On Running A Very Small Business

19 February 2010, by A. Cedilla

Chris Guillebeau (of the popular blog The Art of Nonconformity) guest-wrote for ZenHabits early this month, and shared his thoughts on how he made his “very small business” succeed.

His advice in that post isn’t for everyone. After all, it’s mainly for –and from — the sole proprietor running a one-man business, and a deliberately small one, at that. But the outpouring of support he’s built up from the quality of his work (he has thousands of fans and followers on his social media network) shows that he has a truly inspirational approach to life.

Guillebeau’s goal was, and still is, “to make a good living without simply creating a job for (him)self.” He’s been doing so for over ten years. What follows are some issues that rose after reading his post.

1. Hire no one. If your business can get by with just you at the helm, ok. Some professions lend themselves to one-man operations. There are free-lance writers and CPA’s, for example.

It’s also an enormous help if a) you’re the type to go it alone and enjoy it, and b) you’ve got the stamina for dealing with the requirements of the business, i.e, being the Chief Bottle-washer as well as the CFO/CEO/tech support, etc. –for as long as you want the business to succeed.

And that can take a long time. Even Chris admits it can get tiring, as he explained in this post.

And what if you get sick, or side-lined? Bored or burnt-out? A one-man show can’t go on indefinitely without that one man, even if he has Batman’s back-up planning skills.

2. Outsource very little. This ties in with point no.1.

You’ve got to have very clear priorities and a strong sense of discipline — not to mention high energy levels –to structure the business in a way that it can run entirely on your efforts.

There’s also the trade-off of having to spend time working to learn every aspect of your business, versus having a professional promptly attend to the issues you haven’t mastered.

It’s different for everyone; we each have our own priorities. Some people do better work when they’re free to do what they’re good at, and leave the things they don’t like doing to other people who are good at dealing with those things.

3. Offer no customization. He has a good point here, because doing so filters out the people who want customization, meaning that the people who stay for your product want it as is. You keep a market for your products, and keep your business to a small, manageable level.

4. Pursue a lot of opportunities, but don’t be afraid to cancel. In the rush to succeed, we often push ourselves to try everything out, get all our stuff out there. What drives this is the fear of missing out on opportunities, and how does this leave us?


We try everything, and stick with nothing, losing out. Be more selective. Don’t jump at every sparkly thing.

5. Offer more to the right people. Another tie in, this time with point no. 3. Focus on your existing market, and mine the living heck out of it. Offer best value to the people who want you.

6. Set a clear, non-ambiguous goal. This connects to points 1 and 2. You need to know what you want to have at the end of the day before you start anything big, otherwise, why waste your energy on something that turns out to be not what you aimed for?

7. Provide the strongest possible guarantee, and stop worrying. Explained in more depth here.

8. Focus entirely on relationship building and cash flow.

Word. You can’t survive if you don’t connect. You can’t connect if you don’t relate. And the bottom line is still the bottom line.

9. Track two key metrics and ignore the rest. His metrics? The number of new readers in a day, and the total daily earnings. The rest are incidental. (See point 8) So it’s not just the value of knowing your metrics, but knowing which ones are of value.

All this and he get’s to do what he really aimed for. That’s some good advice.

As an aside, Chris also wrote two wildly popular guides to unconventional success. If you’re interested, click on the links:

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