Bullish: Starting A Business When You’re Broke (Or Making Money During The Great Recession)

If you’re telling the right people, you probably don’t have to pay much to reach them

In Bullish: How to Sell Without Selling, I wrote that if your product actually provides benefits to people at a cost they judge to be less than the value of those benefits, you shouldn’t have to hard-sell them. If you’re a salesperson, you might be stuck selling something that fails to meet this criterion; if it’s your own business, you have no excuse.

If you’re starting your own company, make sure you know who, exactly, your potential buyers are, and that they actually have the money and want to spend it. (If in doubt, sell expensive things to rich people!)

For reaching people, technology is a beautiful thing. (Or not, actually – see Bullish: Pre-Internet Productivity Tips for the Young and Sprightly.) Why does everyone want to take headshots of actors? Actors are broke! The market is oversaturated! Why don’t you take headshots of businesspeople and make them look really competent? If someone did that – please, free business idea, someone take it! – and sent me a well-written, non-desperate personal email (I like your work, yadda yadda, if you ever need business headshots, please think of me), I’d be amenable. If the person were just starting out, offering to take photos of business bigshots for free might be good way to build a portfolio.

I once handled the marketing for a whole foods co-op that had run out of cash and thus – amazingly – food to sell. It was early November, Thanksgiving was approaching, and the co-op had never bothered to do anything about the fact that they were four blocks from PETA’s national headquarters. I designed some flyers (so ’90s!) with a picture of a happy turkey and some text about saving turkeys by ordering your vegan Tofurkey early. I spent $5 to print them, and sent an intern to go put them on all the cars in PETA’s parking lot. Can Google target like that? I don’t think so!

Monetize your “alumni”

Do you have friendly ex-clients who can’t really buy from you anymore? You’re a nanny and the kids grew up? You make custom furniture and the person’s house is pretty much now full of awesome furniture? You edit dissertations and the person has a PhD? You’ve already photographed their wedding – even if they do get divorced and need another photographer eight years later, dear god, they’re not going to hire the same one.

Plenty of businesses have an “alumni base” of happy customers. If the business relationship has come to an end anyway, you have almost nothing to lose by contacting these people. If you annoy the living shit out of them, what’s the worst they’re going to do? Tell people they really liked buying things from you, but now you email them too much? You can live with that Yelp review.

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