This is a guest post by Colin Wright, a friend and very impressive online entrepreneur/blogger/world traveler. I’ve gotten incredibly picky about my guest posts as of late but I was thrilled when Colin offered to write one and if any of you don’t know his stuff from ExileLifestyle.com this is a great chance to meet & learn from him!
I remember my first business fondly, even though it was a pretty epic failure, financially.
The glossy magazine I was creating design work for in college was doing everything all wrong; the layout was bad, the marketing a joke, and the ad prices were atrocious. The Editor-in-Chief needed my help – beyond the design work that I was already offering – so I told him my ideas and came up with a list of action items. I then sat back quietly in my chair and waited for his response.
I should note that this magazine was based out of a city right on the buckle of American’s Bible Belt, and in this particular city (like many thereabouts) an old boys club runs everything. Knowing his place in society was locked-in, the boss didn’t take kindly to the suggestions. My ideas were spurned, my initiative criticized, my capabilities questioned.
I responded like any rational person would, given the circumstances: I decided to start a business that would do it right.
And I gave it my all, I really did. People around town were excited, and quite a bit of buzz built up around the new magazine that was breaking all the rules, but although I knew how to design and produce a publication, I had not a clue as to how one made money that wasn’t given as a paycheck.
I had invested too much in the magazine, and once it became clear I was making just enough to publish the thing, I floundered and lived on starvation rations for a handful of months until graduation. Ouch.
But I bounced back. I turned the magazine into a passion project that I could run solo and decided that next time, I’d do it better. And I did. And the next time, and the next.
I never wanted to be in that position again, and since then, I’ve discovered that although every business has a certain degree of risk involved, the scale of that risk can be reduced down to nearly nothing if you keep a couple of basic business philosophies in mind.
Projects Are Your Scaffolding
I make it a point to always have at least 3 or 4 projects going alongside my money-making and soon-to-be-money-making ventures.
Projects are amazing because they:
1. Provide and excuse to spend your time experimenting and learning
2. Give you a reason to meet new people
3. Are a safe place to make mistakes with fewer repercussions than within a business
4. Can be a welcome relief from whatever big, important, money-making ventures you’re working on
5. Can turn into big, important, money-making ventures
Think of your projects as a sandbox to play in. They’re like businesses with no responsibility, rules, consequences for epic failures, or piles of paperwork.
Most of my businesses have started out as projects, and I imagine most of my future ones will, as well.
Build On Your Foundations
The secret to having an advantage with every single business you start is to build where you’ve already laid a foundation.
This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Just by living you’re building foundations every moment of every day, and taking advantage of this time is all about finding niches that you already know something about and exploiting your latent knowledge.
For example, I’ve started and operated 8 businesses and many more projects that were potential businesses. I wasn’t running these businesses so that I could write about entrepreneurship, but when I decided to start up my blog and build it as an asset, entrepreneurship seemed like a good topic to talk about (as I already had some value to give in that area, without having to do a bit of research).
Now I travel for a living, and because I’ve spent a good deal of time this past year and a half doing so, I’ve been able to build a new affiliate-supported site called Flashpack from that knowledge.
When an opportunity comes along to exploit knowledge or experience that you already have, take it and run with it. Worse-case scenario, you invest a little time in something that doesn’t pan out, but in the best case, you’ve carved out another niche to play in and from there you can build as much or little as you want.
Some people are incredibly comfortable being in debt, but I am not one of those people.
Every single one of my business ventures sustains itself right from the start, and in some cases even funds itself as it scales.
For example, I have a new venture called ebookling. I cobbled the first version of ebookling together using code I could write myself, an open-source CMS backend, and an affiliate program that I’ve used in a previous project. The soft-launch was ragtag, but it funded the next step, where it’s at now.
It didn’t take a huge investment to upgrade the site – a mere $450, give or take – but that’s money that would have come out of my pocket on a venture that I’m not certain will succeed. Because I launched it as a project BEFORE investing any money in it, however, I was able to earn this money with the site, keeping it a closed system.
To me, this is the point of any business. I don’t invest in things that start me out in the red, and I like to know that even if I pull the plug early, I’ve still made a few bucks for my time (or at the very least didn’t lose any).
This is what it means to be a sustainable business-person; you create closed systems that are assets from the very beginning, rather than going into debt and hoping that the successes in the bunch will pay back the credit you owe on the failures.
Build for the Future
Always be striving, even if it means experiencing a constant string of failures.
With everything you do, learn. With everyone you meet, develop a relationship. With everything you hear, flesh out your big-picture understanding of the world.
With every bite you taste, savor the moment, because if you’re not enjoying life, what’s the point of all this anyway?
Every move you make can be a step forward or backward, and you want as many of the steps you take to be forward as possible.
If you want to have a truly self-sustaining business-making model and always have an advantage no matter what field you go into, utilize all of your projects, failures, foundations and experiences so that you never have to start from scratch or wait at the back of the line.
The better your head-start, the less likely you’ll be pulled back down to earth by the gravity of ‘impossible’ before you’ve had a chance to soar.