6 First Steps to Starting a Business You Love (and Finding Your Freedom Along the Way)
I got an awesome email the other day in response to my post talking about how much closer I feel to financial freedom now that I’ve started my own business.
It was from one of my email subscribers (sign up here!) who told me that she and her husband have been talking about starting up their own side business for years. Now they’re finally ready to get started and they’re looking for some advice.
Now, first of all, this kind of response is absolutely the highlight of what I do. I love hearing from you guys, especially when you have something awesome you’re trying to achieve and want a little guidance. Thank you to this one reader (you know who you are!) and to the rest of you, please know that you can reach out at any time. I’m always happy to help!
Second, her question was a great one. A lot of people in our generation are looking for something different than our parents. We don’t just want to “find a good company” and work our way up the corporate ladder. Instead, we want to find work we love, work that allows us to help people, express ourselves, and gives us the freedom live the lives we want to live, not the one that society dictates to us.
You can find that kind of work as an employee, and many people do. But more and more us are realizing that the best way to find that kind of work is to make it.
Starting your own business is hard work, but it has a ton of benefits. You get to decide exactly what you do and how you do it. You get to decide who you work with and who you don’t. You get to create a business that fits around your desired lifestyle, not the other way around.
But how do you do it? How do you start from nothing and create something that you not only enjoy, but something that can financially support you and your family?
I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers. There’s a lot that I’m still trying to figure out myself. But I’ve also learned a lot along the way and there are definitely some lessons I can share.
So today, I’d like to give my high-level answer to the great question I got from my reader: what are the most important first steps to starting a business you love?
P.S. I would love to write in more detail about this kind of thing in the future, but only if you’re interested. If you like this topic and want to know more, let me know in the comments. Or if you’re an email subscriber, you can simply reply to this email. Thanks!
Step 1: Pick something you love
You’re going to have to make a business out of this thing eventually, so your own personal love for a topic or problem isn’t enough. No one will pay you simply because you love something.
But the flip side of that is that if you don’t love what you’re doing, then what’s the point? After all, the main goal here is creating a life you love, one that gives you the freedom to do things that make you happy. With that in mind, why would you choose to work on something you don’t find interesting or exciting?
But there’s more to it than that. There are good business reasons for choosing to work on something you love:
- If you love what you’re working on, you’re more likely to stick with it.
- If you love what you’re working on, you’re more likely to push yourself to learn new things and solve new problems.
- If you love what you’re working on, you’ll do better work, solve more important problems, and build a better business.
Now, keep in mind that no matter how much you love something, you won’t love it every day. Just like anything else, whether it’s a relationship, a hobby or a new food, eventually that initial excitement and intrigue wears off and it becomes routine.
As my guy Chase Reeves likes to say, at some point it will just become a job. That doesn’t mean you won’t love it anymore. But it does mean that if you don’t love it, you’ll start to resent it.
So start with love. Then move on to figuring out the rest.
Step 2: Be helpful
Your love of a topic is important, but it’s not enough. For your business to be successful you actually have to help someone.
What problem are you solving? Why would a stranger care enough about what you’re doing to interrupt their day and pay attention? What value are you offering that’s good enough for someone to be happy for the opportunity to pay for it?
If you can’t answer those questions, then you have a hobby, not a business.
Now, you don’t have to be finding the cure for cancer or anything as serious or important as that. People pay for things like comedy specials, plastic toy dump trucks and can openers all the time. What you’re doing doesn’t have to change the world.
But you do have to think about things from the perspective of your future customer. Your entire mission needs to be about making his life better. That’s all that matters.
Step 3: Focus, focus, focus
This may sound counter-intuitive, but at this point I’ve not only heard this advice about a million different times but I’ve experienced its power myself.
Get as small and specific as you possibly can with defining your target market. The smaller and more specific your initial focus, the easier it will be to get clients.
This is the opposite of how most people start. Most people assume they need to cast as wide a net as possible and just take on anyone they can possibly get. After all, if you focus on a very specific group of people, aren’t you missing out on a lot of potential opportunities?
I get that thinking because I thought it myself. I was nervous about focusing my business so specifically on new parents, and I debated it in my head for a long time before making the decision.
But there are a few big advantages to focusing your business very narrowly on a small group of people:
- It’s easier to find potential clients. If your target market is everyone, where do you start? When your target market is specific, you know exactly where they hang out and you can start there.
- It’s easier to market yourself. You can craft your entire message around the specific problems of that specific group of people. When someone from that group finds your website or hears you talk what you do, they’ll immediately know that you’re the specific person who can help them. No one else will care about them like you do. The sale is easy.
- It’s easier to run a better business. When all of your clients are similar, you can use the same processes for all of them. This will make your business stronger, more efficient, and will help you deliver a better service.
Focus on as small a group as you can and create something that solves their specific problems.
Step 4: Talk to your target clients
Once you know who your target client is, reach out to them. Write down a list of places where they might be and go there. That can be physical locations like a school or gym, or it can be online like a user forum.
The closer you can get to your target market, the more you can learn about who they are and what problems they have and the better you can be at helping them.
Bottom line, you don’t need to do all the work in your head. The people you want to serve will be much better at telling you how to serve them than you will.
Step 5: Write, write, write
Writing forces you to clarify your thoughts.
Writing about your business will make your purpose clearer, your value proposition stronger, and your expertise greater.
Write about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Write out your opinions on specific topics. Write how-to’s aimed at beginners.
I would encourage you to do this writing in public. Visualize your perfect customer, write for her, and put it in a place where she can find it. It takes less than 5 minutes to start a blog and put up a post. Do it now.
Step 6: Cut out the bullshit
There are a lot of things you can do that will make it feel like you’re working on your business when you’re really just wasting time.
Business cards. Logos. SEO. Social media. Reading blogs about business. Tinkering with the layout of your website. And on and on and on.
Focus on one thing and one thing only: being as helpful as you possibly can for the clients you want to serve.
Do that and the rest will take care of itself.
I think God speaks to me through blogs. I’m only half-kidding. Last week, I learned to be greater up, even when things looked dim. This is the second blog I’ve read this morning that had a little nugget in there, telling me not to necessarily worry about shelling out for a custom design right now.(step6).
On another note – I’d love to read more about your thoughts on starting a business 🙂
We all need a little inspiration sometimes! I’m glad you found this helpful. The website is a funny one because it definitely matters, but what really matters most about the website is the words. You can find a good-enough layout for very small money and then just focus on being as helpful as possible and it will get you 90% of the way there. I definitely wouldn’t shell out for a custom website until you’ve made some progress to a legit business (not saying you haven’t, I honestly don’t know. Just a general comment.)
Along the lines of being helpful and answering a question/solving a problem, I think it’s essential to have a very clear and unique point of view. Otherwise, there’s plenty of other people who can do the same thing, what and how are you going to share information that will make people come to YOU?
That’s a good point, and I would say I degree to an extent. I think it’s important to either have a distinctive point of view or a distinctive personality. I don’t think you necessarily have to have a unique idea, but if you don’t then there has to be some reason for people to be especially attracted to you and that can just be the way you talk about it. But yes, there definitely has to be something that’s different about how you’re doing things.
The most important thing you’ve said here is “be helpful” In fact, when people write about this, they ALWAYS forget that. Blogging especially is not about the blogger, it’s about the reader. Once new bloggers understand that, real success is possible! Just my 2 cents. 😀
I couldn’t agree more! I think that’s the advice that’s most often missing when people try to figure out how to make their blog better. First and foremost be helpful and let the rest flow from that.
Great thoughts! I think Step 2 has a lot more power than people think. When I started my first business, that was what got me the most clients. It’s also something Gary Vaynerchuk really stresses when he talks about using social media
Agreed! And Gary is great. That guy has so much energy!
So my emails to you are the highlight of your day? I’ll have to talk trash on the Pats more often. (Did you end up trying out for receiver while you were up there? If so, are you playing split end or flanker?)
I love the last tip: as a procratinator, I have a bad habit of spending time on bullshit little tasks that don’t really address anything.
Haha, Tom does love him some short, white receivers. I think I’ve got a shot!
I’ve got the same procrastinating problem. It’s a never-ending battle. One thing that’s helped me is a weekly review on Sundays where I lay out the important things to accomplish for the week. It’s pretty simple, but then I’m never guessing about what’s actually important. I still end up wasting time, but not quite as much.