Unemployed? Learn How To Start Your Own Business

I started my first business when I was 19 years old, kind of accidentally. I was working at a small decorating shop and was told by my boss, to go make some sales calls.  I got in my old Datsun B210 (Datson became Nissan for younger readers). I drove around my small town looking for people who may need interior decorating. This sounds funny now when I think back on it because when you drive around you can not see inside homes or buildings. The first place I went was an area where they were building some new homes. I noticed a couple of men, in a driveway, that were dressed in street clothing, not painter’s clothing or overalls. I stepped out of my car and asked if they were the home builders. They said, “Yes.” I introduced myself and said where I worked and asked if they needed any help with paint colors, window treatments, etc. They said, “As a matter of fact we were just talking about that.” I scheduled an appointment with them at our shop and left.start your own business

The next place I visited was a restaurant that was being built.  I walked in and looked for people in street clothes again. I found a couple of men dressed in suits this time. I asked them the same question and explained where I worked this time I shared that I was also a college student studying interior design. This got their attention. One said, “we were just talking about finding an interior designer to help us figure some things out.” I scheduled appointments with these 2 men and left.

I drove back to the little decorating shop and excitedly told my boss and his wife about my day. They asked more questions about the people who were coming in for appointments. I shared their names, who they were, and what kind of business they had. My boss said rather sternly, “No I mean what color was their skin?” Shocked, I answered that the first man was black and the restaurant men were white. I said, “Why does this matter?”  My boss’s wife then said, “The men who own the restaurant have Jewish last names.” They both frowned,stood silently, and stared at me for a few minutes. I again asked, “Why does this matter?” The boss answered, “We don’t do business with people like this. Black people and Jewish people.” I stood there stunned for a minute, then I said, “Well I do and I quit.” I turned on my heel and left the shop and never returned. I called both of the potential clients from a pay phone and said I had to cancel our appointments. They both wanted to know why I was canceling and I reluctantly explained. They both wanted to continue working with me. “We would like to pay you to help us anyway. Can you meet us at a different decorating shop?” That’s how I “accidently” started my first business. I worked as an interior design consultant with these and other clients while in college.

Here are Some Tips on How to Start Your Own Business

1. Document Your Entrepreneurial Journey

Get your thoughts in order first. Take a few minutes each morning to journal your goals, frustrations, and plans. At first, your frustrations may consume your thoughts, let them flow out all over the paper as a release then turn the page and start writing about your new goals and plans. Document your journey – use a notebook or a tool like Evernote to document your journey. I use Evernote and keep folders called Morning Pages, Night Pages, & Burning Questions (see #13) You’d be surprised how often I refer back to earlier notes when similar issues arise.

2. Evaluate Your Assets and Strengths

Take out a notebook and write down everything you have that can help your start-up. Start with your friends and family are they supportive and helpful? They are a valuable asset to you. Then move on to things like a car that runs, a laptop, a nice digital camera, and a smartphone. Next, write down all the skills and personality strengths you have that can help your business.

3. Ask Yourself A Power Question Each Day

What is the one thing that I can do today to make some money to support myself and my family? This may lead to selling extra items laying around your home or looking at websites like Guru or Upwork to see what services you can offer.

4. Figure out your “Burn Rate”

Scott Gerber in his book Never Get A Real Job discusses your burn rate. Your burn rate is the amount of time you have to get your business rolling. If you are suddenly unemployed this burn rate is shorter than for others who are still working. Look at ways to lengthen this time, if you need to. Could you get a roommate or move in with a family member? Could you cut costs on eating out? Or going to Starbucks? Look at your lifestyle, how can you change your lifestyle to increase your burn rate?

5. What’s Your Unfair Advantage

Believe it or not, you have an unfair advantage that no one else has. This unfair advantage is what the people know.  If you are not currently on LinkedIn, set up an account. Take a look at your Linked In, Twitter, or Facebook accounts and think about who you know and who you would enjoy working with.  Write down 21 names and then write down how you can create a Win-Win scenario for both of you. In my program, I call this the “Lucky 21.” This is a group of people that you connect with and share what you are doing at any given time. Is there a service that you could provide them?

6. Test the Market

This is something that I do now but I did not know when I started out. Ask the question, “What’s the quickest, cheapest way I can test if the public really wants what I am offering?” Tim Ferris in the 4 Hour Work Week calls this “testing the muse” and he used different online techniques to test the market. If something doesn’t test well, adjust it and try it again or look at doing something altogether different.

7. Do NOT work for Free

For some reason, when you share with people that you want to start your own business, people will think you can work for free during a start-up. Don’t go there. You can work out trades for things or services if you like or work at a lower rate but working for free sets an uncomfortable precedent for both of you.

8. Network – Network – Network

Look for groups in your area to mingle with other entrepreneurs. Meet-up.com is great for this. Attending free or inexpensive MeetUp’s helps you understand the pulse of your community and spot opportunities of work you can do for others. Online groups on Facebook and LinkedIn are another good place to network.

9. Start Small – Very Small

You may have it in your mind that you need a huge advertising campaign and a new computer or a new food truck… Figure out ways to work with what you have at first… Look at ways to borrow or lease things your start-up needs rather than purchase. Look for free or super cheap tools for your business. Google provides a service called Google Voice which is FREE phone number. Vistaprints will print business cards for the price of shipping. Services like Skype allow you to have free conference calls. Make a list of all the free or super cheap services you can use refer to it before you purchase. This will increase your burn rate.

10. Find Mentors

A mentor can be a person who has been through a start-up that you can actually talk to or they can be authors of inspiring books or inspiring blogs. People are going to give you lots of advice some that you can use and some that you can save for later.

11. Study Specific Topics – “Just in Time Learning”

This was a challenge for me because I love to read so I began to read everything. It is important to figure out what area of your business you need to focus on and only read about that topic. For example – if you are going to a lot of networking events read about networking and connect with people in person an example is Never Eat Lunch Alone by Keith Ferrazzi or Work the Pond by Darcy Rezak don’t read about SBA loans.

12. Shift Gears as the Market Shifts

It’s important to shift gears when your business is stalling. Currently, the economy is shifting and changing rapidly.  If you find that your business is stalling, not making a profit, costing you a lot of time, and not bringing in much money you must change your approach. There is nothing wrong with trying a new approach until it starts bringing in money. Far too often, we find ourselves wanting to provide goods and services to a public that is not interested in those goods or services. Think about cassette tapes, it would be hard to start a business around cassette tapes right now. What can you do with cassette tapes now? Make a robot… Teach people how to transfer cassettes to PC… make a retro iPod holder? As a small start-up business, you can quickly shift gears and do something new that big corporations have a hard time with this.

13. Ask Buring Questions

As you’re in start-up mode, you will have questions. I found that I did not know who to ask these questions. I had no co-workers, no boss. Who do you ask? I started writing them down in an Evernote folder and when I had a chance I would ask people who knew the answers or sit down and research them. Sometimes when I am in a networking meeting, I will scan my list of “burning questions” on my phone and ask key individuals those questions after the meeting.  I will say something like this, “I have been curious about… perhaps you could shed light on this for me.”  Most people will be impressed that asked them such a meaningful question.

14. Bread and Butter Money

When I worked for an architect in Kansas City, we used to do these frequent site evaluations for what seemed to me like pennies. I asked my boss why we did them, he said that it was “bread and butter” money. Puzzled, I asked what’s bread and butter money, and he said it is small amounts of money, but frequent amounts of money, that keep our name in front of the client for bigger projects. Can you think of a small task or project you can do for clients that may lead to bigger projects?
To start your own business after losing your job can be a challenge but it can also be very rewarding.
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