Standing out online is all about personality, passion and a powerful visual brand. Mars Dorian has all three (and then some).
Over the last couple of years Mars has produced an explosion of colourful cartoons and articles bursting with equally colourful language. His posts are hilarious and highly motivational, with a ton of insight and advice about branding yourself online.
Now it’s time to find out how he will “light a fire under your ass”.
You may have heard of Chris Guillebeau. He is at the forefront of a new breed of bloggers and creative entrepreneurs who are making a substantial income from their creative output, and inspiring thousands of other people to do the same.
As well as writing for free on his blog and in his two hugely popular manifestos, Chris has published a number of Unconventional Guides * which offer up to the minute advice on freelancing, publishing and travel hacking, and even the art of building your own online empire. As well as pursuing his goal of travelling to every country in the world before the age of 35, Chris has worked tirelessly to build his platform and a community of people around him, and he’s made a fantastic living from it.
In his new book, the $100 Start Up, which is already out in the US and available in the UK from this week, Chris provides a clear guide to getting started with your own business, using the examples of hundreds of members of his community who have done the same. He provides concrete figures too – he only features those who are earning at least $50,000 a year, but many of the businesses featured bring in several hundred thousand pounds a year. Most of them started with around $100 dollars.
That’s pretty amazing, right?
As Chris says in the introduction:
Small businesses aren’t new, but never before have so many possibilities come together in the right place at the right time.
One of the key points that Chris is making is that anyone can start a business if they can just grasp some of the key concepts in the book and apply them to their own situation.
Most of them aren’t geniuses or natural-born entrepreneurs. They are ordinary people who made a few key decisions that changed their lives.
Whilst Career Renegade is a great ‘awakener’ to alternative career possibilities for creative people, and Slim’s book is all about the transition from corporate employee to business owner, the message of $100 Start Up is more straightforward and not necessarily aimed at creative types.
It deals with all types of businesses, from dog walking to language learning. But it isn’t hard to see that anyone who is able to turn $100 into a liveable annual wage is using a great deal of creativity. And Chris himself is a great example – a writer who is extremely successful, not just scraping by.
The Basics of Business
The “$100 start up” Chris is recommending could also be referred to as a micro, or freedom business. Your goal is to have freedom for yourself, but to do that you need to provide real value for others, and to communicate that value to them as clearly as possible.
Ultimately, Chris’s message is a simple one. He covers the basics of building a small business and emphasises that you don’t need more that, at least to get going. Taking action, and making that first sale, is all important.
The basics of starting a business are very simple; you don’t need an MBA, venture capital, or even a detailed plan. You just need a product or service, a group of people willing to pay for it, and a way to get paid.
He adds that it helps to have an offer and a way of building interest, or hustling, and to use well proven techniques such as a launch strategy.
What the book goes on to outline is bound to make a few internet marketers sweat; people have been selling this information online packaged in expensive clothes for a long time now. Chris has brought the advice all together into one easy to follow book which will cost you around a tenth of his suggested start-up costs, much less than most of the information products which include similar info.
Throughout the book Guillebeau provides simple, but comprehensive one page checklists to help with choosing between competing projects, creating a basic business plan and market testing – as well as the essential ‘reality check’. You can get additional resources at the dedicated website for the book.
Of course, there are plenty of areas touched on in the book that you might want to investigate more deeply. But if you have any interest in earning money on your own terms, once you’ve read this book you’ll be struggling to come up with an excuse for not getting started right away. As Guillebeau says:
“The most important thing is to keep taking action”.
How I Intend to Use the Book – Action & Commitment
I’ve bought a number of products from Chris in the past and have found them very useful in my transition from civil servant to freelance writer. His blog was also a key inspiration behind this one.
However the book is a great reminder to me that I have been stalling somewhat in using the knowledge I already have. I could potentially earn money in more ways than just copywriting for businesses, and I intend to more fully explore some of these other options.
It is also an eye-opener when it comes to how much money many of the people featured are earning on a regular basis and whilst my quality of life is more important to me, it has convinced me I need to be a bit more ambitious in terms of my financial goals.
Chris is one of those ‘everyman’ figures – someone who seems relatively normal and therefore inspires others to follow his lead. However he is a very smart guy who works extremely hard. Not everyone can be him!
As you know if you read this blog regularly, I struggle with the commitment part e.g. when it comes to consistently working on this blog, and I’m actively trying to improve my own habits and work ethic.
All the information in the world isn’t enough if you don’t follow through, and this is a great reminder to keep pushing myself. Basically, if this book doesn’t inspire me (and you!) to get moving, nothing will.
(note: the above links are affiliate links which means if you buy them, Amazon might one day send me a gift voucher (I’m not holding my breath). The link above to the Unconventional Guides website is also an affiliate link, but Chris’s affiliate programme is a lot more generous so I might actually earn some cash if you use that one. There is more info on affiliate promotions in the book!)
I don't need a telescope to see where I went wrong
I wake up in unfamiliar surroundings. I realise I can stretch out on the bed, even though she’s here too. It’s a bigger bed than I’m used to. I look up and see sunlight streaming in through the curtains. It feels warm.
Paris! The first morning here. A trip to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. I’m tired. I forget how tiring travelling is.
My third trip abroad in four weeks – an extravangance only possible because I’m not working full-time. I’m not used to the excitement. It has a cumulative effect, making me more tired each day. I feel groggy, but excited to get outside and explore the city.
But.. so tired. She is also stirring beside me, but doesn’t seem very awake. I reset my alarm on my iPhone to 8:30.
(First decision of the day: to fail.)
8:30. Time to wake up properly. She makes us a cup of tea. I get my iPad and wireless keyboard. Time to write. I may not have achieved the 7:30 wake up time, but I can write 1000 words each day that I’m here.
I start typing. This is what I write:
“So here we are en Francais, and I can’t really be bothered with my writing but here we go. I have to do it, right? At least this is highly portable.
But what to write about?”
I put down the keyboard and pick up my cup of tea. That is all I write, the entire trip. All I want to do is enjoy my holiday with my wife. Discover a city I’ve spent less than 24 hours in so far. Relax, and forget. Stop striving for a while. Fuck it.
(My second decision of the day is to fail.)
We get home to Edinburgh. The rain pours down outside and it’s as dark as dusk, all day.
I look at my to-do list. I sent it to him before we left, with a list of ‘deliverables’. It now seems wildly ambitious. Whilst in Paris I was going to come up with a plan. Instead I shut out the future and the past, apart from the unavoidable one evident from the extravagant architecture around us.
I stare at the blank page. I have failed. No way round it. Because I announced the challenge publicly, now I have to admit my failure, publicly. But what to say?
I wake up, watch a couple of episodes of TV spy drama Nikita. Nonsense, but entertaining. Afterwards, in my mind, I carry out a debriefing, an interrogation, of myself, like it happens in the show.
You can always find the time and energy for something if you really love it.
Some creative people have one good idea and stick with it throughout their career – others, like my friend Andy, who is a designer and also runs a local mini-record label, seem to have too many ideas and projects to fit in to the average lifetime. As you can see from the questions below, Andy’s been a very busy boy.
Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?
I’m Andy Lobban. I’m a designer at Storm ID by day. In my spare time I do a few things. I co-run Gerry Loves Records, a tiny little vinyl and cassette record label concentrating mostly on local grass roots artists. I help organise Refresh Edinburgh which is a get together for internerds.
A few of the photos I took on a recent trip to Berlin, given the Instagram treatment. I was there for the weekend for a friend’s stag do (or bachelor party). It was great fun, and I loved the city.
Despite the recent buyout by Facebook, I still really enjoy Instagram as a way of sharing the more interesting things I see and do during my everyday life, and for keeping up with other people in a more personal way than the other social networks.
Alas you do need either an iPhone or an Android smartphone to use it, but if you don’t have one yet you can see all my photos on the web at my instagrid profile. I quite often send the pictures to Twitter too.
It’s 3 months since I went freelance, and I’ve been recording a video diary almost every week to document how things are going, which I’ve been sending out to subscribers of the CMC newsletter.
However a few weeks ago the videos stopped (as any subscribers will have noticed). I had a lot of great feedback such as this from Margaret Pinard of Taste Life Twice on Facebook:
“Just got the latest installment of Ditch the Day Job Diaries, and particularly enjoyed the gardening clips (frog! goat!) and the community feel behind Freelance Fridays. And I love that quote about over and underestimating what you can do- will have to mull that one over… thanks for the great content, Milo!”
But I also got some feedback saying that there wasn’t enough info about how I was structuring my day, finding work etc. This gave me pause for thought, as if I’m bothering people once a week with a new video, I want it to be as useful as possible for them. And as fun as it was to film myself cycling to the local beach as I did in episode 8 below, perhaps it was a tad self-indulgent!
Structure? What Structure?
Now I can’t really talk about the work I’m doing for clients in detail, but I can talk about how I’m structuring my day, right?
The problem though was that I wasn’t structuring my day, at all. I’ve already written about how being productive in the morning isn’t my strong point, even when I was working full-time. Well let’s just say that leaving your job doesn’t miraculously make your bad habits disappear – in fact, for more it made them worse!
I’d quite been enjoying lying in and waking up in a a leisurely fashion, and staying up late watching daft films starring Nicholas Cage and Jason Statham on Netflix. Yes I was getting work done for clients whenever necessary, but I wasn’t taking my own creative goals forward. By the time my wife Mel got home from a full day’s work, I’d achieved very little.
Phase 1: Adjustment Bureau
After 3 months I’m the first to admit that although I’ve had enough to keep me going, the work isn’t exactly flooding in. Luckily I have a bit of a safety net for the first year but if 3 months can fly by that quickly, then it won’t be long before I’m looking back thinking ‘what happened to the last 12 months?’ and wishing I’d used the time more wisely (as I scour the bins in the alleyway behind the local Chinese takeaway for scraps of food and a slight glimmer of hope from a discarded fortune cookie).
I’m now seeing that first three months as a natural period of adjustment. After 10 years of working in the civil service I was somewhat institutionalised to the daily grind of sitting in an office all day, and I had also been diagnosed with chronic stress during the last year because of trying to juggle so many different things in my life and general unhappiness with my work. I needed some recovery time.
But I also came to realise that if I kept up my slovenly lifestyle, things weren’t going to get any better any time soon, which is why I’ve designated the next 3 months (including May) “Phase 2″.
Phase 2: This Time It’s Serious
In this phase I’m determined to finally establish some better habits, and this time failure is not an option. Now I’ve often read about how to do this, and people I respect like Leo Babauta and Michael Nobbs, amongst many others, advise starting small. Most people fail, they say, because they try to take on too many new habits and behaviours at once.
It’s true – I know this because I’ve done it time and time again – set out with good intentions to get up early, go to the gym, write every day etc etc but after a week or sometimes only a few days, it all comes crashing down again because it’s not realistic.
The sad truth is by the time you hit my age (34), or even a lot younger than that, your bad habits are deeply ingrained. It takes a lot to change them. This infographic shows just what’s involved in the process, and it looks so complicated that it puts you off even trying:
So in the interest of keeping things as simple as possible, I’ve decided to commit to two specific things for the month of May:
1. Get up at 7:30am at the latest (Mon-Fri)
2. Write 1000 words in 25 minutes (preferably first thing in the morning)
And that’s it! If I can stick to these two positive habits in May then I hope to add more over the next few months. I’m using a great website called Chains.cc to help myself stick to this plan. For this week only, you can watch a brand new episode of The Ditch the Day Job Diaries below which goes into more detail about this (episodes are usually only for subscribers).
Creative Accountability & The Clear-Minded Copywriter
I’m also having fortnightly accountability calls on Skype with Fabian of The Friendly Anarchist. Again, it took us a few weeks to get into our stride, but now we seem to have hit on an excellent system where we commit to specific weekly tasks and send each other the proof that they’ve been done. If we fail, we have to give money to the hateful right-wing organisation the BNP, which is one of the best motivations not to fail I’ve ever discovered. So that is definitely helping in terms of taking things forward with my own creative stuff.
And I’m making much more of an effort to find and apply for new work, including setting up a portfolio site called The Clear-Minded Copywriter, which I hope to add to and improve over the next few weeks. I’m hoping that if by the end of the 3 months this effort will have paid off – either way that will be the time for a review to see how things are going and what I need to do differently.
If you’d like to see how my morning routine challenge for May is going, I’ll provide updates in the next episode of the Ditch the Day Job Diaries. Sign up to receive new episodes each week plus access to all of the videos so far in the series!
The Ditch the Day Job Video Diaries are 20 video diaries I have filmed since I took voluntary redundancy in February 2012 – after ten years working in the Scottish civil service.
The videos also feature footage from a couple of adventures I went on to meet other bloggers and self-employed people from around the world and get their perspectives, including the World Domination Summit in Portland and a trip to Oslo.