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The Era of the Unintentional Entrepreneur: An Interview with Kevin Reeth of Outright.com (Part 2)

The Era of the Unintentional Entrepreneur: An Interview with Kevin Reeth of Outright.com (Part 2)

The Era of the Unintentional Entrepreneur

    In Part 1 of this interview, Kevin Reeth (Co-founder and CEO of Outright.com) and I discussed some of the challenges and benefits of entrepreneurship and the emergence of a new breed of “unintentional entrepreneurs” – people who, because of the economic downturn, find themselves exploring the possibility of going freelance, starting their own business, or hiring out as a consultant. In part 2, we discuss some of the technological tools that make entrepreneurship – unintentional or otherwise – a viable option right now.

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    Kevin Reeth (KR): One of the good things about the timing now is that it has never been cheaper or easier to start a company from the logistics and marketing perspective. The ability to get your name out there, to get a web presence, to get online, to get people to be able to find you, has never been greater. If you just know the basics, you can use technology to better manage your time, better manage your processes, and then get paid and deal with the money. Open Source software, websites like ours [Outright.com], all this new technology has made it a lot easier.

    Dustin Wax (DW): What are some of the most effective and promising tools that are out there for entrepreneurs?

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    KR: We’re big fans of social networks for self-employed people, because what it basically does is kind formalize those informal relationships. And you can get it down without worrying about curstomer relationship software and all that stuff. Of all of them, I think for professionals LinkedIn is the leading candidate.

    Definitely get on Google and use Gmail and Google Calendars. It’s free, it’s awesome,  and you can tie it to your own domain name using Google Apps for Your Domain. Phenomenal toolset, and it’s completely free.

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    And we strongly recommend that people take advantage of free online tools to get a web presence. Get a blog on WordPress or Typepad or Blogger. If you want something a little more expensive, get a domain. Go to GoDaddy, get a domain, get cheap hosting, and get something very basic website up.

    We also recommend Craigslist. It’s a great business tool! If you have to buy anything, do not pay retail. See if it’s on Craigslist first. Companies are started and fail all the time. And they’ve bought the things you need and they’re going to want to sell that stuff. You can find a lot of stuff in great condition. Also, you can use Craigslist to promote your services for free or very little.

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    And then of course, once you do start making a little bit of money and Uncle Sam wants their piece, then we strongly recommend people take a look at Outright.com.

    DW: I think the real interesting thing right now is the way that data is being shared between different applications, like from Freshbooks to Outright. Once that stuff starts being really integrated, when you can put your LinkedIn contacts for instance into your CRM program or whatever, that’s going to be pretty interesting.

    KR: I think you hit the nail right on the head, and that’s exactly where we’re trying to take this. You see it with The Small Business Web, a site that was put together with the folks at Freshbooks and Shoeboxed and BatchBook and MailChimp. One of the greatest things that has happened in the last few years with the web is, in addition to open source software, the open movement around data flow. You see this with Facebook and  the number of developers they can get building on top of it, you see it with Twitter. Most of the success of Twitter is all the people who’ve built stuff on top of it to extend it in really new and creative ways. Making the data open and available basically creates the opportunity for the broader population to innovate on it and it creates little micro-industries. It’s a massive development and I think we are at the very beginning stages of this.

    In Part 3 of this interview, Kevin and I will discuss the program at Unintentional Entrepreneur and how they’re working to provide knowledge and support to small business owners, solopreneurs, and freelancers. Be sure to check back Monday!

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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