Friday, March 06, 2009

The Credit Card Entrepreneur

Conventional wisdom would suggest that and economic depression (we're way beyond recession here, folks) is the worst time to start a business.

I, for one, would strongly disagree. And so would FedEx. And Burger King. And IBM. And about two dozen more "household names" that were all founded during economic downturns. I think that now is a terrific time to start a business (or expand the one you already have).

Why? Well, we're at a unique place in history.

Any "normal" economic downturn forces businesses and people to do one thing that they normally don't do: examine where they are going and stop doing the things that are stupid and waste time and money. They "get back to the basics" and focus on things that are important to them.

For individuals - it too often also means that they've grabbed their seat cushion because the "unlikely event of a water landing" has happened to them in terms of their career. They have to focus on the skills that they have that are not only "marketable" or "hireable" but that will actually add value to whomever will toss them money so they can live.

For businesses (the ones that are not stuck in an ostrich pose with their heads in the ground and asses in the air) - it also represents a prime opportunity for them to examine the same thing - where do they add value to THEIR customers? Do they? If not - then it's time to join the ranks of the deadpooled companies and stop doing whatever it is they're doing.

This renewed focus on adding value, and I would argue, just STOPPING all the "activity" that seems to consume our lives - can gently lead people to view things in different, radical, potentially life-changing ways. In the "downtime" of waiting in the unemployment line or waiting for the site to load - there can be moments of clarity that can lead to great things - in terms of monetary success as well as lifestyle adjustments.

In this way - recessions, depressions, wars, and other catastrophic events are the same. They cause people and companies to focus.

But of course focus isn't enough. If you focus long enough, hard enough, and you put yourself in the place of others (either the poor schmoe who's out of work or the poor schmoe who is left to do 8 people's work and not get a raise for the next 3 years) - that's where the intersection of needs, wants, desires, opportunity and desperation collide into "the idea."

But, of course, the "idea" isn't enough in and of itself. There's that whole pesky implementation "thing." That's where the technological advances of the modern age really come into play.

Never before in history have we had the ability to start an international business where we don't have to stock product, don't have to have a shipping department, don't need to buy computers or software, and don't need to hire people to answer phones in order to make money selling stuff.

All we need is a credit card and the the unique knowledge that we possess on how to add value to someone, somewhere.

All the other functions of what it would take to start a "real" business can be purchased, rented, and consumed via a single computer, a browser, and Internet access.

The barriers to entry in the "new" business world - the "utility" parts needed to run a business - have already been virtualized (or are getting there). You can rent hardware, software, have companies handle your phones, faxes, shipping, warehousing, product creation, order processing, payment processing, order fulfillment, customer service, technical support, marketing, promotions and advertising.

The thing that hasn't (and can't) be virtualized - is the VALUE that you bring to the table and the RELATIONSHIPS you have with friends, customers, colleagues and fellow business owners. Everyone is in the same boat in these times. Everyone has a certain skill set, business process knowledge and/or a set of experiences that are unique to them.

There's never been a better time to figure out the value you can add - and then come up with a plan on how to share that value with the people that need it. People will pay you for the value you add - even in a down economy.

The key is to get focused... and get started!

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