When it comes to unconventional business ideas, “the world is changing,” asserts Chris Guillebeau, who arrived at that conclusion through a wealth of entrepreneurial experience that has involved the importation of coffee from Jamaica and the creation of a small publishing company in Africa.
An example of that change, says the Portland, Oregon-based Guillebeau, author of “The Art of Non-Conformity” and “The $100 Startup,” can be seen in the fact that “more and more people are getting online and becoming comfortable with online shopping. A few years ago, my grandma got her first e-mail address—from AOL, of course—and now she shops at Zappos.”
Also responsible for some of this change, he adds, is that the “barriers to entry have greatly lowered” for folks who’d like to start their own small businesses. In fact, while researching his second book, he found “all kinds of people setting up shop without spending a lot of money and without going back to school.”
Given all of that, Guillebeau says “it's a fantastic time to consider branching out into earning income in new ways.”
How Do Businesses Complement Each Other?
It's a fantastic time
to consider branching out
into earning income in new ways.
Michael and Melissa Salvatore surely would agree. After all, the couple successfully opened a combination cafe and bike shop called Heritage Bicycles General Store in Chicago last year after helping others set up small businesses in New York City.
Speaking of which, one of the reasons Heritage focuses on bike fabrication is that the start-up Michael helped establish out east focused on the same thing. As for the store’s coffee-house element: Michael says the initial idea was “to help supplement the off-time of bicycling.”
Beyond that, though, he and Melissa also “enjoy entertaining and being around people in general—so we couldn't imagine running a business that was in-and-out,” Michael explains. “We wanted a place where people could stick around and have an excuse to keep coming back.”
They also were hoping the cafe portion of the shop would help sustain business during lean times, he adds, but in reality “they have become two separate businesses—in the sense that they take care of themselves—and neither is truly dependent on the other.”
What Do People Want?
Has Heritage Bicycles General Store’s uniqueness helped secure its success? Although Michael says that may be the case, he also suggests that being unconventional can only take a small business so far. You have to keep customers coming back— “and that depends mostly on being able to establish a steady, comfortable environment for people.”
You also have to “stand behind your product, your staff, and your mission if you want people to stick with you,” he advises.
Among the other words of wisdom Michael has for men and women who’d like to follow in his and his wife’s atypical footsteps: “Be prepared to talk about your ideas a lot. People are going to be curious [about them], so you’d better have thought it through. And make sure you’re really supporting your concept by training your people and presenting every product in such a way that people know you take all sides of your business seriously.”
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As for Guillebeau, he suggests that folks considering non-standard business ideas keep in mind that “while much has changed in terms of access to information and the speed of starting up, the fundamentals of business remain the same. You have to have a great product or service.”
You also have to make sure you're providing the public “something that's not just interesting but also valuable and desirable,” he adds. “Aspiring entrepreneurs often fail to focus enough on making things that other people really want.”