10 Things to know before you start your own business
Before I start, you should know that I didn’t study business, heck I didn’t even go to uni. These tips are things I wish I’d known and that I have learnt (sometimes the hard way) while working on a side hustle that’s turned into my full-time job.
Perhaps you could call this lesson zero: I have never felt confident calling my side hustle a ‘business’ since it wasn’t my ‘main job’ for a very long time. But I know now how wrong I was. I should have been calling this my job right from the beginning.
If you’re committing any regular time to something that takes effort in exchange for some sort of reward, that’s at least one definition of ‘work’. Even if the rewards are minimal by certain standards, it’s all good experience and you can definitely take that to the bank! Don’t downplay a side hustle just because it doesn’t meet some generally-accepted measure of what should be considered a business. Own it. You’re working hard. If you don’t believe in your own project, why should anyone else?
Anyway, onto the real tips:
Solve a problem you have. You’ll be more emotionally invested in finding a good solution if it’s going to improve your life in a measurable way. Also, I’m sorry to say you’re not a completely unique snowflake, so it’s highly likely to be a problem that others have encountered and are actively looking for a solution. Even if that particular problem has already been solved, you may have a unique and appealing solution no one else had thought of. Perhaps the incumbents are failing at seeing things differently.
Balance that with not biting off more than you can chew. We can all solve nuclear fusion… if we had the know-how, the time and the budget. Know your limits. In some cases, set a limit and stick to it. This might mean some problems are going to be way too expensive for you to solve right now. You haven’t got to solve problems that have never been solved before. Innovation is expensive, leave that to Silicon Valley. Unless of course, you know how to create the software/product and have plenty of time on your hands.
Know your audience. Who are they? What do they need? Where can you find them? The better you know your audience, the better you can market to them. Create ‘personas’, characters that represent certain groups within your audience. Don’t be afraid to get super specific with each persona; the more ‘alive’ these fake personas are, the easier it will be to create ways of connecting to them and by extension that whole subgroup of your target audience. There won’t be just one demographic here, and some of the personas may cross over each other.
Don’t spend money on unnecessary things. A beautiful website, an office, that fully tricked m-out Herman Miller chair. There are cheaper alternatives that will do for now - without breaking your back or the bank. Build quickly. Focus on problems that will help the company move forward (learning about customers, developing your solution etc). Expensive (but comfy) office chairs do not solve those problems.
Get feedback early and often. But don’t believe everything you hear. Dig deep to get to the meat. Reach out to everyone in your networks: family, friends, current/former colleagues, industry experts. Be genuine and enthusiastic but not pushy. Don’t compromise genuine feedback in favour of more feedback; less high quality is worth more than more low quality. Don’t be afraid of negative feedback and don’t get defensive - this could be exactly what you need to hear to improve your solution.
Pick a niche. Sometimes the more niche your business is, the better. You might be solving a super-specific problem for a very small but highly appreciative audience. The problem could be harder to solve and you’ll have fewer customers, but you can often charge more for it! The difference between a good solution and a great solution can be the difference between fighting for every lead and customers banging down your door because of glowing recommendations. I once worked for an online store who only sold shoes for women with small feet. There are tons of women all around the globe with smaller than average feet and most big brands don’t cater well to them. So they were not only solving a problem for a niche audience but also making their audience feel special and looked after.
Don’t just quit your day job. Unless you’ve built up significant expendable savings or have sought some investment, you’ll probably still need to work to survive. I can’t sugarcoat this: it’s going to be hard to balance both at the same time for a while. Plan for this if you can. Be realistic. Don’t expect your business to allow you to quit your day job within a few weeks or even months. Folks who say “you need the fear of not making any money to make it work” clearly have never lived through a global pandemic!
Having said this, don’t spread yourself too thin. You need to rest, be alert and keep loving what you are doing, otherwise, it will end up being a chore. Manage your time carefully. Get into a good routine. Maybe wake up a bit earlier and do some work before you go to your day job. You might have to sacrifice some of your weekends, just make sure it’s not every weekend. Always make time to rest and be with your friends and family.
If you work with others, don’t expect the world from them. Be realistic with your expectations, be thankful for what they do for you, don’t make unreasonable demands - especially if you’re not able to pay the going rate. Even if you can’t pay them right now, offer them a space to showcase their talent, to build up their experience, or offer them equity in your venture so they can cash out later on.
Don’t rush. It might take you 5 months to have a successful business that is making money, it might take you 5 years. If you can stay the course, it doesn’t matter how long it takes; what matters is that it is yours!