About Nick Loper

Nick is an amateur swimmer, skier, business student, softball player, golfer, dog walker, mountain climber and Mariners fan. By day you can find him walking at his treadmill desk, blogging at nickloper.com, selling shoes, and helping people reclaim their time by hiring virtual assistants.

The Performance-Based Accountant

buisnessEvery year around tax time I get frustrated with the complexity of filing my business and personal taxes. I’d love to hire help, but have had some not-so-awesome experiences with professional accountants in the past.

Most recently, I felt like I was doing all the work and the accountant was simply punching the numbers into the forms. For $1250 or something crazy like that. OK, I’ll figure out how to do it myself for that rate.

But what I would really VALUE as a customer is some sort of guidance and consulting. If my $1250 would save my $2500 or $5000, or they uncover some new tax-saving strategy I can take advantage of, I’d gladly pay it.

In fact, I could justify paying much more, because it’s “found money.” Much like a salesperson’s commission, a performance-based accountant could collect a fee on how much they save you over a certain pre-determined baseline amount.

(To be sure, there’s a challenge in figuring out what a fair baseline would be.)

When I tweeted out this business idea, a CPA friend informed me that accountants are actually forbidden by law to engage in a business model like this, but I believe there are some creative workarounds possible.

For instance, Lyft, the ride-sharing service, collects fees on “donation” rather than on time/mileage fares — because regulatory burdens prohibit them from doing so as they’re not a licensed taxi company.

I think there’s a HUGE opportunity for tax accountants to really prove their worth with this sort of pricing set-up.

They could even run some sort of “Beat the Box” promo or awareness campaign where they pit themselves against Turbo Tax software and see who comes up with the best results.

I guess it’s similar to when H&R Block offers to “double check” your return for free, but maybe on a more personal scale.

What do you think? Would you be more likely to hire a tax professional if you knew they were going to save you money? What’s a fair “percentage” of the savings to pay them?

The Maternity and Baby Clothes Rental Service

Mother and Son PlayingThe global market for children’s clothes is a reported $150 billion industry. But the problem with kids, and specifically babies, is they grow out of their clothes in a matter of months.

I believe there’s room for disruption in their business by a baby clothing rental service. It’s painful to buy something you know won’t have any long-term use or purpose, so a smart company could create a value proposition by offering to lend the clothes instead.

Opportunity

A lot of money is spent on baby clothes that will be outgrown in a few months but won’t be “worn out” by any stretch of the imagination.

Cut a family’s clothing budget in half by renting them quality baby clothes. The family saves money, the company can rent out each outfit several times (cleaning in between each swap), and ultimately fewer clothes end up being manufactured and landfilled.

Weaknesses

Even with the best in-between washings and guaranteed cleanliness, I can imagine some new moms being reluctant to start their child’s life in borrowed clothes. There’s a certain stigma that comes with renting that would have to be overcome.

Starting Up

This is a company that would require some start-up capital, especially to scale quickly. You would have to buy the inventory, invest in some web presence, develop a system for shipping and returns, and have a facility for cleaning.

Actually, one way to save money would be to ask the parents to wash the clothes before dressing the kid the first time, because honestly they will probably do that anyway.

What do you think?

Probably not the most glamorous business idea in the world, but one that a lot of people could definitely benefit from. A strong value proposition and a green element, too.

The Code for Equity Platform

Small businesses and startups often have a hard time finding qualified technical help to build out their grand ideas.

code for equityFounders can turn to freelance sites like Elance or oDesk, but it can be difficult to sort through the dozens of applicants to find the diamond in the rough.

On top of that, top-tier talent is expensive. Bootstrapped operations may find themselves compromising on quality just to meet budget.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

What if you built out a platform to connect talented web designers, web developers and software developers with cash-poor but idea-rich entrepreneurs?

It could be a win-win for both parties. The companies could get the technical work done on the cheap or free, and the developers could get an ownership stake in the company or a share of potential future cash flows and growth.

The platform could be monetized in a similar way, by taking a small equity stake in each project. Over the long-term, that could be a very lucrative strategy if you end up facilitating some big hits, but might be complex to execute. Another option would just be to charge a flat listing fee for each project.

Strengths

This unique set-up allows developers to essentially play venture capitalist, except with their time and skills instead of with their money. If they don’t need the income today, but have an eye for a great idea, the payoff could be much greater in the long-run than doing the job as a standard freelance gig.

In addition, there would be a greater incentive to build it right because they would have a legitimate ownership stake. Some skin in the game, as it were.

For business owners, your code for equity platform would solve the problem of finding and motivating engaged talent. And if your project lingers with no one jumping to help, perhaps that’s an early indication the idea isn’t that good.

Weaknesses

Freelancers are freelancers and most of the time just want to get paid. They take on risk with each job and might not have the stomach for even riskier work — with the distinct possibility of never getting paid at all.

Even though the platform would allow them to pick and choose which projects they take on, I think it would still be a big hurdle to overcome. They can’t buy groceries today with startup equity and the promise of potential income tomorrow.

And in the reverse of the strength above, in the long-run the companies may end up dramatically overpaying for the initial development work if the project really takes off.

Opportunities

As far as I know, no one else is facilitating these kinds of freelance arrangements. (OK, I didn’t research it at all.) The concept could generate some buzz in the industry — positive and negative for sure.

But I believe there is a large market out there of entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs who have good ideas but don’t have the time or money or capacity to build them out. This platform would give them a low-risk alternative to go out and try and make something happen.

Threats

In terms of competitive threats, if this business idea takes off I imagine it would be pretty easy for Elance or oDesk to add “code for equity” checkbox and even provide some boilerplate legal contracts to set up the arrangement.

But if you can gain some traction I think there’s definitely room for this kind of unique niche in the freelance market.

Wrap Up

I like this idea because it’s not just about building one business, but about building hundreds or thousands of new businesses. And it’s about sharing the value created from those new enterprises.

What do you think? Should we build this? Better yet, should we try and get it built on a code for equity model to test the idea?

5 Business Ideas for Stay-at-Home Moms

Do you ever get the feeling life is passing you by because you’re always stuck in the house?

Even if you go out and do things during the day it still might not be enough. You chose to stay home and look after the kids, which is great, but it doesn’t mean you can’t try to make your life a little more exciting.

Have you thought about what you could do to pass the time when you have any available? Why don’t you try and start your own little home business?

Moms don’t need to sit around doing nothing and if you have an entrepreneurial spirit it’s quite easy to make a little cash on the side. At the end of the day, it doesn’t even need to be about the money, but watching your bank account increase is fun even if you aren’t struggling to put food on your table.

You might even be able to turn it into a bigger business once the kids have grown up, so if you’re interested we can look at a few ways you can get started building a home business.

Baking Cakes

Fresh Fruit Upside Down Cake

If you are great in the kitchen you could easily bake cakes all day at the same time as looking after the children. The cakes you make will depend on your skills, but if you could get people to order birthday or wedding cakes you could easily turn a nice profit.

You don’t have to limit yourself to making cupcakes for the village fair. You will need to do a big of marketing to generate some business, but once you have started word of mouth could help you along.

Selling Clothes

Skirt

If you love designing your own clothes you could easily bring your creations to life faster than ever before. Once you have the proper machines you just need to go around collecting the materials and you’re set.

If you make a few garments for people you know they can show them off to everyone and rave about you. People are always looking for custom clothes that are unique and it means there should be enough people who will order from you.

Writing

#76 - The Harvest Writer

If you love writing then doing it at home with the intention of selling books is easy. You can easily write them all day long and upload them to somewhere like Amazon for free.

In the beginning it’s going to be tough, but after you built up an audience that loves your work you can easily sell a decent amount of copies. You might not become the next best-selling author, but at least you will have fun doing what you love.

Build an Online Business

If you were a businesswoman in a previous life you could start your own online business that can slowly be built up over the years. If you don’t have something to sell online you could think of something, or you could even provide a service to other people.

As your company grows you could slowly start to hire more staff and because everyone can work from home they will be easy for you to manage. You just need to find something the market wants.

Daycare

Family, Hawaii

Some moms are not so lucky and they have to keep working because there might not be enough money coming in. That means they need someone to look after their small children.

You could start a little daycare center in your home because you’re going to be looking after your children anyway. If you love children it could be a fun way to pass the time, plus if you see how much daycare centers charge these days you’ll know you can make a nice bit of money.

Creative commons image credits:

Kish Winner is the author of today’s guest post and also an expert blogger. You might be interested in his Guide to franchise article, which gives tips on starting your own franchise.

The Treadmill Desk Revolution

Background

Study after study after study keeps coming out with new findings about how bad sitting is for you.

Employees and employers are both starting to take notice. In recent years, we’ve seen dramatic increases in the number of alternative workspaces: desks with adjustable heights, exercise balls for chairs, standing desks (and chair-less conference rooms), and even the holy grail of them all — treadmill desks.

treadmill desk 5The Opportunity

There are literally millions of office desks in the US and all around the world that will be replaced with more “healthy” models. Understanding the long-term health risks of a sedentary environment, workers will begin to demand it, and employers will need to make the investment to attract and retain the best talent.

In the coming decade there is a HUGE opportunity for a motivated entrepreneur to step in front and ride this wave. Remember, “find a parade and get in front of it?” Well I sincerely believe this is going to be one giant parade.

Even if you only manage to capture a tiny fraction of the market, the office furniture business is a huge one, and it’s ripe for some serious disruption.

The Product

A treadmill desk, if you’re not familiar with the contraption, is simply a tall desk that stands over a treadmill. This way, workers can walk at a slow pace while they work. Of course it also works in “off” mode as a standing desk for when people get tired of walking.

I wouldn’t try and manufacture the treadmills yourself, but rather find a reliable existing model and look for either an adjustable desk you can customize around it, or have the desk portion manufactured.

One modification that will likely be necessary to the treadmill is some sort of noise dampener.

I built mine over a year ago (and absolutely love it!), but it is noisy. Both the treadmill and desk were acquired on the cheap on craigslist. The motor casing is just cheap plastic; I think with a little foam or other noise insulation it would run much quieter.

The benefit of sourcing from an existing supplier is you don’t have to worry so much about maintenance or warranty issues — done right, customers can be covered under the manufacturer’s product warranty.

And of course there’s the additional profit center opportunity of selling extended warranty plans for each treadmill.

The Competition

The treadmill desk idea has been around for a few years, but many entries in the marketplace are very expensive. Like $2000 and up!

At the other end of the spectrum are the hacked together DIY-jobs that are potentially unstable and loud, especially for an office environment.

An opportunity exists for a quality product with a middle-of-the-road price point. Do you think you can build and deliver that product to world full of unhealthy office furniture?

Next Steps

Begin researching the marketplace. How are office furniture sales typically made? Who are the decision makers? Make some calls and find out. Imagine landing an entire floor of an office, or an entire call center or complex as a client.

Find a suitable treadmill manufacturer. Inquire about volume discounts or wholesale pricing.

Do the same for the desks.

OK as I’m writing this the more and more I think this could really be a viable venture with a giant market. Anybody interested in checking it out and testing the waters?

The Craigslist Arbitrage Game

In every big city, there is a healthy Craigslist community. Among the many sections of the giant classified ads site is a popular section for free stuff.

craigslist arbitrageOf course, a lot of this stuff is pretty junky but in many cases it still has some value. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?

Last week I posted a dresser to the free section of Craigslist. I probably could have sold it, but it had been through several moves and was pretty banged up. Within 10 minutes I had half a dozen calls from people to come pick it up.

The family that made the first call arrived with a passenger van (seats removed) full of stuff, presumably all from Craigslist as well. It made wonder if they were running this as a business.

Here’s the basic premise:

  1. Find free or otherwise undervalued stuff on Craigslist or Freecycle.
  2. Re-sell it for a profit.

What you’d need:

  • A pickup truck.
  • A garage or other safe place for storage.
  • Cleaning supplies, tools, fix-it know-how, and a nice camera to take pictures.
  • Salesmanship.

For example, today I found an almost-new rowing workout machine listed for free:

“Wife bought, didn’t use. Can you? If so, come & get it. Please.”

workout machine

 

Brand new, the same item sells for more than $300 on Amazon!

Think you could turn a profit when you’re “cost of goods sold” is zero?

I like this business idea because it’s very simple, requires little to no start-up capital, and can be done without any specialized training or skills.

Be quick and courteous on the phone, grab the goods, clean/fix them up, take some nice pictures and re-post the items for sale.

I’ve actually heard of people doing this quite successfully with used cars (which is essentially what dealers do with trade-ins), but there is a lot more red tape to deal with in the car-flipping business.

As an added benefit, you can donate to charity any items that don’t sell and take a small write-off against your business profits.

I thought semi-seriously about doing this during college when I had a truck but never pulled the trigger. What do you think? Is playing the Craigslist arbitrage game a viable business idea?

The Playground Sports League

Beer league softball and flag football have been around for ages, which shows there is a strong demand for adult recreational sports.

Rec sports are popular for many reasons. For instance:

  • They give you a chance to burn some calories in a fun way
  • They offer face-to-face human social interaction
  • They let you relive your athletic glory days

Recently, I’ve seen a rise in “non-sports” sports leagues. Kickball leagues have taken off. A friend of mine even plays trampoline dodgeball on Monday nights!

Naturally, there’s an opportunity there.

Could you build a league of your own (or collection of leagues) that specializes in playground, backyard, or bar games?

Beyond kickball and dodgeball, what about:

  • Wiffle ball?
  • HORSE?
  • Ping pong? or Beer pong?
  • Shuffleboard?
  • Darts?
  • Croquet?
  • Capture the flag?
  • Kick the can?
  • Frisbee golf?
  • Ultimate frisbee?
  • Tag?

If you have access to public spaces for the games, you could start with almost no overhead. All you’d need is a website to promote sign-ups.

The challenge would be in creating a critical mass of players and teams, but after that, many will stick around season after season if you provide a good experience. In that sense, it’s a lot like a membership site in that it becomes a recurring income stream.

People are busy, but shouldn’t be too busy to have fun with friends and meet new people. Plus there’s always the nostalgia factor of playing some old-school games. Retro is in, if not just for the irony!

A Smarter Way to Shop For Cars

Buying a car (new or used) is a pain point for many people.

Why? Because it’s a big purchase and there’s a general distrust of car dealers.

Although the Internet has brought about increased transparency, and made it more difficult for dealers to gouge buyers, there is still a lot of room for an improved car-buying experience.

New Cars

For new cars, the system I’m thinking of could be like a reverse auction system. A customer would enter the car they’re looking for, and dealers would bid for their business.

This is easier for new cars because a certain model of Camry for example is the same at Dealer A as it is at Dealer B.

Dealers would know they are in competition with each other and would have incentive to offer their best price. And customers, knowing the “bids” of all the nearby stores, would have better confidence in knowing they’re getting a good deal without having to haggle.

In an important contrast with other car shopping sites, your personal contact information would NOT be sold to the dealers. There’s nothing that pisses off customers more than getting hounded by salespeople when all they’re trying to find out is an honest price.

The system could have feedback mechanisms in place to reward good service and communication. And to punish dealers who abuse the system.

Used Cars

For used cars, the set-up would be a little trickier, but may be even more valuable. Instead of searching classifieds and other websites, customers could enter in the car they’re looking for either by model or type.

For example, you could put in Ford Escape 2006-2008, under 70,000 miles. Or you could input Small SUV, under 70,000 miles.

Similarly, dealers could then compete for your business in an open and transparent way.

Everyone wins. You get a better deal with less effort, and dealers get access to hot leads and only have to pay when they make a sale.

Monetization

You’ll need to build a tracking system in which you earn a commission on each sale generated through the site, much like an affiliate marketing set-up.

 

The Ultimate Resource for Local Happy Hours

Who doesn’t love happy hour? I think we can all agree that leaving work early to grab some cheap food and drink with friends is pretty great.

And I think we can also all agree that reliable information on local happy hours is hard to find. There is no central resource or database for happy hour locations, times, and specials.

Which is why it would make a great business.  This is something that can start locally and expand to new geographic areas like Yelp did.  And, like Yelp, much of the content can be crowdsourced.

In real life, we’re most likely to hear about a great happy hour from friends through word of mouth. This business (a website and mobile app) simply takes that experience online and scales it.

I’ll even give you the name. How about Happy Hour Hero?

Monetization

Once you have the userbase and eyeballs, restaurants and bars will be happy to pay you to get in front of these new customers.

But like any operation, it’s crucial to nail the user experience first. Reach out to influencers and connectors and see if you can’t begin to gain some critical mass.

Restaurants and bars can also be a great source of information, and should be invited to submit their happy hour details on the site as well. A smart proprietor or franchisee will recognize the low barrier to entry into this new platform and jump at the opportunity to pitch his business in another new avenue.

What do you think? Let’s discuss over drinks at happy hour!

The 2-Minute Personalized News Digest

The traditional newspaper business may be dying, but that is creating opportunity for new business models.  It’s not that people have stopped consuming the news; it’s that they’ve stopped paying for it.  Reading the newspaper is time-consuming and costly, not to mention the information delay problems that come from printing and delivery time.

The majority of the news I don’t care about, and I would venture to guess most other people don’t care either.  Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate?  Great.  Does that impact my day at all?  Not in the least.

However, if Google rolled out a new advertising product, or Nike launched a new must-have sneaker, that’s something I might like to know.

But what if you could introduce an efficient and personalized news service worth paying for?

Curate content from different sources and email people a 2-minute daily digest on the topics they’re interested in.  Topics could be very granular.  Charge a monthly subscription fee.

People don’t want to be ignorant, but pertinent information needs to be delivered quickly in need-to-know chunks.

Google Alerts is the closest product to this I’m aware of.  It’s free, which is an advantage, but the results aren’t awesome.  I think there’s room for a premium model.

A million subscribers at $1 a month is a $12 million a year business.  It scales nicely, costs nearly nothing to procure and deliver.   Plus you’ll be developing email lists of people proven to have an interest in given topics, which lends itself well to advertising opportunities for additional revenue streams.

Could be a winner.  What do you think?