Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

A Simple Guide to Start Selling Books Online

A post from Christine…

Do you want to sell books online? This post is for you. Selling books online is a great way to earn extra income. If you work hard, you can even make a living. But first you’ll need to learn the tricks of the trade.

Keeping it Simple

This is a long post with a ton of information in it. I’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible for you. This post is a mixture of my own advice combined with links to other helpful content. We will focus on selling used books.

About Me

I have been selling books for nearly 20 years. I started selling books online while working in my father’s bookstores. I set up an eBay account in 1998 under the name c-olson which my father still uses today. Starting with a few titles from a single store, my online listings were a great success. In 2002, I quit working to become a Stay At Home Mom. In 2003, I started selling books online from home. In 2004 we bought a bigger house to accommodate my growing business and another child. In 2009 I signed a 3 year lease on a 3200 square foot warehouse to run my business. Right now I deal in overstock, remainder, and used books, DVDs, plush toys, and gift items. My goal is to open a discount bookstore, selling new and used books and media related items integrated with online selling. I sell under the name blitz-kitty on ebay and, Books-MN on Amazon and BooksMN on ABE and Alibris. I also run the websites and http://www. (I didn’t follow one of my tips below which is to “choose a business name and stick with it!”)

New Warehouse Aug. 2009

Where to Buy Used Books

Friends of the Library Sales – Find FOL Sales near you using Also, check your local paper for library sales or call the libraries near you. Most libraries have sales at least twice per year. Contact the libraries to learn the dates and times of the sales. Some FOL’s allow members to attend special early preview sales. It may be worth joining.

Garage Sales – Great place for cheap books. Be sure to ask if they have more books they haven’t put out yet.

Estate Sales – Arrive early, offer to buy all the books for one price.

Church Rummage Sales

Craigslist – Post an ad that you want to buy books. Advertise that you will pick-up books for free.

Thrift Stores – Visit thrift stores regularly, get to know their routines and when they put out new books.

Family, Friends and Neighbors – Let everyone know you want to be a bookseller. People will give you books for free. It’s a great way to try it out. Don’t let anyone talk you into selling books for them and splitting the profit. You won’t make any money and you will do all the work.

Goodwill – Some Goodwill stores “cherry pick” the good ones, some don’t.

Salvation Army

Half Price Books or other Used Bookstores who don’t sell online.

Barnes & Noble – Many times they have half price sales on their remainder books. A great time to pick up some large picture books.

Where to Sell

Here are 5 major sites to consider along with the fees they charge: – If you plan to sell more than 40 books per month on Amazon, pay to become a ProMerchant Seller. Amazon charges a monthly fee, plus commission, plus per transaction fee. – No monthly fee, commission fee at the time of the sale.

Alibris – Monthly fee plus commission. Join when you have a minimum of 500 titles otherwise you might not sell enough to cover fees.

ABE – Monthly fee plus commission. Join when you have a minimum of 800 titles otherwise you won’t see many sales.

eBay – Monthly fee for an eBay store, insertion fee per item plus commission fee and paypal fees. Watch your fees and price items accordingly. Booksellers only need a Basic Store. Selling on eBay has become much more difficult. Be sure to read and understand all the rules before you start selling. Breaking the rules on eBay may get you banned. There’s money to be made on eBay but it doesn’t come as easy as it used to. If you don’t know much about selling on ebay I highly recommend reading Skip McGrath’s 77 Tips & Tools for Selling on The New eBay. You can also subscribe to his free newsletter that contains lots of great information.

Websites for Multi-Channel Selling

If you choose to sell on all of these sites you need to keep track of your inventory. I use to manage my inventory and sales across multiple venues. charges only a small commission fee. There is also They charge a base fee plus a commission fee. I do not use The Art of Books for my eBay listings. I use for eBay listings and picture hosting.


FBA stands for Fulfillment by Amazon. You send your books to Amazon, they pack and ship them for you. Many people love this set-up. I’ve tried it, with some success but I don’t think it will continue in my business plan. I want to open a bookstore so would prefer to have my inventory with me. Also, at this time, space is not an issue for me. I highly recommend reading about FBA if you are interested: Selling on Amazon’s FBA Program.

Scanning Tools

Many book resellers use scanning tools. If you go to a FOL (Friends of the Library) sale you will see people scanning barcodes on the backs of books with handheld scanners. The tools pull information from Amazon, instantly telling you the current pricing and the Sales Rank (lower seller rank good, higher seller rank not so good.) Some popular scanning tools: ScoutPal and ASellerTool.

Finding the Right Price

Pricing your books is an art form. You want to get the most money you can in the least amount of time. I check Amazon to price all my books.

First I check other seller’s pricing, both New & Used, then I check the sales rank. The sales rank indicates how popular the book is on Amazon.


  • 1 – 10,000 most popular
  • 10,001 – 100,000 very popular
  • 100,001 – 200,000 moderately popular
  • 200,001 – 300,000 well, get the idea

These numbers go up into the millions

The lower the number the faster your book is going to sell if priced accordingly. You never need to be the lowest price to sell a book. Even if you are the lowest price when you list, in a few hours you will be undercut you by a penny by someone using repricing software. Both The Art of Books & Fillz offer repricing software. I don’t use the software. I haven’t taken the time to figure it out. For now, I ignore sellers who continually drop prices and I price my books somewhere 3 – 4 spots above the lowest price at a point where I still make money.

Condition Guidelines

You have be careful when grading your books. Since customers can’t see the book they are buying they rely on you to tell them its condition. Each selling site has their own rules. Be sure to read them. Here’s some guidelines from Amazon:

Amazon’s Guidelines:

New: Just like it sounds. A brand-new, unused, unread copy in perfect condition.

Like New: An apparently unread copy in perfect condition. Dust cover is intact, with no nicks or tears. Spine has no signs of creasing. Pages are clean and are not marred by notes or folds of any kind. Book may contain a Remainder Mark on an outside edge but this should be noted in listing comments.

Very Good: A copy that has been read, but remains in excellent condition. Pages are intact and are not marred by notes or highlighting. The spine remains undamaged.

Good: A copy that has been read, but remains in clean condition. All pages are intact, and the cover is intact (including dust cover, if applicable). The spine may show signs of wear. Pages can include limited notes and highlighting, and the copy can include “From the library of” labels.

Acceptable: A readable copy. All pages are intact, and the cover is intact (the dust cover may be missing). Pages can include considerable notes–pen or highlighter–but the notes cannot obscure the text.


Why is feedback important to you as a bookseller? Buyers make decisions based on two things, price and feedback. Most selling sites allow customers to leave feedback about their experience buying from you. If your feedback levels fall too low you may get kicked off a site. eBay is particularly difficult with feedback. If you have slightly less than perfect feedback you will lose monetary discounts and possibly be banned. Be proactive with customer questions and concerns. Make your e-mail address readily available on your packing slips which should be included in all your orders.

Dealing with Customers

Although you are not selling face-to-face you still need customer service. They have questions, they have problems and they want to be reassured. Always deal with customers in a friendly matter. Even if they are wrong and you are right, sympathize and find a solution. Some customers are impossible to please, but honestly, I rarely get them. Book buyers tend to be an honest bunch.

Your Own Website

The most popular bookseller ecommerce hosting site is My chrislands site is It’s…. okay. Not perfect, we have very little control of design with chrislands, but the price is right and they have good Google Feeds. I also have another site using under Both of these sites can be supported by The Art of Books or Fillz so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of your inventory and orders. Watch out when choosing an ecommerce host, make sure there isn’t a limit on the number of items you can list. As a bookseller, you will end up with 1,000’s of SKUs, you can’t afford a hosting company that charges based on the number of SKUs you have.

You need to take credit cards and paypal on your website. For credit cards, I use They integrated easily with my websites and have low fees for small sellers. Google Checkout is another good option to have on your website.

Where to Buy Shipping Supplies

When I first started buying shipping supplies I looked for sales or coupons from Office Max. Then I started ordering them from sellers on eBay. Now I order all my shipping supplies from I find they have the best prices if you order in bulk. Uline also has excellent customer service. If you order more than $300 worth of supplies at any one time you can ask for Free Shipping with next day delivery! Uline also offers fun freebies if you order $150.00 or more in supplies.


How you choose to ship your books is a very important part of your business. Your shipping choices will affect your customer’s experience and your feedback. Most booksellers ship their books in bubble mailers to save on shipping costs and supplies. I ship most of my books in boxes or cardboard fold-overs (s-165 on I only ship small paperbacks and DVDs in bubble mailers. This is a personal choice. When I sell books in “New” condition and I want the books to arrive in “New” condition. Books get damaged in bubble mailers unless you wrap them in several layers of bubble wrap.

Most selling venues will reimburse you $3.99 for shipping and handling costs. For books that weigh under 4 lbs. this is enough to cover your costs. If your book weighs over 4 lbs. you will need to raise the price of your book to reflect the extra postage costs.

Shipping International: I have had very few problems with international shipments. If you decide to ship international, be aware of the costs and have a shipping scale handy, you can buying a shipping scale on ebay from this guy: GreatScales. Amazon only gives you one low price for covering postage on international orders. This price may not cover your costs. Amazon allows you to opt out of international shipping on a book to book basis, if your book does not fit into a Flat Rate Envelope, do not select the International Shipping option on Amazon. I keep a chart handy telling me how much it is going to cost me to ship to Canada and the rest of the world so I can input prices on ebay when listing. You can calculate prices on the website.

Media Mail is the most popular choice for books that weigh over 8 oz. Under 8 oz, it is cheaper to ship First Class Mail. Media Mail takes 4 – 14 days to arrive. Since Media Mail is so slow, I always ship within 2 days of receiving an order to minimize the customer wait.

Use professional packing materials. Do not use old cereal boxes or empty tissue boxes to ship items. Important: Do not wrap books in newspaper, the ink will rub off and damage the book.

The US Post Office

Important – Make friends with your local post office crew. You’ll see them everyday and you’ll need their help. They can make your life miserable, so don’t argue or pick fights with the folks at the Post Office. You can’t afford to be enemies with them.

Things your friendly post office crew can help you with:

  • Tubs to help you carry your books
  • Hampers for when you have extra large loads
  • Extra Supplies of Priority boxes, Flat Rate envelopes, Customs Forms and more
  • You can order Free Priority Mail Supplies on the website

Printing Postage Online

Printing postage online saves you time. Once you start selling several books per day, you’ll to want to start printing postage online. When you print your postage online, you won’t have to wait in line at the post office. You’ll drop your stuff, say hi, and then leave. You will also get a discount on Priority Mail and a discount on delivery confirmation.

I recommend It has a small monthly fee. Most other services (, paypal, amazon) charge extra for printing Media Mail postage.

You also need a Zebra Thermal Printer that uses 4” x 6” labels. Buy a used one on eBay from HippoVariety. I bought a refurbished one from them over 5 years ago and it’s still running strong. I buy my labels from Buying topcoated labels is important because the post office sometimes will put a zip code sticker right over the address. If the label isn’t topcoated that sticker won’t come off and your package will be returned to you.

Shipping Station

A good shipping station consists of the following:

  • Multiple Box Sizes
  • Multiple bubble mailer sizes
  • Bubble Wrap
  • Packing Tape with dispenser
  • Scale
  • Box Cutter
  • Scrap Cardboard
  • Void Fill (blank newsprint, peanuts, foam, etc.)
  • Scotch Tape with dispenser

Your shipping station should be comfortable, easy to access, and not cramped. Try to make your shipping process as smooth as possible to avoid repetitive stress injuries and shipping mix-ups.

Important Tips for Serious Businesses

If you plan to turn bookselling into a business, here are some must follow tips:

  • If you sell on eBay, you need a paypal account or you will get no sales
  • Choose a business name to use across all sites, including your own website. Check GoDaddy to see if the website name is available.
  • Buy your domain on
  • Open a business account at your local bank.
  • Have a business credit card that pays cash back
  • Register your business with your state.
  • Register your business with the Feds and get an EIN (Employer Identification Number)

Blogs to Read

Book Think
Weber Books – Selling Books
Sell Your Books Online

Books to Read

Selling Used Books Online (A little dated but some good info)
The Home Based Bookstore
Book Finds, 3rd Edition: How to Find, Buy and Sell Used and Rare Books
Online Bookselling: A Practical Guide with Detailed Explanations
How to Sell Books on Amazon The Stay at Home Mom’s Secret Guide
Selling Online: How to Start a Home-Based Business Selling Used Books, DVDs, and More
Tax Loopholes for eBay Sellers (great advise for all small businesses!)
The eBay Sellers Tax & Legal Guide

e-Books to Consider

Selling on Amazon’s FBA Program
Skip McGrath Sell Used Books on eBay, Amazon and the Internet

Free Newsletters to Subscribe to

Skip McGrath

In Closing

Slinging books is not a glamorous job. You get dirty, your nails get broken, you throw out your back once in awhile, your eyes dry out from using the computer too much, and your hands crack because the books have sucked all the moisture out of them. Booksellers and book buyers are an odd bunch. You will realize this by going to your first few library sales. When books sell for .50 cents a pop it brings out some strange creatures. If this all sounds fun to you (I think it is!) your best approach is to dive right in. Start researching some of your own books and see what you can sell them for. The great thing about bookselling is you don’t need to spend much to get started, but there is a learning curve bringing it to the next level . You can figure it out by trial and error and by reading about selling books online.

Good Luck and Have Fun!

How to Buy Used and Discount Books Online

People always ask us the best way to buy used and discount books online, so I put together a how-to guide and published it on our new website

We put together a 3000+ word guide that will show you with text and illustrations…

  • The best places to buy used books online
  • How to decide which seller to buy from
  • How to get the best price for the best service
  • How to get the best deal on shipping
  • How to minimize damage during shipping
  • How to ask questions before you purchase
  • Other hints and tips for getting a steal
  • What book conditions really mean

You can find the guide here: How to Buy Used and Discount Books Online. We hope you find it useful. Any and all feedback is appreciated.

Supply Side Home Economics

I’m tired of everyone telling us how to save money. What we need is people telling us how to make money.

Like a lot of people today, maybe your budget is tight. Maybe you read Money Magazine looking for a few tips to get ahead. Or maybe you read Get Rich Slowly (one of my favorite blogs). Most money sources have oodles of tips on how to save money and make your fixed budget go further.

Common Tips About Money:

  • Cutting coupons
  • Eat out less
  • Quit buying books and use the public library
  • Bring a bag lunch to work
  • Shop at the Salvation Army and the Goodwill
  • Buy in bulk at a warehouse club
  • Refinance your home
  • Send away for rebates
  • Get DVDs from Redbox
  • Use 0% credit card offers
  • Increase your insurance deductible
  • Keep your used car
  • Limit gift giving
  • Take advantage of matching 401k funds
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Stop Smoking
  • Avoid late payments
  • Replace light bulbs
  • Buy energy efficient appliances

I’m sure you’ve read dozens more. These are great ideas, but… they won’t solve most people’s money problems. They’re too minuscule. Too incremental. They’re a good start at getting your debt under control, or dealing with a lost job, but in the long run, they won’t get you were you want to be. They are temporary fixes to a lifetime issue.

We all want more money for one reason… It gives us freedom to pursue our goals, to travel, to grow, and to create the life of our dreams.

If you focus all your attention and energy on saving money, you aren’t focusing on the solution. You are focusing on the problem. The solution is creating wealth. To create wealth, you need income and you need to grow it. So if you’re focused on coupons and light bulbs you aren’t focused on the long term. You’re focused on a band-aid fix.

What is Supply Side Home Economics?

In 1997, Christine and I decided we would focus 80% of our money consciousness on the supply side. That means – we focused on creating more income for our family – the supply side of money. That doesn’t mean we don’t negotiate. We recently reduced our phone service by $30 per month. We also cut our cable and internet bill by almost $500 a year without compromising service. Focusing on Supply Side Home Economics means spending 80% of your energy on generating income.

Think about it…

If you make $50,000 per year and you spend $50,000 per year, you’re broke. But if you increase your income to $70,000 and you don’t change a thing, you’re solving your money problem. The bigger problem is… too many people spend everything they make no matter how much, but that’s another blog post…

How to start?

Look for opportunity everywhere. Instead of spending an afternoon chasing down a 50 cent discount on milk, work on a business. Sell stuff on craigslist. Sell stuff on ebay. Create new internet sites. Look for ways to help other people get what they want.

As noble as conservation and frugality is, it doesn’t create economic growth. Hunkering down and not spending will not get the economy out of this slump. Creating wealth will. Likewise, hunkering down will not get you or your family on the path to prosperity. Focusing on growth will.

With the technology available today, at near zero cost, there is no reason why you or anyone else can’t create $500 – $1000 in new income in your spare time.

How do you get there?

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • What do you have around the house you can sell?
  • What unique knowledge and life experience do you have?
  • How can you offer that knowledge and experience to others?
  • What value can you provide others?
  • How can you give them more value than you charge for your goods or services?
  • How can you help others sell their stuff?
  • How can you teach others your unique skills and knowledge?
  • How can you gain valuable specialized knowledge?
  • What makes you unique and how can you offer that to others?

Economic Fact:

When you create more wealth for yourself, it makes us all wealthier. It isn’t zero sum. The pie grows for everyone. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. So help humanity by making yourself wealthier. Here’s a great place to start (don’t let the hyped up title throw you off, it’s great).

9 Year Old Helps Pay for Own Heart Surgery by Publishing eStory

Don’t you love stories about children who can face life threatening hardship with bravery, optimism, and cheerfulness? When their young minds comprehend not only the physical challenges facing them, but also the financial challenges, and seek out and find solutions?

Let me tell you about Malkolm.

I first heard about Malklom a couple of days ago when my wife (Christine) was reading the eBay power sellers board.

Christine said, “There’s this woman who sells DVDs on the eBay power selling board. She has a 9 year old son with a heart problem. His heart muscle is thickening and he needs surgery or he could die. His mom has insurance and it pays 80% but they are still going to have a difficult time paying the other 20%. Malkolm was worried about the cost of his surgery. He had written some award winning stories at school, so he asked his mom if he could sell one of them on eBay to help pay for the surgery. His mom was so overcome with emotion she had to fight back the tears. With encouragement from other eBay sellers, they decided to give it a go. Now he’s selling his story on eBay for $10. They sold over 100 in the first 12 hours.”

“Should we buy one?” Christine asked.

“Go for it! It’s only 10 bucks and you’re sure it’s legit, right?” I said.

“Yeah it’s legit. Lot’s of people know her on the power sellers board. She’s been there a long time and other sellers are helping” she said.

So we bought one. And I must say… It’s fantastic writing for a 9 year old. Here’s an excerpt:

I keep on striding down the road, and a nice little house steps into my view. There is a closed window, and a small candle glows inside. I hear a voice: “Goodnight, Katie.” A small voice replies: “Goodnight, mommy.”

I think to myself, “I think I’ll take a peek.” I jump toward the window, trying to get their attention. As soon as I smack against the window, I black out.

It’s the best 10 bucks we’ve ever spent.

You can read more about Malkolm here, he has a blog, and you can buy Malkolm’s story here.

His surgery date is March 24th 2010.

Last I heard he has sold over 250 copies.

How to Grow Your Business on a Small Budget

Have you ever heard, “You have to have money to make money?” I suppose it’s true. But you don’t have to have much. We started in 2003 with $500.00, haven’t incurred a single dollar of debt since, and grew it organically. How did we do it? Persistence, patience, and a lot of frugality.

In America today, patience isn’t a virtue. Getting things done now is, regardless of the risk. Unfortunately, that type of thinking has led us into the economic mess we face today.

Since the last post on our move from a home based business into a showroom/warehouse operation, we’ve made some changes.

Some things we needed to get off the ground.

  • Shelving in the warehouse
  • Equip and furnish the office
  • Get the internet operation running profitably
  • Build out the showroom.
  • Host weekend, discount liquidation sales

Warehouse shelving – $1000

Buy pallet racking – After checking some suppliers on Craigslist, we discovered the pallet racking would cost $1000s, would be too bulky, and wouldn’t be appropriate for our products (books, DVDs, CDs, and games).

Build shelves ourselves – I started down this path, but quickly discovered I didn’t have the time and the quality wasn’t high enough.

Contract someone to build custom shelves – After careful planning, we estimated this would cost us between $10-20K, and it didn’t make sense for a company our size

What we did:

I built some shelves from kits – about $300.

It took time, but we found a couple dozen commercial grade shelf units for $700 at a local private school. They decided to downsize their library.

Here’s what the warehouse looks like now:

Furnishing and equipping the offices -$570

  • Desks – Free from a out of business karate school
  • Office Chairs – Free – see above
  • Shelves – Free – see above
  • Computers – Free – We moved one from home, and I built the other from recycled parts.
  • Computer Monitor – $140
  • Powered Computer Cart – $250 – Scratch and Dent (Original price $2000)
  • Wireless Router – $70
  • Play area for the kids – $10 – Play Station, Older CRT TV, Coloring Books, Crayons

When we began, we discovered we could easily have spent tens of thousands of dollars equipping the warehouse and office, but we found a way to do it on less the 2K.

In upcoming posts we will talk about:

  • Getting the internet operation running profitably
  • Building out the showroom.
  • Hosting weekend, discount liquidation sales
  • Our new brand for the business

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, I needed to prioritize some things in life – too much on the plate. But we plan to post more frequently in the coming weeks and months. Thanks for reading!

Finding The Right Location For Your Business – At The Right Price

In this post, I am going to detail my experiences finding the right place for our business at the right price.

We found it, and last week, we signed the lease. We are remodeling and moving in over the next six weeks.

We’ve been planning to move from our home to a commercial bricks and mortar operation for years. The most perplexing question we had was:

How do we find the best possible location at a price that will allow us to grow?

The problems we faced:

High Taxes

Several years ago, we almost opened a traditional retail book store, and we wrote this post on negotiating rent. We never signed the lease. The rent was right, but the taxes were too high. In Minnesota, retail tax rates are out of control. In our case the taxes were 4x the rent. High tax rates keep small family owned business like ours out of the prime locations. The problem is, no one in government seems to care. When I recently mentioned the problem to a government official, she replied, “If you can’t afford the taxes, you can’t afford to be in business.”

How we solved this problem:

We decided against renting traditional retail space, in high rent areas (for now). Even in a recession, when the landlords reduce rent to attract tenants, the government doesn’t budge on taxes. The only viable solution for us was to rent a location zoned showroom/industrial where the taxes are 1/3rd of traditional retail.

Over Leveraged Commercial Property Owners

During the real estate boom, investors bought up properties under the false assumption that real estate couldn’t drop in value. Many made these investments using unsecured debt. During our search we found several owners sitting on vacant properties, but unwilling to negotiate a reasonable price.

In one instance, the owner had purchased an entire corner of a busy intersection. It included four buildings which all sat vacant. When we investigated, we learned that the owner had purchased the property at the peak of the boom planning to flip it to a national retailer. When the economy went sour, so did his plan. Christine and I and others tried to make an offer that would generate income for both us and the owner, but were flatly refused. Being over leveraged gave the owner no room to negotiate when tough times hit. I wish him the best, but the properties are still sitting vacant today.

How we solved this problem:

We had to be patient and keep looking. We sought veteran landlords who are likely to own the property outright, who have been through economic downturns and understand the current conditions, who have seen successful startups rise from the depths of a recession, and who understand the power of building long term business relationships.

Cities Are Bulldozing Low Rent Areas

In recent years, affordable commercial property became harder to find. Cities like to pick off older low-rent properties with eminent domain, bulldoze it, and replace it with new high rent/high tax property. It is another case of shortsighted greed. To grow, our economy needs low tax/low rent commercial property to serve as incubators for bootstrapping entrepreneurs.

How we solved this problem:

Persistence. After a while, we didn’t bother looking at the new developments, and focused our search on older areas. And the recession helped. While in recent years we’ve watched old retail and industrial parks knocked down and replaced, right now, there is almost zero commercial development.

Last Minute Lease Changes

For whatever reason, be it mistakes, disorganization, or outright chicanery, the lease terms you verbally agreed upon are different the day you sit down at the table, ready to sign. My father-in-law, who has negotiated dozens of commercial leases over his lifetime warned me about this. It is standard procedure – expect it. These last minute changes are NEVER in your favor.

How we solved this problem:

Don’t sign the lease. Walk away and keep looking. Think about it. Imagine, at closing you said, “I looked the lease over, and I made a mistake, it’s more money than I can afford,  and much of the square footage isn’t useful, so I adjusted the rates down 20 percent, and I need you to cover the utilities, so I wrote up a new lease for you to sign today.”

Leasing Agents Didn’t Help

I talked to at least a dozen of them. Some of them were great… others… not so much. But none of them represented us. They each offered a few properties out of hundreds of possibilities. Some gave us bad information, but mostly they gave us incomplete information.

How we solved this problem:

We had to do the search ourselves. We found property on Craigslist and other websites. The property we eventually rented was a property I drive by every day but I didn’t bother calling. I thought it was out of my price range based on information leasing agents had given me. One day, I decided to call, and the leasing agents were wrong, we could get 3000+ sq ft, at a price we could afford. Never quit searching and never accept the word of experts without finding out for yourself.

Keeping Costs Down

In business you need to make more money than you spend. If you can’t do that, you don’t have a viable business. And if you need a bricks and mortar location for your business, rent/mortgages can wipe you out.

But keep in mind it has to be a win-win for you and the property owner and finding the right location is going to take time. We have been passively looking for years, and actively searching for over nine months. When I first started calling leasing agents, I didn’t think this was possible. For a comparable space, agents were asking for 2-4x the rate we eventually negotiated.

It isn’t trendy, or hip, or pretty, or posh. But it’s functional and affordable

And we’re cleaning it up

We are going to remodel, knock down some walls, put in a new floor, and paint.

And it’s a great spot for a 4 year old to ride his bike.

Don’t miss a post, Subscribe Now!

Lessons in Organic Bootstrapping – Growing Your Business

Have you heard that 50% of small businesses fail in the first year and 95% fail in the first five years? Let me tell you why.

Most small businesses fail becuase they can’t handle debt, get buried by rent, or get pushed into risky decisions by impatient investors.

I’ve seen a lot of business fail taking the “Big Bang” approach to small business start up. They put together a fancy business plan and they execute it perfectly. They take out a bunch of SBA loans, have trendy digs, hire talented people with a proven record, maybe even build a building or two. Sometimes this approach works, with dramatic success, but more often than not, it fails.

The problems are:

  1. They never tested the market, so when the sales don’t materialize immediately, they are under capitalized, and go bankrupt in a few years.
  2. They spent too much on fluff. In the quest to look professional or hip, they overspend.
  3. Instead of adding employees once demand is established, they add them before the first dollar is earned, banking on potential sales to pay the wages, and burn through too much capital too quickly.

Making mistakes is the secret to learning. You learn what you need to know about business through your pain and failures. Organic bootstrapping allows you to learn as you go without going broke, the “big bang” approach does not.

Christine and I are pushing hard this summer to grow Christine’s Books. We’re moving her store out of our house.

It needs to move because:

It’s taking over the kids play areas

And is creeping into every other area of the house

To expand, we need employees, and our house wouldn’t be a good place for others to work.

In 2003 when she first started selling books on the internet, she invested $500.00 in inventory, and kept it on a 6 ft table. By 2004 we had run out of space in our house, and bought a new house that was triple the size. That gave us five more years. Now we plan to lease a showroom and warehouse space that is as big as our entire house. We are hoping that will last 3-5 years and allow us to quadruple sales and add several jobs to the local economy.

While looking for the right location, I’ve had the chance to meet a few entrepreneurs who have grown the same way we have, by organic bootstrapping. Roger at Business Systems International sells refurbished phones. He started in his garage and now owns multiple commercial properties, and has branched out into the software business. Opportunity begets opportunity and success begets success. Roger said, “Every time I moved to a larger location my revenues doubled.”

I talked with Brian at Sunlite Windows and Doors and he had a similar story. He started in his garage, then built a bigger garage with the profits, then leased a shop and warehouse. He said, “When we rented our first shop, I said, we’ll never use all this space. Three years later it was time to move. Now I have triple the space and we own 50% of the window market in this area.”

If you are interested in how small businesses start and grow organically, you’ll be interested in the coming series of posts.

Next post: we’ll talk about finding the right location at the right price.

Christine and Steve Olson on Career Renegade TV

Jonathan Fields was kind enough to interview us on Career Renegade TV. We loved doing this interview. Jonathan is a great guy and makes you feel at ease. We planned to do audio only but at the last minute we decided to go for the video. Let us know what you think.

We talk mostly about Christine’s home based business, Christine’s Books and we also talk about entrepreneurship, family life, social media, and the current economy.

We’re grateful for the opportunity to talk with Jonathan, a published author who has interviewed web superstars like Gary Vaynerchuk.

Here’s the interview:

Safety is a Trap

Safety is a trap. It is also an illusion that is turning many of us into spineless blobs.

Safety watches re-runs. Risk writes the next smash hit.

Calculated risk turns mediocrity into excellence.

Life reminds me of crossing the Missippippi headwaters on stepping stones when I was a kid.

First you must decide to get to the other side.

Then you size up the risk. How far is it? Can you make the leaps? Are the rocks slippery? What’s the worst case scenario? Do you know how to swim? If you fall, do you get wet or do you drown?

You make the first first leap. You land safely. The water’s rushing by. You make a few more leaps. You’re halfway there. The next leap is much farther than it looked from the shore and the rock you need to land on is covered in slime. The water is deeper than you realized. You look back at where you came from. You look forward again. You focus. You find faith. You leap. Your foot lands on target, but slides out from under you and you fall backward into the water. You grasp at a boulder and catch a ridge in you finger tips and crawl back onto the rock. With bruised pride, dripping wet, you look back again, you look forward, you find that same faith, and make the same leap again. This time your foot sticks. From here the rest of the leaps are easy. You stand on the other shore, knowing you’ve accomplished something difficult looking for the next challenge.

Andy Liu inspired this post today.

Life is so much more refreshing and invigorating when there is risk involved.

Hop over and read his post.

What The Rich Know About Money That Most People Don't

Financial intelligence is mostly counter intuitive. Take everything you feel about the economy and turn it on its head.

You’ve heard “buy low, sell high,” right? Sounds easy enough, but how do you do it? Most people buy high and sell low.

This is why the rich are rich and most of us aren’t.

The rich…

Sell when everyone else is buying. Buy when everyone else is selling. Save when everyone else is spending. Spend when everyone else is saving.

I just met an entrepreneur who positioned himself perfectly for this economy. He said,

“This is great, I just bought a 2.5 million dollar building for 800K. I
hired a dozen unemployed construction workers off craigslist to gut it
and remodel it. I just hired 5 .NET developers for half the price I
would have paid last year.”

What will you do next time? Mark my words, this will all happen again.

That’s how you build wealth. It’s simple, but most people won’t do it. The social pressure to spend when the Jones’ are spending is too great. Most people can’t bear to show up at hockey practice in an old mini-van, when everyone else has a shiny new Denali.

Then when the bust happens, they are broke and paralyzed by fear of unemployment and they miss out on the cheapest prices in a decade.

My neighbors are doing a major remodeling project right now. As I write this, I am looking out the window, and there are four pickups parked outside and even more men inside working. So in this economy, how can they afford it? I don’t know, but I can guess they saved during the boom and they are now paying half the price they would have paid two years ago.

Booms and busts are as certain as night and day. They are the natural cycle of economic life. Trying to rid the economy of booms and busts is like trying to rid the world of night and day.

This is simple if you build self-discipline and refuse to be herded into the latest stampede.

2006 was the top of the last boom. Most people I knew were buying new cars, buying new homes, remodeling, and spending like the good times would never end. About that time I had a conversation with a real estate agent about investment properties that went like this…

“Sooner or later the price of homes will drop.”

“It isn’t going to happen. It hasn’t happened since the 1930s.”

“Doesn’t mean it can’t happen again.”

“It’s happened in a few localized markets, but not one like ours.”

“What goes up, must come down. The higher it goes the farther it has to fall.”

“Unemployment would have to skyrocket and I can’t see that happening, not now. They are projecting a million more people in the metro area in the next 10 years.”

“Hmm, so buy now, it’s only going up?”

“If you buy this house (600K), it’ll be worth 30K more by the time you close. You can’t lose. You don’t want to get left out. Don’t leave money on the table.”

“I’ll pass.”

The words “you can’t lose” were the trigger.

You see, if I had done what I knew was right, I would have sold him my home and rented an apartment.  I didn’t sell because it would have been too disruptive to my family and Christine’s business. In retrospect I
should have, I would have made a pile of dough, and right now I’d be buying the 600K house for 300K.

But no matter what you do, you can lose, and you should be willing to accept responsibility for your loss. Take calculated risks, not blind gambles. Responsibility for the results of your actions, good or bad, is the foundation of freedom.