My editorial calendar suggested, to no one’s surprise, that I write about freedom or independence on this 4th of July. It didn’t take me too long to figure out that I should go straight to the expert.
Chris Guillebeau’s book, The $100 Startup, is all about freedom. See what I mean in this short interview.
Alyson: In your book signings, you carry along a rubber stamp that says “Freedom” which you stamp on the page before signing. What do you mean when you talk about freedom? What does it mean, to you, to be free?
Chris: Freedom was the motivation mentioned by many of the people whose stories are told in The $100 Startup. A lot of people talked about how much they valued freedom, and how their new business had given them the freedom to set their own schedule and determine their own priorities.
Freedom is an underlying motivation for me too, but it doesn’t necessarily mean “working less.” To me it refers more to the concepts of opportunity and possibility. I can fill my time as I see fit, and much of the time I fill it with work I find meaningful. But the point is, the choice is up to me. That’s freedom.
Alyson: Freedom was certainly a motivation for starting my business, but now I have to consider what is best for my artist-clients. Many of them are feeling the pressure to succeed with their art business. They might have a day job they’d like to shed, been tending to family, or been laid off in the recession. They don’t feel like they have much time.
Are there shortcuts to freedom?
Chris: Probably half of the case studies in the book began while working a day job, and in many ways, a day job can be beneficial. In addition to the obvious benefits of income and health insurance, if you have a busy work week and limited free time, you need to be more diligent about spending those limited hours on tasks that matter. You can’t spend your time surfing the Internet or messing around on something that doesn’t directly affect the success of the project.
I’m not a huge fan of shortcuts per se, but I do believe in simplification. Many of us have heard that “starting a business” or “being an entrepreneur” is a convoluted, mystical process. You hear that you have to write a 60-page business plan even though you have no idea whether the business idea in question will actually work.
On the other hand, The $100 Startup model is all about starting quickly (i.e., less than 30 days to market), not spending a lot of money, and focusing on the skills, resources, and contacts that you already have. I’m not sure it’s a shortcut, but it’s definitely a lot faster than the old way.
Alyson: Do we sacrifice anything when we seek the kind of freedom you’re talking about?
Chris: Sure. We sacrifice a routine and set of obligations dictated to us by someone else. In some ways, it’s nice and comforting to defer our security and routine to an external party like a boss. Fortunately, many people soon realize that this is a false comfort, and that’s when they yearn for something different.
Alyson: Finally, I know a lot of people feel tied to responsibilities. They have kids to raise, elderly parents to care for, or debt to pay off. Or, as is often the case, they have a spouse who isn’t buying into the concept.
Is freedom still within their reach? Can they do anything right now to put them on the path to freedom?
Chris: Those things are all real. They matter. So to begin, I’d never suggest that anyone quit their job right away with no kind of safety net.
At the same time, these responsibilities can also lead to paralysis, especially when the person can’t imagine any other kind of existence. Some of the case studies from the book came from people who had been forced into making decisions quickly, often because of a job loss or big personal change. But in some ways, the other stories—those who took action even though they didn’t necessarily have to right away—are more inspiring. Numerous people talked about creating a side project that produced more than $50,000 a year in income, even as they spent most of their working week at the day job.
So yes, I believe that freedom is within the reach of most of your readers. I’d suggest focusing as much as possible on how they can help people. Yes, follow your passion, but do so in a useful way. Focus on what you can offer, and how you can make a real difference in someone’s life. A lot of business models were built in exactly this manner.
Happy Independence Day!
Chris Guillebeau is the author of The $100 Startup and has a truly inspirational blog at The Art of Non-Conformity.