How would you get a business off the ground if you had no money and no realistic chance of raising investment?
A reader named Maritza Guerrero wrote me to ask that question recently. She'd been working as a massage therapist in Los Angeles for a few years and wanted to launch her own business. I drafted an email reply to her offering some good but generic advice. I suggested some of the things you might think of, such as finding a growing market, looking for mentors, keeping startup costs low and telling everyone you know what you're doing.
Then, it hit me. There might be an easy way for her to slash expenses and differentiate her business--one that has worked for many entrepreneurs. Don't try to get customers to come to you. Instead, go to them.
Smart, but not novel
Working on-site with your customers means you likely have much lower startup costs, since you don't need much of an office or storefront. Lower costs mean lower risk, and moreover, anything that makes it easier for customers to pull the trigger and buy from you has to be good for business.
Of course, this isn't exactly a new idea. Decades ago, house calls were common, and we've seen a resurgence in recent years. The food truck industry has grown quickly, and in many big cities you can get a haircut or even a manicure at the office. Heck, even the idea of an on-site massage therapy businesses isn't even particularly novel--say, for example, this one, this one, and this one.
I have to give Guerrero credit, however, for coming up with a new twist. She told me she and her business partner were going to try the mobile route, but that instead of catering to white collar workers and tech startups like most of the competition, they had started targeting businesses that other massage therapists might not think of approaching.
"Like strip clubs," she said. "I know a lot of people would not like the idea, but if you think about it those dancers are hard-working, too."
A first step toward a bigger business
Some businesses lend themselves naturally to a mobile business plan, others use it just to get the venture off the ground. However, it's applicable to more business models than you might think. For example, when my coauthor Jon Burgstone and I were writing Breakthrough Entrepreneurship, we had the chance to interview Jim Koch, cofounder and chairman of Boston Beer Co., which brews Sam Adams. He told us that during the first few years of running the company, he didn't have an office.
"I literally did not have a desk for years," he recalled. "I couldn't make beer in an office. I couldn't sell beer in an office. So I didn't need a desk. If I had to go sit somewhere, it would be in a bar. It would be with the customers."
Here's another example. I was out running in Washington a few years ago, listening to music on my brand new iPhone, when it went flying out of my hands. Facing a $200 repair bill to fix the screen, I did a quick Internet search for a cheaper option. The company I found, called CrackedMacScreen, was basically a mobile repair shop.
Sure enough, owner Trevor Lyman, rode up to my apartment building on a motor scooter a few hours later.
Lyman's business strategy paid off for him, too. When I reached out to Lyman for this article, I learned that as of last year, his company no longer does mobile repairs. He has so many customers now, that he saves time by asking them to come to him.
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