I'm always interested in
seeing how other microbusiness owners making a living under their own
volition. One of my early role models was Herrick Kimball,
creator of the Whizbang
(among other farm-related inventions.)
To me, Herrick's
microbusiness is a sure success because I've seen his product in use in
multiple households. It's cool, it works, and it even has a
perfect name. I like his idea of selling do-it-yourself guides
in addition to physical products, too.
Herrick uses the same
model we do to come up with ideas --- rather than reinventing the
wheel, he bases his inventions on old timey tools or on modern gadgets
in use by big businesses but unknown to the small farmer.
Clearly, you don't have to come up with your own idea to create a niche
product; you just need to know a good product when you see one.
Perhaps Herrick's strongest
microbusiness asset is his love of blogging. His posts drives
readers to his Whizbang business and make his products turn up higher
in web searches. Everybody who loves to blog should have a
microbusiness since every blog post gives you more power in the
Despite all of the
things that Herrick did right, as our own microbusiness grew, I started
critiquing his microbusiness. I subscribed to his blog and was
surprised to discover that he still works full time in a factory job
that he hates. Rule 1 of our microbusiness path to
is to make enough money so that you can stop doing anything you hate to
do. By those standards, Herrick's microbusiness is not a success
yet. (I suspect that Herrick makes just as much money from his
microbusiness as we do from ours, but he has several kids and probably
isn't as tied to frugality.)
I also wonder whether
Herrick might not make more money if he started selling ebooks rather
than sinking his capital into physical books. Rule 2 of Microbusiness
Independence is to keep your startup capital as low as possible
so that you can quit your job quickly and really start living. That said, I find very
little else to complain about in Herrick's business.
I hope you're inspired
to try your own hand at starting a microbusiness. Check out our
$4 ebook about starting a
business for lots of
tips that will help you quit your job twice as fast.
If you've read our ebook about starting a
small business and quitting your job, you'll remember that one of
my top pieces of advice is to keep your costs low. We're just
starting to apply the lessons we learned with our last microbusiness to
our new ebook and are discovering that ebooks are even easier than
physical products to market on the cheap, especially if you leverage
What is Google Books? This facet of the big
search engine company allows publishers and authors to send their books
to Google so that the entire book can be searchable over the
internet. You can set options so that visitors can view anywhere
from 20% to 100% of your book for free online, including or excluding
pictures. I've often been searching for a bit of info, ended up
in the middle of a book listed on Google Books, and become so
enthralled by the book that I headed straight to the library to read
the 80% that isn't freely listed online. I assume that most folks
aren't quite as cheap as I am, and instead plunk down some cash to buy
books like this, especially since Google Books will link directly to
the page on your website where visitors can buy your book.
Google Books amounts to free advertising, and the website
is set up to make it easy for ebook publishers to list their
writings. If you don't already have a Google account, you'll need
to sign up for one. Then add in a bit of contact information and
upload a pdf file of your book (or mail in a paper copy, but this will
take much, much longer.) Since you probably won't have an ISBN
number, you'll have to skip over "1. Tell us about your books" and go
straight to "2. Send us your books." If the file you're uploading
contains the cover and the content of the book all together, rename the
file to match the title of your book and upload it as is.
Otherwise, you'll need to read Google's simple instructions about
naming the cover files and content files.
Then be patient and wait
for your book to show up. This is the stage I'm at --- I'll be
sure to update you on how the next steps go once I get to them.
Putting your products on
sale seems like an anti-intuitive method to make more money, but it can
actually work. Our chicken
waterers tend to hit a sluggish period as the weather cools, at
which point we stop advertising and settle in for a restful
winter. This year, we decided to see if we could boost our winter
profit with a 10% off sale combined with an
email to our past customers.
The sale definitely helped increase our conversion rate. The week
before the sale began, we had a 2% conversion rate (meaning that 2% of
the people who dropped by our website bought a waterer.) The
first week of our sale, our conversion rate jumped to 3% --- a 50%
increase! Of course, we made a little less money per waterer sold
during the sale period, but even with that factored in our gross sales
increased by 35%.
Check out our small
business ebook for other hints on free and cheap methods of
increasing your sales.
submitted Microbusiness Independence to Google Books, I was ready
to wait a month or two to see my information live. Imagine my
surprise to check back a week later and see our book in place!
At the moment, our
book's title is misspelled, but I have high hopes that will be fixed
with a little patience. Otherwise, I have to say that the
uploading process was astonishingly easy and quick.
Of course, I'll have to
wait and see whether listing our book on Google sends us more
customers. As usual, I'll keep you informed!
Meanwhile, feel free to
check out our ebook for information about creating your own job.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted some pointers
your business with an email list. At the same time, I
sent out an email to all of our own past customers, telling them about
a holiday sale. In the business, this type of list would be known
as a warm list --- clearly, all of the folks on it had bought our chicken waterers at one time,
but some of them hadn't visited our website in a full year.
What were the
results? 0.3% of the people asked to be removed from our list, 1%
of the people had questions about use of our product, and 1.5% of the
people came to our website to make another purchase. These
numbers are pretty normal for email lists, where the return rate
(percentage of people who visit your site afterwards and make a
purchase) is usually between 0.3% and 1%.
Although those return
rates sound pretty low, keep in mind that sending out an email to your
past customers costs you nothing except a bit of time. Check out
our ebook for more tips about advertising your business
Mark and I are seriously snowed in --- no phone, no power, and the road
too icy to travel. I've mailed this blog entry to my brother on a
CD, which is my best option to get on the internet at the moment.
We have high hopes that
we'll at least be able to make it to town (and the internet) by the end
of the week. Meanwhile, if you've sent me an email or had trouble
downloading your ebook, I apologize profusely for the delay. Have
hope --- you'll be first on my agenda when we reach the outside world!
The Apple Grower
by Michael Phillips documents two men's journey toward making a living
on an organic apple orchard. At the time of the book's writing,
the author and his partner had been running their orchard for five
years and had made their way to a lofty hourly wage of $3.50.
Okay, so their endeavor
is clearly a labor of love funded in part by their wives' full time
jobs. In fact, the book read like a cautionary tale, a reminder
that even though we love growing things, agriculture is far from the
best way to make a buck.
Still, the fact that
their small orchard is even breaking even is quite a coup in this day
and age. I ascribe their moderate success to:
- Value-added products.
A large proportion of apples grown organically are never going to look
pretty enough to be sold to the general public as is. If turned
into fresh and hard cider, jelly, apple butter, and vinegar, though,
those low value (but tasty!) fruits turn into top dollar products.
- Attracting tourists.
Their operation is built around an old timey, water powered cider
mill. Tourists show up just to see the structure, then end up
buying apples and cider.
- Mail order. The
most beautiful apples and the highest value products are sold through a
mail order catalog. The book doesn't mention a website, but that
would be my inclination as a way to save on printing costs and attract
an even wider audience. In either case, the idea is valid ---
sell high value products to a larger customer base and you can charge
more realistic prices.
In my opinion, the
orchard has two major problems preventing it from becoming a profitable
microbusiness. First, organic apples aren't really a niche
product --- you can even buy some of the most boring varieties in the
grocery store. Second, apples are heavy so shipping costs
probably deter many buyers.
Still, if you're
dreaming of an agricultural microbusiness, The Apple Grower is a good
book to pick up. If you'd like more tips on starting a profitable
microbusiness of any sort, check out our ebook about starting your
own business and quitting your job.
One great thing about ebooks is that you can
sell them in a lot of different ways. We currently sell our microbusiness ebook on
our own website and have
listed it on Google books for more free exposure. Time to see
whether it's worth our while to sell our ebook to an even wider
audience through Amazon's Kindle Store.
Uploading our ebook to Google was quite painless, but I can't same the
same for uploading the same ebook to Amazon. At the moment,
Amazon recommends that you upload your ebook in MS Word, HTML, or PRC
format. When I converted my OpenOffice file to a Word file then
uploaded it, the result was wonky. Next, I decided to give PDF a
shot since Amazon allows ebooks to be uploaded in PDF format (though
they warn of low conversion quality.) My conclusion? Amazon
was right --- their conversion of PDF files is even worse.
While fighting with file formats, I decided to poke around and see what
the finances of listing an ebook on Amazon look like. Google
makes their money by putting a bit of advertising on the side of
your book page, but Amazon's business model involves getting money
directly from the sale of your book. And Amazon's commission is
quite steep --- they take 65% of the retail price as
their own profit before giving you a 35% royalty.
For the moment, I've
decided to give up on listing our ebook on Amazon. It looks like
I'd need to manually reformat an html file to make our book look pretty
again, which just sounds like too much work if they're taking such a
big commission. I'd be curious to hear if other folks have
decided that selling ebooks through Amazon is worth their while.
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of people try to
trick the system using search engine optimization, but it's nearly as
easy to get to the top of the search engines organically. My
advice is to find out which part of the internet you love and make a
presence for yourself. If you're like us and love to blog, then
make sure you post a blog entry every day. Or maybe you'd rather
hang out on Facebook, tweet your way to significance, or shoot the bull
on forums. As long as your online presence is visibly linked to
your business website, every time you make a post or a tweet, you're
making your business site more important and netting more customers.
We attribute quite a bit of our microbusiness success
to our incessant blogging. Our homestead blog
gave our business a jumpstart --- rather than starting as an
insignificant website tucked away in a dark corner of the internet, our
business was attached to a well-read and loquacious blog.
Although only a limited number of people read the blog itself, by
adding a little note at the end of each of our personal blog entries
with a link to our business website, we quickly pushed our business
website to the top of the search engine rankings. The same effect
is easy to achieve by, for example, putting a link to your website in
your forum signature and posting up a storm on a well-read forum.
So find a part of the
internet you enjoy and get out there! Think of search engine
optimization as running for political office. No one's going to
vote for you if you don't put in your time kissing babies.