Choosing a business for financial freedom
November 17, 2004 4:42 PM   Subscribe

From what I understand, the surest way to professional and financial freedom is through entrepreneurship. Whether you agree with this or not, if you decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge, what type of business would you create and why?
posted by jasondigitized to Work & Money (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've been doing medical software for a bunch of years. I'd do something with that.

I'd talk about HIPAA, and lowering malpractice cases through efficient usage of patient information. I'd work in wireless and touchscreen. I'd also do profit sharing so doctors could afford it, and I'd do a robust electronic data interchange interface for billing and patient exports.
posted by taumeson at 5:45 PM on November 17, 2004

If I ran a business, by Krisjohn.

If I ran a business, I would run one that made money, not lost money. It's obvious people.

I'd make stuff people wanted, and I'd sell it for more than it cost me to make, not less. This isn't rocket science, unless I was selling rockets, in which case it would be.


Apollogies to Ed Helms. Particularly, sorry I can't remember who you wanted killed.

More seriously, I know from experience that were I to do the entrepreneurial thing I'd fail almost before I started because I know that most people aren't interested in what I'm interested in. I'd never be able to balance a compelling product with the lowest common denominator.

Anyway, small businesses only get screwed over by large businesses in exactly the same way employees get screwed over by employers. There is no freedom.
posted by krisjohn at 5:46 PM on November 17, 2004

Hypothetically, if I were only semi-ambitious (and I had some startup capital), I would start a dry cleaners/shirt laundry. More entrepreneur millionaires have made their money in this business than any other.

Or, I would steal Kabloom's business model and saturate the big Midwestern cities.
posted by trharlan at 5:48 PM on November 17, 2004

A chain of laundromat/bars existing solely on college campuses, with stylish black machines that page you (like at restaurants) when a cycle is done.

"BarTV", featuring programming designed to be watched without sound: best auto racing crashes, surfing/snowboarding highlights, bikini contests.

"The Hook Up", a service that helps people connect and set up all the electronics they get for Christmas.
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:15 PM on November 17, 2004

Like trharlan said, I would look for a successful model in a market that is not mature, imitate it and improve it. You can learn so much from what the other players have done, they have developed a market for you, and in many fields ever-lower cost of technology means you can get in the game cheaper than they could.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:17 PM on November 17, 2004

A chain of laundromat/bars existing solely on college campuses

Because nobody spends money like broke college students!
posted by kindall at 6:22 PM on November 17, 2004

Schoolgirl report has some great ideas there for all the potential entrepreneurs. I have had conversations recently with several successful entrepreneurs (and these were not e-commerce types from the 90's - just about anyone could make money then, at least before the crash) and a universal tenet seemed to be that the idea itself doesn't really matter that much. It has to be good enough to be marketable, but the execution far outweighs in importance the idea itself - attending to customers, attending to cost, attending to quality, making everything the best, getting your employees as excited about making the business work as you are, etc. Done well, any of schoolgirl report's ideas could probably be turned into a successful business. Oh, the kicker from the entrepreneurs, you probably have to be willing to risk everything, your savings, your house, your marriage, your reputation; in all likelihood it is the intensity of that risk which focuses the concentration and energy and leads to success in the end.
posted by caddis at 6:57 PM on November 17, 2004

I've been really intrigued by Seth Godin's changethis manifesto,The Bootstrappers Bible
as a way of thinking about starting a business with no money. Mind you I haven't *done* anything about it, so who know's if it's practical, but I find the changethis manifestos generally to be really high quality and interesting.

Also, it's available for free .pdf download for another few days, so check it out.
posted by jasper411 at 7:38 PM on November 17, 2004

What is Schoolgirl Report? I googled it and came up empty.
posted by lometogo at 8:26 PM on November 17, 2004

schoolgirl report
posted by smackfu at 8:30 PM on November 17, 2004

I googled Schoolgirl Report and got plenty of stuff, but I don't think it's what caddis was talking about.
posted by krisjohn at 8:34 PM on November 17, 2004

A genetic diagnostic service / antiepileptic drug autoselector for persons with epilepsy.

Watch for it :)
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:50 PM on November 17, 2004

Property management. My mom owns a bunch of properties. She buys low, sells high, and rents in-between. Does all her own financing, hasn't paid income tax in 10 years.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:14 PM on November 17, 2004

a) freelance graphic design, which I am considering after school is out

b) personal chef

Reasons for both would be similar - the sense of ownership and calling the shots and not having a boss. And yes, I realize every client is a "boss" but that's still different.
posted by O9scar at 9:16 PM on November 17, 2004

I'd open something like Peanut Butter & Ellie's in the Bay Area.

So if anyone has any money they want to give me, email me.
posted by padraigin at 9:48 PM on November 17, 2004

Cash businesses are nice. Nudge nudge wink wink. Laundromat. Vending Machines. Drug dealing.
Or selling something to would-be entrepeneurs. I'm not kidding. But I can't think of what that something would be.
posted by TimeFactor at 10:22 PM on November 17, 2004

Schulm├Ądchen-Report [~nsfw]

I've done the freelance route, and crashed out, so I may not be the best advisor. I still think I have marketable skills there, but you have to reach a certain plateau to have a steady income or enough to tide you over the tough times, and I never reached that. (Naturally, my biggest burst of business came when I was logistically incapable of handling it.) But it's the surest way, probably, to doing what you love and believing the money will follow.

That said, I will be in the near future doing what I can to reboot my life and create probably several microbusinesses including a couple of blogs and, at long last, actually dipping into real honest-to-god coding as I've always promised myself. I've lived through several computer revolutions already, seen them coming, and failed to do a damn thing about it, because I was happy as a clam doing something else, and now I've got squat to show for it. Basically what I am good at is seeing optimizations of what people are doing, in this case online, and finding ways to make it a lot easier. Whether that translates into transfers of small slips of green paper is, this time, vitally important to me, but I can't really predict that in advance. I do hope that once again sticking to what I know and love will carry me through, but this time I've got to be a lot more pragmatic about it. The guys at Panic, for example, provide good inspiration.

Not only do I want to provide for myself, but I'm at a point where I see a number of crying needs out there. I want to give back to my community, and I want to have the wherewithal to make those contributions more than, you know, annually ladling out soup. I want to use my brilliance (because, of course, entrepreneur begins with ego) to effect real change where it counts. This tilts toward real estate and property management but with an investor's eye and a humanitarian's heart. Historic preservation, community revitalization. I'd like to develop that old warehouse plot by the railroad tracks into condos with a river and park view. I'd like to make the old hotel downtown a highrise penthouse. I'd like to pick off the ten worst properties in this neighborhood where I grew up and turn them into peacocks. I'd like to help Habitat for Humanity build twice as many houses every year. As it happens, non-profit real-estate development is a booming business, but you have to have a lot of cash to get started.

Taking a long view, or one helpful to you, I'd look into franchising. But I wouldn't want to be a franchisee, I'd want to be the franchisor. It's a terrific way to sit on your ass and make money, honestly, but you've got to work that ass to the bone to make the idea and then the brand a success. You'll find, though, that there are thousands of suckers unimaginative investors who will prefer to buy into your idea rather than finding one on their own.
posted by dhartung at 10:47 PM on November 17, 2004

That bootstrappers thing looks very snake-oily. The beginning at least is packed with this "positive energy" crap and a bunch of "this random scheme worked, so yours can too" kind of stuff.

It's too random. Lots of people try really hard to start a business and really believe they can do it, you just never hear from the losers.

Were I ever to start a business, it would have grown up naturally. By that I mean, you start with word of mouth and backyard stuff. Move to the weekend markets then finally fund a shop. This would all be driven by demand, not some peice of paper in my wallet that says I'll have a successful busines in X years.
posted by krisjohn at 11:02 PM on November 17, 2004

I'm in the middle of a job hunt now (graduating soon - yea!) and defense companies are hiring for positions that don't even exist yet; they just want to have the people on salary and ready to go. Because things are currently growing so fast in defense - due to dramatic increases in military spending and dramatic privatization and sub-contracting of many military functions - its impossible for companies to even predict how many new people they need, so they're just hiring as many qualified people as they can.

So anyway, if I was going to be any businees in the world right now, I'd be a defense contractor.
posted by ChasFile at 11:36 PM on November 17, 2004

I run 2 (small) businesses in the UK. One is entertainment-related, the other around learning and development consultancy for businesses.

I'd offer the obvious: that if you can find something that....
(a) You LIKE doing and
(b) You're GOOD at
....then it's sooooo much easier.

It CAN be the difference between waking up and groaning or waking up and looking forward to your day.

My goal now is to integrate my two business areas whenever possible....double bubble AND double job satisfaction (hopefully!)

Good luck!
(That's important too).
posted by JtJ at 3:59 AM on November 18, 2004

i understood that whether a business was a success or not was largely random. if that's not the case then a good business would be picking the businesses that are obviously going to succeed and investing in them.

on the other hand, if you do believe they are random, then maybe the best approach is to exploit that. sell consultancy to small businesses, claiming that whether they succeed or not is related to how much they pay you.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:26 AM on November 18, 2004

The actual business doesn't matter that much. What matters is:

Like what you do. Starting a business means being obsessed all day, every day, with what you are doing. If you don't like it, you'll never succeed.

Know who your first customers will be. There are lots of ideas that sound cool. When you first start up, you need to know that people will actually pay for your cool idea. Once you have your first customers, they'll tell you what you need to do next.

Find the right partners. It's really hard to create a business on your own -- what happens if you get a cold for a few days? It's also really hard to find the right people to be your partners. You need to trust them completely and be sure that you have the same views on what you want to create. You also need to like spending lots of time with them. A large majority of the successful startups I've been involved with have had to find a way to get rid of partners who didn't share the same objectives, and a fair number of the failed ones I've been involved with disintegrated because of arguments among the partners.

Have enough cash at the beginning. It always takes longer and costs more than you think. Starting a business is all about cash flow. When the money runs out, it's game over, no matter how good your prospects are for next month.
posted by fuzz at 5:31 AM on November 18, 2004

Like what you do. Starting a business means being obsessed all day, every day, with what you are doing. If you don't like it, you'll never succeed.

In that case, I would run a strip club.
posted by eas98 at 7:30 AM on November 18, 2004

Hey, can I chip in?

I just left my job earlier this month to start my own business. I'm sitting in my office right now. I've got an hour to get some code for my management system written before I need to run downtown to a networking event. This is my life.

My first reccomendation is to simply pick a business model. You don't need a business plan that lays out revenue projections unless you're planning to talk to venture capitalists ... you need a business model that figures out where your revenue streams are going to come form.
My second reccomendation is to talk about it. Talk to your family, your friends, people you trust, networking groups that you're already a part of -- you'd be surprised how many friends come out of the woodwork and make reccomendations before you even get started.
My third reccomendation is to have multiple revenue streams, and to have at least one of them as "residual" income. For instance, let's say you're going to sell widgets. Great, but you're limited to how many widgets can be produced and your income is directly determined by how many widgets you can sell in a month. But... if you sell service contracts on those widgets, paid monthly ... you not only make all of the money you made selling the widgets themselves, but every month you take in an ever-increasing amount for every widget you sell!

Bootstrapping is viable. I'm doing it. I'm paying for the development of a bunch of tools that I can sell on a subscription and software package basis, as well as service contracts on that software, by consulting for businesses and massaging their workflow and operations procedures (an area in which I have expertise) into a more efficient shape. I'm also using the consulting experience to learn precisely what I need to provide to these customers in the form of packages-for-sale.

If you want to start a business, be prepared to make it your life for several months. I've been working 12 hour+ days, 6 days per week, ever since I quit my job. Sunday's no gem as I end up doing laundry and cleaning house and all that good stuff.
On the other hand, it can be lucrative. A friend started a pet-sitting business. During the summer months and holidays, she makes more money than her husband does. Her husband is the director of operations for one of the 50 largest companies in the state. He's fairly financially savvy, and he was floored by her income.
posted by SpecialK at 10:46 AM on November 18, 2004

(Oh, but get the freedom thing out of your head. No one is free... sorry to burst your bubble, but 'freedom' means 'lack of obligations'. Once you start a business, you're much less free. You suddenly have obligations to clients, employees, investors, shareholders, contractors, other businesses ... on the other hand, you get to decide when you take vacations and things like that so I guess it evens out. Just don't forget your cell phone and/or laptop...)
posted by SpecialK at 10:48 AM on November 18, 2004

Freedom's just another word for penury.
posted by kenko at 12:02 PM on November 18, 2004

There's the practical 'what could I do and make money at' business ideas, and then there's the dreamy 'boy would I love to just do this for the rest of my life' ideas, and being a really successful entrepreneur probably involves figuring out how to bring the two together without compromising either, too much.

Personally, I'd like to open a creative arts learning space, something along the lines of an inn that offers cooking classes, but a bit more free form than just cooking. A retreat space, combining small hotel or inn with dining and classroom space. The classrooms could be used to teach cooking, knitting, sewing, etc. What specific things might get taught would tend to change over time (knitting is very trendy right now, and scrapbooking is huge, quilting was huge the last couple of years but is declining, etc) but a general view to creative arts. Clients would visit for short retreats, a few days or a week. Classes might be taught by in house instructors, or by special guest instructors brought in for a specific week.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:19 PM on November 18, 2004

Guess I'm going to become a gigolo...
posted by five fresh fish at 1:13 PM on November 18, 2004

be prepared to make it your life for several months.

Months? What kind of get-rich-quick scheme are you diving into here, where the business stops consuming your entire life after mere months?

on the other hand, you get to decide when you take vacations

Yeah, that one's easy - the answer is "never". :-)

I've been there, done that, crashed, burned, starved, and spent years working my way back out of debt, so I am never going back to entrepreneurship again. But if for some reason I lost my mind and decided to start a business, it'd probably be some kind of wilderness adventure guide service. Initial investment is relatively low, there's no real economy of scale so big competitors can't easily roll in and crush you, it's a luxury market so the profit margin is essentially arbitrary, and the market is driven by repeat business & recommendations, so it feeds itself once you get established. Nobody gets rich doing it, but nobody gets rich anyway [barring a few statistical anomalies which can be safely ignored].
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:53 PM on November 18, 2004

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