Starting A Business Alone and With No Funding During COVID-19

Why is it safer to be an entrepreneur today? How can we become a company of one? What are the questions to ask in an effort to make money as soon as possible?

Paul Jarvis is an entrepreneur, sharing what he has learned in two decades of freelancing as a web designer and writer.

His new book, “Company Of One,” is our official guide to the idea that staying small and avoiding growth can be more durable and even more enjoyable than business as usual, whilst still being profitable.

In this podcast, Paul gives us some advice on how to achieve just that.


[00:00:00] The Venture Podcast with Lambros Photios.


[00:00:06] I’m joined by Paul Jarvis, who is the author of a book called Company of One Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business. And I think it’s particularly relevant at the moment. I think that I think a lot of founders kind of going through this exploratory period of trying to pivot their business and work out, is this right for me? Is a secure. And at the same time, I think I’ve got a lot of people coming out of work. When I say coming out of work, I mean that their companies let go of them, that they’ve been made redundant and they’re trying to work out how do I work for the big secure corporation like the one that just let me go or do I go sort my own thing? Is this a reckless thing to do while I’m working from harm and I can’t go meet with people I conquer make with, whether it be investors or potential customers? I don’t think there’s anyone better equipped than Paul to talk to us about this, Paul. Thanks so much for joining me. Yeah. Thanks for having me on the show. Appreciate it. So, Paul, tell me, at the very start you started you started a web design business, which was your own operation. Can you talk me through kind of that story of how you went from like university degree where you thought you go down the path of artificial intelligence? Being a programmer, I presume you would have loved to work at the time at a company like Google or Microsoft to, you know, the situation you’re now a company of on.


[00:01:16] Yeah, I mean, it was kind of an accident. I was I was in school. I was in university. And I didn’t I thought that it was going to be more engaging. I thought there was gonna be more interesting. I thought that it was going to be more challenging. It could be different now. This is 20 years. There’s more than 20 years ago. But it wasn’t. And I was bored. And at the time the Internet was starting or the Internet kind of as we know it was starting and I was making Web sites on the side because I just it was fun. It was interesting to do a Web site that I made, became very popular, was written about in Wired, and then some agencies started to get in touch saying, hey, we’ve heard of this Internet thing.


[00:01:56] We think we can sell clients on it. You can build the Internet, things that we want to build in charge money.


[00:02:02] So I had a job offer and it was for more money than I thought I would make when I finished my degree. So I quit and I decided to just on a whim, go work in eighty, go work at an agency and kind of see where that took me.


[00:02:15] Yeah. And fast forward now. I mean, you’re kind of spread between a lot of different things. It seems like you don’t just have one thing you focus on. Can you tell? Can you tell us about the things that you’re working on now across the whole spectrum? I’m surely intrigued.


[00:02:30] Oh, I’ll try to be fast, too. There’s a lot I have a podcast with MailChimp called Call Paul. And last season we talked to small business owners dealing with the global pandemic, working on the next season.


[00:02:42] So I can’t really talk about that. But next season’s coming. I have a company called Fathom Analytics that I run with my business partner, Jack Ellis, that does privacy focused analytics. Privacy is becoming a big, bigger and bigger deal in Europe and around the world. So I think businesses need to be equipped for that and we’re helping them on the planet and athletic side. I also have my own business that I teach courses, online courses. So I have a course for freelancers called Creative Class, of course, for MailChimp users called Chimp Essentials. I have a podcast through Creative Class with my partner Kaili. More on that and have a podcast with my partner on Fathom. Jack called above board and I write books I forgot to falls in there.


[00:03:28] The K. The K one. Right, exactly. Yeah. Now I have to look in two years. That’s why I forgot.


[00:03:35] Fair enough. Yeah. I think it’s, I think it’s really relevant now though. I mean let’s if you started from square one now because it’s one thing to go back and say, hey, here’s how I started. If you’re starting from square one now during a pandemic, it seems like there is no way of knowing where we’re going to be a month from now, three months from now, six months from now.


[00:03:57] Where would you where would you even start to begin if you had an idea or you didn’t have an idea, where would you even start to get over that initial kind of barrier of I don’t know if this is right for me, I would start with how can I make money quickly?


[00:04:10] I think especially in times like these, we need to figure out how we can get to income so it doesn’t do you any good.


[00:04:17] If you have an idea that’s going to take six months or a year, unless you’re unless you’re flush with cash. And in that case, I don’t know. In that case. Yeah. We should talk about investment opportunities.


[00:04:30] I think that for the majority people, you need to think about where you can make money immediately. And even if it is a transition thing, like, say you want to do products, you can probably do services faster.


[00:04:43] Right. So if you if you’re a writer and you want to build, say, writing software, that’s gonna take a long time. If you’re but you have the skill of writing. So you could probably go to ten people and say, hey, ah, do you need any writing assistance? I can help you. I charge five hundred dollars for writing and about page or something like that and you can start to generate revenue. Very quick. Legal services, and that also gives you an insight into developing products down the line. I think all of the products that I built myself have come from services first. Right. So I learned about my audience more through services or one I one stuff. I learned about the market and what people would and wouldn’t buy through trying to sell services. And then I transitioned into products where it’s like going from one to one to one to many. And I think that if you’re just starting out, that that’s probably the best place to start is what service can you provide right away? Like, what service can you provide tomorrow? Who can you email? To offer this service to you right now?


[00:05:45] I mean, it’s crazy. It’s crazy what you’re saying, because I think, like, if you go back a year, I think the Simon Sinek starts starts with why was was was definitely the philosophy.


[00:05:55] And now it’s kind of turn into start with what generates income as quickly as possible. Have the rules of the game changed?


[00:06:03] Well, I’ve never I’ve always thought that the follow your passion is is can be nice, but it isn’t as practical. I also think that passion follows mastery. So I think that in all of the things that I do, I become more passionate about them once I’ve done them before.


[00:06:20] I had written a book. I had no interest in writing, but people started asking, hey, when’s the book coming out? And I was like, That’s funny, I’m not writing a book. And then enough people ask. And then it was like, OK, I’m I guess I’m writing a book. And after I wrote four or five books, I really like writing books. Same software. Same with all of the things that I do. So I think that as you get into the weeds with things and as you start to understand things and there are hopefully things if wrong business here, there hopefully things that are making money, then you can become a lot more passionate about them as time goes on, which I haven’t read any of Simon’s books.


[00:06:55] I know about them, but it could follow that. It may not. I’m not sure. Yeah.


[00:06:59] I think one component you focus, it seems quite heavily on his is creating this alignment between the personal brand and and the businesses that you operate.


[00:07:10] How important would you say it is for, say, someone who’s just been made redundant, looking at sodding looking at starting their own thing? How important is it to go out there and build a personal brand?


[00:07:21] I think it’s really important. I think that the personal brand that I built is the catalyst for every product that I’ve launched. Right. So for all my courses, for all my software products, the first people who bought those were people who were connected with my personal brand. And for me, my personal brand, because I’m a writer, I write a weekly newsletter. It’s called The Sun Dispatches. So I send it out every Sunday. I named it that intentionally so I wouldn’t miss. So it wouldn’t. You wouldn’t get one e-mail from me. You’re saying, I’m so sorry I haven’t written you in 11 months. I named it Sunday Dispatches, so I sent an email every Sunday. So I do that and I connect with my audience once a week. So they hear from me once a week. They see my name in their inbox once a week. Ninety percent of the time I’m not selling anything. It’s just an article. It’s just something that I’m interested in, something I think they’ll be interested in. And we just have a conversation about it. But then when I do have something to launch, after listening to people, after listening to my audience and seeing what they want from me when I do lunch something, then those are the people who are the most keen on buying it. Initially, those were people who were going to take a chance as early adopters. And that for me has been I mean, like I listed all the things I do. I have podcasts, I run software companies, I have courses. My audience is very varied. I guess this is the best way to say it. But still, they’re the initial people who buy it and then they tell others and then it grows and grows and grows from there. So we have personal brand is probably the most important thing, especially in the beginning. You don’t know what’s going to work and what’s not. So if you’re building an audience while you’re doing that, then they can come along for the ride. They can see. Okay, well, this one thing I launched didn’t work. So let me try this other thing. And they’re still there because they’re still part of that personal brand. They’re still paying attention.


[00:09:02] Yeah, I agree. Yeah, I think what component that’s I think one component that that’s easy to kind of struggle with in the early stages is the balancing act between kind of business and and what it is that you’re passionate about.


[00:09:16] I think for I think that, you know, regardless of what it is you’re passionate about, I think that you you naturally make it your artform.


[00:09:23] Like I speak with programmers on a daily basis through what I do, who see the I don’t think I don’t think that would be many people outside of programing who would see code as art. But when you speak to programmers, the way that they speak about the card that they write, it is it is their art form like that is their everything. And and they believe that they created in such a unique way that they are and they are so proud of it when they credit it is their art. And that’s how they want everyone to look at it. But no one will ever say it.


[00:09:50] It’s kind of beautiful in that way, right? Are the conversations I have daily. But, you know, I think that I think the reality is, is that everyone has their own art form and it’s easy to turn a blind eye to to that side of things and to not recognize it for what it is, is an.


[00:10:04] Seida, how is it that when starting starting it, you know, you say starting a service base, it is service based solution or offering as a business is much easier?


[00:10:15] And I wholeheartedly agree. My first business was a service based business. I still think that much easier to get off the ground. You can get clients within a week, two weeks, and you can validate Phos and you can generate revenue. Fast’s products take a lot longer, but, you know, through that through that kind of cycle, I’ve learned that. The other is that there is a fine balancing act between the two, because once you start to really, as you say, fall in love with something, once you start doing it, you naturally just want to you want to nurture it and you want to make it better and better and better. But at the same time, the more you focus on that, I find that it’s a bit of a seesaw weight. You need to find the perfect balancing act between business and or commerce versus your artform. How is it that how is it that people can kind of find that that ideal kind of balance between the two?


[00:11:04] Yeah, I think it’s having an opinion. I think that is probably one of the most important things where if you think about it like that, my last book is technically a business book. There are tens or hundreds of thousands of business books out there. Why would I write a business book when there are so many business books? And that could be anything. It could be or a programmer could be or a writer could be or a painter. Whatever it is, whatever you do exists and has existed at great volume in Mass for a long time.


[00:11:33] But what people want from you and what people will buy from you is your opinion on that thing. Right. Even if your talking software, that’s the software that you sell, has some opinion based on the way it’s programed the USCAP, why all of that? And what I found through the years of doing this is that people care. I would say as much about my view and my opinion on things as they do about the thing it ism’s as I’m selling. Right. So I feel like people are just buying me over and over again. What for? Whatever it is that I’m creating and making and selling them, they’re really buying me. And if they’re buying me, then that means they trust me. And that trust takes time to develop and nurture and a country connection. Right? It’s no there’s no disconnect between the fact that I write a weekly newsletter and I make money in my business. People always say, well, I don’t have time to write a I don’t have time to send out a newsletter to my audience every week.


[00:12:32] And I’m like, I don’t know why I wouldn’t make time to write a newsletter, because that’s the main source of income generation at at the onset of all the products that I make. Right. So it’s because people hear from me. It’s because I talk to them. They reply and I reply back it it develops like a like a conversation. And that in turn helps sell products. And that in turn helps build the trust required to sell those products.


[00:12:57] Yeah, of course. Let’s talk a bit about job security. You know, we spoke we spoke very briefly previously about kind of going out and doing your own thing and the fact that it’s very easy to do a paper look at the moment, having a bit of a, you know, a bit of a moment of, I guess, self reflection or an existential crisis, should we say, and trying to work out whether it makes sense to go down the path of starting your own thing or looking for the secure corporate. Interestingly, we’ve seen the secure large organizations. We’ve seen a lot of them really suffer under these conditions. There are some companies I’ve seen, you know, I’ve seen virtually fall off the face of the Earth in the last six months who I thought never would. So I said, I think this idea of securities is up for interpretation at the moment. Before the podcast, we spoke we spoke a little bit about the global financial crisis in, you know, eight or nine and how you worked through that. Can you talk us through that and also kind of tell me a bit about, you know, how people should perceive the security of starting their own their own business during during a pandemic?


[00:14:02] Mm hmm. I mean, during the the financial crisis, I was able and I was doing design work at the time.


[00:14:08] So Service-based I was before that, I was competing with agencies for work and sometimes they would get it sometimes, but they had much larger they had to have huge budgets because they had staff and project managers, fancy offices of crazy artwork on the wall. And I didn’t so I could charge a lot less. So when the financial crisis hit, people’s marketing budgets shrunk by 90 percent. Basically across the board. Everybody’s marketing budget, if they still had any, was 10 percent of what it was the month before. And they could still afford me and I could still make profit off of that because I had no like I work from home and I live in the woods on an island. It’s not like I have a it’s easy for me to be profitable because I set my life up in that way very purposefully. And so that’s how I was able to make it work then. I think now, just like everybody else, I was worried when the pandemic kid I was I don’t know what’s going to happen. But one of the things that I had done. From living through that in a couple of dot com bubble burst and all of that is is just like the way that I approach investing is exactly the same way as I approach it. Business is diversified as a diversified portfolio is more resilient. Right. I don’t know how well I don’t want to invest in single companies and buy stocks that way. I don’t want to watch the market. I want to log in every 50 minutes and see if my stocks are up or down. Don’t care. I want to buy index funds. I want to invest in the market. I want to invest in the global market. So if one economy’s bad, another one’s OK. How that relates to business and the long way around to that is that it’s not. It’s not. I didn’t just pick a whole bunch of things to do in business because I felt like it. I have a diversified portfolio of ways of generating income because if one of them goes down, then I’ve still got three or four or five other ones that probably won’t go down at the same time. And when the pandemic hit, some of the courses that they sell were selling a little less. But then the software that I sell was double and triple for a couple months in terms of growth. Right. And some of the other things that I do went up. So having a diversified portfolio of generating revenue, I think is really what you can’t do that in a big company you’re tied to.


[00:16:22] You’re tied to like one business and you’re also not in charge of that business. So you even if you work in sales, you don’t guide the sales cycle. You don’t got the direction of the company when you work for yourself. You can make those choices and you can be smart about having as much margin as possible so you can make as much money to to save a buffer. So things like this happen. I didn’t know there was a pandemic that was going ahead. Nobody nobody did. But I knew that. And working for myself, I wanted it to save up months and months of buffer, even outside of my investments, so that if anything happened and I couldn’t work for however many months. I would still be OK, right? And so when you work for yourself, you can make decisions like that to guide the course of work in the guide, the course of your life. Whereas if you work for a company, you’re just kind of at their whim where it’s like this is what this is what the company is doing, like toe the line kind of thing.


[00:17:17] Yeah, I mean, it’s crazy when you think about it. I kind of get this I get this perception that people think of large, large company.


[00:17:25] They think that company can’t disappear.


[00:17:28] You know, they’ve got they’ve got you know, they’ve got defense mechanisms upon defense mechanisms that prevent them from disappearing from a financial standpoint. But I think the flip side of that is that, you know, you’ve you’ve you’ve also got the fact that these are companies that are still just run by people who are not necessarily any smarter than yourself. And you’re putting your livelihood in their hands. And it’s not like you’ve got four of these jobs you’re doing simultaneously. You’ve got one. And I think people look at that as security because of who the company is. But they don’t realize that, you know, it’s it’s not it’s just as secure as the people who are running it, not as secure as the whole company is on the stock exchange or wherever it may be.


[00:18:10] And I think as well, like it might have been secure in previous generations, like it might have been more secure. Like my our grandparents or our parents generations, to some degree, jobs were secure. And you did get a gold watch and a fat retirement when you left the company. It doesn’t happen anymore. There’s just there’s just not the way that it works. And unless you’re taking care of yourself, nobody else is going to take care of you. All right. So I would I would rather be in charge of my destiny than have another company who really would replace me if they could or downsize me if they could to save money. Right. Whereas if I’m in charge of the company, then I know that I want to make money. I forget if I make money, I feel good. If I save, if I save for the future. And so I can take I can take control of that. I can I can do those things for myself.


[00:18:57] I love the story of the I was I was at a I was having drinks recently, about two weeks ago, because thankfully things have started opening back off here in Sydney.


[00:19:07] And, you know, we’re out for out for drinks and for for a friend’s birthday. And a friend’s telling me says, you know, I work for. I won’t name them, but I work for one of the big consultancies. And he said, you know, I, I, you know, I managed to throw a single phone call with a client I managed to secure for my call center, which is a nice way of saying for my for my division or the partner that I work for. I managed to secure an additional 50 grand worth of work for a phone call when it’s the partner’s office, told the partner, hey, I you know, I managed to bring in an extra 50 grand worth of work. The partner said, okay, that’s cool.


[00:19:40] Is there anything else? And, you know, then then the. Then that was pretty much it. It was all over this guy, her Albay. It was probably like multiple levels of hierarchy, more junior to his partner. Turnaround and generated 50 grand. That would go into that call center. And the answer he got was cool. Is there anything else? And I just I just I find that ridiculous because the benefit to that individual was absolutely zero. Not even a pat on the back. And I find that so baffling relative to running a business, even in small businesses where you’re where you’re a team member. I think that I think people have this idea of security. But I think what you lose is the fact that what you generate for the business actually creates a tangible benefit. And you can see that benefit and touch that benefit in real time because it is yours and you’ve created it. And I think that’s what people miss.


[00:20:39] Yeah, it’s true. And I mean, if I had if I landed a fifty thousand dollar deal for one of my businesses, I’d be pretty pleased about that. Pat myself on the back.


[00:20:50] I mean, I’d hope so, too, is a full loss. Last thing for me is, you know, we spoke a bit about the first step, 70 final kind of remarks for the people who’ve never done their own thing.


[00:21:03] If you could go right back to your kind of early, early days, straight off to your studies in computer science, like what would what would you tell yourself if you could if you could kind of do it all over again with the lessons you’ve learned now?


[00:21:14] Yeah, I think that we can consider. I think we a lot of times, if you if you haven’t worked for yourself, you can think that business is very difficult in some aspects up. It definitely can be.


[00:21:25] But business can really just be summed up with did you. Are you creating something that people want to buy? Right. And then the second step has only two steps. The second step is, are those same people going to buy from you or can you find more people to buy the same thing? Right. And if you approach it, if you approach it like that, because that’s really all it is. Right. So if you approach it like that, you can start to think, okay, well, what is it that I can create that somebody else wants to buy from me? And will they buy it again? Or can I create a way for other people to find out about it and buy from me? Right. So I think that if we end the. There’s so many business schools that are there to make business so much more complicated, charge you hundreds of thousands of dollars and make you take four years to basically come to that conclusion.


[00:22:10] All right. I think when we’re when we’re looking at starting a business for herself, it’s like, OK, how can I make money? Let’s let’s figure that out and let’s see what we can do today. And then let’s see what we can do tomorrow.


[00:22:20] That’s it. And yeah, look, if you want to if you guys want to listen to more of what Paul has to offer, as he mentioned, he’s got a couple of podcasts out there. And his latest book, Company of One. Why Start While By Staying Small is the next big thing for business. Paul, thanks so much for joining me. It’s been an absolute pleasure. And those those lessons are invaluable. Thank you.


[00:22:41] Appreciate it. Thanks for having me on the show. The venture podcast with Lambros Photios.


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