First steps in hypermicroenterprise

Why and how to start a very small business now.

Small is beautiful.

You may have heard of the word “microenterprise.” A dictionary definition of it is “a very small business with five or fewer employees, or the business sector comprising these businesses.” According to another source, it is a company with less than 10 employees and “is started with a small amount of capital. Most microenterprises specialize in providing goods or services for their local areas.”

In any case, when an ordinary people like you – maybe working-class, maybe as someone who has been unemployed for an extended period of time with no job prospect – look into websites or library books that claim to tell you “how to start a business,” you would get overwhelmed with legal mumbo-jumbos and stuff about “capital” and “financing.” This is when all what you want is to make just enough money to supplement your income or pay your essentials. The fact is, most such books and articles are geared towards the middle-class aspiring entrepreneurs who already have either money or a good credit.

As a former community organizer I have encountered with many people who are simply “unemployable” not because they are bad people or incompetent, but rather because the system had failed them to provide them with opportunities. For some, barriers to entry into job market are beyond formidable. Yet for some, lack of formal education or limited English skills limit their opportunities. For others, disabilities, past criminal convictions (or even arrest records that did not even result in guilty verdicts!), or immigration status make them excluded from much of the formal sector. I worked with homeless women who lost their homes because of divorce, domestic violence, or sudden unemployment. Some of them resort to “survival sex.”

My quest for creating alternative opportunities to develop and secure social and economic rights for them led to my passion for hypermicroenterprise.

I define a hypermicroenterprise as:

  1. Primarily sole proprietorship (an individually owned and operated business).
  2. Set up for primary purpose of generating income for its owner/operator.
  3. Requires minimal or no capital to start, and portions of revenue are reinvested to grow business over time.
  4. Requires little or no special overhead, such as office space or storefront.

As such the first-year goal of a hypermicroenterprise is to bring in somewhere between $750 to $2,000 a month, or $9,000 to $12,000 a year in profit (profit here means something you get to keep to spend on yourself). This is not a “get rich” plan, quick or slow, but rather a path to economic and social self-liberation for those who are sick and tired of the system that failed them. (Needless to say, however, I do and will work with lots of other people who are more affluent and are starting or running a small business that takes in more in profit. But this is where my passion is.)

What kind of businesses are suited for hypermicroenterprise?

  • Requires a start-up capital investment of less than $100, which is spent on initial marketing materials, supplies and inventories, and if applicable, vending space. Ideally, some of these expenses are even unnecessary because of what you may already have (Do you have a car? A computer? A mobile phone? A sewing machine?).
  • Industry that is minimally regulated, or not at all regulated. In general, anything that has to do with food, handles someone’s body, uses dangerous equipment and tools, is regulated and you will have to have a license before going into business. On the other hand, there are many sectors that are under very few or no regulations and licensing requirements. Examples: writing/publishing (other than legal documents, you have to be a paralegal), art and craft (usually includes wearables like hats and clothing), live music entertainment, “religion and spirituality”-related works like psychics, fortunetelling, wedding officiant, etc. (These industries are largely protected because of the First Amendment.)
  • Low liability exposures. Some businesses are, by their very nature, exposed to liabilities and accordingly require a fairly good insurance coverage (this also means you will spend a lot on insurance). On the other hand, there are industries where exposure to liabilities is relatively low. Whereas food cart (how we call a food truck here in the Portland, Oregon area!) owners must be vigilant against food poisoning or employees accidentally injured by knives or fire, if all what you do is to make and sell greeting cards, your liabilities are pretty much limited to replacing occasionally defective cards (or sending a free one out if one was lost in the mail). Do not get paralyzed by fear, but do give some good thought on potential liability issues. Usually, high-risk businesses are also heavily regulated and licensed (see above).
  • Hyperlocal. Most hypermicroenterprises thrive at a neighborhood level. Since marketing budget is extremely limited, you would want to build on word-of-mouth by earning positive reputations. Especially what you offer is service, hyperlocal is the way to go.
  • Consider a niche. Be one of the kind. Weird, bizarre, and rare can be a competitive advantage (so long as you don’t scare away potential customers!). Niche market can also thrive online.


Stay away from these:

Important advices!

These advices are true for everyone.

  • Save some money every day. Set aside a small percentage of money every time you make money. I suggest 20 percent, which is to be divided into: 10 percent to reinvest into business (use this money to grow business, like buying more supply, print business cards, etc.); 5 percent to give back to the community (consider making a donation to a nonprofit that helped you, or a church that you are a member of); and 5 percent simply to save for the future (this 5 percent should be thought of as “untouchable” funds). When you see money after not having it for a long time, it is so tempting to spend it and splurge, but resist this temptation.
  • There are two types of spending: consumer spending and investment. Consumer spending is the money that you spend that does not result in making more money. If you spend it on food, housing, clothing, entertainment, and so on, that’s consumer spending. Investment, in the context of hypermicroenterprise, is any buying you do for the specific purpose of growing business and making more money. If you are selling sweaters, then it is an investment to buy yarns, or rent a vending table at a street fair. Know the differences.
  • Don’t try to do everything at once. The secret ingredient of hypermicroenterprise is to grow steadily but slowly. Not everything happens at once. Be selective about what to spend money on, or what to do, with careful thoughts on what activity has the biggest direct impact on your business growth.