- Your purpose
- Everything you learn will be repeatable
- The right perspective
- Multiplies personalities
- Don’t be afraid
- Open to change
Are you going to start a business?
Do you want to:
- work independently?
- create an online business, without a physical office?
- use the Internet to sell products?
Do you value freedom and flexibility over mere profit?
With a profitable lifestyle business you can:
- set your own hours
- do not have any boss
- have no one to respond to
- not have to ask permission for anything
- not have to physically be at any particular place
- decide what to do every day, and how long you’re going to do it
- have a real impact on your finances, and so have a real influence on how much you earn
This is the freedom, the freedom to be self-employed and to be a proud owner of an online business.
This is a reality that many people already live in.
Do you want to join them? Cool! I will introduce you to how things work, and I will explain how this freedom can be achieved.
In 2007 I was an engineering student without any idea of what I wanted to do after graduation. After dozens of attempts, some failures, some small successes, I understood what works and what does not, the hard way.
I had many ups and downs, great disappointments, huge failures, but also great satisfactions.
After 10 years I can share all the lessons I’ve learned. I don’t think I have the absolute knowledge, for sure, but I know that this post will help those who still need to try going out on their own, and are a little afraid as they do not know where to start or what to expect.
The way you can reach freedom is to create a small business and keep it small.
Why keeping it small? The general belief, and especially the American business culture, takes for granted that a business is born to grow, grow more and generate more and more money. You’re successful when you have lots of employees, lots of customers, and you’re always very busy.
How many times did you hear “we make X MILLIONS $ in revenue, just to discover they are not profitable yet, or have very low margins?
This is an option, of course, but let’s pan out this concept.
With a lifestyle business you want to work to reach a point where:
- you own 100% of your business, you don’t have any shitty VC money or have other co-founders
- you spend time on your business every week, to efficiently manage a number of customers who are very satisfied by what they get from you. Not necessarily every day, and you can take vacations when you want without asking anyone.
- you constantly create value for your customers
- you have time to create new products, and work on new ideas, and you have the freedom to experiment
- you have your own user base and you can sell new products to your existing customers
Growing too much would mean:
- continuously having to increase the number of customers
- increasing customers, support requests increase too, and so the time you need to spend to take care of your customers
- you’ll have to hire people who can help you manage the high number of customers, because on your own you can’t do everything
- you’ll end up managing your employees, which is a time consuming task on its own
Ultimately, growing means:
- being forced to grow the revenues, to pay your employees
- increasing operating and bureaucracy management costs
- increasing time spent in the business
- increasing stress
- less flexibility
- less freedom
That’s not what I want you to do.
A lifestyle business is the type of business that is founded with the goal of generating and maintaining a certain level of revenue over time, providing the basis to enjoy a certain lifestyle.
Using the internet. The internet is an amazing tool that in 2019 we can use to get access to ~50% of the world population, wherever they might be, at any time during the day. Never before in the history of the human kind have people had this opportunity.
What is not a lifestyle business for example:
- being a freelance or an electrician, because the hours you work are directly proportional to how much money you make
- being a shop owner, a bartender, or have any kind of activity where customers walk in the door. In this case, you have bought a job because you can’t really close the door and reopen it the next day if you want to, unless you hire staff that helps you free yourself from your own business. This is not freedom.
Some examples of a lifestyle business:
- be a book author
- create online courses
- be an infoproduct maker
- sell your own software
- sell digital products
- have a blog with affiliate links
In each of these activities you can decide when, where and how to work.
When you first start out, you’ll need to put a lot of hours up front, to create the products and the system that powers your sales, but when the system is set up, you’ll have an automatic revenue machine in place and you will not be forced to spend 10 hours on your computer because the business will work for you.
Your lifestyle business should really be related to a topic you have a great passion in, because:
- you’ll face a lot of issues when you get started, and being passionate in the topic will make sure you stick to the business, and not drop off before it takes off
- lack of passion will be evident in all your communications and presence. Similarly, if you’re passionate people will see it
- maybe you’ll not be making tons of money from your business, but the satisfaction you get from doing what you love will be a great motivation to go through bad times
The consultant, the freelancer, the professional trades time with money.
In your small business, you’ll try to make products and sell them. You’ll not be directly involved in making the sale, so how much money you make is unrelated to the time you spend in the business.
Once the system is set, the money continues to flow even while we are sleeping or travelling.
Don’t look for funds from accelerators, investors, family, friends, VC, or anything else.
Accelerators, VCs or angel investors generally do give you a person you’ll need to respond to for every action you take. So if you want to keep control and especially freedom, avoid it like the plague. Making money from family or friends will only ruin the relationship if things don’t go as you think (and things almost always don’t go as you think they will).
In any case, seeking and managing money is a distraction from your goal. Don’t use other people money. Don’t start a business that requires a big amount of money to start with, if you don’t have it.
The best idea does not need any money, but only time. It takes a long time to grow organically, bootstrapped, but it’s worth it.
If your idea requires more than 5000$ and you don’t have them ready, change idea.
If your idea needs some reasonable amount of money and you don’t have it yet, work to get the money. Freelance. Work as a contractor. And wait, working on your idea on the weekend. If you don’t have an existing network of contacts, or a marketplace specialised in what you do, sites such as Fiverr, Upwork or others are perfect to make some money on the side. If you are starting from scratch, find a temporary job in the industry of your interest.
If you already have a job, keep it and work on your project in your free time.
The money you make will be useful for purchasing freelance services from the pool of talent in areas where you lack the skills; managing your company alone does not mean that you have to do it all by yourself.
You may be a programmer and making pleasing interfaces is not your strength. Maybe you don’t know where to start with marketing. You may have no idea how to make a convincing email, or maybe you think you know, but in reality you don’t. Or, you’re a designer and you have no idea how to bring your product to light, and the idea of learning programming is a taboo.
Don’t block yourself. You will find many people able to help you with these tasks, just look around and if you don’t have the resources to pay, even trading your services might be an idea, sometimes you just need to ask.
Depending on your current starting point, you may have different goals.
Here are some examples of what you might want.
If you are starting from scratch, and maybe you are still a student, you might want to earn enough to live off, and to never ever have to work for anyone else.
If you’re looking for a job and you can’t find it right now, you might want to create your own job, because maybe your skills are not appreciated by the companies you applied to, but you could sell them online.
If you’ve just been fired, you will want to take advantage of the knowledge you currently have.
If you are an employee, you might want to make some money “on the side”, work part-time and earn a bit of side income, or prepare to leave your job and set out on your own.
If you work as a freelancer, you might want to stop trading hours for money.
In each of these cases, you share a certain kind of situation and you hope the adventure will work out for the best, and you would like to improve the quality of your life.
What is the purpose for which you open an activity? Only you know, but don’t start with the wrong perspective. For example, don’t think you will make a lot of money within a few months, because it will not happen.
Sure, in theory it could happen, but only if the alignment of the stars is perfect, and in 99% of cases this will not happen. It’s more likely to win the lottery, so don’t even think about it. If you’re looking for this, you’re reading the wrong post as it does not explain how you can achieve that goal.
The goal I am talking about in this post is a lifestyle business; creating something that gives you satisfaction day by day, and over time generates a good economic return so that we no longer have to work for anyone else, we can work when we want to, and create an automated business.
Here is what you can aim to in the medium term: financial independence, independence from where you live and freedom, control and power.
- financial independence: you will not become wealthy in 3 months but you can reasonably think that with time you will be able to build a source of cash that can first integrate and then replace your salary (assuming you have one).
- Independence from where you live: One of the main advantages of online business, made in a certain way, is total independence from the location. No matter where you are, the important thing is to give your customer what they want.
- freedom, control and power: creating a business, a system that can give you financial freedom, and have the freedom and power to decide from day to day our fate. If we work with commitment, nothing is impossible. Woke up with a new idea? You can start testing it today, no one can deny that to us.
After the part where you dream about the idea and imagine how it might be, there’s hard work to do. Certainly it will not be like in movies, TV series or as described in magazines or websites. For the simple reason that when someone is listed as an example in such places, it’s because that idea is in their 1% of successful ideas. No one talks about the rest.
If you are a programmer, thinking of making and selling your software product seems like a fun idea. But remember that after you have completed the product, the rest is technical or commercial support to customers, debugging, writing documentation, dealing with the server, optimizing the funnel, writing emails, responding to emails, responding to feature requests, marketing, marketing, marketing. If your passion is programming, you’d be better off programming for someone else.
But if you look forward to learning everything you don’t know and learning tons of marketing and customer acquisition strategies, great!
In any case, it will be a success, because even if it does not go as you hope, you will know much, much more for your next attempt.
Everything you learn will be repeatable
The process of bringing a product from idea to being sold successfully is hard, will require a lot of learning, and you will need to invest a lot of time.
Even if the product doesn’t succeed, the time invested will never be wasted. All you will learn in the process are reusable abilities that will come in handy in the future, and can also be sold as skills, as in the world there is a great need for people who can ship products.
If you do it once, next time you will already have all the skills you need. You will already know several things and above all else you will learn from mistakes and experience.
Or, if the first time you have a good response, you can repeat the procedure and see if it’s replicable, if you’ve found a system that can be applied to your future products as well.
But what are the skills you will learn? It depends on what your project is, but in general we talk about:
- product building
- web marketing
- email marketing
- customer service
These are topics that take a long time to be learned and I can’t explain them all in this post, but at the end of the post you will have tips on how to continue learning and which other things to read.
The right perspective
Obviously, to stay in business you need to make some money. What is the minimum amount of revenue you should target?
Initially set an achievable goal. Don’t think that launching your app, book, web app, online course or anything else, customers will automatically come. The “if you build it, they will come” approach rarely works.
Setting an achievable goal brings two important consequences: there will be a reason for celebration and satisfaction once achieved, and will be a great encouragement, and setting a low goal avoids that you immediately abandon your business if you realize no one is buying your product.
Let’s say 100$ in profit.
If you don’t reach 100$ in the first launch month, you will have to decide if and how to proceed. 100$ seems easy but it may not be.
I have launched projects that have done much better than 100% in the first month, and I have launched projects that have made very little. It’s all about how the launch is organized, how much audience you already have, and how you decide to promote your project.
Do you already have an audience? There will be no problems if your idea concerns a need of these people, and if you launch the product properly.
You don’t have an audience yet? 100$ in the first month will already be a great goal, and you’ll be able to expand on this in the following months. If you do more, it will already be a great achievement.
What matters most is not making a huge amount the first month, but to get started. The first couple dollars you’ll make from your own products will be awesome, and you’ll be thrilled.
It’s not enough to be experienced in your domain; you obviously have to be experienced in your field, but this is not enough to succeed.
Michael Gerber in his books The E-Myth Revisited lists the three basic roles of a business, and you have to impersonate them altogether:
- the businessman: the one who has the vision, the one who has the dream in mind
- manager: the person who deals with productivity and creates the success: the one who implements the entrepreneur’s vision
- the technician: the one who actually performs the job, supervised by the manager.
Since you are the only person working on your business, you will have to impersonate these three roles in turn, and it is likely that the most congenial role for you will be the role of the technician, the expert in the domain of the product you realize, but the making the product itself is the least important part.
There will be more important stuff to do:
- define and find a group of people with a need
- know how to attract people from this group through marketing
- present your product in an attractive way
The product obviously has to work, and it must work fine. How a product works internally, in the case of software, is the least important thing. It does not matter to anyone the technology used, in the same way that no one cares what type of paper and ink was used to write a book.
Don’t be afraid
It’s completely normal worrying about not being able do what you have in mind, thinking that your business idea is not really appreciated or having a nightmare where you can’t find customers. Don’t worry, everyone thinks the same way. When you are working on your own business, you are always very close to a possible failure, and this is powerful as it is both a fear and at the same time a strong motivation to always do your best.
The first time we do something, we’re all scared. The difference between those who have never done a thing and who, on the other hand, ship constantly great products is determination and resilience, the ability to rise after each failure. Fear will never disappear. Especially when you are about to switch from consumer to manufacturer. Your ability to overcome this fear will take you from the crowded bar of those who have never had the courage to try, to the very little table of those who have tried and succeeded.
What is the best way to avoid failure? Make sure that you will have customers for your services or products. How? By starting in the right way.
Don’t even start until you find the market to sell, and find out if this market is looking forward to finding your product. At this point, it is imperative to clarify this: if your market is not easily accessible, if you don’t know how to find the people you are looking for, if there is no reasonably cost-effective way to do so, question the need to switch market entirely.
Open to change
You’ll have to change. I have changed my core business model 6 times over the past 10 years to adapt to the changes in the surrounding environment. At the same time I have tested and launched countless side projects.
In a traditional business, a change in the surrounding environment could mean that a big competitor opens his store a few blocks away. Or the road you’re on, on which many tourists pass, is replaced by a ring road, resulting in a 90% reduction in the transit traffic which makes up 70% of your customers.
In the case of an Internet business, this could happen:
- a popular platform that you’re relying on declines in a matter of a few years
- a product is launched and destroys a market (disrupts it)
- you sell products on Amazon, but for unknown reasons one day you get banned
- Amazon changes something in its system and you are no longer among the recommended products
- Google updates its search algorithms and from the first page you go to page 8, becoming invisible
In the world today, you need to be quick, up-to-date, agile and snappy. What worked fine 5 years ago, does not work anymore.
Some trivial example of how digital reality changes?
- The SEO of a site is completely different today from how it was 6 years ago
- 5 years ago Facebook introduced the Ads in the mobile app, before they didn’t even exist
- 9 years ago practically no one had a phone connected to the Internet
Think of the bookstores, how many closed doors in the last 10 years, and think about taxis after Uber.
Radical changes, things that we take for granted today are realities introduced very recently, in relative terms.
The marketing strategy that last year was perfect today starts to lose its effectiveness.
It is very important to have the ability to change strategy and focus from morning to evening.
In a time of great change, those who don’t move are destined for oblivion, while the little ones have the ability to react quickly and change direction, and this is your great competitive advantage.
In short, nothing stands still, and whoever stops while everything around changes, dies.
The changes are not always negative, the opposite may happen, or new opportunities will come out:
- A new CMS is launched on the market, and while on WordPress there are another 1000 plugins that do the same thing that yours does, on that CMS you would be the only one, becoming the de facto standard
- your competitors fail and you can get their customers
- your competitor who used so-called “gray hat” SEO techniques is penalized by Google and now you’re the first in the list for many new keywords
- a famous person in your industry promotes your product to its 30000 fans on Facebook
These are just the changes you don’t have any influence on, but there is a lot you can do to start a change, for example:
- you write on your blog every day for 2 years and finally Google starts to consider you an authority and regularly sends you traffic
- you keep contacts with your influence network in your niche until they recommend you everywhere
- you make a fabulous product
- you find the right market and the perfect channel to advertise your product