Book Review: Young Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting and Running a Business

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youngentI believe that entrepreneurialism is, like many things, a combination of talent and learned skill. Some people will take to it naturally, but a great many more can become successful and independent business people with the proper inspiration and guidance. I plan to help and encourage my daughters to set up their own micro-businesses once they are teenagers, whether it is coding apps or starting a booth at the farmer’s market. Some things you can’t learn from a book.

Oh wait, this a book review! Anyhow, since I love the idea of young folks starting businesses I took the opportunity to review a copy of the revised 3rd edition of The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting and Running a Business by Steve Mariotti. (I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher, as apparently did most of the Amazon reviewers. If you are a blogger, check out Blogging for Books for review books in your area of interest.)

This is a rather thick paperback at nearly 500 pages, and it uses that space to try to be a little of everything:

  • A reference book, covering everything from basic accounting and balance sheets to legal structures (corporation vs. sole proprietorship vs. LLC) to franchising.
  • An easy-to-read guide for beginners, which means that the treatment of all the above topics is concise and simplified (and thus not very thorough or detailed).
  • A collection of inspirational case studies from the non-profit group Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), which the author founded. You’ll read about many young folks who started their own business in various fields and most of them plan to continue working on them through college and beyond. Sample businesses include website design, party DJ, landscaping, sport or fashion apparel, and Honest Tea.

In the end, like many things that try to be all things to all people, it ends up not being great at any one single thing. It is somewhat all over the place. The book spends time telling you to save money by plugging in your computer and printer into a smart power strip to reduce “vampire” draw. A bit later, it wants to help you prepare for franchising and an IPO. Huh?

Personally, I would tell a young reader to just read all the “An Entrepreneur Like You” case studies first, and see if they have the fire to just go ahead and try to get that first customer. Then, after some successes and failures, they can use this book as a resource to answer any specific questions. How many young people want to read about OSHA regulations or double-entry bookkeeping before making their first dollar?!

For me, I did enjoy reading the case studies but for the other stuff I’d probably just look up on the internet as needed. I might read the marketing section again. All in all, this might make a nice gift for a recent graduate or young person that has shown some entrepreneurial spirit.

Economy of You Book Review: Stories About Starting Your Own Microbusiness

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Microbusiness. Nanobusiness. Solopreneur. These new terms were created to describe the one-person businesses which Kim Palmer profiles in the new book The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life. Some people turn their business into a full-time job, while many keep their 9-5 jobs and run their ventures on the side. Palmer herself is a full-time editor for US News and World Report as well as a “side-gigger”, selling virtual financial planners on her Etsy shop Palmer’s Planners.

In terms of a synopsis, I would describe the book as breaking up the interviews of a number of solo entrepreneurs into major themes like:

  • How they discovered their idea or niche
  • How they built a support network for help
  • How they earned their first customers and grew from there
  • How they balanced their new business with a full-time job, family, etc.
    1.  
      Overall, the book is definitely more inspirational examples and idea generation than actual nuts-and-bolts guide on how to run a solo business.

      I enjoyed reading it, and here are my own impressions and takeaways from the book. Hopefully they will also help you decide if you should read it.

      A true microbusiness just needs one person and hardly any start-up money. This is my own definition, but I think it is appropriate. When I look at the people profiled in the book in addition to of all the business that my friends have started on their own, hardly any of them need more than maybe a few hundred dollars to get started. Website design. Writing a blog. Handcrafted jewelry. High-quality natural soaps. iPhone apps. Selling online coaching and e-books. If you need venture capital, it is not a microbusiness. Even if someone ends up owning a bakery, they often started by catering or baking custom cakes. You need enough personal ability and energy “saved” up to start, not money.

      You already know if you want to be a solo entrepreneur. Starting a microbusiness is definitely not for everyone. Do you have an itch in the back of your mind, an idea that you have been nursing for long time? Are you so enthusiastic about something that you wouldn’t mind it entering what used to be your free time? Many people are quite happy keeping their job and their play time separate. Finally, read this following book excerpt by Palmer after making her first few months of sales.

      As gratifying (and useful) as it was to earn that extra cash, it didn’t even begin to get at the satisfaction that my Etsy shop gave me. Each sale affirmed by ability to create something of value, a skill I sometimes doubted that I had as freelancing rates plummeted during the recession and writing jobs dried up. I had a new identity; I created and sold money planners. I began daydreaming about ways I could expand and new products I could design.

      There is no guarantee that your solo business venture will be wildly successful. But if just the act of doing it and getting a few readers or customers will give you great satisfaction, what have you got to lose? As noted, the start-up costs should be minimal. I started this blog with an $8 domain name, free open-source software, and web hosting for under $10 a month. 9 years later, I’m still doing it! :)

PO Boxes Now Offer Real Street Addresses, Accept UPS and FedEx Packages

For a few years, I had a UPS store private mailbox for my small business address instead of a Post Office box because of a couple of factors:

  • Private carriers like UPS and FedEx didn’t deliver to PO Boxes.
  • PO Boxes were not “real” street addresses, and thus I had to provide alternate addresses anyway with credit cards and other business accounts.

I recently discovered that both of these issues had been fixed some time in 2012 for many PO Boxes (but not all) with the introduction of “Street Addressing”. Taken directly from a USPS.gov webpage:

[...] with Street Addressing, a customer’s mailing address may be either the street address for the Post Office where their PO Box is located, followed by # and the box number, or PO Box followed by the box number. Some merchants do not allow shipping to a PO Box address. The Street Addressing option enables customers to receive packages and deliveries from private carriers who require a street address for delivery, such as UPS and FedEx.

Using their examples, instead of:

PO Box 3094
Collierville TN 38027

You can ask for mail to be sent to:

131 S Center St #3094
Collierville TN 38027

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Self-Employed Lifestyle Design from the 1970s: The Incredible Secret Money Machine Book

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What is success? Perhaps you think of a new idea, get some venture capital, grow and scale like crazy, and then you sell it after a few years for mega-millions. More traditionally, you work your way up the corporate ranks, become a manager/executive, and make good money that way. Or perhaps you start a small business and expand it over decades. All are good and fine.

However, there are people out there that take yet another path. Their priority is to be able to do what they enjoy without interference and get paid adequately for it. These micro-businesses are self-funded, independent, and happy that way despite the inherent drawbacks. One person. No bosses. No employees. Some get rich, some don’t.

Which bring me to this book, The Incredible Secret Money Machine by Don Lancaster (see free download link below). First published in 1978 and updated in 1992, this is one of the few books that I’ve found that celebrates the idea of a person working for themselves and that being enough. There is a lot of outdated references in the book along with a “hippie” vibe, but also a lot of timeless ideas. To give you an idea of whether your personality aligns with this book, here are his four basic beliefs:

1. You have to be heavily into a technical or craft trip on a total lifestyle basis.

The absolute single most important thing in your life has to be doing something technical or artistic in a better and a different way than anyone else. [...] Your own trip has to be the absolute center of everything you do, everything you work with, and everything you believe in. Doing it has to be much more important to you than making money, more important than worrying about what people think, and more important than behaving, competing, or complying the way that other people think you should.

2. You must want to stay in control.

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Tweaking Common Advice: Take Risks While You’re Young

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A common piece of advice I’ve heard is “Take risks while you’re young.” This is often applied to personal finance, in terms of trying to land a higher-paying job, starting a new business, or pursuing your passion. The thinking goes something like this:

  • The older you are, the more likely you’ll have a spouse or partner that depends on your income, or at least they’ve become accustomed to how it makes their life more comfortable. They may not be supportive of having it disappear while you chase a dream.
  • You’re more likely to have children, who will take up all your free time and you’ll (hopefully) be happy about it.
  • You’re more likely to need to take care of your parents. Simple addition tells us that if you’re in your 30s and your parents had you when they were in their 30s, that means they’re in their 60s or 70s.
  • Basically, as you get older the more likely you’ll have more responsibilities and less time.
  • More responsibility increases the importance of income stability over income potential.
  • Less time means you can’t go on crazy streaks like 100-hour workweeks on your startup (or 60 hours on your side start-up on top of your regular 40 hour/week job).
  • On top of all that, older often means less energy.

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Your Entire Financial Life in One Deceptively Simple Chart

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Time for fun with charts! A famous chart in the early retirement community is The Crossover Point from the book Your Money or Your Life, which shows that you’ve reached financial independence when your investment income equals your monthly expenses:

Fellow blogger Adrian of 7million7years also shared a related chart from Chris Han of Quora, where wealth is the shaded area between your income and expenses:

Specifically, if you plotted all your income and expenses over time, the shaded area between would the amount you’ve saved your entire financial life. Bigger shaded area, bigger nest egg.

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Links: How to Make Money in the New Share Economy

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Forbes has an article about how the share economy is taking off. The primary focus is on AirBNB, which lets you rent out a room in your home with ease and last year booked around 15 million nights of stays. I’ve written about some of these sites before, and while I mostly forgot about them, some people are going quite well with them. “Almost anything you can buy new, you can also rent from a stranger.”

One person lives off of income generated by renting his house out whenever he can (while he cordons himself off to an unattached area). One person makes more money dog-sitting from home than working at Starbucks. One person rented his car out part-time for more than the monthly payments, so now he has three cars being rented out. Yet another drives his car around ridesharing every night and is basically a taxi service. These people may be the exception rather than the rule, but is it proof that the next generation of millennials really don’t care about ownership anymore? Is it better to just have access to whatever you need when you want it? Peer-to-peer everything!

Here’s an infographic from the print version of the article that lists sharing websites of all types from around the world, with the data source being Rachel Botsman of CollaborativeConsumption.com.

Here are links specifically dealing with sites that allow you to make money from your own stuff (US-focused only) – be it a room, a car, or your power tools:

What Is Your Holstee Manifesto?

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Apparently I completely missed this when it first became popular, but the Holstee Manifesto is a set of ideals put forth by the founders of Holstee, a small apparel company which only sells environmentally-conscious and sustainably-sourced products. (Holstee = Holster + Tee, which I don’t think is even sold anymore.) I discovered it today only due to a LivingSocial deal selling a large poster print for $30, designed by Rachael Beresh.

My favorite line is actually “If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.” (Although it didn’t happen to me… I was just working a part-time gig to help pay for college.)

What would my own manifesto include? Definitely something about freedom, but that could be taken as similar to doing what you love and following your passion. The difference is that I also appreciate being able to do required and difficult things, as long as I get to do it my way. I hope that made sense.

Instead, I suppose I’d add that if you want to “Keep up with the Joneses”, well, the truth is the Joneses are nearly broke, live paycheck-to-paycheck, and will work until they are quite old. Being different than the Joneses is the only way to go; there are many ways to do so but you have to pick one and be *proud* of it.

Caine’s Arcade: Creative Kid Entrepreneur + Follow-Up

If you haven’t seen this film about 9-year-old Caine and how he turned loneliness and boredom into his own cardboard video game arcade and an inspirational phenomenon, you must watch it now:

There’s also now a follow-up clip with Caine, his $200,000 college fund, kids he’s inspired, and the Imagination Foundation the filmmaker started:

Finally, check out the Cardboard Challenge happening on October 6th at locations around the globe. Very cool.

Meet America’s Youngest Landlord

Here’s a nice feel-good story about a financially-savvy teenager. 14-year-old Willow Tufano may be America’s youngest landlord. She bought a house in a short sale in Port Charlotte, Florida for $12,000. The 3-bedroom house is now rented out for $700 a month! (The house was on the market for $100,000 at the peak of housing bubble.)

More details – She put down $6,000 cash, her mom (a real estate agent) put down $6,000. She earned her share of the cash primarily from offering a service where she clears out foreclosed houses on behalf of the new investors. She then picks through the stuff and resells any goods or appliances that she can. She also spends her weekends looking for deals from garage sales and resells them for a profit on Craigslist.

I have to wonder about the whole nature vs. nuture thing about kids like this. Certainly having a real estate agent for a mother helped in this example, but so I doubt that in itself is enough. In my idle daydreams, I think it would be cool to start some sort of farmer’s market stand with my kids to show them some business basics. From the Ellen Show:

More: DailyMail, Inside Edition

Ken Robinson and Finding Your Passion

Passion can actually be a controversial subject when it comes to the early retirement / financial independence discussion. If you truly love your work, then why ever stop working? Alternatively, what if your passion is racing cars or playing basketball? The odds of making a living doing either is very slim. So is the answer to maximize yourself financially (even if you hate it) until you can pursue your passion in retirement?

Ken Robinson is an Professor of Education who argues that passion and creativity are the key for transforming education and the economy. He wrote a book called The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything that expands on his views and also includes many stories of people finding their passion. I find his ideas interesting and added this book to my reading queue.

Of all places, I learned about Robinson in an interview inside Costco’s monthly magazine for members (emphasis mine):

Costco Connection: Can you define what you mean by finding one’s element for readers who haven’t read your book The Element?

Ken Robinson: The element is finding that point where talent meets passion. Both are important. If you’re in your element, you’re doing something for which you have a natural aptitude. You get it. I’m not suggesting that you have to be the best in the world or the best in history, but you get it and you have a natural feel for it.

I know people for whom that’s true in every type of work. Aptitude takes many different forms. But being good at something is only part of this. To be in your element, you really have to love what you’re doing. If you love something that you’re good at you never “work” again. And you can tell. If you love something, time changes when you’re doing it. An hour feels like five minutes. But if you’re doing something that you don’t care for or doesn’t resonate with your own particular energy, then five minutes feels like an hour.

I really like this idea of time relativity (having it fly by also known as a “flow” state) as it really applies to me and many activities. It also reminds me of the following Venn diagram:

Finally, watch or listen to Robinson’s related TED talk about how schools kill creativity:
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Start Your Own Micro-Business With Shared Coworking and Fabrication Spaces

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Do you dream of working for yourself instead of “The Man”? Indeed, early retirement and/or financial independence is often achieved by successful small business owners. In addition, any retirement plan will be more robust if you can earn some extra money on your own as needed. As such, I definitely support the growth of freelancers doing their own thing. However, you may hit roadblocks like loneliness, distractions at home, or lack of resources.

The good news is that there are a growing number of places for those with the entrepreneurial spirit to share and collaborate with others for mutual gain. Live in a studio apartment? No problem.

  1. Coworking, or shared working environments. These are basically large community office spaces where you can get a desk, couches, and fast internet connection so you can work around others doing the same thing. No more coffee shops! They tend to be informal, where you can work alone or network/chat with others. It can also serve as a very cheap office where you can hold meetings with clients, or places to meet up in strange cities. You can usually just search for “coworking [your city]” but here is a directory.
  2. Techshops / Cooperative Fabrication Shops. Are you thinking of selling something physical, like iPhone cases, custom skateboards, crafts on Etsy, or wood furniture? Wouldn’t it be great if you had your own CNC machine, commercial-grade sewing machines, or professional woodworking equipment? Techshops are a growing chain of membership-based workshops that provide quality tools and equipment that most individuals don’t have access to. You’ll also find classes and lots of knowledgeable people willing to help you learn to use the machines. Not too shabby for as little as $99 a month.

    Besides Techshop, you may find independent locations like Knowhow Shop LA or Maker Place in San Diego. Many more are trying to start themselves up and looking for members.

  3. Fab Labs. These are “digital fabrication facilities”, initially started at MIT but now found around the world, where you can make higher-tech finished products using 3-D milling machines for circuit boards and laser cutters for press-fit construction of parts. (Directory)
  4. Tool Lending Libraries. If your needs are more modest, see if your community has a tool library where you can borrow tools. You can find landscaping gear, table saws, power tools, etc. (Directory)

Most of these places have membership fees, but they are usually flexible to account for the regular or occasional user. Look into them and you may be surprised at what is available near you. Even if you’re just a frugal person that likes to DIY, these are also great places for makers and tinkerers.