9 new ideas that may sway on-the-fence entrepreneurs

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Are you considering entrepreneurship? It’s all the rage right now because the bar at the start line has never been lower. Here are nine new ideas about entrepreneurship that will make you feel like you can do it, too. Right now:

1. You don’t need a venture capitalist, you are the venture capitalist.
Today, you can make something people want without spending money. Technology is simple enough to use that you don’t need to pay for high-end software to get a business off the ground. If you can figure out how to pay for food and lodging (hello, mom and dad) then you can fund your own startup.

2. For a killer marketing plan make a list of your friends.
“Businesses these days are built on word of mouth,” says Scott Fox, author of Internet Riches. You know 200 people. Send them an email telling them about your business. If it’s great, word of mouth will generate a customer base. If your business isn’t great, you’ll know right away.

This can be true offline as well. Daniela Corte started with an even smaller base than 200. She gave five friends custom-fitted pants. “I wanted this pair of pants to be their favorite pair,” she says. And it worked. After interviewing the friends about fit and texture preferences, Corte created pants that were buzz worthy, and she grew a multi-national business from those first five women raving about their pants.

3. Globalization is good for you.
As long as your needs are well defined, hiring a programmer in India is a great way to save money. When Katherine Lee wanted to create a database of yarns for her business Sweaterbabe.com, she paid an Indian programmer $250 — a significantly lower price than US developers would have charged.

But you have to know what you’re doing when you outsource to India. If you’re looking for someone to hold your hand and teach you about online design, forget it. But you can pay the online design maven her US rates and then send the design plan to the guy in India to execute.

4. You only need to master a small niche.
Google makes searching so effective that customers with a very specific interest can find businesses with a very specific interest — at such a high rate that niche businesses are more viable than ever before (like mobile game development). This is the premise of Chris Anderson‘s book, The Long Tail, which encourages entrepreneurs to focus on the small areas of the world that are neglected by big retailers because the market is not big enough.

And Fox points out that everyone knows a lot about something, so the best place in the long tail to start experimenting is where you have a good deal of specialized knowledge — which is likely to be a niche.

5. You don’t need a widget, you can sell yourself.
The idea of an Internet startup is to grow an audience first, and then figure out how to make money. So a logical place to turn to is yourself, because if you can build an audience, then you’re an expert in something.

At the sprightly age of 24, Ramit Sethi writes the very popular personal finance blog iwillteachyoutoberich.com. He has parlayed this success into a public speaking career (seriously — Fortune 500 companies are paying him to come talk to employees about finance) and a book-writing career (stay tuned for his advice on how to recruit hotshots like him to your company).

6. You don’t have to quit your day job.
Jessa Crispin did not set out to start a business. She was just writing books reviews and posting them on her web site, Bookslut. The reviews were so popular that eventually she was able to quit her job and make Bookslut her fulltime job. But she built the business while working at another job.

Of course, not everyone is a genius on the first try like Crispin. But Fox points out, “The feedback loop is short. So you can try several different things to see what works.” The trick is to recognize when your idea is going nowhere before you’ve sunk too much time into it.

7. Entrepreneurship is about choosing a lifestyle.
Most entrepreneurs don’t start a business to get rich, they start a business so they can live the life they want. Maybe they want to be creative, maybe they want to do what they’re passionate about, increasingly, they want to have flexibility to manage their own workday.

When Corte had a baby she realized that her current business model with daily fittings was too time-intensive. So she moved her retail business to online in order to continue to be able to offer her clothes direct to consumers but to regain time for her daughter.

8. You don’t need to wait to cash out.
The 1980s brought us real estate flipping; the new millennium brings us web site flipping. Not only are people auctioning their companies on eBay for denominations formerly reserved for successful garage sales, but there are more than 70 Internet locations where people are buying and selling web sites 24 hours a day.

Tom Kuegler, partner at New Concept Factory, runs an incubator that is starting eight Internet companies each quarter. He estimates that most of these companies he’ll “unload at a low price” and two out of twenty-four will grow into “super companies.” If this sounds pie-in-the-sky to you, consider that Kuegler is no neophyte. He’s been starting and selling Internet companies since 1994.

9. Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking, and you can change the world.
This idea comes from eighteen-year-old Ben Casnocha, who founded Comcate, a leading software company for governments, when he was twelve years old. Yep. That’s right. Twelve years old.

Casnocha says, “Entrepreneurship has a lot to do with business but it is a way of thinking about things that everyone can do: Seeing individuals as empowered as agents of change; Trying to figure out the status quo, the normal thing, and then thinking about what we can do differently. If more people thought like entrepreneurs the world could be a better place.”

16 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    great, you’re telling people to outsource programming jobs. That will be wonderful news to all the people who work as freelance programmers here. Stupid.

  2. Diana
    Diana says:

    Maybe I missed something… what are these del.icio.us/Digg links for? Why do they only show up on the comments pages?

  3. Erik
    Erik says:

    Did you write “it’s stupid to outsource programming jobs to India” because they won’t do a good job or because you’re scared you won’t have any work? I think it’s the latter…maybe you’ll have to move your skill set upstream to compete.

  4. Jimbo
    Jimbo says:

    Is “freelance programmer” even a job title?
    To be clear, I think globalisation is likely to be a continuing trend regardless of Penelope’s endorsement/non-endorsement. If you can’t even comprehend that, no wonder I am getting Rajesh to do my code…

  5. CrankMama
    CrankMama says:

    I love this

    “Seeing individuals as empowered as agents of change; Trying to figure out the status quo, the normal thing, and then thinking about what we can do differently. If more people thought like entrepreneurs the world could be a better place.”


  6. AffiliateMax.com
    AffiliateMax.com says:

    My idea for #10 would be – it’s not rocket science: running your own business is mostly about common sense. The bits you don’t understand you can outsource (accounts, web design, etc). The internet offers a great opportunity to ‘test the water’ with very little financial capital. The most important thing is to take action – you can read ebooks, blogs and tips all day long but the best way to learn is to do.

  7. Rita
    Rita says:

    I’ve read a ton of articles recently about becoming an entrepreneur NOW. Frankly, I think the majority of people looking to be entrepreneurs would be better off if they stuck with their day jobs, or looked for a new job if they are unhappy in their current one. Studies have shown most businesses fail within five years, and that people work more hours on their own businesses than they do in a 9 to 5 job.

  8. Jeremy Brown
    Jeremy Brown says:

    #9 YES Penelope!! I love it. I don’t know about other entrepreneurs, but I’m in it to change the world…or at least change a nice slice of it.

  9. Aaron Cantrall
    Aaron Cantrall says:

    Apparently I am reading this 7 years after you wrote this thanks to the suggestions of Stumble Upon. I find that a lot of this still holds true. My one question would be when you are creating a product or service for a niche, how do you best get the word out to your target audience without reaching out through unsolicited emails? Long tail SEO certainly is a strategy in the long run, but when you’re looking to make more of an immediate impact for your business, what would you suggest?

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