I’ve always aspired to be a business owner, even when I was a kid. And I would stay awake at night dreaming up business ideas. In high school and college, I obsessed with the question: “What product or service should I sell?” I remember coming up with and discarding so many ideas.
I think the need for a product or service actually held me back from taking action.
When I finally started my business, it was out of desperation to get out of a job I hated — I couldn’t stand it anymore so I quit on the Friday and on Monday I was “in business”, even though I didn’t fully know what I was going to sell.
Even though I didn’t start with a product or service, here I am today with a fully-booked writing/consulting practice that primarily delivers copywriting for real estate investors.
And that was a huge lesson for me. I would love to go back and tell my younger self this lesson. (And it’s the exact same lesson I tell EVERY aspiring entrepreneur who wants to start a business and may or may not know what they want to sell).
Understanding this lesson will transform your new or existing venture, bring in more money than you ever thought possible, and eliminate all the worry and frustration that most business owners face about where their next sale is coming from.
Here’s the lesson:
YOU DON’T NEED A PRODUCT OR SERVICE TO START A BUSINESS
The ONLY thing you need is to find someone who has a problem and then solve that problem.
That’s it. Find a problem and solve it.
And the great news? There is no shortage of problems in the world. And, people are willing to pay (sometimes a lot) to have their problem solved.
I started a business once and it struggled because I tried to sell what I thought needed to sell. But the second time I started a business — after quitting the job I hated — it was different. On the first day I decided I was “in business” I connected with a friend who had a problem that I could solve. And I solved it. He became my best-paying, longest-lasting client, and I only recently dropped him as a client when our businesses evolved in different directions and I was no longer able to solve the new problems he faced. (Good news: Someone else is helping him now).
BUT WHICH PROBLEM SHOULD I SOLVE???
There are a million problems out there — from the relatively simple need of learning how to read sheet music all the way to a larger-scale need of solving global hunger. You can’t help them all. So consider the problems that your knowledge and skills and passion and industry contacts can solve.
I have a friend who is very skilled at analysis and she has been in management for many years. She feels somewhat trapped by her position and she’s been at it for so long that she isn’t sure how to make the move away from the job she has. She doesn’t realize how valuable her analytical skills and industry contacts are (well, I’m trying to tell her!). Here’s what she needs to do (and, if you’re in the same position, here’s what you need to do)…
- She needs to think about all the problems out there that her analytical skills and industry contacts can solve.
- She needs to find the people who are facing those problems.
- She needs to offer to help them solve those problems… for a fee. Some won’t want help but some will.
- Then she needs to solve those problems.
Voila! She has a product or service to serve a ready market.
Find the point where the problems of the world intersect with your skills, knowledge, passions, and contacts.
Heck, if you don’t feel that you have skills, knowledge, passions, and contacts, that’s okay too. (When I started my business, I had passion and a bit of skill but that was it.) You can figure out the rest. Just go and help someone.
HOW DO I MAKE MONEY SOLVING PROBLEMS WHEN I DON’T HAVE A PRODUCT OR SERVICE?
If you’ve never helped anyone before, I would just go out and help them. Maybe ask for some money to cover any expenses you might incur. But mostly just invest your time and effort to help one person.
With that success story in hand, figure out what it was worth to that one person and set a price around that, then go find other people with the same problem.
Boom. There’s your business plan to start your next business… or your next 10 businesses. It really is that easy.
And you don’t have to actually know the solution before-hand. You just have to know the problem and have some confidence that you can figure out how to solve the problem with the combination of knowledge, skills, passion, and contacts that you have.
What I’ve been telling you applies to every single industry or niche or sector or marketplace (or however categorize yourself).
A friend of mine is a musician. He’s enjoyed a bit of national recognition but his marketplace is primarily regional — Western Canada. For a long time he’s been “selling” (although he would never use that word) his concerts. But one thing he does pretty well (and he’s getting better and better at it) is that he positions himself as a problem solver. He knows that his concerts solve a problem, just as all products and services do. He identified the group of people who have the problem and he’s been marketing to them and positioning himself as THE solution to their problem.
I know someone else who is trying to start a nursery school in a small town. Frankly, they’re struggling to find clients, even though their marketplace should be able to sustain the business. I’ve been trying to help them understand that they can’t just push their nursery school concept and then wonder why people aren’t signing up. Instead, they need to figure out what problem their nursery school solves and tell people the good news that their problems are completely solved by signing their kids up.
I’m starting another brand (because I don’t have enough already — haha) and the only reason I’m starting it is because I’ve noticed that there’s a problem that is not being solved. I’m not 100% sure how I’m going to solve it but I know I can so I’m putting the pieces in place for it right now.
What problems are out there that you have some combination of knowledge, skills, passion, and contacts to solve? Great! Go out and solve it.