so prying stock from my company would be like pulling your leg from a bear trap. In some cases you have no choice, but do it smart and seek professionals like lawyers anytime you are making financial decisions like ownership with partners. I have been screwed over by bad deals, partnership gone south, or other unforeseen issues that greatly affected my ability to carry on.
You have to make a heavy decision to build a company quickly and sell out as fast as possible or stick with it for the long haul. The long haul is the gamble and I would compare that with Bill Gates. From nothing to billions. Building and bailing would be Whatsapp or Oculus Rift. This comes down to the type of person you are. I am emotionally attached to everything I build no matter the ramifications. It could be considered a flaw.
Mentors, Listeners, and Good Advice
Lastly, you need to have a mentor or team of people you can connect with and talk. You need people to give you balance and tell you when something is dumb or a great idea. That takes trust. This maybe the most important part of this besides executing so I will consider this #3 after customer service and support. These people need to be able to give quality guidance and tell you when you are paying too much, or connect you with higher quality freelancers. There is no replacement for a solid network of people like you, but are not your competitors. Where do you find these people? I surround myself with family, friends I grew up with, people I have served in the military with, and people I meet around the world when I travel. Having a person you can call at any time and ask a question is not just convenient, but critical along the way.
These are loose steps that I use to see if what I am doing is a viable option or not.
- Figure out what I want to do, what I love doing, or what is selling. You need your idea before you can do anything. Do you want to build a small print newspaper? Maybe a coffee shop, and don’t forget blogging could also be the name of the game. This is your time to brainstorm.
- Figure out your competition, how long it will take to make it and have a sale, and figure out how you can build it using time or money.
- Write a business plan with all the information you captured. This is for you and partners if you decide you need them. The business plan keeps the business on track.
- Get you LLC or other business entity filed with your Secretary of State, EIN from the IRS, and other things like a business account. It doesn’t matter if you don’t make money yet. They are easy and Colorado is the best state to do this as they do everything electronically, and it’s the cheapest state out of the 50. Yes, I researched it.
- Now it’s time to build it. If it’s a storefront then you have to build the store. If it’s a website then get coding. Sometimes you can outsource this, but that takes money.
- Start getting your name out there. If you don’t have money then learn how to do guerilla marketing. It’s probably the best way to go versus blowing money on Facebook ads and other platforms. For most people they are garbage places to burn money. Create content and get it out there and make sure you are following laws like the Spam Act. It’s important to understand the law and work inside the confines of it.
- Focus on customer service. This is the fastest way to build your name either in a positive light or negative one. People don’t forget remarkable service.
- Always look for improvements that matter. Getting lost in the minor stuff only hurts you so make sure you make a difference that translates to sales.
- Learn social media marketing, content marketing, and email marketing. Those three things done correctly can make a huge difference.
- Keep it going.
That’s an overview and there could be a lot of steps that I didn’t include. If you are looking for a template on how to do this then I will consider writing every step I took to get my company started all the way to you reading this post. Running a business is not easy, and if you are doing it with little to no money then it’s going to be soul crushing at times. Knowing this going in will help prepare yourself for the reality of starting a business.
I want to close with saying that there are many Americans, expats, or whatever you call them around the world. Some make their money by working, but for those that want a legit business while being overseas, or being military serving overseas wanting to start a business, you can read a more focused post I wrote earlier. Hopefully this helps you or someone you know. Business is not easy and it will wear you out. That’s part of life though. You can be a part of the system, or you can be something cool and enjoy life while it’s here. I will take the latter…