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15 Little Life Hacks

Top excuses and tactics: Why haven’t you started your own business?

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In the last year, have you thought about starting your own company?

What are the reasons that we don’t follow through? Maybe it’s a genuine lack of technical skill, or we don’t know where to get started, or our friends around us talk us down. More commonly, we talk ourselves out of it.

Not everyone should start their own business, but a significant percentage of iwillteachyoutoberich readers are interested in entrepreneurship. And starting your own business can be one of the most rewarding things you ever do — even if it’s just a side project earning $20/month. That’s one of the principles of I Will Teach You To Be Rich: You can’t outfrugal your way to being rich, but there’s no limit on what you can earn.

A couple weeks ago, my friend Pamela Slim sent me her book. To be honest, I was worried. She had recently written positively about my book, and she writes about entrepreneurship on her blog, but her audience is pretty different than mine — typically older and more female than iwillteachyoutoberich — and I thought her book might have too many emotional/spiritual components like “Tell yourself that you can do it every morning!” I hate emotions. I tell my friends to call me an Emotional Robot because I care about the tactics, not how you feel. Witness my cold, listless countenance for people who ask, “Is it a good time to invest?”

But I was REALLY surprised at how tactical this book is.

Books that say, “Do what you love and the money will come!” are not helpful. Escape From Cubicle Nation shows you — not tells you, shows you — how to figure out if you should start your own company, how to analyze your skills to see what a good market is, and how to scale the business beyond just making $100/month.

Most importantly, she tackles the psychology and barriers of why we know we’re capable of more than a simple cubicle job, but fail to take action to put our ideas into practice with a new business.

This is the book I’m going to give to people who talk and talk about starting a business, but think that hating their job is motivation enough to quit and start a fanciful idea. It’s not.

I’ve asked Pam to write up a guest post with a basic framework on doing this the right way.

* * *

Guest post from Pamela Slim: The Excuses People Use To Stay at a Job

As a coach who works with lots of corporate employees with entrepreneurial urges and an author of the book on the topic, I totally agree that starting a business is a great idea in this economy.

Today, I wanted to share some advice for those who might need a tiny bit more guidance on working through your business ideas and fears.

Toss grapes to your inner lizard

Trying to wait until you have enough courage to start your business is fighting the way your brain is wired. One of the deepest layers of the human brain is a neural structure that evolved in early vertebrates. It is wrapped around the cortex of your brain and blasts signals on a regular basis intended to keep you fed and out of danger.

This “lizard brain” will scream at you all day when you are considering doing something new like starting a business:

  • “You don’t have enough experience for anyone to take you seriously as a consultant!”
  • “If you leave your stable job to go out on your own, you will live in a van down by the river!”
  • “You have no idea what you are doing and when you show your ideas in public for the first time, people will mock and criticize you!”

Instead of trying to suppress these lizard fears, learn from them. There is almost always a grain of truth in each fear, and by addressing them directly, you will both feel better (which will inspire action) and discover concrete, pragmatic steps you need to take to build a better business.

Examples of how to engage your lizard fears in dialogue :

“You don’t have enough experience for anyone to take you seriously as a consultant.”

  • What market can I serve really well in which my age will have no relevance?
  • Can I think of examples of other young people who have started successful entrepreneurial ventures? (Ramit, Ben, Shama, Carmen, Dan, Moe, Ankesh, Naomi, need I go on?)
  • How can I start to gain valuable experience to prepare me to work for myself while I am still an employee? Are there people I can talk to at my company who could teach me about finance, marketing, operations, sales or customer service?

“If you leave your stable job to go out on your own, you will live in a van down by the river.”

  • What are ways I could test my business idea in small chunks to see if it is viable before chucking my day job?
  • How can I shore up my personal financial situation so that I have some breathing room when starting a business?
  • How can I create Plans B, C and D in case my new venture doesn’t work out?

“You have no idea what you are doing and when you show your ideas in public for the first time, people will mock and criticize you.”

  • Who would be knowledgeable peer mentors who could give me straight and objective feedback before I expose my business in public?
  • How can I use this experience to fortify my self-esteem and toughen my skin? (I have always been a fan of The Four Agreements, which reminds us that criticism is never about you, it is always about the other person)
  • How might I better understand that perfectionists are losers and learn from photographers who know that it takes 99 so-so shots to get one great photo?

How to choose a good business idea

Good business ideas are a dime a dozen. Anyone can sit atop a bar stool, pontificating about how their start-up idea will be a space-changing, curb-jumping application that will make Google weep they are so eager to acquire your company.

Good business ideas cross over into good businesses with the following factors in place:

Natural Passion and Interest


Skill and competence


Business model that delivers the life you want to live


Solid business planning with well-defined market

You can get great information about markets, business models, business planning and finances at places like this blog, StartupNation, Duct Tape Marketing, Tim Berry’s blogs, Small Business Trends or Guy Kawasaki’s blog.

So I will give some advice on the first part of the equation, natural passion and interest:

Become a heat-guided missile.

People of all ages seem to have a struggle deciding what they are really passionate about. The main issues seem to be:

  • They have never chosen careers or educational paths that truly match their interests (often due to societal or family pressure) so they just feel kind of numb.
  • They have so many interests that they get overwhelmed trying to choose just one.

In the first case, you want to spend some time observing the world around you and use your body like a heat-guided missile. Your brain may try to trick you into thinking that you should enjoy one thing over the other, so a better test is how your body feels when you see or think about a particular topic.

A great exercise for this:

  1. Go into your local bookstore with a small notebook.
  2. Turn off your brain as much as you can, and just let your body wander where it most wants to go. Don’t get frightened if it drifts towards the “radical post-feminist literature” section, “Dr. Seuss anthologies” and “Rare newt species of the Southern Hemisphere.”
  3. Note the areas of interest in your notebook as you drift around the bookstore.

When you get back home, look at the information and see if there are any patterns. Then begin a broader and more organized search on the Internet, in books and magazines and in your everyday life as you ride the subway to work or walk around your city.

Track and categorize this information into the following areas:

  • Topics that interest you (cars, entrepreneurship, alcoholism, quantum physics, knitting, martial arts)
  • Activities you really enjoy doing (writing, coding, coaching, drawing, selling, running)
  • Industries that interest you (alternative energy, high-end luxury resorts, construction, home-organizing)
  • Problems you are eager to solve (teenage pregnancy, horrible screaming sales letters that plague online marketing, broken music distribution system for independent musicians,)
  • Products you love (the iPhone, Cold Stone Creamery ice cream, Moleskine notebooks, Sony Playstations)

This passion inventory will give you all kinds of information you can sort out to see general areas of interest that you can move from vague to concrete.

The process of vetting business ideas (which I cover in detail in Chapter 6 of my book) will lead you to some obvious indicators of which of your interests are viable business ideas vs. entertaining hobbies.

For ideas on how to take a general business idea and make it more concrete, see this excerpt from my book:

EFCN Excerpt – Pages 114-117



RSS readers: Can’t see the PDF? Click here
Part of what will give you a huge competitive edge in your business is that you took the time to really understand how you are wired and select a business idea that you feel passionate about. The road of entrepreneurship is challenging, but with a strong sense of why you are interested in a particular topic, what meaning it makes in the world and how it matches your unique DNA, you will blow by your competitors.

Final word: Tips for breaking the news you want to start a business to your relatives.

When counseling an Indian software engineer about 10 years ago from a successful engineering firm in Silicon Valley, he told me:

“My father told me that I have three career choices. I could be a doctor, an engineer or a failure.”

So he became an engineer who longed to be a creative writer. He drank. A lot.

It is easy to underplay the influence of family and friends on your ability to start your business. In reality, it can eat you up and make holiday visits and weekend calls tense and unpleasant.

So here are some common traps and suggested remedies for discussing your new business ideas with your parents and relatives:

Parent traps:

  • Thinking they understand what you are talking about.
    Have you ever tried to explain blogging or Twitter to your grandmother? Do your parents need to know all the gritty details of what you are working on, or can you explain it in a way that they can relate to or understand?
    Solution: Reduce any and all jargon.
    “Grandma, having a blog is kind of like sitting down and writing a letter to someone every day. But instead of it being delivered to only one mailbox, the same letter gets delivered to one thousand. And if someone likes what they read, they write back right away!”
  • Thinking they understand that you have changed since your failed lemonade stand in the fifth grade
    Families have a funny way of holding on to impressions of you that were formed when you weren’t old enough to hold your sippy cup steady. So instead of fighting it, just accept it, knowing that by working on your ideas, results will speak for themselves.
    Solution: Change your expectations.
    You will never be able to convince your family you have outgrown your innate shyness, so stop trying. Show results by your actions. If you get frustrated in a conversation, smile and change the subject quickly. The worst thing you can do is to argue your point. You will never win, and will most likely revert to acting like a ten-year old.
  • Thinking they understand the changing job market
    Some parents are perplexed by the fact that the average person now has seven careers in a lifetime. They grew up in a world where the best career security was finding a good job in a good company and staying until retirement. Lots of job changes were seen as being irresponsible, unstable, and a sign of a poor work ethic.
    Solution: Come armed with a nice elevator speech about today’s job market so that you can help them see you are not outside the norm.
    “Dad, most recruiters realize that in today’s tumultuous markets, smart employees will actively manage their careers and switch companies or start businesses as a way to mitigate risk. You don’t want to see me on the evening news walking out of my “stable company” with my things in a cardboard box like the Lehman employees, do you?”

By taking into consideration some of these personal and emotional issues related to starting a business along with the more straightforward ones, you will be much more likely to choose a business that has a chance of success, will deploy it faster, and will be more likely to be profiled as a raging success story on this blog, rather than someone mocked for inaction.

Success is the best revenge, isn’t it?

Special from Pam: Read the first chapter of Escape from Cubicle Nation here:

Ch 1 Escape From Cubby Nation



RSS readers: Can’t see the PDF? Click here
The book on Amazon:

* * *
Pamela Slim is a business coach, blogger and author of the just-released Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur. She’s been featured as an expert on entrepreneurship in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and US News & World Report.

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  1. Really great (and timely, for me) post. I may have to check out her book. I’ve already read yours Ramit, and even though your audience may not be mostly female, I think it’s essential that women start learning more about managing and growing finances, entrepreneurship, etc. Thanks for this!

  2. Instead of telling yourself that you can do it every morning, it should be more like vowing to kick your own ass every morning if you don’t do it.

  3. […] samples and a kink in my neck, I arrived home to sunshine and this article about starting your own business. A very nice, reassuring Wednesday […]

  4. “Witness my cold, listless countenance for people who ask, “Is it a good time to invest?” ”

    Darn. I was hoping for actual footage.

  5. By the way Pam, I’ve been subscribed to your blog for quite a while now. Your down-to-earth encouragement certainly played a role in me having the courage to finally quit my job and go full-time with writing last year.

    Thank you. 🙂

  6. Great post, Pam. I really like the way you have pointed out various fears of starting own business and how to tackle them. I am sure that book lays down a very clear path of how can anyone make the transition towards new ‘business’ life.

    I also liked your interview at Business Week few days ago and I would recommend everyone to read it:


  7. Here is a great video that I think can inspire entrepreneurs:

  8. I was really glad to see this post. Very timely for me, since I am leaving the military (the only job I’ve ever had) in the next 18 months. Thanks! I’ll have to check out the book.

  9. Ramit–

    True confession: with the release of your book, I was very worried about what would happen to the quality of your blog and considered taking it off my feed list. I’m still a bit concerned about the signal-to-noise, but this article is a refreshing reminder that you’ll still post good stuff. I’ve wish-listed her book on Amazon and will purchase shortly. Thanks to both of you.

    (For what it’s worth, I pre-ordered the IWTYTBR book.)

  10. Ramit – thanks for the support!

    Now you make me want to write about fairies and rainbows, just to spite you with my happy-fluffy coach language.

    And for the record, I have about equal numbers of male and female subscribers. 🙂

    @Bre – I agree, we all need to learn about all parts of business. Woman are the fastest growing segment of new entrepreneurs.

    @444 – whatever works. some people need the drill sargent approach, others the softer, gentler touch

    @ObliviousInvestor – I would love to see Ramit’s video too. And thanks for reading my blog!

    @Anne – great resource, thanks for sharing

    @Jeff – good luck with your next steps after the military career! At the end of this month, I am joining Guy Kawasaki and a bunch of other bloggers on an aircraft carrier off San Diego. I plan on talking with a lot of folks on board about entrepreneurship!

    @Tyler – as someone in Ramit’s position who has been promoting a book, I know it is hard to generate tons of content when in full-out book promotion. I am sure once he gets off the road, he will get back to doing what he does best — writing meaty, practical content. Some of my readers have been impatient with my lack of posting too, it is the bummer side of writing a book.