There’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur

There was a time when the barriers to entry for any entrepreneur into any industry were high. Not only were there barriers in terms of knowledge, expertise and experience, but the setup costs and running costs were also very high.

Before the internet when people used to think about setting up a business, this was a major deal. They’d have to consider how they would fund the operation and you couldn’t even begin to think about setting up a business if you weren’t prepared to put down at least five figures as an investment. Many people didn’t entertain the thought of their own business because of this reason alone.

This meant that people were a whole lot more committed to their business and would do everything in their power to make it work because there was a lot more at stake.

Everything about setting up a traditional business was expensive, from fixed running costs to purchasing stock, to paying for advertising in printed media. You had to think through how you were going to produce the service or product you wanted to offer, and this would take time and effort.

Even if they had done considerable market research, at some point they would still have to chance the markets and present their solution, which might turn out to be a flop. This of course means you are placing a lot of up front capital for something that may ultimately fail for any number of reasons. The internet changes all this because it’s made it possible for anyone to set up a new business and become successful at low cost with extremely low barriers to entry.

I remember when I tried to set up my first venture in 1997 (which was a ski touring group); I designed some business cards by myself and went to a high street printer to have 200 made up. I remember the cost of that was about £250 and at that time this was a lot of money. I was 1 year into my first job and wasn’t earning a great deal, and I was really keen on doing something entrepreneurial.

Firstly the card design was total rubbish, but I thought it looked great at the time! These days you can get 200 printed business cards for around £15 or pay a little more and get fully designed ones. You see the internet has made it cheaper for printers to do business, and that cost saving is passed down to you the customer.

It used to be that if you wanted to sell electronic items, you’d have to have a shop, have the products engineered, designed and made. The products would then need to be branded and packaged before you could send them to your customer, so long as you have an outlet to sell. When you get the products manufactured, you’d also have to do large runs because that’s just how things were done back then with the cost of production.

Can you imagine how much money is needed to do that?

You can now do the same thing for a fraction of the cost. Literally you can source a supplier of products ready to be branded, manufactured in China, engineered and ready packed for distribution, for a fraction of the cost. Plus you can do short manufacturing runs to test the market first!

It’s amazing to think that all this is possible because of the advanced communications that the internet has brought about. You can see how this opens up the market for the budding entrepreneur and over the last 5-10 years the landscape has shifted considerably. We are living in an age when we can be sitting on a beach in Barbados and checking our sales orders on a mobile device smaller than a classic Mills and Boon novel.

It blows my mind away to think that we can do all of this, yet so few people actually consider the potential power of using the internet for their business. It’s a total game changer when you know how to make it work for you.

Access to the market is right now unparalleled. There has never been a time in history before now when you could simply go online and get access to a customer in another country and make a direct sale to them.

From your computer you can now have a face to face conversation with someone on the other side of the planet; that’s profound, when you think about the origins of trade and the origins of the market.

The speed of communication has literally reduced to instantaneous. Barring satellite disruptions or service outages, on a perfect day, you can talk, email, or send an SMS text to someone and they will get it instantly.

This is a crucial component for entrepreneurs because this forms the basis of one of the greatest benefits of a small business entrepreneur and that is being able to act fast on information.

It is far easier for a small business to adapt to new economic or legislative changes than it is for a medium to large organisation. This gives small businesses the first mover advantage. It is important to understand that it’s your job as a new business owner to stay on top of the information that is coming to you, because being able to do something about it quicker than big businesses is your unique advantage.

Social media too has increased even further global connectivity to the point where you can communicate with anyone in the world anytime. Aggregator and distribution services online have helped to spread people’s messages at ever-increasing rates. I sat in a Starbucks in Tokyo a couple of years ago and from my mobile phone I could send a message that was visible to hundreds of people within my network back in the UK.

The cost of starting a business is almost zero now. You can have a company registered and trading for as little as £100. There are so many services online that you can use for free that will enable you to produce things, to contact people, to network, to design and build an online store, the possibilities are endless.

Even when I started back in 2001, I managed to set up with a budget of zero, and back then most of these free services did not exist. In fact Facebook and other social media weren’t even around and people had only just begun using emails to market.

I remember sitting at my little computer desk each night building my first website and wondering if it would ever make money. It was both frightening and exciting at the same time because I actually felt like I was building something substantial that I could call a business, and I felt totally empowered that I could do it all from a single computer.

We are at a stage in economic development where everybody should consider himself as a factory producing goods or services. People are changing jobs faster and quicker than ever and projects come and go as often as rain in England which means society is moving towards a shifting model of employment where companies will consider short-term contracts more cost effective solutions than hiring for longevity.

We’re moving into a society where groups of skilled people come together to complete tasks and then disband to do other things. Even musicians are working like this where bands will stay as a band yet individual band members also have the flexibility to go pursue solo careers.

We are all producers, so what are you producing in your life?

Since graduating from Leeds University in 1997, Eddie Yu has been involved in various Entrepreneurial activities throughout his career, and eventually having built up a part time business between 2001-2003, he went full time in 2004 with Lady Luck Media. Before then, he has worked for British Aerospace, FNX and Derivatech, where he consulted for top tier banks such as Bank of America, ABM Amro and Bank of China. Eddie firmly believes that with social entrepreneurship and technological advancements we can create a world without offices and impact climate change for the betterment of our planet.