Are You Chicken?

Today, I want to talk about something called "chicken entrepreneurship."

I first heard the phrase from Michael Masterson, the founder of Early to Rise and the first contributor to AWAI’s copywriting programs.

The idea, in a nutshell, is that the easiest and cheapest way to become a successful entrepreneur is to keep your present job while you test out your business and marketing ideas on the side, working just a few hours a week from the safety and comfort of your home.

Michael Masterson himself began all of his businesses that way. “I was never one of those risk takers you read about,” he told me recently. “Every business I ever started was started cheap and scared.”

One of Michael’s many protégés, Paul Lawrence, is a great example of this approach.

When Paul started his first business, a pool maintenance company, he stayed in school (he was in college at the time) and kept his job at the video store. Like most entrepreneurs, he was more than ready to quit. But as Paul says, “I needed that paycheck to survive.”

So Paul advertised and serviced his accounts in his off time. He didn’t have capital (and he didn’t want to get a loan from the bank or family). So his start-up fund was less than $100.

You see, chicken entrepreneurs aren’t willing to risk their current income or a lot of money on an untested business idea. They start small.

In other words, you are too “chicken” to risk it all on any new business right out of the gate.

As Michael asks:

“How risk-tolerant do you have to be to succeed as an entrepreneur?

“And my answer is not very. For every entrepreneur who succeeds through boldness, I believe there are a dozen who achieve success by taking small, timid steps and learning as they go.”

In Paul’s case, within three months, he had equaled his salary and was able to quit his job. Soon he was grossing $4,000 a month and had even hired an employee to take care of the actual work.

“It felt like a huge weight had been taken off me,” recalls Paul. “I wasn’t another schmuck working to make someone else rich.”

In chicken entrepreneurship, you only go full-time as an independent entrepreneur and quit your old job when the new business has taken off.

Paul was able to later sell that business to family friends. He wanted to focus on school.

But after graduation, he started up several more businesses the “chicken” way, mostly online.

He’s making well into six figures, working just a few hours a day. And he’s been able to pursue the passions in his life – some of which make him money too. He’s done stand-up and sketch comedy. Written screenplays for Hollywood. Ballroom danced professionally. Not to mention all the free time he has to spend with family.

Paul’s Carefree Lifestyle couldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t been “chicken.”

Your Chicken Entrepreneur Start-Up Guide

Starting up a business nowadays is so much easier that what Paul did with his pool business, thanks to the Internet.

All you really need as far as equipment is a PC, which you probably already have. With an online venture selling affiliate or digital information products, you can get started with a few hundred bucks. That will cover the set up and maintenance of a site, some initial online advertising to build your list, and everything you need.

This approach flies in the face of what is usually reported in the business press. Entrepreneurs – especially those on the Internet – who risk millions on a crazy idea and win are the heroes. But all too often, they fail.

We rarely hear about the chicken entrepreneurs. But they’re out there in great numbers.

Nike founders Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman kept their day jobs at the beginning as an accountant, and college teacher and track coach, respectively. And they only invested about $500 each. As they improved the design of the shoes and found willing customers, they ramped things up to the company you know today.

And a friend of mine, Dave, was able to quit his job as assistant manager at Walmart (a job he hated) and pay off his car after his first successful online information product launch netted him $14,000, where he sold an exercise program as an affiliate.

He had been dabbling in selling information products online for a year or so, studying marketing through programs and at seminars. But when he got serious, he created and launched the entire business over six months during his off hours.

In all these cases, it started with an idea … and the desire not to risk everything to see if it would work.

What to Do Next

  1. Keep your day job.
  2. Limit your start-up cash to a few hundred bucks. The less you invest, the better.
  3. Brainstorm ideas. Think of interests or expertise you have that could easily be turned into information products (ebooks, white papers and special reports, how-to guides, videos, audios, etc.). Then research the market to see if your idea is viable. is a great place to start. I’ll tell you how to do this research more in detail in a future essay. But here’s a tip: if there are many other businesses selling products in your market – that’s actually a good thing.

  4. Nail down your niche and then find affiliate products to sell (it’s much easier to be an affiliate at the beginning rather than create your own products). Eventually, you can develop and sell your own products. They should be improvements on what’s already available in the market.
  5. Create the framework of your business. The “technical” side (website, email software, etc.) is easy to set up and run. Flashy, complicated websites will actually decrease sales. And because information products are digital, you’ll be able to easily create, store, and deliver them to customers – especially as an affiliate.
  6. As for marketing, study what your competitors are doing … and “copy” them. Not word for word, of course. Spend 80% of your time making the first sale.
  7. Once everything has fallen into place and you’re making enough to finance your retirement lifestyle … quit.
  8. Go “full-time” with your part-time business. And enjoy the life of relaxed entrepreneurship.

Truth is that hundreds of thousands of everyday folks – just like you – have gone through these eight simple steps.

They come from all walks of life. Some are doctors who can’t take the long hours anymore. Others are corporate soldiers tired of cubicle life. Others can’t seem to advance in the working world and know they could do much better as their own boss.

If you’re ready to work less but earn more … if you want to spend more time with your family than you do on your business … then we want to help you.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: July 29, 2011

2 Responses to “Are You Chicken?”

  1. What do you think in terms of a niche product in the ARchitecture field? Is that a good choice for a product>?
    I have been an ARchitect for 35 years and I know the business and other items related to it.
    What is your view on this?



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