Sometimes you meet a traveler on the backpacker trail that’s getting sick of it all after a few months and wants to get back to “the real world” at home. More often though, you meet people trying to figure out how they can do more of this and less of what they used to do. “How can I go back to two weeks a year of vacation?” is a typical lament. After you’ve felt the freedom of the road, it’s hard to go back to a soul-killing cubicle and petty office politics.

In this economic climate, who says someone will crown you with a job as fast as you want it to happen anyway? Unless Dad or Mom owns a thriving business or your degree is in engineering or biotech, the job-hunting world can be a scary and demoralizing place right now—on both sides of the Atlantic. If you’ve just graduated with that fancy degree you’ve worked so hard for and someone has paid big money for, the post-graduation reality is humbling. Who’s going to look at that piece of paper (which is really just table stakes these days, nothing special) and say, “Wow, we’ve been waiting for someone like you to show up at our door!”

In a land with no unicorns or fairy godmothers, probably the only person you can depend on to make things happen is you.

Which brings us to The $100 Startup, by Chris Guillebeau. Some books get you fired up, but are short on what actual steps to take. Others are good with checklists and examples, but don’t make you say, “Wow, I can do this!” The $100 Startup is one of those rare business books that hits it out of the park on both counts. It is useful to those who have never hustled for one dollar and those who are looking how to grow their hobby or sideline business into something that provides a real living.

Inspiring Stories, No Venture Capitalists

A few people I’ve met or heard speak are quoted in this book, but most of the stores are from normal people working under the radar. Some were forced into their own business by a layoff. Others grew something they did on the weekends into a full-time business. Their stories provide great inspiration. The astounding number of examples in here made me start thinking that my life wasn’t so odd after all. Being a solopreneur with a team of contractors and freelancers is actually a fairly normal thing. It’s not all about 50-employee companies, angel investors, or venture capital. For many people, the definition of success is making a living running their own show, with no boss to report to and no time spent on tasks that don’t help their own company. Sure, some people in here have built businesses that are raking in a half million a year now, but most of them are somewhere in that sweet spot between $40,000 and $100,000 a year. Not getting rich, but making enough to pay living expenses, afford decent health insurance, and enjoy life.

As many studies have shown, there’s a point where more money doesn’t provide more happiness and for most Americans, that number seems to be in that range, or around $75,000 per year according to this study. (Obviously $75K in Kansas is not the same as $75K in New York City or Silicon Valley, but you get the idea.) So in a way you can think of this book as a guide to happiness. If you could do exactly what you wanted with your days, working on projects that gave you great satisfaction, and you could make a decent living, why wouldn’t you do it?

Blueprints and Dream Instigators

Most people can imagine that life, but they don’t see how they would get there. This book provides so many blueprints and ideas that I started to question my decision to read it before going to bed. I’d have trouble falling asleep because my mind was reeling with business ideas.

You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all about web publishing and internet start-ups before you crack open the book, but only a few stories really relate to that directly. Most people are selling a product (mattresses, yarn, software, children’s clothing) or a kind of service (instruction/lessons, cooking classes, triathalon coaching, design work, photography, consulting).

Like many people, Guillebeau seems to have a dim view of companies that make their revenue from advertising, but since that’s pretty much every publisher in any media, perhaps he just didn’t reach out to many of those types. It’s worked for me and many others I know. The point is to think through all models though, and think realistically. Will people pay me real money for this? Is there a need or want I can fill? How long will it take to meet my financial goals?

The beauty of today’s post-internet climate is that it’s very easy to test. Try something. Throw out a trial balloon. If you fail, so what? Tweak and try again. If you’ve only invested $100 to give it a shot, no big loss.

“The old choice was to work at a job or take a big risk going out on your own. The new reality is that working at a job may be the far riskier choice. Instead, take the safe road and go out on your own.”

Beyond the inspiration, there are excellent, easy-to-understand worksheets and checklists in here that can apply to just about any start-up. They cover the basics of what you should be thinking about to turn a passion into a real business.

This book has been a bestseller for more than a month now, so Chris Guillebeau doesn’t really need me to tell you to go buy it. But if you don’t relish the thought of being a cubicle jockey with two weeks vacation time forever, spend the price of a few lattes and order The $100 Startup from Amazon (hardback or Kindle), Amazon Canada, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble (Nook), or Fishpond.

(P.S. – We gave away two free copies of this book to Perceptive Travel readers this month. Get in on future freebies by signing up for the monthly newsletter or following Perceptive Travel on Facebook.)