Here’s what you should do if you want to start a business but are stuck in a job

A lot of people have a job but would rather start a business. Problem is, they feel stuck.

… They feel stuck in their job because it pays them a predictable paycheck every week and they need to pay the mortgage and put food on the table rather than risk starting a business and not knowing whether they’ll be able to pay their mortgage during the early start-up days.

Friends, former coworkers, potential clients — many of the folks I know are in the same boat. Just recently someone reached out because they were facing exactly this scenario: They want to start a business, they have entrepreneurial aspirations, but they weren’t ready yet to give up the predictability and assurance of a paycheck.

HERE’S THE ADVICE I GIVE TO EVERYONE WHO IS STUCK IN A JOB AND WANTS TO QUIT

(The good news: It’s easy and fun to do, and there’s ZERO risk).

First, decide what problem you want to solve and determine what target market you want to serve. (Check out this blog post about how to research niche markets).

As well, start thinking about how you’ll solve this problem and serve this target market. You do not need to nail down a specific product or service that you’ll offer, although you should start thinking about it. However, you do not need to have a product or service yet, nor do you need to figure out price, etc.

Second, build a website about that problem and the solution. You can create a free website on a site like blogger.com or wordpress.com, although it doesn’t cost very much (and it looks way more professional) if you build a website that you pay for (i.e. buy a URL and get it hosted on a server). It’s simple and affordable (maybe $100 a year) and it gives you a ton more credibility.

Once you’ve built the site, just start writing about the problem and solution. I recommend a blog, although you don’t have to use a blog. But I do recommend that you blog about the problem and the solution regularly. At least twice a month, although you should probably blog about it a little more frequently than that. (Once a week is great).

Blog. Blog. Blog. Just keep blogging. Keep it simple, have fun, and most important, be helpful! Don’t worry about giving away your secret sauce too early; just add value to your audience and get them reading your site and listening to you.

The reality is, you probably won’t get much traction in the early weeks or months. That’s okay. There’s a few things going on here:

  1. You’re building a great foundation of content that will benefit you later
  2. You’re positioning yourself as an expert
  3. You’re testing the water to make sure you enjoy it and can sustain talking about it

… and of course you’re doing all that without quitting your job; you can do it about half an hour a week, in an evening. Easy!

Third, start sharing your content on other sites. Slowly start building marketing accounts at sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and start participating on industry forums. Don’t aggressively market, just start building content and interacting with people who find you there. Expect this to take a few weeks or months. That’s okay. Just keep working and having fun building this foundational component.

Fourth, assuming you’ve done the first three steps correctly, and a few months have passed and you’re now starting to get some traffic and some people listening to you, then you can decide what to do. I would consider building an email list at this point using a service like Aweber. Sign up for Aweber and add a contact form to your website. Then website visitors will add their email address to the contact form and you can start emailing them to connect with them on a deeper level. Again, expect to take a few weeks or even months to do this. There’s no rush.

Fifth, at this point, you should start thinking about something to sell. If at all possible, start with a content-based product that you can create and sell for passive income (such as an ebook or video training). That’s the best option, because it allows you to do this all while you’re still working.

If it’s impossible to start with a content-based product (for example, if you want to start a service-based business) then you need to make a decision:

  • Are you able to provide the service in the evenings and weekends? If so, you might consider starting that way. Lots of businesses start that way and it doesn’t take long to ramp up from there.
  • Are you able to outsource your customer leads to someone who can run the business? If you can sell your leads to someone else, or hire someone to perform the service for you, then you’re good. No need to quit your job if you don’t want to.
  • Or, you might have enough work to quit… then go ahead.

The easiest way to do assess whether or not you have enough potential business to quit your job is to do this: Send out an email to the list of contacts you built in the previous step and say, “Hey, I have some availability in about two weeks. You can hire me to (… do whatever service you’re selling). If you’re interested, just reply back.” If no one replies, there’s your answer. If people do reply, give them a small discount if they pay in advance so you have some cash flow during the transition. Then march into your boss’ office and hand in your two week’s notice.

QUESTIONS PEOPLE ASK ME ABOUT THIS METHOD

How long does it take to get this going? It takes only a few minutes to set it up and only about 30 minutes to an hour each week to keep it going. But the time to get to the point where you can quit your job, that part depends on you: You could be looking at weeks, months, or even years, depending on the target market you chose, the problem they feel and the solution you offer, how much you charge, and how much you position yourself. But I’ve seen this work over and over, and I’ve seen it take as little as 2-3 weeks. If you want, you can do this over a period of years; there’s no rush.

How much does it cost (or, can I use free services?) You CAN do this entirely for free. Actually, this is exactly what I did way back when I first started (using a blogger-based blog and a yahoo email address!) However, I wouldn’t recommend it. Setting this up doesn’t cost much — maybe $250 a year, max — but the level of professionalism that you achieve with that investment is priceless. Plus, if your business grows really big, you’ll need to eventually switch over to a regular (paid) site and that switch can be challenging after all the marketing you built up to your original free site in the first place. So seriously consider a paid site.

What happens if someone contacts me to buy from me but I’m still working and can’t serve them? If you can, see if you can help them on an evening or weekend, if appropriate. Or, sell them as a lead to another company who can help them. Or, if neither of those two things are possible, just tell them that you’re fully booked and can’t serve them at this time.

What happens if it doesn’t work out? Great! You’ve lost nothing but some time. Consider selling the website to someone else or just shut it down and consider it an investment into an education.

NOW GET STARTED

This is a simple, painless, and even FUN way to build the foundation of a business with no risk. I would advise anyone with a job to start doing this right away, even if you love your job and don’t want to quit. This creates options for you down the road but doesn’t expose you to any downside today. You may be able to build up a business that will replace your income (or just augment it)… and it’s easy to do.

Starting a business is the intersection between a solved problem and a business model

A relative was passing through town recently and he stopped in to chat. We had a great time catching up (since we haven’t seen each other in years). Eventually, the conversation turned to business — the businesses I run and some business ideas he had.

He presented a couple of ideas and although they had merit, they were missing something. He asked for my opinion and I shared it with him but decided to write about it here as well.

He had some basic business ideas but they weren’t fully cooked. They could probably more accurately be described as topics rather than businesses. There was nothing wrong with the topics themselves but if you want a business, this is what you need:

A business is the intersection between a solved problem and a business model.

A real business has both. If it’s missing one or both, it will fail. I can’t think of a business that doesn’t have both (although some businesses like Twitter seemed to start with neither so maybe my relative had the next Twitter).

  • The solved problem: The longer I am in business, the more adamant I am that people buy solutions. Even if the problem is not immediately apparent or permanently solved, people buy solutions. Yes, even the impulse purchase of winterfresh gum is a solution. And the more important and painful the problem, the more they are willing to spend. Solving problems is the easiest way to sell something.
  • The business model: This is how the solution is offered, transacted, and delivered. It’s how the business is structured. If you’re not sure what a business model is, just start by building a sales funnel. I write a lot about business models and I write even more about sales funnels.

YOU NEED BOTH

You need to solve a problem and you need a business model. Both. If you’re missing both, you only have a vague topic.

If you have a business model but you don’t solve a problem or if you solve a problem but don’t have a business model then your business will struggle and you might sell a couple of units but you won’t sell very much.

Solve a problem and build a sales funnel around it… and that’s your business.

Why you should think twice before starting a business

“I’ve got a great idea for a book,” someone told me recently… and then went on to recount what is possibly the worst idea I’ve ever heard for a book.

I wished them good luck and declined the “opportunity” to work on the book with them.

I hear this fairly commonly: “I have a great idea for a book” or “I have a great idea for a business”, only to be told something that is a mundane and/or cookie cutter as a Ford Taurus.

There are a lot of ideas out there… but they’re not all as great as the thinker thinks. For a hundred (or a thousand?) ideas, there is one that has some merit. And for a hundred (or a thousand) ideas with merit, there is one that can get off the ground. Not all opportunities are created equal. Many opportunities are compelling (at least to the person dreaming them up) but not all are feasible (maybe there is no market or the numbers just don’t work).

Perhaps what makes it particularly challenging is that the people who have experience turning ideas into real businesses understand this balance between compelling ideas and feasible ideas, while people who have never gone through the painful process of turning ideas into real businesses just don’t understand the balance. That second group thinks that a compelling idea is a feasible one.

This concept is made real week after week on shows like Shark Tank — where people bring compelling ideas to the investors… but not always feasible ideas. And we are entertained as the “sharks” tear apart the idea for its lack of feasibility.

A Business Insider article called Worst Ideas for Apps does a great job of talking about this from a few different angles. The article lists several app ideas that were compelling ideas but just not feasible. But the real gold in this article is buried at the bottom of the article when they list a couple of ideas that they called about regularly. In fact, the last bullet sums it up perfectly:

[quote]People hear about Internet startups and founders striking it right with a hot new website. They assume these things are trivial to build and can easily be built overnight, if only someone could come up with the right idea first.[/quote]

But there are a ton of ideas and they require a mix of other things to become more than an idea.

So how do you make sure that your dream of building an app, writing a book, or starting a business actually has legs?

Test the idea first: Run a smaller version. Put together a beta model. Write a few blog posts. TRY it on a small scale and see what happens.

When someone tells me they want to write a book, I tell them to start writing blog posts. In my experience, if you cannot sustain a blog after 2 months (which is often the case), then you’ll never get that book off the ground.

And when someone tells me they want to start a business, I tell them to build a website or blog about it and start driving traffic to it. Gather names on an email list. Ask the audience for feedback.

This is exactly what I did for a press release writing service I built a few years ago. I thought it was a great idea but I wasn’t sure how feasible it was. So I created a really small trial and discovered very quickly that my market wanted to speak to me before getting their press releases. That was fine but it wasn’t the purpose of the business I was trying to build () so I shut it down.

We live in an amazing time when you can start up a small business/brand/website/app/blog very inexpensively and test the results before moving into something larger. It hasn’t always been that way (a hundred years ago, it would have been hard to start a factory or a railroad as a test model).

I’ve come to learn that there are a bazillion compelling ideas out there. And with the right minds and sweat and technology and investment, perhaps many of them could work. But compelling ideas that are feasible and can turn into an actual running (profitable) business or app or book? Those are beautifully rare.

Business idea for financial advisors

Financial advisors struggle to gain attention in the marketplace because so many financial advisors offer exactly the same services at exactly the same price for basically the same results.

But there is a growing opportunity that I think is underserved in today’s marketplace. It’s a great opportunity because there is a pressing need for very specific services, the target market is quite responsive, and I believe this target market will grow in time.

THE OPPORTUNITY

For years, people have heard about the importance of putting money aside for retirement. They have diligently socked money into a 401K (or some other retirement investment vehicle). Even though most people haven’t saved enough, they at least saved something.

But the market crashed. People saw their portfolios cut in half while the value of their homes evaporated, too.

For those who have several working years before retirement, it’s difficult but not devastating. They can rebuild (and the market is coming back slowly).

But then there are people who are basically a year or two from retirement. They have three options:

  1. Keep working for as long as they legally and physically can
  2. Rely on family to help them financially
  3. Become hobos

None of these options are ideal (although I suspect that all three will be contemplated at some point!). So if you’re a financial advisor, what can you do to “own” this market? Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Throw out some of the trusted money management models you’ve relied on in the past (of putting more and more of your retired clients’ assets into bonds). These investors may be older but they are much more willing to explore new (and riskier) investments.
  2. Become an expert in financial instruments like reverse mortgages, home equity lines of credit, etc., that you might not have considered before because most of your clients didn’t need them… but your new target market might need to rely on them.
  3. Make a huge list of ways that your clients can make additional money — things that they might not have considered before but now have the time and money to do. Starting a small business or investing in real estate are two possibilities. Retired people have accumulated a lot of stuff and, with the financial meltdown still fresh on their minds, they might be willing to sell some of their stuff that they don’t need anymore. (That sounds drastic but some clients will need to accept drastic measures, or will at least want to know what their options are). So understand how they can sell stuff they don’t need.
  4. Help your clients access resources to change the way they live so they can stretch what little money they have left in their retirement accounts.
  5. Provide the emotional support that will come with helping these clients redefine what their retirement will look like.

As a financial advisor to a target market of “retiring-but-broke” clients, you would need to rethink what you advise. But this market is highly motivated and rethinking what they can do to rebuild their retirement fund, which includes retinterpreting how they perceive risk, reward, and what their retirement will look like.