Small Business

Me, Cheap? That's a Compliment


By Bret Lamperes A lot of people ask me, "Why are you starting dot-com businesses? Aren't you afraid you will go under like the rest of the dot-coms?" I calmly tell them the statistics: Eight out of every 10 businesses fail, no matter whether they are dot-coms or the latest restaurant.

The number of dot-com businesses that have gone belly-up is a small fraction of the dot-coms still in business. The forecast for online business this year is still $850 billion in sales! The reason I feel safe starting dot-com businesses is that I believe money is not the only issue. In fact, more money can be worse than too little -- and that gives me an advantage in this market.

When your bank account is low and options seem few, you have a decision to make: You can give up, or you can engage the most complex computer on the face of the earth to help you solve the problem. I'm talking, of course, about the human brain.

CASH-FLOW PROBLEM. The reaction from some people I know is quite amusing. What do you mean by saying more money is worse than too little, they ask? Most outfits go out of business because they are undercapitalized, they insist. I don't believe the dot-coms that went under can complain about having been underfinanced by venture-capital firms. I think they had problems with cash flow, not with capital.

If you are short on capital, you had better be long on ideas. We don't have any problems at my business except idea problems. We don't have money problems, marketing problems, or personnel problems. We just haven't yet thought of the ideas that will fix the issues that come up in those areas. Come up with the right idea and you don't have a problem!

We have been thinking outside of the box at our moving company, which has led us to try a different approach to our Web business. Let me share some examples that illustrate how we have applied the concept that the only problems are idea problems.

~~TIGHT BUDGET.~~ We started an office in the nearby community of Greeley, Colo., in January, 1996, on a budget of only $2,000. Everyone (except my wife) told me I was crazy to try opening an office on such a tight budget. But I focused on how we could do it, not on why it couldn't be done.

I went to a mini-storage facility that was just opening and asked if we could open an office with them for a few months if I gave them all my storage customers for a year. They let us use their site for our office for free for three months!

Here's how we solved another problem: I had to advertise and didn't have the money to spend on marketing. I am a firm believer in feedback. On our feedback cards, we ask how people came to hear about our business. The majority say, "We see your trucks around town."

KEEP ON TRUCKING. So I took four trucks to Greeley, positioning two north of town and two to the west. The drivers were instructed to keep moving through the entire week. It didn't take long for our phones to light up with people saying, "We see your trucks everywhere! You must be the best moving company in town!"

We have been applying the same kind of thinking to our online business. For example, we recently hired someone new, whose duties will be split between the moving company and the dot-com business. Each outfit pays half of the salary, making it possible for us to get a better-qualified person to help out in each place than we might otherwise have been able to afford.

My point is: Don't let mental roadblocks stop you. Look at every issue you deal with as an idea problem, not as something that will stop your progress. You just need to hit on the right idea to find a solution. The advantage to not having money is that you don't have a lot of choices: Come up with the ideas or you stop pushing forward.

LEAN AND INNOVATIVE. I think there is a place for venture capital in my business. But I want the luxury of staying hungry in order to come up with ideas that will produce cash flow. And then I'd like to throw money at expanding ideas that work with very little capital. In other words, ideas birthed from a lack of capital can be effective on a larger scale when capital becomes available.

These are questions you should ask yourself -- ideas and concepts that need to be reviewed often. Erase the chalkboard and ask them on a regular basis, at a simple level daily, and in more detail every month. It doesn't matter whether you run an Internet business, a brick-and-mortar operation, a startup, or an established Corporation. This is what I ask in the moments that I allow my brain to step back from everyday concerns in order to look at the big picture:

* Can I work with another established business to produce a win-win situation?

* What are my most effective and inexpensive ways to get people to hear about my company?

* Am I asking for the right questions to get feedback that will produce the answers I need, questions that will inspire ideas to move us forward?

* Do I turn problems into roadblocks, or do I just have an idea problem?

I hope our failures and successes help you become a possibility thinker, someone who never stops coming up with ideas to help sort out those issues that confront us daily. Bret Lamperes is an

entrepreneur in Northern Colorado. He owns Dandelion Moving &

Storage, Dandelion Mini-Storage, and DickerABid.com


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