When it comes to starting a business, there’s the simple, straightforward way that is more likely to succeed… and then there’s the way that most people do it.
When I was a kid, I wanted to start a business. I thought about it constantly!
And my thoughts always started in the same place: what should I sell?
When my mind drew a blank I thought I was destined for a 9-5 job!
Problem is, that’s the backwards way to think about it. Yet, that’s how many aspiring entrepreneurs (not just me!) start their thought process. They think about what they should sell first. They try to come up with a product or service. They try to invent a product or innovate a new way of doing something.
This doesn’t work because it’s so wide open. It’s too hazy of a starting point and could go in any direction (often the wrong direction!)
It wasn’t until I was well into my career as a freelancer — having already started and failed once as a freelance writer, then picked myself up and started again — that I realized the better way to start a business…
Here’s How To Start A Business — The Better Way…
Start with an audience. Find a group of people that you are familiar with, or have a network around, or who you can connect with.
Get to know them. Really well. Find out everything you can about them. (If you pick the right group of people, this will go fast because you already know them well.
Identify a problem they have. Everyone has problems, challenges, obstacles, unfulfilled goals. Find the biggest burning problems they have.
Solve that problem. Figure out how to solve their problem. Maybe through a skill you have, maybe through a product you can make or import, maybe through a connection you have in your network or a relationship you can go out to build.
What? Were you looking for something more complicated than that? It’s not more complicated than that but most people make it more complicated than that.
Just find a problem that you can solve, and solve it. Period. Build a sales funnel around that solution and boom! You have a business.
If you do that for your network of people, and then expand it out to serve other similar clients, you can build up a solid business that gives you a comfortable life… or even more!
And this method works because it ensures that people will more likely pay for your solution (compared to the alternative of you identifying something to sell but not finding anyone to pay for it).
Of course you’ll want to use your skills and other advantages to solve the problem. If you identify an audience with a problem that you can’t solve, either find someone else to solve it or find a different problem or even a different audience. There needs to be alignment between what your audience needs and what you can do. But the key here is to start with the problem and work backwards toward yourself.
For The Naysayers
Some of you will point out something like, “well my cousin’s friend’s uncle started with a product and he’s doing really well.”
Great. Good for him. There’s always an exception to the rule. But chances are, the product that he brought to market did already solve a problem for a specific audience, he just lucked out by not identifying the audience and their problem explicitly first.
I found the same thing in my first foray into freelance writing: I still made money; I still had clients. But I struggled (and ultimately failed) because I didn’t solve one audience’s problem. And then the second time I started freelancing, I lucked into an audience that needed my services. Only later did I realize that I should start with the audience and their problem… and as soon as I focused on that, my business shifted dramatically.
I see this happening all the time with entrepreneurs: the ones who start with the product will struggle and may or may not (probably not) succeed; meanwhile, the ones who start with the audience and their problem dramatically increase the likelihood of success.
If you want to start a new business or grow an existing one, I’m convinced that the fastest, simplest, and most profitable way to do it is to go backwards from the way everyone else is doing it. Start with an audience and their problem, and solve it.