Editor’s Note: The following article is part of a series written in connection with the Adventures in Entrepreneurship” event, featuring Richard Branson. The event includes an online “panel discussion” around certain questions posed by Clay Shirky, our Facilitator.I and two other blogger panelists have been asked to write about business topics posed by the Facilitator. The following is the fourth and final question.
Question: If you weren’t doing what you are doing, what business would you launch tomorrow?
Response: If I were not doing what I am doing today, I would be doing something similar. Sound like I am hedging? Bear with me as I explain.
By doing something similar I mean that I would be:
- running several businesses that are symbiotic and related in ways that I can see, but which must seem far-flung and unrelated to the casual observer;
- bootstrapping small businesses, because today I think there is so much opportunity for small businesses versus larger ones that there is no need to get out and get venture capital or other seed money;
- leveraging the Internet with information businesses, because those areas have growth potential and, besides, they are what I know — and everyone should be in business with something they know.
Once again I will refer back to the words of Richard Branson for inspiration.
In his book, Losing My Virginity, (it’s a business book, trust me), he writes about how his Virgin Companies seem to lack a cohesive connection to outsiders, but that there is a symbiotic relationship between many of them: “When Virgin Atlantic opens a flight to South Africa, I find that we can launch Virgin Radio and Virgin Cola there.”
He describes his hodgepodge of 200 or 300 companies as a jigsaw, and says that he refuses to be held by conventional thinking about sticking to your knitting. Rather, he remains fluid in his thinking and does not rule out anything:
“The more diffuse the company becomes, the more frequently I am asked about my vision for Virgin. I tend either to avoid this question or to answer it at great length, safe in the knowledge that I will give a different version the next time I’m asked. My vision for Virgin has never been rigid and changes constantly, like the company itself.”
I myself take this view. For instance, in addition to running this site and putting out information products (special reports, etc.) dealing with trends in the small business market, we also put out information products for motorcycle dealerships, and we publish an ad-supported, award-winning site for RFID technology. We also do consulting. We also write for other blog sites for compensation. And we consult with other small businesses to show them how to promote themselves online.
What’s the connection? Everything relates to providing business information in some fashion and leverages the Internet. As long as these two criteria are present, I will consider any opportunity that presents itself.
I believe in bootstrapping small businesses whenever possible, because today the cost of starting many kinds of businesses is very low — dirt cheap actually. That’s especially true for information-based businesses. When I look at a business opportunity, I ask first whether it will throw off sufficient free cash flow fairly quickly, to pay a group of outside contractors whom I hire to provide specialized skills. Despite being a small business and a “virtual” company, I hire the best in order to leverage my reach. Plowing whatever money is earned back into the business is a key growth strategy for my businesses at this point, and I think should be for any small business in its early years.
Finally, there is always a business information component to what I do. I tend to be a bit of a wonk. That’s my nature, and so I leverage it. I dig deep to find information niches that are not saturated, and fill the voids. For instance, with the RFID Weblog, we were one of the very first on the topic out there. By consistently working at it over a period of nearly two years, we have built up a loyal readership and have begun to be taken seriously by companies that would not have paid us any respect a year ago. This site you are on, Small Business Trends, was one of the early business blogs, and we have deliberately taken an approach of doing things that either the mainstream media publications or other business blogs are not doing. We try new things (PowerBlog Reviews, bringing in outside experts to comment on trends, this American Express OPEN event, and soon, a companion radio program.)
Having spent much of my career in the corporate world, I’ve come later than some to the entrepreneurial party. But that experience in the corporate world has been my secret sauce. It continues to supply the business grounding needed to have a clear sense of where I want to go in my businesses — even if that means maintaining an unstructured “Richard Branson” view.
What do you think? What would you be doing? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts. (To comment, click on the small “comment” link at the bottom of this post — it will bring up a small window at the bottom of the page where you can type in your comments.)
Read what the other two participating bloggers, Dane Carlson at Business Opportunities Weblog, and Rob May at BusinessPundit, have to say about this question.
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Follow the conversation at Technorati: OPEN Adventures
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The opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect those of American Express. If you post on the blogs, be aware that any personal information you post will be viewable by anybody reading the blogs.The facilitator and bloggers for this event have been compensated for their time by OPEN from American Express.