Imagine a business that makes money on autopilot, requiring no oversight, no management, no intervention – no effort on your part. A dream business.
Using a combination of software, freelancers and online platforms, we are on the verge of being able to create a new type of business to realise that dream, one that is fully automated. A business that ticks along as a black box for making money.
The Holy Grail is to build automated businesses that run completely in software, with no humans ‘in the loop’. Finding these opportunities isn’t easy, but more and more circumstances are arising as software becomes ubiquitous and online marketplaces grow.
If you can’t completely remove humans from the loop, you can at least substitute full-time employees with task-based work performed by online freelancers. Through a few mouse clicks we can access a global workforce of millions of these freelancers, who are skilled in just about any task you can possibly imagine. They’re inexpensive, employed on-demand and available instantly, any time of day. All you need to do is go to a marketplace like Freelancer.com, click “Post Project”, and fill in a simple title, description and budget for your project. The median time the first bid will come in for a basic website project on Freelancer is 167 seconds; meaning that you can now assemble a team blindingly fast. Even better, using an API, you can do this from software.
Probably the biggest money making bots in existence today are the algorithms that power trading activity at quantitative hedge funds. Today, many hundreds of billions of dollars are put at play by these black boxes for making money. Bots dominate the financial markets to such an extent that a recent estimate holds high frequency trading algorithms responsible for 70% of all completed transactions, and for 99.9% of all quotations on financial exchanges.
Money making bots are creeping up in other weird and wonderful places. One highly active area for bots is in online gaming. One of the earliest examples of this was a bot that someone wrote for an early MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online Game); I believe it was Everquest. All this bot did was pick up an acorn, which appeared in a particular place periodically. The bot would then walk to another location in the game to sell this acorn for a small amount of in-game currency. To do this manually was incredibly tedious, and the earnings were tiny; automated in software, this could easily be done ad infinitum. All big MMOs today have thriving real money exchanges, whether sanctioned officially or not by the games companies, where virtual currency and items can be bought and sold in exchange for cash. So in-game currency translates to real world cash; as bizarre as it seems, this bot was making money!
Today, this practice is called gold farming, and it uses a combination of bots and inexpensive labour to power an industry that generates an estimated $3 billion in revenue per annum. The sophistication of bots in online gaming doesn’t stop there, either. There are a plethora of other bots active today; one recent example in the game Diablo III exploits arbitrage across the regional in-game auction houses, much like financial bots do in the real world arbitraging dual-listed stocks.
However, it’s possible now to also automate more conventional businesses, the sorts of ones that you or I might set up.
I set up a small automated business as an experiment a few years ago. It is basically a website that sells paints, glues and other arts & craft supplies online to retail customers. It’s basically a clone of the website a wholesaler has, with an identical set of products, a different skin, and a 2x markup on prices. When an order comes in, the software automatically places the same order with the wholesaler, who dropships the goods to the customer with my company’s branding on the box for a small fee per order.
The payments are taken automatically using Paypal, which integrates into the shopping cart software. I hired a freelancer out of the Philippines to manage customer service. Their job can be described by an algorithm; (1) answer all the incoming customer queries by email and live chat, (2) check the drop shipper’s website for any new products or prices and update my site (this could actually be automated in software), (3) twice a month put a few items on sale and send an email newsletter out, (4) deal with any returns or refunds (you can set up privileges for this easily in Paypal) and (5) when the balance hits a certain level, sweep it to the bank account.
Up front, I personally put in a little bit of work to set this all up. This involved selecting a name for the site, buying a domain name, getting a logo designed (used a freelancer), buying a theme for the shopping cart (TemplateMonster.com has a theme for popular shopping cart software for just about any industry you can think of), customizing the theme (freelancer), and loading all the products in from the wholesaler (freelancer). I then hired an SEO expert to get me on the front page of Google for some high traffic keywords related to art & craft and optimise some of the product pages.
The shopping cart software is open source and free (ZenCart), the domain name costs me $7 a year, and the hosting about $10 a month. The drop shipping costs a few dollars extra per order than would normally be the case if I shipped the items myself. The freelancer is hired full time, and costs $300 a month. The site brings in an average of $300 a day in sales pretty reliably- which is about $90,000 a year. After all the costs and shipping it nets about $30,000 a year in earnings before tax. The great thing about this? I don’t do a thing. Zero. Zip. Zilch. In fact, I logged into the Paypal account the other day for the first time in a year, and that’s only because I’m writing this article and wanted to check the finances. It’s been so long since I logged into the admin panel for the shopping cart, I’ve forgotten the password. Once a month I get an invoice from the freelancer, but it’s only a couple of clicks to pay it (through Freelancer).
If I wanted to, I’m sure I could find a number of industries where this could be done. Funnily enough the economies of scale would also bring the costs down, as a freelancer could probably run a couple of sites of this magnitude comfortably, and I could share the hosting account…..
This is just a sample from a chapter in the amazing business start-up bible, How To Start A Business With Little Or No Cash. Available from Amazon.
Kizzi Nkwocha is the editor of My Entrepreneur Magazine and publisher of The UK Newspaper, The Property Investor and Gold, Oil and Diamonds, the net’s fastest growing wealth creation publication. Kizzi Nkwocha made his mark in the UK as a publicist, journalist and social media pioneer. As a widely respected and successful media consultant he has represented a diverse range of clients including the King of Uganda, and Amnesty International. Nkwocha has also become a well-known personality on both radio and television. He has been the focus of a Channel 4 documentary on publicity and has hosted his own talk show, London Line, on Sky TV. He has also produced and presented both radio and TV shows in Cyprus and Spain.