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I’ve been playing World of Warcraft now for almost 4 years. For the insiders, I started right before the Sunwell and patch 2.4.2. One of my absolute favorite parts of the game is playing the in-game market, the Auction House. This is a live commercial exchange where you can sell your goods to other players and vice versa in a digital bazaar of sorts. Some of the best business lessons, some of the most important business lessons, can come from playing this aspect of the game.

One of the most basic but most powerful lessons about this aspect of the game is that when it comes to running a business, only one things matters: positive cash flow.

I switched realms recently to the Earthen Ring. In my first 30 days, I had to restart my Auction House businesses from scratch. The first step to doing so in-game (and in real life) is to get some working capital, some starter money. In order to be able to buy and sell, you need cash. Fortunately, as in real life, there are decidedly unglamorous but profitable jobs you can take. Here, for example, is the Jaggedswine Farm, outside the gates of Orgrimmar. When you kill these pigs, you get a chunk of boar meat.

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Boar meat is decidedly uninteresting. It’s unexciting. However, in order to level a character’s cooking skill in game, it’s a necessary ingredient. Thus, a lot of people need it, even if they don’t want to get it themselves. Combine a boring, time-consuming task with a demand for the finished good, and you have the opportunity to make some money.

Once you get some starter capital, building your fortune becomes a matter of making smart deals and keeping cash flow positive in your in-game professions. In the case of one of my characters, it’s about keeping my costs for producing glyphs from exceeding the profits. I know how much the supplies for my profession will cost me. I know roughly what the finished goods will sell for. If I can keep cash flow positive, then there’s no limit to how much I can grow my business. Conversely, if I have negative cash flow, no matter how much I sell my items for, I will lose in the long run.

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Cash flow is king. If you on a personal level are not cash flow positive, you need to fix that as soon as possible. Go start doing some affiliate marketing. Ask for a pay raise at work or change jobs if you’re able to do so. Publish a book for sale – it costs nothing besides time and an Internet connection these days. Whatever you do, get earning more than you’re spending.

This is the core business lesson that the Auction House teaches us: unless you consciously choose otherwise, always be making a profit. Always be spending less than you’re earning. Always be minimizing expenses while maximizing profits – and focus on maximizing profits so that you can grow. Cash flow is king. Cash flow is the lifeblood of your business, and as long as it’s positive, the world is your oyster.

Or boar. Mmm, boar.

No actual animals were harmed in the writing of this blog post. A whole bunch of digital boars got mercilessly slaughtered, however, and their innards sold for 4 gold, 37 silver.

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