The non-conformists’ guide to making money

Working Away From Work

I got my start as an entrepreneur completely by accident. You can read the whole story here, but the short version is that back in 1999, I needed to make some money. The bills were due, my third-shift job wasn't going so well, and one day I took some photos of random stuff around my apartment and put it up on eBay. I made about $22 an hour right away, so I quit the night job and started building a wholesale business.

I've had a lot of different small businesses since those early days, including website design, publishing, and Google Adwords consulting. I've also had some crazy experiences along the way, and made a lot of mistakes.

Despite the mistakes and occasional uncertainly of not having a regular paycheck, my ten years of being out of the traditional workplace have made me a passionate believer in working for myself. I don't have a large business — I work at home, and I don't employ anyone directly. I have no plans to do that in the future either, because I'm comfortable with the super-small business model I call microbusiness.

Why Microbusiness?

I hear a lot of people say that they do not have the skill set to be entrepreneurs. They don't like to manage people, they don't want to borrow money, or they just don't know how to start.

I completely understand those challenges — and that's why I think anyone interested in entrepreneurship should start with a microbusiness.

A microbusiness is a very small business, one that you usually run on your own or with a few independent contractors. Some microbusiness owners have the goal of growing the company and employing people, but others of us are just happy to replace the income we could receive from a more traditional job.

What Kind of Business?

When most people set out to build a business, they usually end up building a job instead. With a job, you get paid to exchange your time for other people's money. If you set up shop as a consultant, for example, you're essentially doing the same thing. True, it may be better than working for someone else, because you'll have more freedom — but there's a flip side to self-employment and freedom. You're still trading time for money, and with your own business, no one else is responsible if you fail.

While I do know some happy, thriving consultants, in general I think it's better to create a business with automated products or services that can be sold without you directly trading time for money. Once you create your own products and set up a marketing plan, the products can then be sold 24/7 on your website or other online marketplaces.

Getting up in the morning to discover you have made money while sleeping is a great feeling.

If you have no idea what to sell, I recommend creating high-margin products, especially information products like e-books, multimedia publications, or other teaching materials. The value in these materials has to do with what you help people learn, not from any expensive production costs.

(The books E-Myth Revisited and No B.S. Sales Success are two great resources for thinking more about this.)

If you have a decent job, why should you worry about entrepreneurship and starting a microbusiness? Well, as the next section shows, relying solely on income from a job is the very slow route to wealth. It may work after forty years, but if you're interested in speeding it up a little, the odds are that you'll need some kind of business.

Get Rich Somewhere Between Quick and Slowly

I fully understand the motive between Get Rich Slowly as a counterbalance to active stock trading and get-rich-quick schemes, and I know there are millionaires next door who have slowly accumulated wealth through decades of progressive saving, index investing, and compounding interest. I also know that this route is far safer than active stock trading.

However, by working as an employee, only the very slow route will work, because there is really no other way most people can accumulate wealth with average incomes. I believe that anyone who is interested on achieving their own wealth needs to supplement their job income with external business income that they create for themselves.

This is the third way between the decades-long job savings approach as an employee and the risky stock trading approach. Maybe we should create a Get Rich at Faster-than-Average-Speed-but-not-too-Quickly site — but that's not as catchy as Get Rich Slowly.

The Goal is Financial Independence

Instead of retirement, my ultimate financial goal is to achieve true independence in my finances, to the point where all of the work I do is done out of choice rather than necessity. There are a lot of good resources out there for figuring out what you need for your own financial independence journey—for example, the online forums EarlyRetirement.org and the book Work Less, Live More that J.D. has written about previously.

By choosing to focus on writing and world travel instead of building businesses, I expect that my financial independence goal will be set back at least a couple of years. Although I could certainly enjoy making more money, I'm comfortable with the tradeoff.

One important note about financial independence: Being financially independent doesn't mean you will stop working.

I enjoy the work I do (most of the time), and I don't think I could be happy if I sat on the beach all day long. You may also like the work you do, or you may have a desire to help other people by doing a different kind of work. What financial independence means is that you are able to choose what you do with your time. Regardless of any other philosophical differences, I expect that almost everyone would agree that this is truly a goal worth charting a course for.

Making Mistakes

I don't think this essay would be complete without mentioning a few mistakes I've made along the way to creating a financial plan that works for me. If any of the above information sounds self-confident, I assure you that the selection of mistakes I include below is but a brief sample.

  • In my early business days when it was an enormous sum of money, I once lost $3,000 on eBay in a single weekend due to a minor listing error.
  • I forgot to renew at least two domain names that were later converted to passive, regular Adsense income…by the new owner.
  • I regularly gave up hundreds of dollars from 2000-2002 because I didn't want to return any inbound sales calls.
  • Six years ago, I decided not to go to Cambodia when I was right on the Thai border. The visa would have cost $20, which I thought was a lot then. Now that I spend $500-1000 to go to most new countries, $20 is a true bargain.

I think I'm doing most things right now — at least right for me — but I am not immune to making stupid mistakes.

Putting It All Together

I haven't been very traditional with anything, and personal finance is no exception. What I do won't work for everyone, and I am the first to acknowledge that. But I also hope that some of these principles challenge your own beliefs and practices about money in a positive way.

I welcome feedback, questions, or disagreements in the comments below. Thanks to J.D. for letting me share, and thanks to everyone for reading.

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Alison Wiley
Alison Wiley
12 years ago

I am with Chris in being nonconformist, and I was an entrepreneur for a full decade. (I could have benefited from some of his good advice back then.) I think the current and future world especially needs entrepreneurs able to think outside the fossil-fuel box. Electric cars and hybrids are an example; biodiesel furnaces another; changing our behaviors and expectations yet another. I have a related post at http://www.diamondcutlife.org/rethinking-the-entitlement-of-travel/

Jen-Picture of Wealth
Jen-Picture of Wealth
12 years ago

I am all about the microbusiness!! That is what I consider my blog to be… so far it has paid… uhhhhh nothing. I have $40 banked in adsense though!! I am really posting though because I have some ideas for E-books but don’t know how to really get started. Yes, I have done research online, but it hasn’t really helped me determine how to sell/deliver online. If someone could do a post on that it would be great!! If you want to drop by my blog and click some links you are interested in to make me some money that… Read more »

Amy
Amy
12 years ago

Thanks for introducing me to Chris Guillebeau’s site. Upon reading this post, I visited his site and read the guide to world domination. Definitely inspirational reading for a Sunday morning. Reminded me of 4-Hour Work Week (which I notice is on Chris’ “inspiration” list) but with more focus on giving back.

Nebula
Nebula
12 years ago

I like the idea of the one-person microbusiness! I also recently reviewed Bob Clyatt’s book _Work Less, Live More_ : http://community.stretcher.com/blogs/tbb/default.aspx

I’m already “semi-retired” as Clyatt calls it, which started when I had health problems at 36 but I’m thinking of this ebook idea…especially since I like writing. Clyatt also provides ideas of jobs suited to the semi-retired person in his book.

My motto is “Work less, Save More!”

Red
Red
12 years ago

How did health care affect your ignoring the traditional workplace?

Or rather, how did you overcome it. This is a big leap for most people initially I would think

Justin
Justin
12 years ago

You mentioned that you ran a website design business? How did that go for you? How much did you make (on average) and how many hours did you work per week?? Please let me know because I’m very interested in running one myself. You can email me at [email protected].

Thsnks,
Justin

Mark
Mark
12 years ago

If you’re interested in Web development/design busines look at Elance.com. You can find as much work as you want there.

Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
12 years ago

I like the idea of an ebook but I find it hard to believe that, unless you have some truly unique platform (like Trent does in terms of popularity), than it makes it tough. I like Elance and Guru.com though, that’s a start.

April
April
12 years ago

Someone already mentioned this, but his philosophy sounds a lot like 4-Hour Work Week, which I loved. Very inspirational. Now I just need to do something with that inspiration, already.

Expat Finance
Expat Finance
12 years ago

Really liked reading this vignette from Chris. I was captured straight away, probably as I feel comfort and an affinity from people with a similar philosophy to mine. I agree most people do create a job rather than a business and I believe people’s goals change as the self-employment progresses that from financial satisfaction to job satisfaction. I’ll definitely give it a read.

John Brougher
John Brougher
12 years ago

I’m not a huge fan of Elance and Guru.com, as they tend to favor bidding wars (so yes, it’s easy to find clients, but it’s not fun to do web work at $3.00 an hour).

My suggestion is to check out blogs and sites like freelanceswitch.com, freelancefolder.com, shaneandpeter.com and others for advice and community. Take the inspiration from books like “4-Hour Work Week” and apply it using the help that the many websites out there can provide. Plenty of people have gone that route before, and those kinds of sites will help you not have to reinvent the wheel.

Nick Stewart
Nick Stewart
12 years ago

Great post. I stumbled it. The E-Myth Revisited is one of favorite business books. It does a great job explaining why you must design your business and not be a slave to it. I think the key to making it with your own business is to take action and DO something. Set a goal and take small steps, one at a time. You most likely don’t need to read another book on how to be successful but rather take small steps and learn as you go. Just make sure the steps are small so that if you fail you don’t… Read more »

Smart Money
Smart Money
12 years ago

I just have to “create” another 30 of my trading quotes blog to get a “workless” pay of $3,000 per month. My blog currently gives me $100 a month for probably 15-min-a-month work. But I ma scratching my head what topics to blog on which does not require much work! Ha!

Rob
Rob
12 years ago

I think this is exactly what I needed to read right now. I’m at a point where I’m working my way out of debt and am both really interested in starting a business/buying a franchise and doing some form of humanitarian work (my fiancee and I want to teach English in a different country). Sometimes I feel like my desire to make good money and live well contradicts my desire to help other people, and I feel like my debt keeps me from getting started on either goal. Besides the ones listed here, I wanted to see if you could… Read more »

Lee
Lee
12 years ago

This post raises some interesting questions but offers few answers or solutions. I’d like to read some microbusiness success stories — real examples of how the author’s ideas pan out in practice.

Concrete examples keep me coming back to GRS. J.D., perhaps you’ll consider asking your guest writer to follow up with some.

Josh
Josh
12 years ago

Very good post.

I think the key difficulty is not in realizing all of this as the ideal but finding a “product”. I think every reader of GRS would jump at a microbusiness if they stumbled on a good idea. I’m sure there might be a process to brainstorming or developing an idea and would LOVE to read more about that.

-Josh

rich walker
rich walker
12 years ago

If you want financial freedom what you need is to find ways to generate passive income like getting vending machines,bloging and long term investing in the stock market. for vending machines you just put them there and the money rolls in then you can build your microbusiness from your passive income and get people to work it for you so you can concentrate on building another microbusiness soon enough you will have a whole chain of them.

http://inspiredmindset.blogspot.com

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