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.

Starting a business? Start with a service.

I’m going to get into trouble writing this post. I think people might comment (in this post or privately by email) who will chastise me for suggesting this. I can predict the emails now.

But I’m here to tell you that they are wrong.

Regardless of what the experts tell you, start a business that offers a service.

Years ago, I started my business as a freelance writer. Although different aspects of my business changed (including what I wrote and who I wrote for), I always came back to the one key element: I provided a writing service for other people. It was my default position.

Later, I branched out into other things — selling infoproducts, writing ad-based or affiliate-based content, and more. But writing was always there, always funding that expansion and always putting food on the table.

I’m a big fan of starting a business by providing a service to other people. That service could include something you do (as in my case — writing — or perhaps it’s something else, like renovating houses or consulting on social media or being a plumber, etc.). If you find a group of people who want what you sell, and you market to that group effectively, you’ll always have work… and you’ll always have income. And if you ever want to make more money as a service provider, you can always increase how much you pitch and how much you charge. That’s true security as a business owner. There’s a very simple link between the work you do and the success you enjoy.

A service also makes you relevant and keeps you sharp. It keeps you in the game. It helps you establish and strengthen your position in the industry. It gives you a “laboratory” that you can experiment — see what works; see what doesn’t.

And no matter what happens, you can wake up and make money… and you’ll always have the confidence that more money is just a few phone calls away. (If you have the right service to the right group of people, of course).

Once you have a service established and in place, then you can extend to other monetization opportunities: Products, information, etc. These are awesome because they are “do-them-once-and-profit-continuously” opportunities. Often, they require a lot of work up-front but then can become serious profit generators in the future because the hard work is done initially and all you need to do after is market them.

And eventually, product sales might even outstrip your service sales so you get to the point where you don’t earn much money at all from services. And a lot of the gurus will tell you that starting with a product is the way to go because they can generate a lot of profit.

But I think you should start with a service. Find something you do well and provide it to a well-chosen market.

Products (whether physical products or infoproducts) are good to sell and can boost your income considerably. And products are often heavily promoted by the gurus as THE way to monetize your business. But here’s what they don’t tell you:

  • Cost and effort: Products take a lot of work up-front to do well. Physical products may require that you pay for them to be imported or manufactured. Digital products require time spent in writing and design.
  • Risk: Along with the effort, there’s a considerable amount of risk offering a product that is designed and created… but then turns out to be a dud.
  • Income and timeline: Products are (often) not a windfall. They trickle money in — and sometimes it’s not a lot of money at all. Yes, you could eventually get to a point where your product business is bringing in decent cash from product sales but in the very beginning, you won’t be lighting cigars with $100 bills.

Now let’s compare those same factors with a services offering:

  • Cost and effort: Services don’t need to be “created” so they take zero dollars to do. (You might point out that some services require costly tools or training. That’s a good point but I cover it in my next point)…
  • Risk: If you offer a service and no one buys, you haven’t lost much. You can adjust your service to offer it to a group of people who do want it. Or if you want to make more money, you can offer different services. In other words, services are much more agile. (And as for the point about expensive tools, here’s what I think: If you have the tools required to do the job then you probably have the experience and skills necessary. If you don’t have the tools then find something else that you can do).
  • Income and timeline: With services, you can potentially earn a good living right from day one. The more you sell your services, the more the money comes in. It’s fast and it’s relatively substantial (compared to the profit you earn from most products).

Once you start selling your services, don’t stop there. If services are the only thing you sell from now until you die then you run the risk of capping your income and burning yourself out. However, if you start with services and then start adding products or other “passive” monetization opportunities, you can grow your business further while always having that income from services.

The naysayers of this idea will point out that services limit you by taking your time and capping the amount of income you earn in an hour. It’s true that services pose that risk. However, I’ve seen enough people who dreamed of starting a business but couldn’t earn enough money from products to earn enough income when they needed it.

What I’m suggesting is not a popular recommendation, and it’s not surprising that products are hailed as the best business choice over services. But I think a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs could become actual entrepreneurs right now if they stopped trying to find the perfect product to sell and instead focused on the service they could offer.

If you aspire to start a business, think about what services you could provide. What could you do well that other people might be able to hire you for. Use that as your starting point, enjoy the fast income you can earn from it, and use that income to fund expansion into other monetization opportunities.

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.

Aaron’s Answers: Should I buy an existing business, buy a franchise, or start my own business?

There are a lot of choices to make when starting up a new venture. One of the things that entrepreneurs have to decide is whether or not they should buy an existing business, buy a franchise, or start their own business. Each one offers advantages and disadvantages that must be weighed.

BUYING AN EXISTING BUSINESS

Buying an existing business is one that has already started; one that has been marketing, selling, and earning revenue from a client-base. It might be in various stages of start-up — perhaps a relatively new company that the founder is selling, or perhaps a well-established company from which the founder is looking to retire and move on.

I think you’re looking for two types of businesses: Either, you’re looking for an established clientele, positive word of mouth, a strong supply chain, good processes, and strong financials that you can buy, walk in on day one, and continue earning profit; or, you’re looking for a business that is currently struggling but has potential to grow.

Compared to the other two options (buying a franchise or starting your own business), you’ll need a comparatively large amount of money up-front to get into this business because it’s established already. But the advantage is, you can potentially start earning an income almost right away (depending on the stage of the business and whether or not the previous owner was active and successful in the business prior to your buying it). Expect to pay more for a healthy company that has existing cash flow.

BUYING A FRANCHISE

Buying a franchise is when you buy a brand and marketing system from a company for a business that hasn’t yet started. This is a nice hybrid model between buying an existing business and starting your own. The business may not be started up yet but you are shortcutting the process with an established and recognized brand, and a business system already in place.

You’re looking for a company that has a strong, positive presence on a larger scale (i.e. in the national market) but has not saturated your marketplace. Look for a franchise that provides support and education and all of the marketing tools you need. Perhaps compare several franchises within the same industry to identify the best one for you.

Expect to pay a franchise fee for the right to use the brand and the business system, and expect to put in time to grow your business. Depending on the franchise, the up-front fee and the ongoing fee could be small or large. If you have some money and some time, but you want a slightly faster start with an established brand, this might be a good option for you.

STARTING YOUR OWN BUSINESS

Starting your own business is the third option. It’s when you create a brand from scratch and build your own business model and products or services.

You really are starting from zero and building it up from there. Not surprisingly, it can take longer to do but many entrepreneurs prefer it because they have the most control over the process plus it generally has a lower “cost” to start.

There are costs, including financial costs, but most of the costs are likely going to be your time. And it might take a while before you establish your brand and start earning money. This is an advantage for people who want to start a business part time while they are working. But be prepared to spend a lot of time! The fail rate is potentially higher with these types of businesses because they can take a while to get off the ground and there is a lower-perceived cost to start them.

SO WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

The short answer is: It partly depends on how quickly you want to earn money, and it partly depends on how much money and time you have available. (There are other considerations but these are the big ones, in my opinion). If you want to earn money as quickly as possible, buy an existing business; if you have time, start your own business. If you have more money than time, buy an existing business; if you have more time than money, start your own business.