Chris Guillebeau | How To Run A Very Small Business

Chris Guillebeau is one of the more remarkable people on earth. He’s risen to ‘overnight’ blogging fame, inked a book deal, visited over 125 countries, and he wants to teach you how to achieve world domination.

It’s not hard to see why so many people are part of his unconventional community; his ideas actually work. I was a skeptic, and then I tried it myself. You can start a Very Small Businessand start producing passive income in a very short time.

Today I’m excited to present you with the interview I did with Chris as he was flying out of Manila airport to Papua New Guinea last week.

We spoke about strategies for success, and some of the common mistakes people make when launching a Very Small Business.

Everett Bogue: Chris, you and I are both running Very Small Businesses, but can you take a moment to define what a Very Small business is for our readers?

Chris Guillebeau: I think of it as a for-profit project that exists to a) create value for happy customers and b) provide a steady income for the business owner without becoming like a job for him or her. Very Small Businesses tend to have no employees other than the other, or perhaps one or two additional employees. In other words, it’s a lifestyle business instead of a business focused primarily on growth.

I also think of the following characteristics as being part of a successful Very Small Business:

  • Location Independent (can be operated from anywhere)
  • Some Degree of Passive Income (don’t trade time for money)
  • Healthy profit margins (don’t compete on price!)

These characteristics are optional and don’t apply to everyone, but it will be easier to get a new venture going if they are met. Another optional characteristic (but important for many of us) is connecting the business to a cause greater than itself. In my case I am working withCharity: Water on a project to raise funds for water wells in Ethiopia.

Everett: How can starting a Very Small Business help you leave your day job?

Chris: The most important thing in starting a business is reducing your dependency on the day job, whether or not you leave it. But naturally, if you can replace at least 50% of your income through a side project, you might want to think seriously about taking the leap.

Everett: Have you seen any Very Small Business ideas (other than your own) take off lately?

Chris: There are so many! I recently asked for case studies for an upcoming ‘Empire Building Kit’ project, and I heard about 300 examples in a couple of days. Among others, I like what these people are doing:

  • Norris Hall Studio Verge Wine Cellars Tsilli Pines Soniei Live Adventurously Charlie Gilkey Michael Bungay Stanier

Everett: Does the Internet make all of this possible?

It certainly helps! I’ve made my living through the internet for 10+ years now. One of the best features of internet-based businesses is that you can get instant feedback on the feasibility of your business for a very small cost (sometimes even free). It also helps to keep expenses low, which is especially important when you’re starting without much capital.

Everett: What are some of the big mistakes that most people make when they launch a Very Small Business?

Chris: Here’s a short list of big mistakes — I think they’re all important:

  • Failure to consider why other people should care about what they’re offering
  • Failure to think carefully about how they’ll actually get paid
  • Failure to develop a strategy to market to existing customers (it’s much easier to sell to someone who’s already purchased something)
  • Poor follow-through or simply giving up too early

If you can avoid those four mistakes, especially #1, you’ll be off to a much better start than a lot of people.

Everett: Is there anyone in particular who inspires you right now?

Chris: There are so many people! These days I am mostly encouraged by my readers, who regularly write in from all over the world. A few other people:

I read Richard Branson’s autobiography on this trip. I’m not sure why I’ve never followed him much before — he’s really quite amazing, and definitely a major role model for unconventional entrepreneurs.

Paul Farmer is the ultimate social entrepreneur. My friend Scott Harrison is doing a great job at creating a social movement around addressing the global water crisis.

And last but not least, I always mention my personal heroes, Dr. Gary and Susan Parker, who have lived in West Africa for more than 20 years now. Nothing I do in business or anything else compares with their great work, but I hope to eventually have at least 10% as much impact on the world as they do.

Everett: You’ve spoken about the pressure to hire more people for your business, why did you decide not to?

Chris: Because I’m not good at managing people. I like leadership but not management. I want to create new things instead of manage existing things — that’s where I derive my energy from. Also, I chose not to hire people simply because it’s unnecessary. I can make all the money I need without expanding. I travel to 25 countries a year and work from everywhere I go. I’m writing these answers to you while sitting on the floor in Manila airport, waiting to fly to Papua New Guinea. I’d rather be doing this than managing employees, virtual or otherwise.

Everett: Which of your unconventional products has had the most success? Why do you think that is?

Chris: Good question. I was surprised to see that Frequent Flyer Masterquickly became the #1 seller. (Credit where credit is due to Jonathan Fields, who predicted this.) In retrospect I think it was because the benefit was extremely clear — buy this product for $49, get at least 25k miles or enough for a free flight. Easy to understand and compelling for the right audience.

The $100 Business Forum, which is more of a community group than a product, also did very well in selling out in 90 minutes after the launch. We’re setting up more groups for later in the year, but I want to be careful we don’t do too much too fast with that.

Everett: What goals do you have for your business in 2010?

Chris: I want to double revenue, double the active client base, and increase the total product line to about $1,000 in offerings. The biggest product launch will be the upcoming Empire Building Kit, where I’m planning to reverse-engineer the entire process of creating a lifestyle business at the $50k-150k / year level. Right now I’m collecting case studies for that and outlining screen-capture videos as I travel.

After those things are done, the second half of the year will focus much more on my other goals. My first book is coming out in September, and I’m going on an Unconventional Book Tour to every state and province in the U.S. and Canada. Then of course I also have to visit 20+ new countries to continue making progress on my journey to every country in the world. All of these projects are fairly intensive, but they’re also a lot of fun. Without the business, of course, all of the other things would be much more difficult.

Everett: Chris, thanks so much for the opportunity to speak to with you.

Written on April 6, 2015