Entrepreneurial Book Review: Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 Startup

This month, author, world traveler and rebel-with-a-cause Chris Guillebeau released The $100 Startup, a book that shakes you up and tells you, hey, if you were ever planning to start a business, the time is NOW.

That’s right- forget about getting an MBA or that $50,000 small business loan.

An 80-page business plan? Employees? Nope.

All you need to follow is Chris’ very own business blueprint for success, and The $100 Startup shows you how to make one and fill it out. In fact, some of the blueprint sections are provided right on The 100 Startup website.

Chris went from working for “The Man” to running his own small shipping business. Eventually, he embarked upon his life dream of traveling the world and, in the process, capitalized on his knowledge of flying on the cheap (i.e., Frequent Flyer Master). In his new book, Chris offers loads of useful information for the would-be business entrepreneur, from what benefit(s) to offer customers (notice I didn’t say products) to writing a one-page business plan to not paying for advertising. At every step of the way, several real world business startup examples are provided.

How did Chris become so savvy about startup businesses?

To begin with, as Chris traveled the world with his goal being to visit every country on earth, he naturally encountered all kinds of entrepreneurs. Many of these folks did not have rich relatives or the luxury of a small business loan with which to start their businesses. In many cases, these businesspeople started with very limited funds- sometimes as little as $100 (or fewer). However, they not only successfully started their businesses but even made a good income from them. As Chris kept encountering more and more of these people, an idea occurred to him: Solicit stories from unexpected/accidental entrepreneurs through an online and offline petition. The following 4 out of 6 business criteria had to be met:

  1. Low startup cost. Ideally, the business required no more than $1,000 in startup capital.
  2. At least $50,000 in yearly net income. Entrepreneurs had to earn at least $50,000 from their business.
  3. No special skills required. Skills had to be acquired on-the-job rather than through a degree or an involved apprenticeship.
  4. Full financial disclosure. All the numbers, including expenses and income for the past two years and next year’s projected income, had to be disclosed.
  5. No more than 5 employees. To maintain personal freedom, the business had to be run by the owner only or a small team of individuals.
  6. Passion. The business is based on a “follow-your-passion” model.

The response was overwhelming; over 1,500 qualified respondents were rounded up. A select number of these entrepreneurs provided their stories for the pages of The $100 Startup. Another 25 were referenced in the back of the book. The stories provided by these business owners contained the overreaching theme that passion can turn a profit. And with profit comes the personal freedom to finally go wherever and do whatever you always wanted to do. Thus, these entrepreneurs weren’t stuck in a cubicle or hustling from one business operation to the next with no time for a lunch break. In fact, many of these folks were traveling the world, engaging in worthy causes and charities and raising families- all while running their profitable businesses.

The $100 Startup is divided into three main parts and subjects:
Part I: Unexpected Entrepreneurs. Turn your passions/skills into capital. Package your product/service as a benefit to consumers.

Part II: Taking it to the Streets. Create a one page business plan, killer offer and successful product launch. Obtain free advertising and raise money in unexpected ways.

Part III: Leverage and Next Steps. Increase your prices regularly, franchise and expand your business (or not).

For every part, Chris provides a multitude of real-life examples taken from his entourage of $100 startup entrepreneurs. But the book is not all about case studies. Here are some great business lessons that Chris provides along the way:

Give customers the fish. Customers don’t go into a seafood restaurant expecting to make salmon risotto; they just want to order salmon risotto and eat it. Likewise, when you’re offering a product/service to your customers, don’t make them work for it; make it as simple and turnkey as possible.

Don’t sell a product/service- sell a dream/experience. Victoria’s Secret doesn’t sell women’s underwear; it sells sexiness. Harley-Davidson doesn’t sell motorcycles; it sells freedom. When considering your specific product/service, think in terms of what innate human desire it satisfies rather than what features it offers.

Don’t lowball yourself. You might think that a software package priced at $25 will sell more units than one priced at $75. However, a higher priced item will hold more value with customers as long as its value proposition is made abundantly clear (e.g., use our $99.95 coupon book just once and you’ll save more than the cost of the book).

If it’s not making money, don’t do it. It’s not about how many Facebook likes you have or how many people are following you on Twitter. If, at the end of the day, your marketing plan isn’t bringing in the bucks, then it’s time to scrap it.

Work on your business every day. Set aside time each day to explore new business avenues and/or sales opportunities, communicate with customers, solve chronic issues or review prices. Create something new in your business rather than just maintain it.

The $100 Startup Bottom Line

If you’re not interested in starting a business, then The $100 Startup is probably not for you. However, if you’re looking to create a product/service and sell it for a profit, Chris’ book will certainly be useful. In many ways, Chris’ book reminds me of Tim Ferriss’ The Four-Hour Workweek because it engages you in lifestyle design by having you leave your current job and start a business. Unlike The Four-Hour Workweek, however, Chris’ lifestyle design plan is more realistic. Chris also maintains a blog called The Art of Nonconformity, which proposes new ways to think about life, work and travel.

Mostly, The $100 Startup tips its hat towards a growing population of rebels-with-a-cause who don’t want to spend 40-50 years punching a clock and working to make someone else rich. No, these renegades want to turn their passion into profit and subsequently, that profit into personal freedom. In Chris’ own words, “There’s no rehab program for being addicted to freedom. Once you’ve seen what it’s like on the other side, good luck trying to follow someone else’s rules ever again.”

Win a Copy of The $100 Startup!

We’ll be giving away a free copy of The $100 Startup to one lucky I’ve Tried That reader! All you need to do is Like this Facebook post and leave a comment there! We’ll be picking one random winner on Monday, June 4th to receive a free copy of The $100 Startup!

Best of luck!

I’ve Tried That Investigates: West At Home

Much of my day is spent browsing the web in search of new information. I usually dedicate an hour or so to trying to catch up on the latest scams in order to better educate myself to pass the knowledge on to you, my lovely readers. Usually when you come across a blog post or forum thread giving astounding praise to a program, they’re almost always promoting a scam. Even though it’s deceitful, it’s just smart business.

I came across my first ‘West at Home’ discussion in a forum a few days ago and I didn’t think much of it. The original poster had asked if it was a scam, and the follow-up response denied that claim. There wasn’t any substance there so I carried on about my business. A few days later, I discovered an entire subsection of WAHM.com dedicated to West at Home and that’s when I realized that maybe this is something we should be looking at.

The Program

West at Home hires people as customer service representatives to take inbound calls from home. Those working for West at Home are considered independent contractors and are thus not technically employed by the company, but rather you pick up outsourced work. Essentially, you will be running a customer support call center from your home. There are no start-up fees associated with West at Home other than the required equipment. West at Home requires either a VoIP or landline phone and a broadband internet connection in order to work for them. You probably already have both of these items.

West at Home employs people to do a variety of tasks from their home. These tasks range from customer care, live chat and email, and incoming sales calls. You’ll be assisting a number of companies by handling their customer support. An average day could include assisting an individual with resolving a billing inquiry, helping another customer purchase an accessory for their new wireless phone, or providing assistance/troubleshooting on a non-working product. West at Home offers paid training and claims that if you are qualified, you could be assisting your first customer within days of applying.

If you choose to work with West at Home here are some companies you may be dealing with. Technically, you aren’t supposed to talk about West at Home clients, but this is IveTriedThat.com not FollowTheRules.com.

  • HSN
  • H&R Block
  • Office Depot
  • ProFlowers
  • Sears Home Repair
  • ShopNBC
  • Toys “R” Us
  • Virgin Mobile
  • Walgreens
  • Whirlpool
  • And more…

Getting Paid

In terms of payment, there doesn’t appear to be a set $/hour number anywhere. I’m assuming you’ll be paid more on the quality and quantity of work that you do. After browsing around for a little I’ve seen some people saying they were receiving anywhere between $0.12 and $0.30 per minute. That sounds incredibly low in terms of cents per minute, but that works out to be anywhere between $7.20 and $18.00 an hour. Again, these are just ballpark figures.

There you have it. West at Home is another legitimate way to make money at home in your spare time. Now I know some of you reading this are currently West at Home contractors. I want to hear your comments below. Let us know, first-hand, what it’s like working for West at Home.


Can You Make Money Processing Refunds for HUD?

[Note from Joe 7/17/08: If you read the discussion in the comments section below, you’ll see that Darlene was at one time offering her book for free. She is no longer doing so. Visit her at http://www.scmiprefunds.com/shop/ to purchase it.]

How I Learned about Mortgage Refund Processing
I first heard about mortgage refund processing by reading a job ad on Craigslist. Can you really make money as a refund tracer? By getting refunds for people who paid too much for their mortgage insurance? Hey, I’m a helping kinda gal, and if I could make some money by helping, well that would be just as cool as helping people without getting paid. Maybe cooler!

I wrote to the email address listed and received a reply with more information. The reply said that I could become a third party tracer and would have to pay for software, lists, and a manual, and to visit eaglesoftwareservices.com to learn more. Uh-oh. Of course, that’s not a “job” at all because real jobs don’t charge you to work. I felt a little deceived, but was intrigued enough to click the link.

It led me to a presell page that told me a little bit more, but was really just trying to sell me the software, which costs $39.95. The web site left out some important details, though, that were in the email:

  • It doesn’t say that I would need to buy lists of names and refunds for at least $20 per state.
  • It doesn’t say that I would need to buy a manual of instructions to learn exactly how to get people their refunds and get paid.

How is Mortgage Refund Processing Supposed to Work?
I had no idea what mortgage refund processing was until starting on this path. So for those of you who are also wondering, here’s a quick introduction. If you take out a mortgage without a down payment, you are required to buy mortgage insurance so the lender still makes its money back in case of default. The insurance premiums are tacked on to your monthly mortgage payment. When the home is sold or refinanced, you may be eligible for a refund of some of your premiums if your loan was through HUD or FHA.

The problem is that people move and HUD/FHA loses track of them, so they don’t know they have a refund coming. That’s where tracers come in. Tracers (which is what I would be) find those people, let them know they have money coming, help them collect it, and keep part of the money as a fee.

My Experience
So I contacted the guys at I’ve Tried That and became a Secret Agent. They bought the software, I downloaded it, and am here to report the full results to you.

    It’s not “software.” The product you get for $39.95 is actually something like an e-book designed to be user friendly, with buttons to click through. It’s like a help file. Here’s the definition of software: “The programs, programming languages, and data that direct the operations of a computer system.” Word processing programs and Internet browsers are examples of software. This e-book is not.

    What’s in it? The ebook is basically about 4-6 pages long repeating everything that is already stated on the website with a few more procedures, a contract template, and a HUD application template. That’s it!
    Here’s what the “software” tells you to do:

    1. buy hud lists (at a minimum of $20 per state)
    2. make contact with claimant (no instructions on how to do this, no letter samples)
    3. agree with claimant that you will be his or her tracer, sign contract (template of contract provided)
    4. process applications for contract (one template provided)
    5. get paid/collect your money (no instructions on how to do this)

    The e-book does not mention how you can contact your client, but when you get to the end of the e-book, you get an offer to purchase the manual for only $24.99 in which all these instructions will be given to you. Hello! What was the $39.99 for? Junk. The manual is not even sold through eaglesoftwareservices. You must contact another company or send Eagle a money order so they can place the order for you. (Yeah, right. I’m all over that). The manual is available all over the ‘Net for free. If you want to see it, let me know in the comments and I’ll send you a link.

    Not Just Eagle Software Services
    Upon further research, I found that several other websites are offering the manual up front, such as americanrefundservices.com. They sell the manual for $49.95 and their “startup kit” for $16.95. Which I think is what eagle sold us—a start up kit. Other companies are selling the entire kit for $79.99.

    In Search of a Cheaper Manual
    On eBay I found two people selling manuals. For one, the bid starts at $2 and the other has a Buy-it-Now price of $14. Then I actually found the text of the manual online, but it is missing one valuable piece of information: how to get paid. I figured out that you have to somehow collect the money yourself, but I went to another website in which they talk about another method of getting paid by having the refund check sent directly to the tracer, but they are selling their info for $49.99. The manual is available for free at geocities.com/freeebooksus/hudbook.html. I downloaded the info and made it into a PDF file.

    The Bottom Line
    Can you make money as a mortgage refund processor? Maybe. It’s legal, but there are big hurdles you should know about:

    • You will be competing with HUD-sponsored tracers who will do what you do for free.
    • You will have to hide the source of the money from your potential client, or he’ll just go directly to HUD himself and get his money without you.
    • Those owed refunds can do it without you—you’re not necessary.
    • It only works if your client doesn’t know who owes him money.
    • You will have to spend some money to get started. Maybe a lot of it.

    As far as Eaglesoftwareservices goes, this is not a good buy, in my opinion. Everything in the e-book is already stated on their website, except that the sales page “forgets” to mention that you must buy the HUD lists and that you need a manual with the more detailed instructions. Plus, Eagle’s “software” is just another marketing strategy because when you get to end of the e-book they make you offers on other products you can purchase. Oh, and the e-book also comes with re-sell rights, which means that you can build your own website and resell this book yourself. I suspect that’s how Eagle came across it. They are just reselling the e-book because they don’t even have the manual themselves.

    Eagle advertises “bonus material” that comes with your purchase. What a waste! It’s just another e-book showing you how to start your own mail order business. When you get to the end of this one, you get an offer to buy another e-book/software to teach you to make your very own software to sell ebooks. And you get more offers, more offers, more offers.

    I believe there is money to be made here, but Eagle’s product is not worth buying. Money Wasted. Stay posted, though, because I am going to dig through the manual and try to make contact with clients and see what happens.

    Da Fanster
    (this post will self-destruct in 15 seconds. No, really: it will!)

Coming Soon: Mortgage Refunds Processing

Can you make money by processing FHA and HUD mortgage insurance premium refunds? I’ve Tried That is about to find out. Or rather, one of our Secret Agents is about to find out. (Note to self: It’s hardly “secret” if you’re publishing it on a blog. Response from self: So?)

According to the people who are pitching this opportunity online, there are hundreds of millions of dollars sitting in HUD and FHA accounts waiting for people like you to find the rightful owners. The money comes from mortgage insurance premiums that are due to be refunded to the signer of the mortgage, but he or she can’t be found. If you find the owner and put them in touch with their money, you get a cut of the refund.

At least, that’s how the story goes. A number of sites are ready to sell you software and instructions to help you get started in your own HUD/FHA Mortgage Insurance Refund business—for a price, of course. AmericanRefundServices.com and EagleSoftwareServices.com are among them.

But what do we always say? “No legitimate job will charge you before you can start working.” We still believe that’s true. But we also know there are some companies out there selling legitimate products that will help you do a job or establish a business.

Fany is our new Secret Agent. She writes:

I replied to this one that I found on craigslist and they contacted me back but they are charging a fee for the software. It sounds legit and I did some research on the HUD site and it states, “Other ‘tracer’ companies are legal. But they do not represent HUD, and they will charge you a fee. You do not have to use a tracer to get your refund, if you are owed one.” The program I want to try is http://www.eaglesoftwareservices.com. I found some forums in which it states that some of these programs are legit and some that say this is a rip off selling you old lists from HUD. I could not locate anything on I’ve Tried That.
—Da Fanster, Private Eye

Doing her own research…bought our ebook, but one of the leads she found is charging her…searched I’ve Tried That for info first. Sounds like a winner! We’re going to sign her up, she’ll give the program a full trial, and we’ll post our results here! That’s what we do here at I’ve Tried That.

Update: Read the full review here.

How to Find Real Jobs Online
Until we get the word back on this program from Da Fanster, why not check out our ebook? It gives you the best information we know about how to find real jobs online. They won’t make you rich, but a couple hundred bucks per month can sure reduce the stress levels.

Day Job Killer Review — Forget the hype. Don’t expect to become the next Internet millionaire.

Warning: If you think that reading this ebook, or any ebook for that matter, will make you rich, then you are sadly mistaken. Realistically, will anyone be earning a million dollars per year after twelve months of reading the Day Job Killer and applying it’s techniques? No. It just doesn’t make any sense. If you stop to think about it for a minute, why would anyone pass up the chance to be a millionaire in only a year? Simply put, they wouldn’t.

If you have no experience in affiliate marketing, nor are you interested, I suggest that you stop reading now. The paragraph above is more than enough information to take away from this ebook review.

The Day Job Killer claims to take any affiliate marketer, arm them with a few tricks, and turn them into money making machines. The book itself is split up into three main sections: the basics, the secret, and advanced techniques.

Part 1: The Google Cash Method (The Basics)

The Google Cash method emerged a few years ago and taught readers how to advertise affiliate programs through Adwords in hopes of returning a profit on conversions. Basically, the users of this system would purchase ad space, and market an affiliate product. When a viewer clicked on the purchased ad, the marketer would hope the viewer would complete an action, such as sign up for a program or purchase something, and the marketer would walk away with some sort of affiliate income. This method is rather risky and if done incorrectly could cost the user of the system a lot of money.

This section is a look into the essentials of the Google Cash method and offers plenty of tips on getting started with that system, but as far as I can tell, it offers nothing new to the system. There were a few personal tips on how to maximize potential earnings and conversions, but other than that, this section is nothing more than hype on possible ways you could make money.

Part 2: The Leveller (The Secret)

Now, if you plan on purchasing this book, this section is what you are essentially spending your $97 on. In the Day Job Killer preview, we find the author makes a number of references to a secret that will turn you into a millionaire. This section is really the “secret” that is referenced throughout the presell page.

Here you will learn how you might be able to stop readers from visiting affiliate sites directly, but instead divert them to a page of your own where you can cash in on the affiliate sale yourself. I have to admit that it’s a pretty interesting and innovative concept, but in the end it’s the same information that can be found widely available for FREE on the web. If you were to spend an hour or two doing research, you will be able to find much easier and effective ways of earning money online. I’ll even give you a head start by pointing you to JohnChow.com and the Digital Point forums. Both of these sites are excellent resources and you will find helpful and knowledgeable communities who aren’t just trying to make a quick sale.

Part 3: Advanced Techniques (Advanced Techniques)

I’m not actually going to use this space to discuss the actual book. Instead, I wish to point out that the biggest gripe I have with the Day Job Killer is that the presell page is one hundred times too long. The presell page is almost as long, if not longer, than the actual book itself. As Joe likes to say, “the longer a sales pitch, the more decorated it is, the weaker the product.” Truer words, never spoken.

$1,000,000 a year in 12 months? Hardly.

To the average internet user looking to make money online, avoid this book. You may feel the urge to want to purchase it after seeing the pictures of earnings over $2,500 in one day, but take it from me, better information is out there and it won’t cost you a dime. The only thing you have to gain from purchasing this ebook is a 97-dollar receipt.

What YOU can do
Scams like this one thrive on ignorance and emotional appeal. You can help put these guys out of business by spreading the word about this post and the dirty tricks of scammers that want to kick you when you’re down. Help us get the word out:

  1. Share this post by clicking on the “Share This” link below
  2. Learn more about this and other online scams by reading the Related Posts below
  3. Report fraudulent activity at Scam Victims United and to your local police