Technology has changed the landscape of business. Today it is easier than ever to create a cashflow from a personal brand or small business. It does not require you to invent the next Uber or Facebook. What it takes is combining a passion and a skill in an interesting way.
Here’s the formula:
skill + a platform + passion = profitable business
After directing the Foundry at the Lassonde Institute I was hired by a small startup called WP Curve to create content that would help entrepreneurs grow their businesses. Though the startup is based in San Francisco, I was able to travel and work from my laptop. I take advantage of this to travel to hotspots where entrepreneurs are congregating and learn their stories.
In this post I’ll share a case study of how one entrepreneur built a business using this formula, and break it down so you can use it too.
A new kind of entrepreneur
While living in Chiang Mai, I met a girl named Marion Bouquet. She was French, but spoke excellent English. In fact, she had a passion for English since she was young. She learned the basics of English by watching American movies and imitating the characters.
She had a business that allowed her to live half of the year in Chiang Mai and the other half in France. She found a niche doing explainer videos, short videos for businesses and startups that explain what a product or service does. Sometimes in French and sometimes in English.
Voice acting is nothing new. In fact, it is quite a competitive market. How did she break into this market? She created a unique offer for her customers by leveraging her French accent. You could have an English voice over with a “light accent” or a “heavy accent.” Though that probably disqualified her to 95 percent or more of the market for voiceovers, it gave her a unique edge that provided enough customers for her to make enough to live comfortably and travel.
How to find your French accent
Across the world, there is an increasing number of entrepreneurs building small niche businesses like this that allow them to pursue a passion and live life on their own terms. We can use Bouquet’s example to see the formula.
Let’s break each one down.
This is a marketable skill. Something that people are willing to pay for. In Bouquet’s case this was voice acting. She took a few courses online on the art of voice acting and the basics of audio recording. With dedication and practice, she developed her skill and brand over time.
You can learn more about how Bouquet got her start here.
Many entrepreneurs and founders are successful because of their ability to develop and focus on a singular skill that moves the needle for their business. In a recent article I interviewed eiight founders on the one critical skill they focused on to grow their business.
I don’t recommend starting out of the gates trying to build a skill or a product that is untested, or that people aren’t already paying for. Young entrepreneurs are often so focused on having a unique or original idea so that they can avoid competition.
I recommend focusing on developing a skill where there’s a market already established, there’s lots of people paying for it and the trend seems to indicate that there will be more people paying in the future.
Here’s a list of skills that are in high demand:
- Search engine optimization
- Pay per click marketing
- Content marketing
- Video production and animation
- Coding languages
All of these skills are on the rise and incredibly practical. There’s endless content online teaching these skills and most of it is free.
As a student you have many advantages at your disposal to help you develop these skills.
- Ask your university for funding to bring an expert and have a workshop
- Ask to do a test project for a business and get some real world experience
- Create customized internships or research projects that involve these skills
I go more in depth with each of these strategies here: Alumni Viewpoint: 5 Tips for Student Success.
This is a place where people can find you and do business with you. Bouquet got her start on Upwork and Fiverr and built her own brand over time. As she built up her portfolio and relationships with customers she was able to encourage her customers to work with her outside of Fiverr and Upwork at her own rates, which meant bigger margins and less hassle.
To get started, you can use freelancing marketplaces to take on work and build experience.
Here’s a few ideas for platforms:
- Fiverr is great for creative people and lets you monetize a skill in almost any way imaginable
- Udemy is a great place for people who have something to teach. You can create an online course and use Udemy to host it and sell it.
- Upwork has a variety of opportunities for technical skills like coding and marketing.
- Etsy is a marketplace for handmade goods, perfect for crafty artists.
You’ll want to create your own platform and brand as quickly as possible. Many of the above sites have great traffic and lots of work opportunities, but you want to start driving customers to your own website. Fortunately creating a website and getting an online presence has never been easier or more affordable.
Creating a site with WordPress can be done for as little as $100. WordPress is excellent for is customizability and availability of plugins.
Squarespace is another good alternative that is easy to use, but less customizable.
Passion, your French accent
Your passion is the key to differentiation. Incorporating your passion into your work will help you define who your customer is and the product or service you create.
This gets you excited to go to work in the morning. Many entrepreneurs have a morning routine that sets them up to be at their best when they work with their passion.
A passion will also keep you going when you are faced with challenges and uncertainty.
Passion is your “Reason Why”
Your passion is what your customer will resonate with. People want to know why you are doing what you’re doing. It interests and engages them and allows them to get to know you. This is critically important because it creates that “gut feeling” of trust with the people you work with.
In Get on the Plane: You Become What You Do at the Margins Taylor Pearson discusses why when evaluating business opportunities he puts a lot of weight on how he feels about the person he is going to work with rather than how he feels about the deal:
“I am more focused on seeing how I feel about the people. Unlike all the other elements on this list, people are actually the one thing where you can always trust your gut. Everything else is counterintuitive; your initial feeling is probably wrong about how risky something is or how long it will take, but it’s probably dead on about people.”
This one is both the most simple and trickiest. Connecting it with marketable skills may not be obvious right away. For example if you love to ski, you could develop a skill like search engine optimization and work with local ski brands such as Saga for 4FRNT reach a bigger audience.
How to go bigger
Even if you do want to create the next Uber or Facebook this formula can be considered a path to that for many reasons.
- These skills transfer: Everything you learn from building this first small business can be applied to larger operations.
- It gives you a track record: For competitive job market in the startup world, it’s critical to have a proven track record. You need to be able to deliver results and measure the impact you made. I am currently in the middle of hiring two new content marketers, and the ones that made it through were able to show past work and prove the results.
- It creates a cash flow: You can leverage the cash flow you create in a business like this to build a bigger platform and make a bigger impact.