Ah, working from home. If you’re sick of long commutes to a boring office, where you’re stuck 9-to-5, Monday through Friday, remote work sounds like a distant paradise.
But the reality is, working from home is more feasible than you might think – and I’ve got 50 examples to prove it. So, if your dream is to work from home, and you don’t know where to start, this list has something for you. I guarantee it.
Why working from home is so appealing
Some traditional bosses think that working from home is an excuse to goof off and do nothing, but most people have sound motivations. They want to work without distractions and interruptions from co-workers, skip the time-wasting commute, wear comfortable clothing, stay close to home for family needs and generally have more control. Plus, it’s been shown that people who work from home end up being more productive.
That being said, working from home isn’t a perfect solution. You’ll still have to work hard, no matter what you choose, and navigate a number of unique challenges, so be careful to choose your best path forward.
The rising trend
A recent Gallup poll demonstrates that working from home, or telecommuting, is on the rise, with more than a third of Americans telecommuting at least some of the time in 2015. And that trend makes sense: We’re in an era where resources, information and communication are boundless and portable, and these systems are growing increasingly sophisticated.
So, how can the average worker – maybe you? – make an actual living without leaving the home? Here are 50 ways.
1Transition from your current job
Your first option is probably the simplest; instead of looking for a new job, try to transform your current job. After all, most white-collar jobs these days can be done from home. For example, do you spend most of your day in front of a computer using software that’s available on the cloud? If so, there’s no reason you can’t tackle those responsibilities from home.
Even if you’re in a more traditional or conservative industry, the right pitch could convince your boss to transition your position to a remote one. According to Global Workplace Analytics, even government and non-profit sectors are gearing more toward work-from-home opportunities.
2Opt for a hybrid model
Maybe your boss needs you in the office for a weekly meeting, or you’re needed as an additional face for client meetings.
Consider the prospect of opting for a hybrid model, in which you work from home two or three days per week, but go into the office for the remaining days.
This may not be your ideal set-up, but it’s better than a full week of office commutes. Plus, if you do a good enough job in those few work-from-home days, you’ll have evidence that a fully remote model could work.
3Write content for others
We’re in the midst of the golden age of content marketing, and that means the world is hungry for more content. If you’re good with your words, you might as well capitalise on this trend.
Content marketing has created a high demand for original written material, so it’s not hard to find companies that need articles written regularly – sometimes daily. Reach out to content-marketing firms which employ many writers and are always looking for more talent.
Find writing jobs on Craigslist, or on Freelancewritinggigs.com. You could also sign up to work for a content mill, which is designed to churn out high volumes of content on a regular basis (just don’t expect a massive salary).
4Edit, audit or review
Depending on your skills or experience, you could also make a living by reviewing the work of others. For example, you could become an editor who reads and improves articles – rather than writing them yourself – or you could oversee the work of newbies in your industry, by reviewing photos or audio submissions. So long as what you’re reviewing is available in a digital format, it could be a perfect work-from-home opportunity (provided you have enough volume to keep you busy).
5Play video games
You read that right. It’s entirely possible to make a work-from-home career out of playing video games – that is, if you’re good enough or interesting enough. Brands like Twitch and Youtube Gaming offer gamers the opportunity to live-stream their video-gaming experiences; and believe it or not, thousands of people sign on to watch those videos and streams.
If you’re a highly skilled gamer, then, or you can find alternative, unique ways to draw a crowd, you could build a brand and an audience and earn revenue from the sites, based on your contributions. Monetise via ad revenue, tips from your audience or Patreon. Gamers Brittney Brombacher and Greg Miller are both excellent examples of people who have built a brand in the video game industry and are monetising them via these methods.
6Create a blog
One of the best ways to build and maintain a revenue stream is to create and manage a blog. This could be about almost anything: Maybe you want to review new music, or to show off your homemade co-splays. All that matters is your ability to build an audience over time.
If you can attract a few thousand monthly visitors, you can turn that audience into a cash-generating machine in a number of different ways, including getting paid to advertise, using affiliate links or setting up a Patreon account to encourage your audience to support your content-creation efforts and gain access to premium content.
Tim Urban of WaitButWhy.com has followed this route and makes nearly $13,000 per month (at the time of writing) from Patreon pledges.
If you like the idea of writing your own content, but blogging eludes you (for one reason or another), consider writing ebooks on the topic of your choice.
Ebooks are basically longer versions of articles, usually spanning several thousand words with illustrated examples and practical tips on how to accomplish something. Provided you have an interested audience available, you can charge a few dollars per download and make a substantial, recurring profit.
8Be a reviewer
Everybody has an opinion, and everyone’s a critic. If you like to share your opinions, and are able to do so articulately and in a way that benefits your audience, you may find reviewing a viable way to work from home (for the most part).
The sky’s the limit here: If you’re into media and pop culture, you could review movies and music albums. If you like board games and video games, you could review new ones emerging.
You could even review local businesses, or almost any product you can think of. Again, you just have to build an audience first.
9Be a social media marketer
Logging into social media and making a post doesn’t require any kind of physical presence; this makes it nearly perfect as a work-anywhere job. Social media marketing isn’t as simple as “playing around on Facebook all day,” but its fundamentals don’t require special skills or equipment. You’ll need experience to be successful over time, but it’s a highly learnable niche.
I’ve personally written an ebook that covers all the fundamentals of it, The Definitive Guide to Social Media Marketing. If you don’t have any current experience, it’s a good idea to start out by working for a small business or startup, or build your personal reputation on your own before applying for formal jobs.
10Become an SEO consultant
Like social media marketing, search engine optimisation (SEO) is a marketing strategy that takes place entirely in the digital world, and it’s fairly approachable, even for newcomers.
You won’t be able to do any advanced troubleshooting or pull cutthroat competitive tactics in your first few months, but all the information you need to be successful is available to you. Just be prepared to subcontract to specialists if you find yourself stuck, or want someone more experienced to help you out.
11Become a PPC Consultant
Next up, you could run pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaigns. Clients will pay for ad-placement costs, and give you a management fee on top of that to research, plan, organize and track the results of each ad campaign.
You can specialise in one platform or learn multiple platforms, to appeal to a wider audience. Some platforms, like Google, offer certification programs you can use to prove your credentials. There’s a bit of a learning curve here, but once you get the hang of it, it will become second nature to you.
12Be a graphic designer
If you have design skills, you can produce graphics for individuals and businesses to use in advertising, on websites or for other purposes.
There are many ways to do this. You could become a full-time graphic designer or an independent contractor with multiple different clients. Alternately, you could use a matchmaking site like 99 Designs to get work on a piece-by-piece basis.
It’s hard to pick up design skills naturally, so if this is the route you want to go and you don’t already have the skills, you’ll need to invest in your education first.
13Take pictures or make videos for others
Freelance photographers can make significant income, depending on their skill and experience level. Of course, to take photos, you’ll have to occasionally leave the house.
If you’re interested in learning the basics of photography, there are many sites to help you get started. In a related application, you could create videos for businesses, as well; to do this, create an “explainer” video to pitch the brand, making an advertisement or just turning a piece of written content into an interactive visual experience.
14Start a video series
Speaking of videos, they aren’t just for other people. In the same way you can start a blog and make money from it, you can create your own channel on YouTube and earn money. The key here is to find a niche that isn’t currently occupied, then either inform or entertain a specific target audience (preferably both).
An effort like this will require market research, creativity, hard work and a lot of luck. But if you’re consistent, you may find it possible to generate an audience in the hundreds of thousands – maybe more – which can earn you significant recurring revenue. An excellent example is Vsauce.
15Become a virtual assistant
It’s not the most glorious job on this list, but it is one of the most in-demand opportunities for work-from-home employees.
Depending on whom you work for, you could have responsibilities as a virtual assistant that include booking hotel accommodations, organising or taking notes, maintaining schedules, compiling (digital) paperwork or even reading and researching on your employer’s behalf.
These opportunities are available in a number of different niches, so look for them on job boards, and network to find promising open positions.
Related: The Rise of the Virtual Assistant
16Fill in with Fiverr
Fiverr is a site that originated with a diversity of different freelancers offering services starting at $5. Today, most services are still $5, but more intensive services cost a little more.
Because competition is high on this platform and rates are, accordingly, low, it’s hard to make a career out of freelancing on Fiverr alone (unless you’ve mastered your niche and have a thriving target audience or reside in a part of the world with an extremely low cost of living).
Still, it’s a helpful site to round out your earnings or to make initial attempts at a newly developed skill before you start advertising your services on your own.
Do you like to cross-stitch? Do you make your own pillows? Or work with clay, or knit? All those crafts can be sold for a profit, and in some cases a pretty high one.
Different crafts offer different available profit margins, depending on the skill level involved, the amount of competition and audience factors.
However, almost any craft can be sold reliably if you know how to market yourself. You can use a site like Etsy to get started, or try to build a site and online presence on your own.
In the same way, you may be able to sell your art on the web. For the most part, you’re better off developing a personal brand for your artwork, networking actively on social media and showing off your latest creation.
Building a personal brand, moreover, will help you establish a reputation, plus people will be more likely to buy your work if they can see your face and personality on display. Of course, the subjective issue of taste in art makes it a hard business to break into.
19Come up with ideas for new businesses
If you have a creative mindset and like the idea of advertising, you could make a decent living coming up with ideas for new businesses. There are a handful of different options here; you could write company names and taglines for new and emerging businesses or even write jingles for new ads or marketing campaigns.
If you’re new to the game, you’ll have to submit to contests and similar opportunities, but once you develop a reputation and a portfolio, you can shop it around to higher-paying clients.
Do you enjoy being in the kitchen? Do people go crazy for your red velvet cupcakes? There’s a way to turn that into a business, and you don’t need to open a bakery.
You can sell your baked goods online, offering a pickup service as an option (if you’re comfortable with it) or charging for special delivery. Just be sure to check your local regulations for the sale of food products, to ensure you comply with any legal restrictions.
In general, however, there’s enormous potential for profitability here, as the cost of baking ingredients is usually low.
21Create and popularise a website
If you’re not much of a blogger, you could still create and popularise your own site. You’ll just need to find a different angle to use to strike a chord with your audience. For example, you might post comic strips on a regular basis, or accept user submissions of embarrassing photographs.
You might even offer a unique service, like a custom calculator. Any way you can build an audience is good. Once you have it, you can start displaying advertising, or selling other goods and services. For inspiration, look at the empire I Can Has Cheez Burger built just by posting funny cat pictures.
This is an especially valuable option for anyone walking away from a long-term career in favor of a work-from-home opportunity. You still have your years of experience and skills to use, so make them work for you.
Consultants, depending on their experience, can charge hundreds of dollars an hour for one-on-one workshopping, and it can usually take place over the phone or through video chatting.
Here, you’ll need to have a strong personal brand and a reliable list of references if you want to secure any deals, so prioritize your reputation first.
Coaching is a kind of informal consulting, usually targeted toward consumers rather than businesses. There are an infinite number of paths here, so use your creativity; if you have experience or an interest in physical fitness, consider becoming a weight loss or athletic coach.
If you have a wealth of personal experience, you could become a “life coach,” and help people through hard personal decisions or life events, over the phone or through a personal chat.
As happens with consulting, you’ll need a strong reputation first, so that should be your first priority. Author Brenden Dilley is an excellent example of someone monetizing his expertise as a life coach.
If you’re savvy at online marketing, you can buy websites that aren’t reaching their potential, fix them up, market them, monetise them, and then sell them for a huge profit. You can use a site like Flippa.com to find, buy, and list websites for sale.
Related: 10 Business Ideas Ready To Launch!
If you have significant savings to play with, you could consider turning yourself into a scaled-down version of a bank. This process is known as peer-to-peer lending, and has become quite common thanks to technology that makes it easier to accomplish.
Depending on what platform you sign up for, you’ll have various options, such as making one-on-one loans, or pooling your assets with others for loans, and you’ll choose different “grades” of clients that offer different levels of risk and reward.
26Do data entry
This is another job that isn’t especially glamorous, but it’s available (and will continue to be for the indeterminate future). If you don’t have deep or niche skills, this is a perfect way to get started with a work-from-home job.
You could be filling numbers into a spreadsheet, entering invoices into a database or fulfilling any number of other tasks. It’s a bit mindless, but for some, that’s less stressful than most jobs.
Next up, you could learn to program. There are dozens of different programming languages available, for applications that range from creating custom websites to making your own video games. This is one of the most versatile options on this list because programming is in such high demand and is valuable for so many things.
If you’re skilled in a worthwhile language, your potential is virtually limitless. The problem is usually getting started. Thankfully, sites like Codecademy are available to teach you everything you need to know, completely for free.
Once you learn a programming language, you’ll gain experience quickly by knocking out odd jobs for various employers or by working full-time for one with a specific niche. But eventually, you might turn to more creative work.
If you create your own app (which is much like creating your own website), you could potentially create a stream of recurring revenue that lasts indefinitely, especially if you charge for downloads, offer in-app purchases or double down on advertising.
29Focus on real estate
If you have the spare capital, consider investing in a rental property (or two). If you take your time and choose good tenants, you should be able to earn more in rental income than you’ll spend in mortgage payments and maintenance.
This alone may not provide you a full salary, but it’s a nice extra chunk of income that you won’t have to leave your house for. Just keep in mind that landlords do have many responsibilities, including ensuring proper maintenance of the property and handling tenant turnover.
30 Open your home
If you feel comfortable with having other people in your own home, you can open it up temporarily to new guests in a handful of different ways.
You could rent out a room or rent the entire place to travelers with an app like Airbnb. Or, if you’re feeling even more entrepreneurial, you could convert your home into a full-on bed and breakfast. Either way, you can take care of almost all your responsibilities from the comfort of your home.
31Tutor and teach
Chances are, you have something you can teach.
- Were you a rock star accountant at your last job? Perhaps you can teach people to do their own taxes.
- Do you remember being a whiz in calculus in college? Consider going to a college campus and offering your tutoring services.
- Do you know how to play an instrument? Post a classified ad for one-on-one lessons.
Most things can be taught in your own home, and once you build a reputation for yourself, new students will constantly trickle in.
Most businesses rely on a sales team to secure incoming revenue, and those salespeople typically rely on phone calls and emails to make new contacts, so why not step into that role yourself?
You can try for a full-time sales position you can do from home, or you can work out a deal to earn a commission for each sale or referral you make to a given company. If you have sales experience, this could be a lucrative opportunity for you.
If you’re less about closing deals and more about finding the best fits for an organisation, you can prospect instead of sell.
As a sales prospector, you’ll be leveraging your network of contacts and pools of potential contacts given to you by an organisation, or tapping other sources to find interested candidates to pass on to other sales staff. Prospecting jobs are usually less stressful than full-on sales roles, but they don’t have the same income potential.
You don’t need any special training or education to be an underwriter, but you will need to become familiar with the underwriting processes of the company you apply for. Underwriting is the process of analysing risk and value, usually in the financial and insurance industries.
There’s often a straightforward process to follow, which includes collecting information, entering data, doing calculations and making judgments based on what you know, meaning that this work can be done entirely from home in most cases.
35Take surveys and participate in focus groups
Companies are more than willing to pay people for their opinions, often in the forms of surveys and focus groups. The amount of money you make here can vary wildly; you might make only $1 for a survey that takes you 20 minutes, or you might get $150 for watching a pilot of a TV show and giving a few statements about what you think.
If you enjoy this evaluative work, it can be worth pursuing, but don’t expect a massive paycheck. There are many sites dedicated to helping you get started.
36Flip garage-sale finds
This option veers slightly toward cheating, because you’ll have to leave the house at some point.
Many people have made a living by going to garage sales, thrift stores or even junkyards to find inexpensive yet valuable goods to “flip” on the internet and sell them for more than they originally paid. Depending on your profit margin, there’s really no ceiling to your earning potential here.
Thanks to the prominence of online project-management software, you can be a project manager from the comfort of your home.
Help businesses complete development projects, writing assignments, design jobs or anything else you can think of. If your skills lie in organisation, communication and coordination, this is the job for you.
People build new websites, apps and games all the time, but before they roll them out to the public, it’s important they be tested for quality.
Quality assurance testing (QA testing for short) is a gig that lets you try out these products while they’re still in beta. It helps if you have experience in programming or UI/UX design, but that’s not necessary in most cases.
You could also offer research as a service to companies, in a number of different ways. If you’re assisting a busy entrepreneur, you could help that person by reading new books and summarising them.
If you’re working for a marketing agency, you could conduct surveys and other forms of market research. People are willing to pay for information, so if you can get it easily, you can land a steady gig.
Event planners have the potential to make big money, depending on their experience and the nature of the event.
You could go the professional route, working with non-profits to throw major fund-raisers, or the personal route, planning things like weddings and birthday parties. Either way, your ability to organise, co-ordinate and entertain people will come in handy.
Related: Event Planning Sample Business Plan
Do you know a second language? If so, you could probably find easy work as a translator. Common language translations, like Spanish to English, or vice versa, will offer plentiful opportunities for a relatively low rate, while rarer languages, like Farsi, will provide fewer, but more lucrative opportunities.
Consider expanding your knowledge with a third, or even a fourth language to maximise your opportunities. You can even do it for free.
We live in the information age, and companies are desperate to gather and interpret as much data as possible – whether that’s information about their customers, data points for their marketing campaigns or financial information. You can fill a need by creating reports from these data points and drawing conclusions and/or making recommendations from them.
The only problem is that you’ll probably need some experience in data analysis to do this. Beyond that, there’s no need to go to a physical office to work, since data is accessible anywhere.
43Hire and scout
Human resources is always going to be an important industry, and you can help fill the gaps for companies in almost any sector.
Most companies don’t have any problem attracting applicants for entry-level jobs, but when it comes to top-talent positions, they rely on active scouting to find the best candidates.
Build your social media presence up as a recruiter, and you’ll be able to scour the social web for the perfect candidates for your clients’ job openings (and make decent money in the process).
44Be a transcriptionist
As you might imagine, transcription is not a labor-intensive or skill-intensive job, and accordingly, pay is minimal. Still, typing out subtitles for movies, TV shows and other forms of video and audio can be a source of extra income.
If you’re interested in building a more stable job from this opportunity, there’s one solid-paying area to try: the medical industry. Writing out dictated voice memos from physicians pays more and demands more, but is still approachable enough for almost anyone to learn.
45Make websites for others
Thousands of people want to make new websites every day. The problem is that most of them don’t know how to do it, and they’ll gladly pay someone who can walk them through the steps.
Even though we’re now in an age of emails, texts and social media, many people still prefer phone calls when they need customer service. That means companies need people to answer those calls.
While working in a call centre may not be your idea of a great career, it’s much more pleasant when you’re using a headset in the privacy of your own home. This is an especially valuable option if you don’t have a wide skill set or you’re interested in having minimal responsibilities.
On the flip side, you could find a job that has you making calls, as well. I’ve already included general sales positions on this list, but there are many other opportunities to make calls for businesses.
You may find yourself prospecting for other members of the sales staff, or following up with customers to capture their opinions about a recent purchase. You’ll have to dig for these opportunities (rather than making them yourself), but they’re out there.
48Provide IT support
Almost every business needs some degree of technical support, whether it’s for their employees or for their customers. And even if you don’t have a degree in computer science, you likely have the technical prowess necessary to fill that role.
If you use a remote desktop app, you’ll be able to access other people’s devices without having to be nearby; and for most other issues, you’ll be able to talk or chat people through the process.
49Open shop in or around your home
If you have a skill that requires some level of human contact, you can always open up your business in or around your home – that way, you can get the best of both worlds. For example, if you’re an auto mechanic, you could open a small car repair business by using your driveway and your garage (if it’s big enough). Or, if you’re an accountant, you could set up a home office to help people with their tax returns.
50Buy a franchise
Buying a franchise is only an option if you have free capital to invest, but it can be advantageous. When you first start out, you’ll need to be hands-on with the business and to make in-person visits from time to time. But eventually your operation should stabilise and provide you a stream of revenue that doesn’t require much work beyond occasional remote communication.
Where to look
All these options sound nice, but where can you actually find jobs like these?
- Ask and network. Your first option is to simply ask. Talk to your bosses and supervisors about the possibility of transitioning to a remote position. If that doesn’t work, go out and network; try to meet people offering opportunities you can take.
- Get new education and training. If you don’t currently have the skill set for a position of interest in the list above, you can go back to college or go into training to develop it. When you do, talk to your teachers about future opportunities – they likely have connections.
- Use job application sites. You can also go the more conventional route by scouting job application boards, like Monster or Craigslist. Be smart here; not every “work from home” opportunity is legitimate, so do some research before applying.
- Use e-commerce. You could build a business using an existing platform, such as Amazon, eBay or Etsy, to start selling your products, if you are selling physical products.
- Start from scratch. Finally, and most importantly, you can build everything yourself from scratch. Become an entrepreneur, launch a website and make your own rules.
How to get started
Beyond that, when you get started working from home, there are a few things you’ll need to do (or at least keep in mind):
- Remember that remote work isn’t a paradise. As exciting and perfect as working from home seems on the surface, it isn’t always a good thing. It can get lonely, motivation is a challenge, and you might just go stir crazy if you don’t take care of yourself.
- Develop yourself. No matter what you do, try to develop your skills and abilities along the way. It will come in handy in the future.
- Create a dedicated workspace. Don’t just sit on the couch with a laptop. Create a home office to earn the psychological benefits of “going to work.” Doing so also has tax write-off benefits.
- Hedge your bets. If you’re becoming an independent contractor, consider learning two new sets of skills or pursuing two types of jobs. It never hurts to hedge your bets.
- Set goals for applications (and be relentless). If you’re looking for work-from-home opportunities, set goals for yourself, and don’t give up until you reach them.
- Under-promise and over-deliver. If you want to keep your job, you’ll need to under-promise and over-deliver on everything. Competition is fierce and relationships are less personal, so your performance matters a great deal.
By this point, you should have some solid “next steps” for building your work-from-home career. Whether you’re following a lifelong passion (be careful here) or merely seizing a notable opportunity, consider this your chance to earn a significant salary without leaving the comfort of your home (unless by choice).
The world of working from home is far less intimidating and less fantastical than it seems. All you have to do is work for it.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
3 Actionable Insights To Make Your Investment Pitch Perfect
The best pitches aren’t just short and to the point, they deliver on investor expectations and needs.
The best pitches aren’t just short and to the point, they deliver on investor expectations and needs.
1. Confront your product and market flaws from the start
Investors come from business and investment backgrounds. They will recognise the potential dangers in your business model. If you ignore these elements, you’re not addressing key concerns they may have, and how you will protect the business against them.
DO THIS: Look at your business from every angle. Where are your potential weaknesses, and what is your plan to overcome them?
2. Pitch to the right investors
The sectors and mandates that different investors and funds follow dictates the businesses that will interest them. Pitching your business to the wrong investors wastes their time, your time, and potentially damages your brand in the market place — waste the time of too many investors, and the word will spread.
DO THIS: Research the investors and funds you are pitching to thoroughly. This will narrow your focus, and help you develop your pitch deck. It will also help you unpack the areas of the business that you’ve discovered are important to the particular investors you’re pitching to.
3. Don’t follow fads
Investors aren’t interested in ‘flash in the pan’ business ideas. They care about products that stand a chance of long-term success. You might start off selling to a niche audience, but the goal must be to reach a wider audience as the product develops and matures.
DO THIS: Critically evaluate the staying power of your business idea. Is it a product that’s trendy but could lose traction as market fads change, or does it solve a real and enduring need?
5 Tips To Get You Ready To Launch That Business Now
Are you dreaming about becoming an entrepreneur, but not sure whether you’re ready to take the plunge? Some of the world’s top entrepreneurs weigh in on what it takes to be a success.
1. Think out the box
A general rule of thumb is that you should do what you know. Spend time in an industry before launching your business, build up a network and understand your target market and their needs. This is all sound advice, and has been the foundation of many successful start-ups.
However, there is an inherent danger that entrepreneurs should avoid at all costs: Many industries are bound by legacy ideas and systems that are the enemy of disruption and innovation. Entrepreneurs who didn’t know something couldn’t be done are often the ones who find a way to make it happen.
Approach an industry or idea with fresh eyes. Take lessons from other industries. Don’t be limited by your lack of knowledge — go out and learn, even if you’re learning on the fly.
Airbnb, Uber and Netflix are three of the most disruptive businesses in the world today, and they’ve achieved phenomenal success because they didn’t buy into the simple and engrained idea that an accommodation business should own property, a taxi service should own vehicles, or a movie rentals business needed to own DVDs.
If you really want to differentiate, you need to lead, not follow.
“Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.” — Sara Blakely, Spanx founder and self-made billionaire
2. Be an open-source person
Have you been delaying launching your own business because you’re not sure if you’re ready? Some of the most successful entrepreneurs have taken the plunge and learnt along the way. Gil Oved and Ran Neu-Ner, founders of The Creative Counsel — South Africa’s biggest advertising agency with an annual turnover of R750 million — followed this simple rule in their start-up days: They always bit off more than they could chew, and then chewed like hell.
Their philosophy was that ‘no’ was never the end of a negotiation, but the beginning of one. This tenacity kept them going, even though they spent their first year barely making ends meet.
Gil and Ran are not alone in their thinking. Robin Olivier, founder of Digicape, a R240 million Apple products and services business, prepared himself for entrepreneurship by putting his hand up for anything and everything that came his way. “I’ve always been like that. I jump in with two feet and figure things out along the way.” For Robin, that’s the only way you learn.
Joshin Raghubar, founder of iKineo and the chairman of Bandwidth Barn and the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative, began his career working for Ravi Naidoo at African Interactive. At 23, he found himself project managing the African Connection Rally, a massive partnership with the Department of Transport. Why? Because he was always ready to step in, learn something new, offer his opinion and take on any challenge.
Joshin believes that successful entrepreneurs are open-source people who are willing and able to consistently and continuously learn new things. If you’re moving forward every day, you’re already on the path to success.
3. Be significant
Start-ups are tough. They are lonely, and they take a lot from you physically, mentally and emotionally. Passion and significance are two key components that will keep you going through your darkest hours. If you can answer why you are doing something, you’ll be able to forge on, even when the challenges ahead seem almost insurmountable.
“If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it,” says Elon Musk, who isn’t letting go of his dream to colonise Mars during his lifetime, despite many challenging tasks ahead of him. The lesson is simple: Whatever you endeavour to accomplish, out of this world or not, do not allow yourself to be deterred by the odds. Bravely forge ahead.
Steve Jobs shared a similar outlook. Before entering into business with Steve Wozniak, he dropped out of college and took time off figuring out what he wanted to do with his life.
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work,” he said. “And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
If you know you want to be an entrepreneur, but you aren’t sure what you should be doing or haven’t found the right business idea, think about the things that truly matter to you. What problem would you ultimately like to solve? Sometimes you need to build up to it, and start with one thing that will lead you to the next (consider how Musk built the Tesla to fund other parts of his business), but once you’re on the path to significance, nothing will hold you back.
“The key to realising a dream is to focus not on success but on significance — and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.” — Oprah Winfrey, self-made billionaire media mogul
4. Look for opportunities in every challenge
Some people see challenges, others see opportunities. The latter are known as entrepreneurs. Some of the most successful businesses have been launched in the midst of recessions. How? Because entrepreneurs aren’t daunted by a challenge. In fact, challenges are great, because they keep the competitive pool smaller.
Vinny Lingham, Shark Tank South Africa investor and serial entrepreneur, says that he would rather have been homeless than not start a company because he didn’t have any finances. He sold his house, rented back a room in his (now former) home, and launched Clicks2Customers, a business that hit the R100 million turnover mark three years later. He didn’t see the challenge; he focused on the opportunity.
You’ll have to keep a close eye on cash flow and find some really smart solutions to real-life problems, but that’s the foundation of a great start-up. It’s all about the lens you see the world through. Are you open to opportunities, or limited by challenges?
“Dear optimist, pessimist, and realist — while you guys were busy arguing about the glass of wine, I drank it! Sincerely, the opportunist!”— Lori Greiner, Shark Tank US investor
5. Failure is a critical element of success
Don’t let failure hold you back, or worse yet, keep you from trying. You already know that failure is a part of the business of entrepreneurship, but it’s easier said than done when you’re picking yourself back up after a bad break. Remember that with a shift in your perspective you can transform the stumbles and falls into opportunities to improve yourself and your business offerings. What didn’t work? What did? Keep at it — you only have to get it right once.
Oprah agrees. “At some point, you are bound to stumble, because if you’re constantly doing what we do, raising the bar; if you’re constantly pushing yourself higher, higher, the law of averages — not to mention the Myth of Icarus — predicts that you will at some point fall. And when you do I want you to know this, remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”
And what about Richard Branson? The billionaire mogul has launched more than 200 successful ventures, but he’s also had some dismal failures, including Virgin Cola and Virgin Brides. If he didn’t ‘screw it, just do it’ in the face of failure, where might he be today?
Instead, he believes in getting back up and pushing on. “The main thing is, if you have an idea for business, as I say, screw it, just do it. Give it a go. You may fall flat on your face, but you pick yourself up and keep trying until you succeed,” he says.
There’s no such thing as a successful entrepreneur who didn’t fail while they found their success. But, there are many, many entrepreneurs who haven’t found success because they’ve been too afraid to fail. Which will you be?
“Don’t worry about failure. You only have to be right once.” — Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox
The 3 Blueprints For Starting A Business
There are three templates to starting a business. Get this first step right, and success will fall into place.
“One reason that America continues to do so well as a market,” an economist explained to the audience at a recent conference, “is that they are still leading the charge to do new things. In addition to pioneering new products, they are still pushing the boundaries of frontiers like space-travel and technology. They don’t merely copy the products made in other countries. They make and do entirely new things, and that matters.
“By contrast,” he explained, “many of the older economies, like Europe, are just ‘kicking the can down the road’. They don’t really have a vision for the future. They’re just trying to maintain what is, to survive a little longer.”
Grow or shrink
Companies, countries and entire economies are all broadly following one of these two approaches. One is the bold, growth option, while the other is only about maintaining what already exists. The trouble with maintaining, however, is that, in a dynamic system, you tend to be either growing or shrinking. A dynamic system rarely tolerates anything simply standing still. To stand still is, often, to shrink.
Once in a lifetime chance
Your company, team or organisation’s founding moment is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this one right. Are you simply going to kick the can down the road? Or do you want to build spaceships? Are you going to be a soulless ‘also played’? Or would you prefer to do something new and meaningful? Mission matters greatly.
In Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations are Ten Times Better, Faster, and Cheaper than Yours (and what to do about it), Salim Ismail calls it a ‘Massive Transformative Purpose’. The stronger your purpose, the more you attract tribes of people, both as aspiring employees and as a supporting community of customers.
This is not to say that you are obliged to invent something brand new and original. A good deal of research is showing that pioneers in a new industry do not tend to do as well, or last as long, as the ‘settlers’ who come after them. One reason is that the pioneers have to make all the initial mistakes. The settlers get to enjoy greater leverage, by observing what has already worked or failed, then capitalising on that learning.
The idea of founding a company that thrives on meaning has more to do with how meaningful the work is, and how much of a drive to achieve goals is built into your corporation.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is certainly not the pioneering organisation in space-travel. We have left earth’s atmosphere before, decades ago. In that sense, SpaceX is a settler, and not a pioneer. That said, it is nevertheless a strongly goal-oriented, purpose-driven organisation. You don’t have to invent something entirely new to create a mission-driven company.
The Israeli Defense Forces is highly mission-driven, because it has to be. Pixar is mission driven, because it chooses to be, and because it believes in magic.
Being mission-driven, from the top to the bottom of an organisation, changes the energy. It converts ‘mere work’ into ‘shared purpose’.
Sociologist James Baron and his group of experts led a study in the mid-90s looking at how people founded their companies, across a wide spectrum of industries, including hardware, software, medical devices, research and manufacturing.
The study asked about their original blueprints. What organisational models did they have in mind when they started?
Baron determined that there were three templates for starting a business. You might start your company based on:
- A Professional blueprint, in which you hire people with a preference for specific skills (prior to its fall from grace, Kodak hired people based on specific educational qualifications)
- A Star blueprint, in which you hire ‘superstars’ based on future potential, placing a premium on choosing or poaching the brightest hires. You look for raw potential, not current knowledge
- A Commitment blueprint, in which you believe that skills are nice, but cultural fit and buy-in to shared values is more important. You build strong bonds to the company. Employees tend to be passionate about the mission.
Baron and his experts tracked the firms through the 1990s and into the next decade. Those that used the Commitment blueprint, which prioritises a shared sense of mission and values, greatly outperformed the others. The failure rate for firms with a Commitment blueprint was zero.
Failure rates were substantial for the Star blueprint, and more than three times worse for the Professional blueprint. It seems these approaches don’t keep people going in the same way that buy-in to a mission does.
Nevertheless, the Professional blueprint, which prioritises the specific skills on people’s CVs, tended to be the most common.
There were two other rare blueprints: Autocracies and bureaucracies, focusing on detailed rules and procedures. These blueprints were the most likely to fail, and autocratic was most likely to fail out of the two. This is an important point: Rules-based organisations and dictatorships, according to this finding, are so likely to fail that investing in them is not worthwhile. But where a culture of people is part of a mission, they are most likely to succeed. Translation: Autocracy rarely ever works, and systems of intense rules and guidelines work slightly less badly.
Rules and dictatorships = likely to fail.
Mission-driven culture = 100% success rate.
Most real-world autocrats would probably agree with this finding, if they heard it. Then they would continue to run their business as autocrats, because, they’d say, “My situation is different, I happen to be right, and people should do what I say.”
When you’re an autocrat, it’s hard to know that you’re an autocrat. When you create your business to follow a mission from the word go, and you allow a degree of genuine democracy in which others can outvote you for the good of the mission, you instil the possibility of overcoming this blind spot, sometimes in spite of yourself.
Now, here’s the kicker: The Commitment culture is extremely effective in starting an organisation and ensuring its initial survival. But over time, the same study found, it is not the best performer.
The challenge is that when organisations mature, encouraging layer upon layer of like-minded people tends to discourage innovation and original thinking. Too much shared value = groupthink.
So, what’s our total moral? In a best-case scenario, we need to start with a common mission and committed people, and focus on growing. Once we’ve matured, we need to make a point of bringing in diverse thought, in order to avoid too much homogeneous thinking and yes-mannery.
In Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant shows how these findings map perfectly onto the rise and fall of Polaroid. Like-mindedness worked well to get the brand going initially, but then, ultimately, the same like-mindedness prevented them from learning, growing, changing and adapting in a volatile market.
Like the IDF, they had a strong sense of shared purpose. But unlike the IDF, they were incapable of a belief system that said ‘the only tradition is that we have no traditions’. They were not a learning and growing organisation.
The more a company develops a culture, the more it will tend to hire for that culture, and the more resistant its own people will be to new ideas or contrary views.
So what if…?
What if you decided to be an organisation on an important mission, rather than merely a group of people kicking the can down the road?
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