It has been awhile since I did any posts on the business side of being an entrepreneur or self employment.    I apologize.   I’ve been busy with real work and… Minecraft. [hangs head]

I thought I take a few minutes to give the new-to-self-employed-home-business-entrepreneur crowd a chance to get a few bits of wisdom from the old Mongster.  Remember as always the following things.


1.       I am not a rich business owner promising instant wealth.
2.       I don’t have a business degree.
3.       YMMV  - look it up, learn it, live it.

Six years ago I started entertaining the idea of a home brew business or I should say, ‘I started entertaining the idea of making more money with little effort.’   I failed, miserably.    A byproduct of those early searches moved me towards IFWs.   Incentivized Free Websites are a way to bypass normal channels to get things, even money if you choose to, but yield almost a 1 to 1 ratio of work to profit.  So, I got in, got my free PS3 and got back out.   Well, actually, to be truthful, I got my $100 PS3 and got out.   I don’t even know if they still hold the same quality and value that they did when I was using them.  I’ll have to check that out.    All I do know is that I stopped putting effort into them and they stopped producing results.  That was enough for me to leave them alone.

Next I started the blogging gig, for which I am still involved with, today.  It was more an exercise in writing about pop culture.  I was looking to hone my writing skills and maybe test the waters of making money with an Internet based business.

Have I made any money because of my writing?   It’s debatable.   The money I make from my other business could be directly related to blogging, in some way.  But to tell you the truth, I have never seen one check from Google Ads, Amazon, or any other monetized portion of my blogs.   Once again, not a lot of effort on my part yields not a lot of money on theirs.  I think you can see where I am going with this long assed rant.

Then, one day a Mongo shirt was sold.  I couldn’t believe it.  I started putting a little effort into doing Print on Demand t-shirt sales.   I translated the blogging about pop culture into design shirts around the subject.  Lo and behold, a little bit of effort yielded some results in a couple of checks.    A little more effort, a little blogging, a little social media interaction and a few bigger checks came through.   I thought, “Hey, this working thing is um… working.”

Over the last three years, I have made a lot of progress and for what it’s worth, I’ve been able to increase my gross shirt income to five figures, which is actually double what I made in my first year. I also learned a lot about taxes on self employed business models.   I must figure out how to get my cable, Internet, and Entertainment Weekly subscription as a write off for 2011.

Throughout that journey, I never forget where I was six years ago, listening to radio ads and get rich quick Internet schemes looking for the one that would be legitimate.

The truth is, if it’s a radio ad that talks about making instant millions or starting your home business with ‘My free informational CD’, chances are, the only one making any money is the guy in the ad.  First of all, anyone that tells you that they will send you a free CD is lying.  Actually, let me rephrase that.  They are giving you a free CD with stuff on it that costs you money, later on.  In fact, you may not even get through the call before they start asking you for your credit card information.   

Red Flag Number One
There is an old saying, “Give me five bucks and I will tell you the secret to becoming rich.”  Are we getting it, yet?  Let me slow that down for those of you playing at home.   The secret is getting someone to give you the five bucks and then telling them to do the exact same thing to someone else.  After enough suckers cough up the five bucks, you are rich.

Don’t get involved with a group that wants money or your credit card information up front.  Reputable talent agencies, of which I’ve dealt with, will always take a cut of the final profit.   Don’t ever think your little angel will be a famous star if you have to sign something and give that guy in the room at the Motel 6 a check up front.   That is a sure scam.    Just like someone telling you that you can make money or become rich just by getting their ‘Free Informational CD’.  Even those companies that operate legitimately in this manner provide you a clear indication of how much you will have to spend up front not after your credit card has multiple charges on it.  

Red Flag Number Two
That free informational CD.   That seems to be the common thread through various scams.   In fact, the most current one I’ve heard involves a company called DVDNow which offers you the chance to make money in the Movie Rental Kiosk Business.   They offer you the ‘Free CD’ and will probably end up charging your card if you either don’t cancel ahead of time.  And anyone who has gone this route can attest to the fact that trying to contact a live person in that tangled mess of a phone tree is damn near impossible.  It’s almost set up to have you miss the deadline which is exactly how they become rich while you waste your time on gimmicks and shoddy equipment or services.   Besides, I’ve been to their website and I can tell you this, you buy the equipment, you buy the movies and then you rent them out wherever you can set up your kiosk.  In fact, they don’t even give any kind of pricing on their website.

Red Flag Number Three
I call this one the ‘Charlie Sheen Rule’.   After you end up on the hook with a scam businesses, the help and warm fuzzy they showed you before, disappears.   As Charlie Sheen pointed out to a heckler who wasn’t happy with Sheen’s one man show, “Sorry, dude, already got your money.”   You may be able to get your credit card company to initiate a charge back or refund, but that takes time and you still have to pay your bills and won’t have a newfound stream of income coming in to cover it.

“Too good to be true” is a cliché, but clichés only get to become clichés by being a true statement in the first place.   Whenever you hear those commercials or see the catchy ads that promise wealth from a seemingly obvious outlet, it’s because they know their audience.    People who don’t need the money usually don’t fall victim to the ‘Get Rich Quick’ types of scams.   The companies figure that the unsuspecting person is in a bad way, financially, and they can use enticing and attractive promises to help you.   In the end, they are only interested in getting your money, not helping you get other people’s money.  
Don’t be deterred, though.   If you want to start your own business, do it.   But remember, it takes effort.    Frankly, if you want my honest opinion, do what you know.   My mother has a little side business that does some private party catering.   She does all the work herself and always has people recommending her for Christmas cookies or small weddings.  She has to turn people away who have been referred to her because she doesn’t have the resources to do huge parties and a lot of orders.   She knows her limits and operates within them.  

Another example; I have a friend who does wonderful cupcakes.  These are not just yellow or devil’s food with some simple icing.  These are fancy cupcakes with various flavors and some real care put into the decorating.  She is a full time RN and mom that has this little side business.    She recently got a promotion so she can’t see herself doing the cupcake thing full time.  She’d have to do way too many cupcakes to compensate for the loss in salary from her job.  But, eventually she may decide to expand.  The point is she isn’t making millions off of her business but she saw a niche that she could get into and put forth as much effort as she wanted out of it.  It’s not a get rich quick operation.  It builds clientele and credibility and small streams of revenue.

In my case, after giving up on trying to get rich quick, I went with what I knew how to do.  I started using PODs to sell funny t-shirts and used social media tools, like this blog and twitter to promote it.  I also relied heavily on a wonderful peer base of other designers that were more than gracious enough to get the word out.    I did what I knew and it has paid off over time.

The key takeaway is ‘over time’.  If you want to build up a successful business it takes time.  Now, timing factors in a great deal.  There are tons of success stories that involve having the right idea at the right moment.   It’s not that I want to sell you on the idea that you will never make a million dollars in a small window just by being lucky.  It can happen.  Then again, do you play the lottery?  Have you ever won the jackpot?  ‘Nuff said.  There isn’t a lot of skill in winning the lottery.  It takes luck.  But, like business, it takes persistence.  You can’t win if you don’t play.

Some of the greatest ideas started out in someone’s garage or on a cocktail napkin.  Yet, for every one of those brilliant, million dollar ideas, a million other dollar ideas failed.   You never hear about the failed businesses.  You’ll never hear them from people trying to sell you on the get rich quick method, either.  

No one wants to hear the truth when it comes to making money.  They just want the cars and luxury oceanfront homes and are more than happy to sell you the idea of becoming just like them.  Yet, it very rarely works out that way.   The funny thing is that I am constantly telling people what I do.  I shout it from the rooftops.  I continually post on my Facebook page about huge orders.  Why?  Well, it could be a little bit egotistical, I admit.  However, for the most part I am trying to share the success with people who want to take that plunge into POD designing.  I want to give them the encouragement to try.  If the world’s laziest designer can do it, so can they.

I’ll give you one last example of someone who made it big doing the home brew route.  Amanda Hocking is a twenty something novelist who has become a millionaire by selling eBooks on Amazon.   I can see your mouth is already watering and you’ve stopped reading my stuff and started writing the great American novel.   Well, hold up on that.

She’s famous because she is successful.   Again, you don’t hear about the other millions of writers that cannot sell a single piece of work, regardless of their talent.  Amanda’s success hinges on two very important factors.   She sells her books electronically on Amazon and writes in the genre of paranormal romantic fiction.    To put it another way; if the solar system was made up of writers, she would be Earth.   Everyone else would be Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and the rest of the planets.   I would be Pluto. 

Amanda writes in a genre that is really popular and sustainable.  My wife owns a ton of these types of books.  They are literally stacked three feet high on the night stand next to our bed.   Between Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries, the genre is doing well.   The other thing going for Amanda is that she can deliver a repeatable process very cheaply.   There is no printing.  It’s all electronic and the cost is substantially less than printed books.  Earth.  It is the distance from the sun with the right mix of minerals, chemicals, and gasses perfect for supporting life.    Amanda even dispels the magic of her fame by saying she went a long time before she sold anything.   It wasn’t an overnight success.   But it does give you something to think about in terms of self publishing.    But her business model probably only works in the electronic, self publishing, format.   No publishing house would be able to replicate her success and profit through traditional means.   Yet she has recently inked a deal for a hardcopy novel and is in talks about doing a film based on her works.

Still, I know some businesses that lost their luster when they went big time.   In fact, I know of one in my area that I was attracted to because of its home grown, grass roots business model.  I continually tried to get a job there to no avail.  Then, they got some big time investors and now share ownership of the company with a board on the west coast.  They’ve pretty much moved everything out to the Bay area.  Now, they are relying more on technology than they were on human involvement.  After promising no layoffs, they ended up laying off a dozen employees.  That may not seem like a lot but when you only have 250 employees, that is like 5% of their workforce.  I’m not saying it is a bad company.  It’s just different, now.  Call it sour graps but that trendy, indie business model just mirrors everything else in this world that seems broken in business.

My philosophy is that if it isn’t broke, why fix it?   Just ask my mom.  Just ask Amanda.  Just ask me.  I’m not ready for overnight success.  I want to be around for awhile.  Don’t get me wrong.  If I made a million dollars from my shirts, I wouldn’t complain.   But once I hit that milestone, where do I go?  This is why I would have never made it in business school.  I would rather build out than up.  I would rather have sustainability over profitability in the long run.  Then again, I also put forth very little effort and am reaping the benefits.   I’m better than an instant millionaire.  I am the lazy success.

 

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