How do I start my own business?
September 17, 2013 6:39 PM   Subscribe

I have a couple thousand dollars and a decent amount of free time, with no idea where to allocate my time and money. Where do I begin?

For the sake of argument we're going to say 401k, Roth IRA, anything retirement-focused is out of the question for the money. I understand the benefits, but that's not what this question is about.

My question is, with a moderate amount of resources and free time, what are my options for starting a business? Franchising, inventing, app-ing, website-ing, stock-trading, lemonade stand-ing, Kickstarter-ing, real estate-ing, eBaying, Amazoning, Etsy-ing, I feel like the options are endless. Open to all suggestions, big and small, whether it's a side business or a full-time business. Suggestions from Mefites' personal experiences are a plus. ("I started with a spear and a raft made of dreams and got into spearfishing! Best business ever!", "I love sandwiches so I opened a Quiznos!")

I know the question is veeery open-ended, but I'm at a complete loss here and would love ideas or suggestions to guide my way. I know traditionally questions have an end-goal in mind, but I wanted to keep the end-goal open ended to invite a more diverse group of answers. I'm open to any type of possibility.

Thank you!
posted by walka to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I know you're not talking about tech startups specifically, but Paul Graham writes some killer essays on why and how to start tech companies. A lot of his writing is generalizable to starting any business, not just the next Dropbox (one of his incubator, Y Combinator's, most famous offspring). His piece on how to identify startup ideas was what came to mind reading your question.

What's the most pressing problem you face on a recurring basis that you are a) motivated and skilled enough to solve and b) think other people share? Can't find good bread in your neighborhood? Can't share files with friends and family easily? Can't figure out what your kid should wear today? Can't find your keys in the morning? Solve that problem.
posted by badgerbadgerbadger at 6:59 PM on September 17, 2013

Don't go into business unless you have a real understanding of what it is you want to do. To really succeed (or fail...self-employment is no walk in the park), you have to dedicate more than just a little bit of spare time and some extra cash you have.

I would see if you have hobbies you like that you could monetize. That may scratch the business-person's itch that you seem to have.
posted by xingcat at 7:00 PM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

From a working person (disclaimer) - you could do worse in reading up on the topic, and The E-Myth Revisited is a decent place to start.

The 'E' in 'E-Myth' stands for entrepreneurial, and it is a good lesson to consider building a business rather than buying yourself a job.

Just a few days ago, catching up on my (overdue) reading, I saw this piece on Jorge Lemann, who controls both AB InBev and Burger King: he neither drinks alcohol and until only recently had his first Whopper burger.

Two keys to keep in mind: what is the unique value of the service / product you want to produce, and what is the unique market segment (i.e. your target customer) you will be selling to? If you can articulate / define these two pieces your risk is that much lower.
posted by scooterdog at 7:03 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can make a shocking amount of money in this world taking advantage of price discrepancies. The internet has actually INCREASED the opportunity for this, not decreased it as many suspect. I would prefer not to go into too much detail, but I am always shocked how many people have not figured this out. It is not particularly fulfilling, but it is quite lucrative, so it kind of depends on what your motivation for doing it is.

I do it as a sideline, maybe 10 hours a week, and I make more doing it than I do in my full time job.
posted by jcworth at 7:12 PM on September 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

to take advantage of price discrepancies on a consistent basis, you have to really know the market, be ready for sudden changes, have incredible discipline, brass balls, an affinity for tedium and more. Start small.
posted by Salvatorparadise at 9:30 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's impossible to give you suggestions without knowing YOUR experience, skills, passions, time availability, risk tolerance, and long term goals.
posted by Dansaman at 10:05 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Validating a business idea, even one with large overheads, doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Look up 'lean startup'.
posted by molloy at 4:32 AM on September 18, 2013

It sounds like you want advice on what rat-hole to throw your money down.

Going into business for yourself isn't a lark, it's a thing that you do because you have a burning desire to put X out into the world and you have a solid plan and money to burn to do it.

If you're just doing something to do something, buy a car, slap a Mustache on it and drive for Lyft.

Or be a "Man with a Van" and post ads on Craigslist to help folks move items. And/Or working with Ikea become that guy who puts together and installs the Ivar.

Take a class on creating APPs for smartphones and then offer your services to folks who have ideas, but no skills for code.

$2,000 isn't a whole lot of dough to start a business with. But it's a significant amount of money to piss away if you don't have a solid idea to execute.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:17 AM on September 18, 2013

My suggestions:

1) Start a business only in something you know

2) Develop a good business plan first, realistic costs & revenue, and get others to review it and comment

3) Have enough capital and resources to run the business 6 months to a year in 'worst case scenario' mode.

4) If it's an option, after choosing the kind of business you want to start, trying working for someone else in the same line of business to learn and make sure it's for you.

Good luck.
posted by Argyle at 10:21 AM on September 18, 2013

This book is written in an attempt to answer your very question. It's a little self-promote-ey, but its whole thesis is that not every startup needs venture capital etc.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:18 PM on September 18, 2013

You need to think about what you want out of this exactly. Do you want to make a little extra money while keeping your regular job, eventually quit your job, be able to tell everyone you have a business even if it doesn't actually make money, make money doing something you really like, enjoy the challenge of starting a business, build up a business to sell, work for yourself to have a flexible schedule and travel, get rich with the next big startup, what?

What's your risk tolerance? Are you willing to loose the couple thousand you have? Are you willing to lose more?

Beware starting a full time business based on something you love to do on vacations or for a few hours a week.


This is not a business. Daytrading might be fun, but see above about risk tolerance.
posted by yohko at 3:38 PM on September 18, 2013

As someone who has helped run two (two!) failed businesses (I was the first to quit): STICK TO THE PLAN. Make a (long-term) plan before you spend dime one, and stick to it. Don't switch horses in mid-stream. Don't second-guess yourself. Don't listen to naysayers. Stay with your convictions and principles and Stick. To. The. Plan.

Speaking of The Plan, you can do damn near anything as long as you have three things: a plan, a budget and a schedule.

Also, to quote Gene Simmons to Kim Fowley on the Runaways: "Next time you have a good idea, get people with brains to work with you on it."
posted by ostranenie at 7:46 PM on September 19, 2013

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