How to succeed in business for free?
By Herb Drill
Where was this book when my friend Stan and I wanted to open a bagel shop?
How to Start a Business for Free: the Ultimate Guide to Building Something Profitable From Nothing was written by David Caplan for Silver Lake Publishing (ISBN 1-56343-770-8, paperback, 308 pages, $16.95, www.silverlakepub.com), and entrepreneur Caplan explains that a jobless recovery “is the perfect time to start your own business - for free.”
Caplan has started several successful businesses in California and other western states and has written a series of books on how consumers can get things for free. This effort combines his two areas of expertise for the first time.
He notes an Institute of Supply Management survey of U.S. purchasing managers which offered good news about the economy: gains in its index of manufacturing activity and the non-manufacturing index. He sees “any reading above 50% indicates economic expansion.” Still, the U.S. economy
has lost many jobs and initial claims for unemployment have been high. In some industries, jobs lost during the recovery nears the number lost in the actual recession. To economists, this means a jobless recovery - the result of fundamental changes in technology and the way businesses operate.
To Caplan, this shows the time has never been better for Americans to go into business for themselves, and his book offers start-ups the tools for getting their businesses off the ground.
He believes people tend to start businesses for two reasons:
they can’t find a traditional job, or they think running their own business will be easy. Quickly, he emphasizes the second item isn’t true. Yet he offers numerous
examples of successful entrepreneurs who started their own businesses because they’d been laid off from more secure jobs, and he believes this is a healthy trend in the economy.
The World According to Caplan maintains that “as you begin to talk to others who have made the small-business leap and look at other businesses which are opening in the economy around you, you’ll see opportunities for entrepreneurship abound. You can turn anything you love into a money-making opportunity.”
Caplan notes Americans live in a time of “great uncertainty” for most businesses and business people. That’s bad news for some large companies; but it’s a great opportunity for “scrappy start-ups. It’s about stretching every dollar you invest in your business, or that your business generates, to improve your chances of surviving the critical first couple of years - succeeding long after that. Every business needs some investment -but the free market mentality is essential to any for-profit venture.”
Caplan describes that mentality as a “boot-strapping mindset that saves money wherever it can. It shakes a printer cartridge when it’s low on toner to print one last invoice. It finds a good sublet for half the price of standard office space. It does all of this to make sure the start-up business
survives, lasts another month, makes it through a tough quarter, makes it past a rotten week. It saves a nickel here and dime there because in the future - maybe a few months away, maybe a couple of years - every start-up has a break-even point. Once it reaches that point, the business generates enough cash flow to support itself and its owner.
The tough part is reaching that point, and the book’s chapters over such points as: Choosing a Business; Meeting the Customers, and the Competition; Nuts and Bolts of Business Ownership; Getting Money for Free;
Moving from the Plan to Operations; Office Space, Equipment & Other Supplies, and Building a Web Site for Your Business. Caplan includes detailed checklists, sample forms, and contacts which the start-up can use right away. He adds numerous resource appendices, including: Where to Get a Business License; Patent & Trademark Resources; Equipment Resources; Business Plan Tools; Small Business Development Centers; Women’s Mentoring Organizations, and Business Incubators.
There’s advice on everything from picking a name and location to negotiations for financing through the Small Business Administration - but suggests avoiding business loans as long as possible. Foremost, he backs up his advice with tools and contacts.