Updated: December 5, 2018
I've started over 30 websites in my life. I don't want to say I've started 30 businesses because they aren't a business until they make money and maybe only 33% of them have made money.
Every single one fo them seemed like the greatest idea in the world at the time. That's how ideas work.
Because you are able to logically break down why an idea should exist that automatically makes it the world's greatest idea. Unfortunately, it doesn't.
One time I spent 2 months building a site for club promoter's to promote their events. I thought it was a brilliant idea because I loved to go out and party and I thought it would be cool to have a site listing all of the parties and events going on in town.
The problem with the idea is that it doesn't work unless you get a mass of people to the site. Maybe that doesn't seem like a bad idea to you, but the bigger problem is that most people don't get their nightly plans from a website, they get it from their friends.
They check to see what others are doing that night. If you can't grab the influencers in a group of friends then you just have a calendar of events that nobody is checking out.
Over the years I've learned how to better analyze whether an idea is worth my time pursuing and then how to make sure the idea doesn't fail. I know it sounds crazy because any business has a chance of failing and that's true, but many times the failure falls on the business owner and not the business.
What makes a successful business?
- A product or service. Something that you can sell.
- Enough customers that allow you to make more money than you spend.
There really isn't much more to that. Businesses fail because they don't have #2. #1 is what gets them excited.
So I had to figure out some ways to ensure that I had #2 in order before I even got started on #1.
In this post, we are going to go over some things that will help you ensure that your business has a great chance of succeeding. Are they 100% fool-proof? Probably not, but they've been working for me.
1. It Starts With a Problem
Every business solves a problem.
People pay to have problems solved.
You pay Subway to solve your hunger problem.
You pay the exterminator to solve your pest problem.
Everything in business is built around a problem that people want a solution for.
Remember #2 in what makes a successful business? The issue that most businesses have is that they don't solve a problem that is urgent enough for people to pay to have solved.
Just because you have the problem and you've figured out the solution that doesn't mean that others have the problem as well. You need to step out of your own shoes and realize that your worldview isn't the same one shared by others.
If you can find a problem that already exists and an audience large enough to pay for a solution then you have a business.
How large is large enough? It depends on the product or service. If my service costs $100,000 then my audience just need to be 1 or 2 companies.
If I'm selling $5 e-books then my audience needs to be a couple thousand people each month.
Whenever I start a new blog (one of the easiest businesses to get rolling) I only do so around niches that have big problems people want to solve.
If there wasn't anybody trying to figure out how to quit their jobs and become solopreneurs then I wouldn't bother with this blog. Thankfully, there are millions of people that want to work for themselves and enjoy a life of freedom.
Therefore, it makes total sense for me to create this blog.
2. Start Today
If you do fail it's better to fail fast than to create something that suffers a long and slow death.
You want to be able to test if there is a market for your offerings.
For example, if you want to become a pro blogger then you could spend months researching other blogs, themes, and tools. Forget all of that, get your blog up as soon as possible. You don't have to show anybody, but just getting something up is a big step.
By starting today the goal isn't to create something massive. The goal is to create something small and agile so you can make adjustments.
You are starting today because you want to be able to say you gave it a shot and learned quickly. You don't want to sit on an idea for months or years, hyping it up in your head, only to watch it fail. That's crushing.
3. Test, Test, Test
This is where most businesses fail. They spend forever creating something and then just toss it out into the world expecting people to lap it up. There is no reason to do that.
You can start testing your idea today without much investment at all.
Start a blog.
But my business isn't a blog.
I hear ya, but check this out. One of the best ways to test an idea is by writing about it. When people look for a solution to a problem they search the Internet. In a perfect world they would come across your post, leave a comment or send you an email, and you start to see that people are interested in getting a solution to the problem.
A long time ago my good friend, Garrett Dimon, wrote about how he would create the perfect issue tracker. An issue tracker is software used by teams to track issues that need to be fixed in their applications.
Garrett wrote detailed posts on how he would design issue tracking software and people loved it. You see, back then, issue tracking software was a huge pain in the ass. It was hard to use and ugly.
Garrett's proposed solution was like discovering solar energy when the world has been using coal.
People loved it and let him know. They let him know that they would pay for it if it was built and so he set out to build it. A couple months later he had a business that allowed him to quit his job and spend the next decade making something wonderful.
This wouldn't have happened if he didn't bother testing the idea out with people. It's amazing what a couple of blog posts can do for you.
I created SproutKit because I had enough people read my posts on blogging and come to me saying they don't have time to implement it all. With work, kids, and school finding a little bit of time to build a successful blog can be rough so I offered a service that helps them out.
I never would've thought of the service if I didn't write some blog posts and have discussions with folks.
The only initial investment I had to make was a little bit of money for hosting the blog and time spent writing and talking to people.
A drop in the bucket considering what many people spend on upfront costs for their business.
4. Build an Audience
If you feel like you have a solid idea from talking to people then it's time to start building an audience.
Tell me which makes sense:
- Building an audience that is dying to buy your product before launching
- Launching and then looking for an audience
The reason why blogging seems to be at the beginning of most online businesses is because it is one of the best ways to build an audience. Blogging allows you to share the problem you are looking to solve and gives people an inside look at things.
With a blog, you can build up a nice sized mailing list of people that really want help in solving a problem. Your mailing list is a direct link to communicating with them.
Don't get fooled by Twitter or Facebook. That's someone else's playground that you get to rent time on. You don't get the attention you want on those platforms and that is why building up an email list is the best thing you can do for your business.
If you're wondering how to get started with a blog and building an audience then check out the free Ultiamte Guide to Blogging.
5. Start Small
Now that you are working on building an audience you need to see if they are willing to buy.
Yes. You can build the world's largest audience but if they aren't willing to open up their wallets then what is the point?
Just because people have problems that they want solutions for it doesn't mean that they are willing to pay for those solutions. So instead of spending a lot of time building something out, you can start smaller and create a mini-version of the solution that solves part of the problem.
For example, I could create a course on building a business with Pinterest or I could write an e-book to test the waters.
If people are buying the e-book then odds are I can get others to purchase a more expensive course.
This line of thinking applies to service-based businesses as well.
A lot of people try to tackle the problem themselves so they buy the e-book offering the solution. When they realize they don't have the time or energy to do anything in the e-book they look for someone that can do it for them.
If you want to throw conferences why don't you start off with online webinars?
If you want to start a landscaping business just start with mowing lawns.
What you start off with doesn't have to be the final version of your business.
6. Maximize Your Time and Focus On Your Strengths
This one can be a tough pill to swallow for some people. You can't do it all.
Okay, you can do it all, but it is not wise to do it all.
I see bloggers with no design or development experience take on the task of learning how to code. That's great but learning how to code takes month or years. Do you want to spend your time doing that or working on your business?
Don't hesitate to outsource things that don't fall under core competencies.
7. Build Relationships
If you're an introvert then you aren't going to like this one. Your business can completely change if you learn how to build relationships with others in your industry.
A blog doing 100 pageviews a month can jump to 10,000 in a day with the right link from someone.
Having others talk about you helps you to build your authority. The more authority you have in your industry, the more people will trust handing money over to you.
Check out this post to understand why building relationships are one of the fastest ways you can build your online business.
8. Treat It Like a Business
This one may sound silly to you but many times people start off with these wonderful ideas and because they are pursuing them in their spare time they treat them like hobbies.
How many businesses have been in the development stage for months or years? Too many to count!
What's the rush? It's just a side project.
And that's how it will stay if you don't change your mindset.
If you decide not to show up for work for 2 weeks straight you should get fired, right? Your boss has you on a schedule for a reason. They want to know when work is going to get done.
Figure out a schedule for your business. When will you always dedicate time to working on it.
The answer can't be when you have a few spare moments.
This might mean you need to wake up at 5am every morning or stay up late at night. Develop a routine that forces you to spend time working on your business.
Create a roadmap of things that you need to get done and make sure you get them done.
I can't tell you how amazing it is to simply change your mindset with regards to your business. When you see it as a business and treat it like a business you handle things differently.
9. Accept the Doubt and Push Through It
Doubt happens to all business owners.
At some point, you will wonder if this is going to work out at all. It's normal to doubt yourself but how you handle that doubt is what separates the successful business owners from those that wish things worked out.
If you have an audience that is interested in what you are doing and you are starting to connect with people then it all comes down to execution. If doubt is lingering, don't try to ignore it. Acknowledge that it is there and figure out what actions you can do with your business that will make the doubt go away.
Sometimes it's as simple as making a sale so what are you going to do to make that sale?
Sometimes it's as simple as talking to a potential customer to understand their problems so when are you going to do that?
Please understand that having doubts means you aren't cut out for this. You aren't cut out for this if you let doubts hold you back.
Say hello to your doubts and welcome them to the journey. Let them sit down, buckle up, and enjoy the view.
Do Things That Improve Your Chances
Many online businesses fail because their owners spend more time doing things that don't matter that much to the business instead of doing things that will keep it alive.
For example, if my business is based around a blog is it more important for me to spend a month on the design or to reach out to people and understand their problems?
For some reason when decide to start a business they think it means they can only work on the fun things. The things that really get them excited. Unfortunately, it's usually everything else that will make your business succeed.