This post is longer than my regular ones. But if you have a few minutes, I think you’ll find it addresses a lot of common concerns for people seriously thinking of starting an online business as a means to gain more personal freedom.
One of the most common questions that busy people have is, “Can I build an online business in my spare time?”
You’re going to love my answer. I say not only can you build it in your spare time, you should do it that way. The best position a person can be in is to have an existing job and source of income that takes the pressure away from having to get an online business up and running as fast as humanly possible in order to have rent money next month. (Those guys are in a worst situation possible.)
First of all, having only 5 to 10 hours per week to actually be in front of a computer doing something related to building your online business is all you would need, and probably pretty close to the average time most people getting started doing it anyway.
Secondly, once you get your mind into the creative process (particularly in Steps 1 & 2 of Safely Leave the Rat Race ), you’ll discover that you make a lot of productive progress from just thinking about what you are building. So time spent driving to and from work, or waiting in line at a restaurant suddenly becomes a very productive part of your day where insights and ideas start occurring. Creative thinking and problem solving is a sort of rising tide that lifts your whole life up to a higher level. It’s almost intoxicating once you get going and begin to see the picture of what you’re creating and what it will mean to your future.
Why an Online Business is Ideal for Joe Average
By the way when I use terms like “Joe Average” or “the little guy,” I mean it in a positive but humble way. The reality is most of us are not Mark Zuckerbergs or Elon Musks and we don’t have massive ambitions. We also don’t have huge amounts of capital under our control or access to political influence that can give our new business a competitive edge. And most of us don’t feel the need to be billionaires or the next big thing in the business world. Making three or four times the income we make now is a big accomplishment for most of us. And that’s what I mean when I talk about we ‘regular’ folks.
Start Up Costs
These days, even if you want to open a small coffee shop in your town you could end up needing $100,000 in loans, furnishings, leasehold improvements, operating capital, and other expenses. Not to mention the contingent liabilities of committing to a multi-year building lease, having employees who can sue for receiving a dirty look, and clumsy customers who might spill coffee in their lap and have their lawyer blame it on your negligence.
But online businesses have comparatively minuscule start up costs. A domain name is eleven bucks a year, hosting your site on a server is about fifty bucks a year. The one time cost of cool, customized graphics that make your site look professional is a few hundred dollars.
In terms of having a fully operational business up and running — one that can attract prospects, provide information, make sales, collect money, make deposits in your bank account, and grow every month — it’s less money than most flat screen TVs in people’s houses today. And would you rather have four TVs in your house, or three TVs and one online business (not that most people have to slice their finances that finely anyway)?
Lower Costs = Lower Risks
Starting an online business is not a particularly risky undertaking. As mentioned, the amount it costs is probably less than the amount your family car will depreciate this year, and nobody agonizes over that situation.
And, unlike our friend with the coffee shop, an online business doesn’t require a constant flow of serious money in order to keep operating month to month. And it’s easy and inexpensive to make tweaks and improvements as you go along.
Low risk means you sleep well at night. This is particularly true for the person doing this in his or her spare time. They are never in a ‘do or die’ situation where they are driven by panic or desperation. They can take their time, do things the way they want, and enjoy the process.
The online business model permits different ideas to be tested quickly. About 25 years ago I operated a small mail order business. Back then I would create an ad I thought was brilliant, pay a few thousand dollars to have it run in a national magazine, wait 8-12 weeks for the magazine issue to go out to subscribers and newsstands, then watch the mailbox over the next two months to see how well my ad pulled. I’d make changes and tweaks and repeat the entire process.
I also did direct mailings to prospects. Color brochures had to be laid out by a professional typesetter, color separations had to be made for the printer, then the printer would put my job in queue. After about a month I had boxes of flyers and envelopes ready to be stuffed and labeled by another company. When all that was done, I had to visit the post office, pay for 30,000 stamps, then wait a week or so for them to process my mailing. Again, many weeks passed before I knew the verdict on the profitability of all the above. Sometimes I won, sometimes I lost.
Today, with an online business, I can write something at night, load it with color graphics, email it off in the early morning (set with a timer) and know by the afternoon whether or not it was successful. Total cost = $0. I can also split-test by sending a third of my mailing list one version, another third another version, and the final third a different version. Then I know what colors, or headline, or wording works best. Total cost = $0.
This is why online businesses can grow so quickly and become so successful in a short time. The really big players know all of this. That’s how they build a billion dollar business in months. (Trivia: Federal Express was the first company in history to go from zero to a billion dollars in sales in only . . . 10 years! ’73-‘83) Now it’s almost commonplace in the tech world to do the same in a few years.
All the same principles of agility, adaptability and fast iterations apply to the little guys too. So even when you make mistakes, you aren’t stuck with them. Agility reduces risk, increases adaptability, and permits faster growth.
An online business can be started by anyone, anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether you live in midtown Manhattan or in a 400-square-foot tin shack in the Australian Outback. Everybody gets the same real estate — www.YourIdea.com is found on the exact same screen as Amazon and Facebook. That massive equalizer is unprecedented in the history of commerce. And it cost $11 to buy your own prime commercial real estate.
And as long as you have a decent internet connection you can physically be anywhere you choose to be while owning and operating your business. Key West? Moosejaw? Paris? Bali? It makes zero difference to the operation and profitability of your online business. Again, compare that to the guy who risked everything to start a coffee shop in Flint, Michigan.
Mobility = Liquidity
Not only can you operate your online business from anywhere, so could anyone else. So if you engineer your business from the beginning to be sold at a future date, the market of potential buyers is worldwide. For example, if you had that plan from the beginning you might not name your business ‘Joe Doak’s in Belize’ and instead name it ‘Belize Expat Junction’ because it could be owned and operated by anyone who wanted to work in that space.
It’s common for big players in many niches to expand their marketshare by simply buying up the smaller players in the sub-niches inside and around their big market. It can be a very nice payday.
I always remind people starting out that if they have an online business that can make $500/mo, it can also make $5,000/mo. And one making $5,000/mo can make $50,000/mo. The online infrastructure is all built for scalability. The server hosting you use, the e-mail provider, the shopping cart service, can all move seamlessly from you making a few thousand a year, to making a million a year. In terms of the really big picture, a million is still a grain of sand in online commerce.
In almost every case, the relevant issue is how many people see what you have to offer. We use the term ‘traffic.’ All things being equal in terms of the audience you’re targeting, if you have ten times the traffic you will make ten times the revenue.
In simple terms, this means you have ownership and control over how much money you make every year. Compare that to a regular job. How long does it take a guy 50 years old to double his annual salary? Is it even possible? In most cases a worker in his 50’s would be more vulnerable to having a 20-something take over his job at half pay while he gets ‘early retirement.’
You’d be surprised how much more engaging and exciting daily work is when you get to keep all of the increases you can generate through your own creativity, experience, and effort.
I should mention that not all businesses are scalable, regardless of available infrastructure. My own business of Safely Leave the Rat Race is not. That’s because I have elected to make myself available to personally mentor some members one-on-one and I have the same 168 hours to work with every week that everyone else has. Yes, I could do it in groups or just record videos but the trade-off is watering things down to generalities. There is just no substitute for listening to a person describe his unique situation, capabilities, limitations, and long terms goals and then helping craft a beautiful solution.
I’ve made a deliberate decision to work with individuals directly and to include them in my own expanding network of like-minded people. I get satisfaction from that beyond what money can buy. So this particular business of mine will not scale beyond the ability to make me a few hundred thousand dollars a year. It can never and will never be the hot ‘next big thing.’ I’m very happy with the trade-off.
There’s a reason why critical online infrastructure is built with scalability. There’s a worldwide market moving online. Forget China or India, the fastest growing economy on earth is the online economy. And since you’re reading this you’ll be happy to hear that English is the dominant language of online commerce. Not that there aren’t niche opportunities for people who speak Lithuanian, but English is where the money is. And the more familiar you are with American culture the better, since that is still the epicenter online commerce.
Investment in Yourself
Building your own online business is an investment in yourself. What you learn during the process is something you’ll carry in your back pocket for the rest of your life. If you can build one profitable online business you can build ten of them, if you want.
There is a massive difference between being able to earn money and being able to make money. Any teenager can earn money. When you create your own online business from scratch and build it into a constant flow of substantial, reliable income that you own and control, one day you reach an awareness that you are in a completely different situation than the guy who has to lose sleep over getting a pink slip.
Hey, nobody is invincible, and certainly no man is an island. But there is something about knowing you have the new skills and experience to literally create something from nothing that puts a spring in your step. And the first time you collaborate with another online business, under mutually profitable terms, and see your income double in a single month, you begin to realize all the potential that has been dormant inside you because of the way you’ve always been employed.
There is no investment in any sector from real estate, to precious metals, to equities, that pays anything close to the longterm dividends that investing in yourself returns.
The Internet is basically unregulated. Nobody is there to block your path because you don't have the last five credits of your Masters degree, grew up in a poor family, speak with lisp, suffer from social anxiety, live in Sub-Saharan Africa, are 16 or 96 years old, or got your entire education from the School of Hard Knocks.
You can have a voice. You can offer value into a marketplace that does not judge much of anything beyond how your website looks and whether you keep your word when you offer something. Any man or woman can succeed to the limits of their energies and abilities. It is the proverbial ‘land of opportunity.'
Building a Major Financial Asset
In today’s ridiculous, upside down financial world of negative interest rates, hidden inflation, and market volatility that makes a roulette wheel look like a sensible option, an online business that provides you a few thousand dollars a month is actually worth a small fortune.
A business generating $5,000/mo, in an environment where you’d be lucky to get 2% interest on bank deposits, is actually the same as having $3-million in the bank in terms of cash flow.
Most people starting out get fixated on “How soon can I be making good money?” which is completely understandable. But the big picture is that, just a few years down the road, you can build a massive financial asset that is worth more than your current job, or perhaps your house.
The fact that it can be done with a relative pittance of money, with a very small risk, and stay under your direct control at all times makes it the opportunity of a lifetime, as far as I’m concerned.
Your Business Can Live Anywhere
And speaking of risk. Every asset a person has inside his home country is fair game for every government agency and personal injury lawyer to grab with a few mouse clicks. Same goes for your wages.
Don’t take this as personal financial advice, because it isn’t. But an online business can “live” anywhere. The actual domain and website might be owned by a trust in Hong Kong. It might have a management agreement with a company in Ireland. The Irish company might pay you a low taxable wage and fantastic benefits, as an independent contractor. It might do its banking in Singapore. It might invest its profits in real estate in Panama. That ain't low hanging fruit to the professional parasites of the world.
Or it might all be inside Massachusetts, pay some of the highest taxes in the world, and be available for easy seizure.
Up to you.
Operate as a Side Business
And this brings us back to the issue of building the business in your spare time.
I’d say, if you can, not only build it in your spare time, operate it as long as possible in your spare time. Keep your existing source(s) of income as long as you want. Let your online business grow organically through your regular efforts, or spend some money speeding up growth with available premium methods. Go as slow or as fast as you want.
When your business is generating substantial and reliable income month after month, make an assessment of exactly how and when you’ll step away from what you’re doing now to earn income. You’ll be in a very strong position. Hey, you might even have the ability to negotiate a customized deal where you are now. But it will be on your terms. Because you’ll have one of the most important things a person in the 21st century can have: your own source of portable income that you own and control.
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