Most People Start Businesses This “Backwards” Way (Here’s What To Do Instead)

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.

Aaron Hoos

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.

That’s it.

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.

Summary

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.

 


Aaron Hoos, writerAaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He’s the author of several books, including The Sales Funnel Bible.

Here’s The Simple Way To Create A Competitive Advantage For A Promotion, New Job, Or To Start A Business

Aaron Hoos

Last year I was speaking to a group of people about how to get a competitive advantage. It was a mixed audience of professionals and college students, so I wanted to give them some practical ways that they could create a competitive advantage for themselves.

I ended up telling them this, off the cuff, near the end of the presentation and it was well-received and several people asked me to write it out and send it to them. So I did.

I’m including a version of that same information here. And the truth is, I give this same information to A LOT of people (not just those in that one presentation), and I use it for myself. It always pays off. I encourage you to use it.

This applies to anyone who has a job and wants a promotion, for anyone who wants to get a new job, and for anyone who wants to start a business or grow their business.

The Simple Way To Get A Competitive Advantage

Hey everyone,

For those who are graduating, entering a new educational program, or who aspire to a better job in a few years from now, here is a very effective strategy to give you a competitive advantage no matter what you want to do…

1. Start a blog. You can get them for free from blogging platforms like blogspot.com or wordpress.com (there are others places but those are the best two.) You can also pay for a blogging platform but it’s not necessary for what I’m suggesting.

2. Blog regularly about the job you WANT to have. For example, write about something you learned that could apply to the future job; ask a question and seek out the answer; share some reading you’ve done and research you’ve encountered; etc. If you’re bold, shoot the occasional video, post it on YouTube, and embed it into your blog. If you’re REALLY bold, find the experts in your field and interview them. There’s a lot more you could, too, but let’s keep it simple.

3. Keep at it! :) Keep at it for a couple of years. Plan for 5 years but you may start seeing some benefits from this even sooner. You don’t have to do a ton of work; 20-30 minutes a week is probably enough. (Of course you can do more but you also don’t want to burn out.) There will be times when you won’t want to blog but this strategy really only works when you persist. During this time, amazing things will happen: you’ll accelerate past your peers in your knowledge, you’ll build a small following of people who read your work and respect what you have to say, and you’ll grow a large body of work that may or may not apply to the job you’re doing now… but will most importantly, it will make you an expert for the job you want to have.

Note: you might wonder how you could possibly blog about a topic that you’re not already an expert in, or why others would even read that. But think of it this way: you don’t have to be an expert to start; you’re blogging about your journey of knowledge acquisition… and that’s exactly what other people want to read!

4. Publish. A few months before you start applying for your ideal job, gather together your best blog posts and turn those blog posts into chapters of a book. Then go to CreateSpace.com and publish your book. It doesn’t cost anything. The book will be sold on Amazon (and elsewhere).

5a. Apply for that promotion or job! Now start applying for that job. You will go into your job interview with an unparalleled depth of knowledge about your field, you’ll also have a following of people who view you as an expert, you’ll maybe have interviewed some industry experts too, and you’re the author of a book ABOUT the very topic of the job you’re applying for. Compared to the other applicants, you will be a rock star.

5b. Start that business. You’ll have a body of work already established, proof that you know what you’re talking about. You’ll be a subject matter expert simply by the fact that you’ve spent that long talking about it and exploring what others are saying. You’ll probably have an audience by this point. And, of course, you’ll have your first product — a book.

BONUS: Leverage. Although this is a long-term view and (at times) you will forget why you’re doing it or you will have trouble sticking with it, remember that this gives you many options. You can go into your interview as an expert and demand a potentially higher wage, in some situations you can pick up work on the side before you even get this new position, you’ll have a network of blog followers who you can reach out to when you want to get a job because they may know of an open position, you’ll make a bit of money off of your book, or you may even choose to branch out on your own and start your business in some situations. In short: this will give you a ton of options.

I actually gave similar advice on my blog a couple of times: Want To Start A Business Someday But Not Ready To Quit Your Job? Here’s What To Do, and, Here’s What You Should Do If You Want To Start A Business But Are Stuck In A Job.

So, think about what you want to be doing in 5 years from now, and start the easy, fun task of becoming a thought-leader today! Good luck!

5 Years??? Why So Long?

So, most people who hear this love the idea. It makes sense. It’s painless. It costs nothing but time. There’s a ton of upside and very little downside except for lost time.

But some people will read this and think: “Yikes! Five years is a long time. I want a competitive advantage right now.” Okay, fair enough. I get that. Well, I blog a lot about competitiveness and competitive advantage so just click here and read some of those blog posts.

But my opinion is: Things often take longer than we want them to. A lot of people in jobs may hope to advance by promotion to a better position in 2-3 years but in reality it takes them 3-4, for example. So 5 years might seem like a long time for you to benefit but it will go by in a flash and I think it’s fairly accurate in terms of how long things really take in life.

Fortunately, this plan is laid out in approximately 5 years but I think it can happen sooner — much sooner. I think you’ll start seeing traction in 1-2 years. Even in your immediate job you’ll start seeing things happen as you rise above your coworkers with your expertise. That will likely accelerate your schedule of growth.

Here’s The Sticking Point…

The hardest part will be sticking with it for that long. Five years is a long time. And there will be weeks when you don’t feel like writing. But trust me, your 5-years-from-now self will thank you for it. It will be challenging but you’ll be glad you did.

Here’s How To Take It To The Next Level

Maybe you’re not sure what you want to do in five years. Well, here’s a plan: Pick 2-5 topics and create a blog about each one. Is it more work? Yes. A lot more. But you’ll get the following benefits:

Summary

Five years seems like a long way off. But it will be here in a shot. So roll up your sleeves and get to work on developing your competitive advantage so that, when the future arrives, you’ll be perfectly positioned to benefit.

 


Aaron Hoos, writerAaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He’s the author of several books, including The Sales Funnel Bible.

“You become as small as your controlling desire, as great as your dominant aspiration”

James Allen said that. Allen was the author if the inspirational essay/book As A Man Thinketh.

This quotation is powerful and meaningful to me so it’s one that I review every day.

It reminds me that there are two opposing forces at work in our lives everyday: There’s the “me” who doesn’t want to change, who is lazy and cautious and prefers the status quo; and there’s the “me” who takes fearless risks to reach higher than my own aspirations.

These two forces play tug-of-war in my mind every moment of every day.

The first “me” has controlling desires that want to keep things as they are so it thinks about small things, meaningless things, and is full of self-doubt and anxiety. “Just get through the day unscathed” it says and it seeks out short-term pointless pleasures. The first me skips workouts, eats a ton of salty food, and sleeps all day. Those are the controlling desires that keep me small.

The second “me” aspires for more. It realizes that where I am right now is not where I want to be. “Work hard and enjoy yourself but make sacrifices now because better things are just around the corner,” it says. The second me pushes through workouts, eats healthily, and gets up at 5:00 to improve productivity. Those are the dominant aspirations that help me reach for greatness.

These forces play tug-of-war in my mind everyday. Sometimes the first me wins and my controlling desires keep me small. Sometimes the second me wins and my dominant aspirations help me be great.

I need to figure out who to reduce that first me and increase the second me.

As I think about this further (since I’m only now articulating what I’ve long thought unconsciously)…

Perhaps one way to think about this is to consider what specifically my controlling desires are, tear them down, and build bigger and better controlling desires. Rather than trying to avoid those controlling desires (which I believe are innate), maybe I can reconfigure them so that bigger, better controlling desires aren’t that small. If I’m only as small as my controlling desires then maybe I can create great controlling desires.

And I also need to consider what my dominant aspirations are. I love measuring and testing new things in my business but it’s easy to fall prey to measuring and testing things that don’t contribute to my overall goals. If I can align those then the measuring and testing contributes to my dominant aspirations rather than distracts.

6 ways to measure success that have nothing to do with money

I think we almost always measure success with money: Either we define success as having a certain amount of money in the bank or we define it as having a certain level of passive income or we define it as having a certain net worth.

Using these financial metrics, we can easily identify who is “successful” and who isn’t.

What’s interesting to me is how much we define success financially and rarely in any other way. But not everyone who has money is successful — people who receive a large windfall through the lottery or an inheritance aren’t technically successful in their own right, they were just fortunate to have the right numbers or family tree to get them the amount of money that we use to define success.

So I wondered if there were other metrics we could use to define success. I wanted to know what measurements could be used that, for the most part, would be indicators of success. Admittedly, just like the lottery exception above, there will be some exceptions but overall this is a pretty good list of success markers:

  1. Network: Successful people seem to have a wider network and great relationships with their network. This network may be any combination of peers, fans, followers, mentors, etc.
  2. Unsolicited opportunities: Purely anecdotal but the more successful I become, the more people offer me opportunities; specifically, opportunities for partnership and joint ventures.
  3. Multiple streams of income: Most of the successful people I can think of had multiple streams of income, even if they really only sold one “thing”. Some might have several different business ventures, others might have one business venture but they sell it different ways or to different groups of people.
  4. Haters: Everyone has haters but it seems like the more successful you are, the more haters you’ll have. Success attracts fans and haters.
  5. Productivity: I’m not sure how truly measurable this is but I think successful people have a higher level of productivity than other people. There are no lazy success stories.
  6. Resilience: Another harder-to-quantify measurable is a level of resilience — the ability to dust yourself off and press on. Many of the most successful people were failures who didn’t quit.

Am I missing any? I think there are other harder-to-quantify indicators of success that aren’t really measurements at all — like vision and charisma — but I tried to stick to things that could be measured.

Now here’s the real question: Can you jumpstart success by getting more of these things in your life? (Yes, even the haters).

9 things that are awesome even though we usually think they suck

Warning: You’re not going to agree with me on some or all of these. That’s okay. That’s actually the first one! :)

1. DISAGREEMENT

It seems like most people try to agree. They try to find common ground, achieve alignment, come together, whatever. And sometimes that’s helpful because when you work together with someone, you tend to achieve more when everyone is moving in the same direction. Agreement is ingrained in us because every story (whether book, movie, TV show, etc.) is basically about people who disagree and then discover a resolution (sort-of an agreement, even if it involves explosions). We tend to agree with our heroes.

BUT… a dissenter is good. History is built on dissenters. Businesses are founded on dissenters. Even countries are founded on dissenters. We don’t always have to agree. Disagreements (when healthy) breed discussion and growth.

2. RISK

Risk is fascinating. I love studying risk! Most people’s ideas of risk are broken. The average stock market investor tries to reduce risk. We’re wired to avoid it.

But who are the most successful investors? They’re the ones who accept some level of risk. (Warren Buffett understands that there is risk in the market and he accepts it. Even though he’s thought to be a safe and risk-free investor, he’s actually not and it’s to his benefit). And here’s a great example of how people are insanely risk averse: So many people dream of quitting their job and starting their own business but they can’t take the risk of giving up that paycheck. (By the way: I have a solution for that. If you want to start a business without the risk of quitting your job, do this).

Risk is good. Period. Yes, it needs to be managed and monitored closely and it should always be in balance with reward but risk is a good thing. (I talk a lot more about this at the blog post Ideas about risk that we have totally wrong.)

3. MISTAKES

We want to avoid mistakes because we don’t want to look foolish. But mistakes are what help us innovate. I love making mistakes. If I’m not making mistakes, I’m not trying. (Here are 5 business failures I’ve had and what I learned from them).

My advice? Do more stuff. Make more mistakes. Love those mistakes and learn from them.

4. BULLIES

This will be perhaps my most controversial addition to the list. Even before hitting “Publish” on this post I was tempted to remove it. But here it is anyway.

I was bullied in school. It sucked. I wished it never happened and I have emotional scarring as a result. (Gosh, am I actually admitting this on my blog???) And I support how bully-intolerant we’ve become as a culture.

BUT… because of bullies, I am where I am today. They solidified who my friends were (and weren’t), they were a key factor in me moving to a different city in my late teens (which launched some very positive changes in my life), they showed me that the world isn’t always fair but I need to be a good person anyway, and they motivated me to do well in life as a sort-of revenge for how they made me feel in grade school and high school. (Where are they now? I have no clue, and I’m not about to devote any bandwidth to finding out. But success is sill the sweetest revenge).

5. BAD CLIENTS

Bad clients make you work hard and then pay as little as possible while complaining about it, or they disappear with out paying. Or they leave a bad review. Or they take advantage of your guarantee. It happens and it sucks and sometimes it causes some short-term financial pain.

But but clients strengthen your “jerk-o-meter” and help you know for next time. And I’ve learned that bad clients are also an indicator of your success: When you’re just starting out and you’re willing to accept any clients, you put up with the bad ones. But as you get to be more successful, your ability to say “no” to a client — to turn them away if you don’t think it’s a good fit — is an AMAZING feeling.

6. LACK OF MONEY

I’m mostly speaking about having a lack of money in business, although I suppose this also applies to personal life as well.

Being short of cash sucks. It feels like you’re handcuffed and can’t do everything you want to do in your business. You wonder how you’ll afford a key investment or how you’ll pay your staff this money or how you’ll pay yourself this month.

But, when your business is short of funds, it is a fantastic motivator to get your ass out of your seat and start selling. It refocuses you on the important stuff. Being short of funds alerts you to the fact that your expenses seem to outpace your income, so you need to take a closer look at those expenses and trim them, and you need to boost that income. A lack of money also forces you to get creative.

Several years ago my business ran out of cash when I got a MASSIVE tax bill that I was simply not prepared for. I had to buckle down and work HARD, putting in long days every day for months in order to cover the tax bill. It was a very dark period in my business. But the result was incredible: I learned a lot, I raise the bar on what I could achieve when motivated, and it even opened up a couple of new opportunities for me.

Business tends to run in cycles: During the fat times, you spend a lot and you don’t hustle as hard. During the lean times, you spend less and you hustle hard. And so it goes like that, back and forth and back and forth (this happens in the economy, too) and hopefully you learn enough in the lean times that you make the fat times less silly, and you put away enough in the fat times that you make the lean times a little less lean. But lean times are still good.

7. DEADLINES

My entire life is built around deadlines. Every week I jam out content like a maniac because of deadlines. I hate them.

But… there have been a few clients who have said, “oh, just get me the project whenever you can” and guess what happens. The project gets deprioritized over and over and over again. And my own projects (like my first book, and now like my second and third books) get pushed farther and farther back. Deadlines give us a goal and keep us focused.

8. DEATH

The death of loved ones is very painful. When family or friends pass away, we’re left with a hole in our hearts and our lives, and sometimes even a bit of regret that we didn’t get to spend more time with them.

But death is a kind of deadline. The ultimate deadline. I don’t say that to be morbid, I’m just tying it back to my previous point. Like any other deadline, death reminds us to live now. When someone I know has died, I find myself revisiting my own life and considering whether I’m living the life I should be living.

When my grandfather passed away just the day before my 35th birthday, I was (of course) very sad at the loss (although it was not unexpected as he’d been in ill-health for a while) but it made me reflect on the way he lived his life to the fullest and inspired me to do the same. And when my friend and business colleague Rod lost his life unexpectedly, I renewed the commitment I had made in several areas of my life that he had impacted. These are just two stories but I’ve experienced more myself and know of many other stories that are similar. In fact, I’m writing a book for a business that started when a couple made a commitment to a friend of their who died of cancer — it’s a fascinating story and one I hope you get to hear someday.

9. PAIN AND DISCOMFORT

No one likes pain. We’re wired to avoid it. Just look at anyone who thinks they’re about to be in pain and we see them throw all personal pride out the window — whether it’s a flinch from a near miss, or hearing a bee buzzing around your head, or hitting your thumb with a hammer… whatever. When there’s pain or we think there’s going to be pain, we react in a primal way.

Pain hurts, discomfort is uncomfortable. (Duh). We do what we can do avoid them because our DNA is embedded with a desire to reduce pain and discomfort and increase pleasure. Nothing wrong with that. And hopefully our businesses grow to give us more time and money to enjoy the pleasures of life.

But there is good that can come from pain and discomfort. Some of the examples I’ve listed above (bullies, death, lack of money) all cause some amount of pain or discomfort and I’ve shown how they can make us better. The most successful people are not those who avoid pain and discomfort but who find a way to get through in spite of it. The best business example I can think of is selling. Selling can be hard. when I first graduated from college I went into sales and struggled at first. And then, for some bizarre reason I ended up in financial sales where I was making cold calls and even selling door-to-door. At one point during that time, there was so much discomfort that I threw up all over myself in anxiety before going out to sell. (Why am I making all these crazy admissions in this post???). But I pushed through. I prevailed. And now? I feel like I can sell anything. I can navigate my way through a sale confidently and comfortably because I pushed through the discomfort.

Or here’s another example: When you’re just starting out in your business and not sure how to do something. At first it takes you a bit of time and it seems difficult and slow. After a while, though, if you can push through the discomfort without giving, it becomes easy.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I’ve listed many things that suck. But they’re also awesome, not because of what they are or what they put us through… but because of what we become as a result. We become better people — stronger, more resilient, with renewed focus, and a sharper desire to succeed.

So accept and embrace those challenges and push through because the other side is better.