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The SIMPLE way to start a business (and avoid the struggle).

When we hand a child a violin for the very first time, we don’t expect them to map out their worldwide concert tour.
We don’t hand a kid their first pair of ice skates and start talking about preparing for the next Olympic games.
Yet that’s what we often expect of new business owners.
Business coaches and groups start talking about “scaling” and “systems” and “brands” – world tours or Olympic competition – before a new business owner has even made the first sale.
Or even figure out what they are going to sell.
How do you think that makes most new or aspiring business owners feel?
And worst? Feeling like a failure before they even start.
Do you think that most kids scratching their way through Twinkle Twinkle Little Star would feel pumped up or frightened to be told that they need to be ready to play Carnegie Hall in a few months?
Do you think the kid still wobbling around the rink would be terrified of the pressure to medal in the Olympics by the winter?
Yet that’s what we keep doing to new or potential business owners.
Coaches and gurus, so in love with showing off their own expertise, sometimes make people who want to start a business feel like their aspirations are out of reach – or worse – that they are not dreaming big enough so why bother?
I am not against big dreams. Not at all.
Do you dream of founding a multi-million dollar empire? Have at it. But most new business owners are so defeated by all these steps and checklists and things to do that they often won’t even start.
I am not against checklists and case studies and to-dos….what I am against is giving new business owners too much.
Solve a single problem in front of you. Just that one thing. Then move on to the next thing. Solve that. Steps that are clear.
We don’t expect the average Kindergarten student to get tossed into Calculus IV (don’t comment about child genius – they are the Jeff Bezos’s or Elon Musk’s of the business world).
Yet we expect the average Kindergarten/beginning business owner to figure out their sales funnels (along with upsells and landing pages).
We don’t expect violinists who have had three lessons to solo at the Met, yet we expect new business owners to set up “systems to scale”.
Can we get a little reality check here?
New business owners need support around a few things:
–Figuring out what they want to sell.
–Figuring out who can (and will) buy it.
–Figuring out how to make a profit on what they do.
That’s it. Full stop.
The branding, the websites, the email lists. All that comes later. After the sales start coming in.
Because your business will change based on what you learn from those first few customers.
Your idea for custom cakes might evolve to business catering because you like it and because it’s more profitable and predictable. Or your business catering idea might evolve high-end chocolate making because you found a (profitable) need and can fill it.
You just don’t know until you get out there and start testing the market.
Supplying to customers.
Meeting customers.
Listening to their wants and needs.
You might uncover an untapped market. Or figure out that what you want to do does not have a big appeal. At this point, that’s okay. You are still in your exploratory phase.
And the best news?
You have not spent months and thousands of dollars on “systems” and “scaling” for a business that you are now going to pivot.
Because if you *have* jumped in and done the branding and website and fancy logo before you have your business nailed down, it makes it much harder to do the pivot that your market is asking for.
And then what happens? Business owners try to make a go of that original idea – because they are already so far down the road.
They struggle and fight and when they give up, they blame themselves.
When the blame is squarely on the shoulders of all the gurus and experts they listened to.
And I can tell you that the struggle is real.
I have worked with clients who have spent months (and months and years) trying to test the colors on logos, getting websites built for businesses that don’t have any customers, and setting up sales funnels when they don’t have a tested product or service.
All because these new business owners kept reading advice about how they needed to build their foundation to scale their business.
It’s all BS. Lies.
It’s emotional blackmail.
The feeling that if you don’t “start right” you may as well not start at all because you are destined to fail.
That you have to have the right plan in place to run this giant company rather than the help you need to just get started.
There is a better way. A kinder, gentler way that lets you chart the course that’s right for you.
Without the fear of “doing things wrong.”
Without the blackmail of “just” wanting a small business that supports you and your family and not some “scaled up conglomerate.”
Without the overwhelm of trying to plan your Olympic championship while you’re still trying not to fall down on the ice.
As a new business owner, I am telling you to focus on the basics.
–What do you sell?
–Who can and will buy this?
–How do you let them know that you are in business?
I consider a new business owner anyone who is still thinking about their business all the way through anyone who is making a few sales a month from their business.
Let’s get back to basics.
Forget all the other nonsense. It will matter someday. Just not right now. Not until you have enough sales to understand the following:
–Exactly what it is that your customers are actually buying. Not what you think they’ll buy…actually dollars in your bank account from actual sales.
–Exactly who is your customer. Details. Drill down so that you know what common characteristics your customers have. How did you get on their radar? Have they bought from you before?
–Exactly why your customers buy from you. Location. Needs. Speed, Convenience. Reputation. Why do they pick you over someone else?
And you know how you find out this information? You ask your customers.
Because even gold medal winners start somewhere.

Thinking about starting a business? Here are the THREE key questions to ask.

What is the basis for a successful business?

You must like (or love) what you do
You must be great at this (or at least better at it than your client)
Ideally, it’s hard or unpleasant for your client.

#1 You love to do this (or at least learn to like) doing this.

You want a business you can sustain.

You already may know the feeling of having to drag yourself out of bed to a job that you don’t like. Your business is supposed to make you happy that you ditched your 9-to-5, not that you traded one slog for another (with probably less pay and fewer benefits – at least at the beginning).

If you like doing something, it’s also follows that you will be willing to work harder and longer to make it succeed. In fact, Inc Magazine cites it as one of the three keys to success.

So if you’re going into business, be pragmatic with your choices, but choose something that does good for you – and for your clients. And that you can see yourself doing for the long haul. It’s going to take time to build your business. Ideally, it would be nice to actually be happy that it is succeeding and that you get to wake up and do this. Every.Single. Day.

But there is a flip side to all this happiness. Your happy place should be paired with an unmet need in the market. Otherwise it will simply remain a hobby business.

#2 You’re great at this.

People will pay for great skills, especially if it takes training, practice, specialized equipment, or experience. And EVERYONE has something they are great at. Everyone.

The key is matching your skill set with a problem that people need to solve – and are willing to pay to solve. That is the piece that is sometimes missing from the evaluation part of starting a business. Your “really good at” has to align with “customers will clamor to pay for this.” And the more you can narrow down your skills and abilities to align with customer needs, the more you can potentially demand.

For example: If you have a problem with your eyes, you will probably decide to see a specialist eye doctor. Someone whose skills, knowledge, and experience will solve your exact problem. A general practitioner might be able to cure your eye problem. But you have a built-in confidence that the eye doctor’s skills will be better at fixing your particular problem. 

A specialist will command bigger fees and more respect around solving problems.Be a specialist who is great at what you do and you’ll always have clients willing to pay for your knowledge, skills, and experience.

One caution: you may be passionate about something (see #1 above) but not be very good at it. Think about all the bad actors, un-funny comics, and awful paintings you’ve seen. Good at something beats passion every day of the week when it comes to your business. Your skills need to be “pay-worthy” if you want to have a business.

#3 It needs to be hard or unpleasant for someone else. 

The harder and/or more unpleasant, the better your chances of commanding a decent, livable rate. And the more specialized your skill is, the better able you are to serve your audience.

The eye specialist is fully booked because she went to medical school to learn about eyes – she can diagnose eye problems with confidence. If you had a problem with your hips or your chest, she is (probably) not a great fit to get you back in shape. But problems with your eyes? She has the skills.

The mechanic who fixes your car is a whiz at Toyotas and knows exactly how to keep your car running so you can pick up the kids with confidence. If you had a Tesla or a Ferrari, you would probably seek out a mechanic with specific skills around electric vehicles or exotic cars to keep your vehicle carpool ready.

There is a guy around here who makes a living doing…wait for it…dog poop pickups. Yup. He comes to your yard on a schedule and picks up all the dog poop. This is actually a very popular business. Google showed 6 different companies offering a similar service in the Boston area.

The dog poop guy is willing to scour your yard in rain, snow, and the mid-day heat wave for Fido’s crap. While picking up dog poop is not hard, it is unpleasant enough that people will happily pay for his service. 

Regardless of whether you need training (like the eye doctor) or a specialized skill (fixing Teslas) or do something that is unpleasant or inconvenient (picking up dog poop), all these businesses have one thing in common:

They found something that customers value and are willing to pay for.

Test idea for a business

The “friends ask for my help all the time” test for a business.

You are a closet-whisperer.

You read Marie Kondo’s book and fell in love with her methods. They “spark joy” in your life.

Are you good at it?

Better than good. You can quote chapter and verse of of gospel according to Marie.

Your friend’s kitchens and closets are masterpieces of joy after your magic touch.

Is it hard or unpleasant for your customers?

Yes…breaking up is hard to do with all their clutter. You are the master at getting them to part with their excess and feel good about it.

Rather than feel overwhelmed, they feel the freedom of less. All because of you.

You’re particularly good at helping seniors who are downsizing, pairing empathy with a keen eye for what has resale value. 

Is there a way to make money?

Yes. Organizing is a valued skill.

You can do one-on-one consults, create a training class for other organizers, create a line of organization tools and products. You can specialize – empty nesters looking to downsize, city-dwelling new parents – and create your own methods.

There are lots of directions to make this a successful business.

Yes to all three questions. There are lots of opportunities here.

A short warning about MLMs – those “party plan” businesses

I have to stop and preach a little about MLMs. It can feel so attractive when you’re desperate for change to jump onto the MLM bandwagon and start selling Mary Kay or jewelry or Herbalife or any of the thousands of MLM sales “opportunities” that people are trying to get you signed up.

Please, please, please don’t. 

Just no.

MLMs are overwhelmingly a losing proposition. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that over 98% or people who join MLMs not only don’t make any money, they lose money. Often thousands of dollars more than the “training kit” that you need to buy to get started.

Please read more about MLMs in this article. And if you think you finally found the exception to the rule in MLMs I will tell you almost certainly that you have not. The hidden gotchas are there somewhere. 

To sum it up….

Find something that you love (or at least don’t mind doing.

Are you great at it? Be honest here. If you’re not great, can you get great? Take a course, get experience, do an apprenticeship…what can you do to sharpen those skills?

Is it hard for other people? Having a barrier to entry (skills, experience, specialized equipment) help.

Having those three things will at least help you eliminate business ideas that will not make you money.

Ready to launch your business?

Still figuring things out?

Check out these resources to launch with confidence.