Upping that Offense

I recently decided that I wanted to become more productive with my time outside of work. I figured that if 99% of the time someone sends me a youtube video, I’d already seen it, I was probably doing something wrong with my life. I decided that I should try to up my ‘offense’ and start looking into alternative ways to make more money.

I’ve always daydreamed about starting some sort of business on the side. But to be honest, none of my ideas have been very actionable without already having a good amount of start-up money or some pretty good programming knowledge. Neither of which is something I possess. I’ve always been low-key jealous of people who majored in computer science for this reason. They not only had the best job opportunities immediately after college, but they left college with a real technical skill. They had the skills to build something that was actually useful and sought after in the real world. I, on the other hand, majored in Economics and left college with zero technical skills. Actually, other than having the ability to make boring things that happen to me sound somewhat interesting, and being fairly good at humble-bragging (see that?), I don’t really have any other marketable skills.

I once read somewhere that the most important thing in working for yourself is to first find three paying customers. The article said that before you spend any money or time on promotions/advertising/details, first see if you can find three customers who are willing to pay for your service. To me this sounded pretty logical, but before that, I needed to figure out what service I should offer. I thought long and hard about anything that I could do that could potentially make money; nothing really came to mind.

Eventually, I decided to go backwards and think about how I make money now. As a data analyst, my most widely useful skill is probably Excel. I decided I could try to use my Excel knowledge to provide a service as I am pretty good at the program. Side note: Whenever someone tells you they are good at Excel it can mean one of two things. 1. They actually suck at Excel because they don’t know the full extent of the program. Or 2. They are beastly at Excel. Luckily, I am the latter.

So I set off to find three customers with Excel. I wasn’t sure what route to take so I tried everything. I signed up to tutoring websites as an Excel tutor, I applied to low paying data entry jobs offering to automate their processes for them, I contacted small businesses offering analytic support, I competed with Indian people on Odesk for freelance work, and I responded to tons of ads for gigs on Craigslist. After about a month of wasting a ton of time talking to people, getting a ton of rejections, and painstakingly teaching grandmas how to do vlookups, I finally found my niche. I found that I was able to provide great value to small companies by building custom dashboards for them. So far, I found two customers, both local companies. Earlier this month, I worked a weekend and a couple of nights and made just over $2,000 of tax free money.  While it’s been less than a month since I’ve started this, it’s been incredibly exciting.

I think it is possible for anyone to do this. So whatever your skill is, whether it’s playing an instrument, training pets or baking, try to think about how you can use your skill to provide value to others and then try to find three paying customers. From there, it should validate the fact that you can monetize on this and you can grow. I am just starting off on this adventure and I hope this will motivate others to join me. I will definitely plan on sharing the lessons I learn and mistakes I make in as I continue down this path.  But in the meantime, have a great New Years and see you in 2014!