Here’s why 2017 is the best year to be an entrepreneur

The costs of starting a business are decreasing everywhere, but that means a lot of conventional business advice is out of date.

Phew. We made it.

The world changed in all kinds of ways in 2016, but it’s over and here’s the good news. It has now never been easier for you to start your own business.

The costs and difficulties have been lowered in almost every way — from set up and administration to finding suppliers, investors and (most importantly) customers.

That’s because the most challenging aspects that entrepreneurs once had to build from scratch are now readily available as low cost (or free) digital services. That massively de-risks the costs of starting a business, but also eliminates a huge amount of bureaucracy and other nonsense.

In addition, these tools enable us to collaborate, communicate and exchange money with people across the planet as easily as if they were across the office (which you no longer need). That opens up a whole world of possibilities.

It’s still hard work of course, but the opportunities are more open to everyone.

A year ago, I set up a content marketing agency based in Tallinn called Rang Media House. We specialise in helping digital services disrupt traditional industries and grow. Full disclosure then, some of the services I’m going to mention below are also our clients, but I only include them here because they offer real value to us as customers too. That’s why we’re proud to work for them.

Here’s just a few of the digital services that make running our business easier:

  • Our website is built and updated through Wix. It’s low cost and easy to use, but looks good and gives us all the functionality we need.
  • We can choose the best suppliers and talent from anywhere in the world because TransferWise for Business enables us to easily pay them across borders without the unfair fees that banks hide in misleading exchange rates. You can use it to easily get paid too.
  • Google Drive is great for collaborating internally and with clients. It means we all work on the same live Docs and Sheets, access them anywhere and never lose unsaved work. I don’t even bother paying for Microsoft Office anymore.
  • It’s important to keep track of time, even if you don’t bill by the hour, so Toggl is fantastic. We don’t want any tools that add complexity, but this time tracker has been designed so user-friendly that people actually do use it.
  • Managing remote teams is easier with Asana to track tasks and Slack to integrate all communications.

Considering how important these digital tools and others are to our business, it’s incredible that none of them existed more than a few years ago. In 2017, these tools will keep getting better and new services will provide new value we probably don’t even realise we need yet.

All of this enables us to focus on our passion, which at Rang Media House is making and distributing great web content.

Two business trends to watch in 2017

Around the world, these tools are also leading to the rise of two important new trends that are radically changing business in ways we’re only beginning to understand:

  • The first is location-independence. There’s been a lot of talk in 2016 about strengthening physical borders, but digital technology is actually making it easier for entrepreneurs to bypass the hassle they create. No matter where you are reading this in 2017, you don’t have to accept the limitations imposed by the government you happen to live under at present.
  • Next is the rise of the micro-business. These are limited liability companies with just a single employee who works as a freelancer, contractor or an entrepreneur. We have loads of them in Estonia because it’s so easy to do business here. It means that if we see someone with skills we need — like graphic design or sound engineering — then we can easily hire them for a specific task. It makes us more competitive and provides them with more freedom in their work, which can also increase their productivity. These micro-businesses are now proliferating on a global scale and that provides all companies with easier access to a huge talent pool.

These two trends have merged to create a new group of people called digital nomads, but many more people are already taking advantage of these trends in one way or another.

8 unconventional ways to survive 2017 in business

All this change means a lot of textbook business advice is already out of date. There are new rules and also a lot more competition.

Given the unpredictability of 2016, I’m not going to make predictions for this year. If you plan to start a business though, I wish you all the best and want to share the unconventional ideas that worked for us last year.

  1. Don’t quit your job

Well, maybe not straight away.

I know a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs who dream about that moment they dramatically tell their boss they are quitting. It’s more worthwhile dreaming about having a successful business though.

For that to become reality, it’s best to leverage your existing job and plan a smooth transition to your new life as an entrepreneur. Instead of hiding your plans from your current employer, try to bring them onboard as early as possible.

Here’s what you should aim for:

  • The freedom to start building your business (in your own time of course). You’ll want to focus on making your business visible and that’s pretty hard to do when trying to make it invisible from your current employer. Every reasonable employer should be happy with this if you are upfront instead.
  • Practical support and advice for your new business. A large employer might have an established scheme to help departing employees, while directors at a small business might provide personal mentoring.
  • Future business relationships. Your existing employer could be among your future customers, investors, suppliers or partners — or at least provide an introduction. You could also cooperate with them in future for events, publicity or other opportunities. This one is trickier to achieve, but it’s worth a try.

At the very least, you should aim for the first of these three goals then you can build your business with the safety net of your current employer.

Why would they give you any of this though?

  • You’re being honest and upfront about your plans and have assured them that your new venture won’t distract you from your current job.
  • Replacing an employee is an enormous disruption to any business, usually costing more than six months of their salary. You can help them save them a lot of money and disruption by supporting a smooth transition.

There are two caveats to all this, however. This advice is less helpful if you are building a direct competitor to your current employer. Also, it won’t work if you have an old-fashioned boss who doesn’t understand why all this is in the best interest of their business.

I was particularly lucky.

I was a spokesperson for BAE Systems and they have very progressive attitudes and even programmes to support employees that want to start their own businesses. I agreed to a five month notice period so I could complete ongoing projects and train up my replacement.

In return, they gave me the running start I needed to get my business off the ground and start implementing my business plan… if I had one.

2. Don’t write a business plan

Business plans were created for an age in which the barriers to entry for new businesses were very high.

Back then, a comprehensive business plan was only a small proportion of the massive effort and resources needed to launch. It was also essential when applying for things your business needed, like investment, loans and office space.

There’s nothing to stop you from writing one in 2017. It’s often still the first advice given to new entrepreneurs, after all. For many businesses though, I think it’s a waste of time at best. At worst, it can encourage you to disregard the one thing your new business will need more than anything — flexibility.

The truth is that you can’t test your plan until after you actually launch and deal with real customers in the real world. As Woody Allen once wrote, “if you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”.

There are great alternatives to downloading a formulaic business plan template. A one page explainer proved to be the best option for a small service-based business like Rang Media House. If you can’t explain your business and its direction on a single page then you’ve got a problem.

But no matter how large or small your business, it’s often now more important to launch as early as possible with minimum costs and be prepared to keep adapting and improving your business, instead of sticking to a plan.

3. Be Estonian (or get e-Residency)

The Estonians have developed an advanced digital infrastructure, which is considered the most advanced in the world. It makes it easy to set up a business and then run it from anywhere with minimal bureaucracy. It’s no wonder that some of the world’s greatest digital service providers started here, including Skype and TransferWise.

Don’t worry if you are not among the 0.000018571428571428572 per cent of Earth’s population who actually are Estonian though. (Yes, I did the maths)

For just €100, anyone can apply for e-Residency of Estonia and get all the same digital benefits, including a secure digital signature, access to our public e-services and the same rights in business. You don’t even need to visit Estonia, although I would definitely recommend that too!

One of the key aims of the e-Residency programme is to help unleash the world’s entrepreneurial potential and it’s already lowering business costs around the world.

Taxation in Estonia is fair and simple, but the country is not a tax haven. It’s an admin haven and that helps you focus on what really matters — building your business and developing your products.

Not only is the Estonian government committed to minimising your bureaucracy, but business service providers in Estonia are able to provide efficient and low-cost business services, like accountancy and a virtual office.

LeapIN is a great choice if you want to set up a microbusiness, perhaps as a solo entrepreneur, a digital nomad or a contractor. Check out 9 reasons every digital nomad needs LeapIN for more info.

Your business in Estonia will also be inside the EU and benefit from the EU’s legal frameworks and credibility, even though you can run it from anywhere in the world. That’s really helpful for aspiring entrepreneurs in parts of the world that struggle with things like processing payments just because of the country they live in.

It also helps if your country is planning to leave the EU!

4. Tell people what you do (repeatedly)

I know this sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed how many entrepreneurs don’t do this properly.

I often visit a company website then leave with no clear idea of the service or product being offered. Sometimes I have to google their Wikipedia page because I know it’s more likely to have a description of the company in plain English.

Entrepreneurs get so absorbed with their businesses that they lose sight of how it looks to an outsider who knows nothing about it.

You’ll need to be able to explain your business both in a few sentences and in a few words. Also, please use plain language without buzzwords and jargon!

Then repeat it online at every opportunity you get. There’s more competition than ever for people’s attention and those frequently used descriptions are also essential for SEO when they are written across the web.

In 2017, once you get sick and tired of telling people what your business does then the message might just start getting through.

You’ve hopefully remembered that Rang Media House is a content marketing agency based in Tallinn. Visit our website and you will be left in no doubt that we make and distribute great web content. You probably won’t commit this to your long term memory until you’ve seen it a few more times in future though.

For a few more of my pet peaves, check out 7 reasons startups fail at digital marketing written for our friends at Blu Mint Digital.

5. Let people find you

My favourite article on Medium is about the rejection letters sent to the founders of Airbnb. This inspired me so I thought I too should save a few rejection emails from the early days when I was offering free content marketing.

That’s not possible though as almost everyone I contacted simply never responded. Ok, it’s not as valuable as 10 per cent of Airbnb, but it would have benefited them.

Things are now very different. People mostly approach us for business and we start working with them if we have the capacity, we’re passionate about what they do and believe that our content marketing can add significant value.

There’s no hard sell and I think most people appreciate that. Asking for business simply never achieved much, yet doing great work and letting word spread has been more effective. We just make sure our recent work is available where people can find it because that’s what potential clients care about most.

6. Eliminate your business rivals

I learnt this advice from the Estonian mafia, but it’s probably not what you think.

Our startup community here is nicknamed the Estonian Mafia (or #estonianmafia as you’ll more commonly see it) because we’re famously co-operative in business. Like family, as it were.

The Estonian Mafia is spread across the country (and the world) but our main residence is Lift99 at Telliskivi Creative City in Tallinn. That’s where Rang Media House is now based too.

There’s a lot of other people making great English marketing content here in Estonia too because the growth of our digital economy depends on it. Instead of being rivals, these people have provided us with new business and help in all kinds of ways and we’ll do the same for them when we can.

We even have a private Facebook group to share advice and held the first English language content congress in Tallinn this year. One of the outcomes from that was a partnership between Rang Media House and Blu Mint Digital for clients that need a broader range of digital marketing services to support out content.

So instead of trying to establish a monopoly, the easier (and ethical) way to eliminate potential business rivals is to simply make friends with them.

7. Get some sleep

If you’re reading this then I’ll assume you’re a human.

Despite what you hear too frequently in the business community, humans need sleep. Preferably when it’s dark too. Our bodies are just hardwired in that way.

Depriving yourself of sleep or just working too long hours is totally counter-productive as an entrepreneur.

Scientific studies consistently show that lack of sleep will lead to a sharp drop in productivity and creativity. That does far more harm to your work than any time you may have saved. In addition, you face a real risk of burn-out and deteriorating mental health in the near future.

The problem is that social media is now full of entrepreneurs who boast about the great work they do on little sleep. It’s simply not true, not in the long run anyway, so don’t be impressed.

8. Invest in quality content

A scene from The Client From Hell video made for Toggl

Making and distributing content can be very effective for marketing your business online — and online is where most people are going to be in 2017.

However, the vast majority of content makes virtually no impact. That’s usually because it’s low quality, unoriginal and not genuinely useful or interesting. As advertising executive David Ogilvy famously wrote back in the 1960s: The customer is not a moron.

That advice remains unchanged in 2017.

For example, the prevailing wisdom is that you’re not even reading these words because this article is way too long. However, the data does suggest that a long-form article like this is exponentially more valuable than those short 300 word posts. I know you probably skimmed a lot of this, but that’s ok.

This year, social media and search engines will continue to get better at their ultimate objective, which is delivering the best and most relevant content to users.

I’m not going to give you the hard sell, of course, but if you do need content marketing in 2017 then you might already know a great content marketing agency that can help.

Have a great year and good luck.