So You Want to Start Your Own Business? – 10 Things They Never Tell You
Today, I will attempt a small diversion from our usual schedule after the overwhelming response on yes in the following poll on Twitter:
Are you interested in me writing business and entrepreneurship articles?
— TheQuintessentialMan (@theQSLman) November 16, 2016
At the time being, I own and co-own three businesses: My blog, which is an Internet business, a mobile application and a trade business.
They are all different, which gives me the ability to form a broad view on the concept of entrepreneurship, but at the same time, some major principles apply to all of them.
I founded all three over the span of the last three years and I can confidently argue that those were the most dynamic, revelatory, productive and turbulent years of my life. I faced success, I faced failure, I faced adversity, I faced the truth, I faced myself.
They say that the only way to self-mastery is by assuming absolute control over your life processes. Entrepreneurship is one of the activities that can have a massive impact in that respect. It is an activity that will not only allow you to take matters into your own hands but also reveal the essence of the words responsibility, discipline, and productivity in all its glory.
At the moment, my businesses are doing well. I have passed the initial point of confusion and uncertainty, where you experiment with different ideas and approaches, and I have entered the point of traction-building and refinement. My experience thus far has allowed me to develop a confident mindset regarding business strategies, and along with my studies in business and my unceasing thirst for knowledge, I am able to offer specific and factual advice to anyone interested in the area.
In this post, I will reveal some things that you seldom find on the headlines of famous media outlets. These are things that you learn only when you have hands on experience in the area and you have spent days and nights trying to polish your strategies. My hope is that by revealing these things, I will save you time, money, energy, regrets and unwanted conflict.
Whether you are an entrepreneur already, or you are thinking to start your own business, this article will prove invaluable along the way.
Entrepreneurship boils down to common sense
…but common sense isn’t always common practice. That’s something a former colleague of mine told me while I was working as a business consultant. This simple yet powerful remark has stayed with me, and I keep referring to it, till this very day.
The real question, however, is this: what does common sense look like and how do I know I have it?
Common sense is nothing more than good sense and sound judgment in practical matters. Some examples include:
- You can’t hire someone just because you know them. It is common sense that you need to evaluate their background and identify whether or not it fits the type of product you sell.
- You can’t look and act unprofessionally. It is common sense that if you look and act that way nobody will trust you.
- You can’t expect your sales people to improvise on how to promote your product. It is common sense that you need to train them and provide them with the necessary material.
- You need to create an accurate image of your ideal customer. It is common sense that you need to know your customers in order to find them, understand their needs and target them accordingly.
I will elaborate on most of these and some more below.
Additionally, you identify common sense by detaching yourself from your ego and by stepping into your customer’s shoes.
When you start your own business, you are blinded by your ego. It is the same feeling you get when you have your first child. Your business is your baby. You have an idea of how to raise it, but because it is your “possession” you can’t see things objectively, oftentimes reverting to unorthodox practices and behaviors. Even if you do things wrong, you are convinced that you do things right. Most of business owners fall into this trap and therefore suffer dramatically.
I understand that when you do things wrong and you eventually have to face potential change, more often than not, you develop resistance towards change. That’s because of laziness and because of fear of change. You aren’t sure what to expect and you don’t know if the required change (which will certainly require time and money investment) will yield the expected returns.
Well, I can assure you that if things aren’t going as planned, change is the surest way to go. To quote Albert Einstein:
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Your idea is worth nothing and traction is everything
Two years ago, I attended an amazing entrepreneurship conference called Pioneers Festival. One of the speakers was Philipp Moehring from Angelist who gave a prodigious speech on what investors look for when they evaluate your company. In one of his slides, he mentioned this:
This is a ranking of factors when it comes to product evaluation. As you can see, the idea gets -1.
That is something incredibly important to grasp. Your idea, no matter how innovative you think it is, no matter how interesting it sounds in your head, no matter how much research you have put into it, is worth nothing.
If your team is not great, if your execution is not close to perfect, if you haven’t properly identified your niche, if you don’t understand your customer’s needs, the idea is worth nothing.
Which brings us to the most important part when it comes to product and business evaluations: Traction.
If your product is converting, if it is generating revenue and if it is attracting interest, it is a great product.
Do me a favor and watch Shark Tank. You will notice how the eyes of the sharks shine whenever the entrepreneur mentions good numbers in the users acquired or sales accumulated over the past year. Regardless of the industry or type of product.
Great investors know that once your product generates traction and reaches product-market fit, it has the potential to become a gold mine.
The reason I stress the importance of this is because some wannapreneurs have two bad habits:
- Are secretive about their ideas.
- Give insane evaluations to their companies when they are actually worth nothing.
So, the main principle here is that, in the beginning, you have to assume that you know nothing and that your idea is worth nothing.
Now you are more humble and you can make sure that you will focus on the fundamentals of your business.
If someone tells you that branding isn’t important, run away
I have heard people on the Internet suggest that as far as your product is great, your branding doesn’t matter.
This is wrong and dangerous. When someone tells you that, he is either ignorant or he is leaving a lot of money on the table.
The reason is twofold:
- Humans are visual creatures. We are attracted to aesthetically pleasing views and we will always favor something beautiful to something ugly.
- Every successful salesman and marketing person will tell you that most buyers are impulsive. They don’t always buy something because they need it, but more because they are convinced that they need it. Part of that convincing is how the product looks.
That said, I am not suggesting that it is ok for your product to be average and that you should spend most of your time on marketing and branding.
What I suggest, is that you should spend an equal amount of time on creating a great product and on promoting it successfully.
Great branding makes your product look professional and people can trust you easier.
Every product out there has to face competition. Successful branding is one of the surest ways to make your product stand out.
Networking is probably 50% of success
You will hear a lot of people stress out the importance of networking in business success, but you can’t really understand that importance if you don’t experience it first hand.
I am going to demonstrate this importance with a simple analogy. Imagine you are Super Mario. You fight turtles, you spit fire, you eat mushrooms and want to save the princess. At some point, you find a magic star that makes you invulnerable for a small time frame. That magic star is networking.
Without the magic star, you struggle a lot. You face a lot of obstacles and difficulties. You need to try different approaches and tactics in order to reach the end of the game. With the magic star, nobody can touch you. You actually kind of bulldoze your way to success.
Networking allows you to meet the right people and these people feel obliged to help you if you were introduced to them by someone they trust and respect.
Now, this is good in theory but practically it is quite arduous because it requires a lot of effort and great social skills. There are some great books that explain how it is done, like the seminal “Never eat alone” by Keith Ferrazzi, but most of them repeat the same advice:
- Put yourself out there
- “Ping” constantly
- Be generous (buy people drinks, dinners etc.)
- Make it more about them and less about you
- Leverage social media for exposure
In that respect, I want to add one more thing: Do not consider networking unless you have made a lot of progress with your product development.
If you are just starting and you have just an idea, going to networking events is a waste of time. You might listen to some successful people promote their story and you might get some interesting feedback, but you will most probably you will end up disappointed because no one will be interested in you.
Make sure that you focus on creating a great product and once you see the first signs of traction, you will be in a position to promote it.
Work only with people who are professional
Professionalism and delivery will help you stand out. It is absurd how many businesses are leaving money on the table because of their inability to exude professionalism.
You won't stand out in any workplace or industry if you don't deliver. Learn to deliver. It's the most critical skill to possess.
— TheQuintessentialMan (@theQSLman) December 9, 2016
In the trade business I started, our operations are in Greece at the moment. Some of the companies I decided to contact, in order to buy raw material and other services for my product, dumbfounded me with their lack of professionalism. I wanted to make really big orders, way bigger than what they usually get, and instead of treating me with utmost respect they lacked enthusiasm and oftentimes they didn’t even respond to emails. There is nothing worst than that when it comes to business.
Jordan Belford mentions a similar incident in “Straight Line Persuasion System” about a time he visited a Porsche Dealership. He was very excited about buying a new car and when he starting discussing with the dealer he got turned off because he was unable to make him feel sure about what he was buying.
So, if you really want to stand out, make sure to:
- Respond promptly
- Be polite
- Offer competitive prices
When hiring people, do the beer test
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a startup event. Among the presenters was a company that developed a platform that helps consumers find the cheapest price of a product online.
They are a very successful company and they stand out because of their incredible work environment. That, however, didn’t happen to them accidentally. Hiring the right people is a very challenging endeavor and many companies face extreme problems because of that.
What the representative of this company suggests, is that when hiring, you should do the beer test. What this means in simple words is this:
Ask yourself. If you go out for a beer with this person, will you have a good time?
Does this person show empathy? Can they listen? Can they contribute? Are they open minded? How do they handle criticism? Are they eager to learn? Can they stay cool under pressure?
All those are extremely critical and when coupled with a solid work ethic, you found the perfect match for your hire.
On a more politically incorrect note, you might also need to apply some Machiavellian strategies to this process. Machiavelli suggests that overly ambitious people won’t prove loyal in the long run. That is true to some extent. Ambitious people are achievers and if you can’t make sure that they share the same vision and that your success is their success, they won’t stay around for long.
Machiavelli states that the most loyal people are those who enjoy being dependent and work hard with the right incentives. Food for thought.
The beginning is the most difficult part and preparation will save you time
Your beginning will be borderline suffering. You will be really enthusiastic and everything, but once you realize how overwhelming the processes of entrepreneurship can be, you will start having second thoughts.
That’s why, what I suggest to people who have no previous experience in the area, is to invest some time upfront in studying the subject. There are a ton of online courses on entrepreneurship, marketing, sales, management, coding etc. out there. With some much free knowledge, the world is your oyster.
Also, read some great entrepreneurship books to see what others faced before you. My two favorite ones are:
They both focus on technology startups, but the lessons suggested are universal. 1
Before I quit my day job as a business consultant, I spent almost a year reading and studying entrepreneurship. I still didn’t have a good idea of what this new world really is. I understood it when I actually started being “in business.”
However, when you start working on your project, make sure to focus primarily on getting things done. Don’t inundate your schedule with podcasts and blogs and social media. You will lose your ability to focus and your performance will suffer dramatically.
If you have a concrete work ethic in place that is characterized by discipline, flow immersion and time management, everything will work out fine.
Until your launch, everything will be vague and uncertain, but after your launch, you will get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t in order to make the necessary adjustments and corrections.
You will soon realize that after you spend some time “living” your product, you will feel that you “own” its processes and some things will work automatically. This is the best time because it is then when you can actually focus on profitability and sustainability.
Share your journey because that increases engagement
This is a pro tip and something that has helped companies enjoy tremendous growth.
Sharing your journey allows your clients or customers to get an insider’s view of your business. It demonstrates that you are transparent and confident about your product and culture and it makes you look interesting and approachable.
There are many people who have attempted this successfully, but I will mention here the most interesting ones:
Elon Musk is a master at this. In space X for instance, he sells the journey impeccably. Just check out this ad:
Space X emphasizes on the journey. A journey almost everybody wants to take part in.
Additionally, their events are astonishing and the enthusiasm of their followers is palpable.
Gary Vaynerchuk is a social media influencer and motivator with a huge following. I personally find his style a bit obnoxious but he does a great job sharing his journey and simultaneously educating his following on marketing, branding and business matters.
Groove is a great SaaS startup that provides customer service software. Back in 2013 they started sharing their journey. It was something quite innovative at the time, but it helped the company stand out and generate initial traction.
Even the Kardashians do that effectively. You might think that their personalities and attitude are unorthodox and silly, but there are millions of people out there who approve it and enjoy the fact that they can have a sneak peek into their lives.
Personally, I haven’t perfected it yet because my businesses kind of face a conflict of interests, but once I get some things sorted out, I will pay a lot of attention to that part.
Don’t waste time in irrelevant stuff – Always strive for product-market fit
There is usually a huge confusion when people start.
As I mentioned before, there are many things to be done and you oftentimes lose track of what really matters.
There are usually two methods that can determine a great start to your business.
The Japanese method
Japanese people are notorious for their proactivity and preparation. The Japanese method is inspired by the Japanese mentality and suggests that before your launch you should spend significant time making the first version of your product great and your branding professional.
Bear in mind that you should choose that method when you are very confident that your product can stand out. You can evaluate that when you have identified a certain gap in a big market.
Maybe you live in a developing country and you can bring a technology or product that is a big hit elsewhere around the world.
Or maybe you think that the products in a specific market aren’t that competitive and you can build something better.
The beta method
If your idea is something quite innovative, test it in a small segment of the market first.
Find a group of people who might be interested in the idea and pitch it to them.
For instance, go to a subreddit or a forum and ask people what they think about your idea. If you get an overwhelmingly positive response, design a prototype or beta version and give it away for free so people can test it.
If people like it, you have established the potentiality for a great product or service. Now it’s up to your mentality and execution if it will become successful.
It will be the most difficult thing you will ever do in your life
Starting a business is the most difficult but also the most rewarding endeavor you will ever pursue. Get ready for a crazy roller coaster.
— TheQuintessentialMan (@theQSLman) November 30, 2016
It includes risk. It includes losing money. It includes losing friends. It includes losing your mind.
A lot of people will question you, a lot of people will envy you and a lot of people will admire you.
At the end of the day, none of that matters.
The reason you decided to start your own business should be unaffected by external influence. You do it because it is challenging and because it gives your life more meaning. You do it because you want to be the master of yourself and because you want to be in control. You do it because you want to make money and that money can buy you some freedom (at least within the boundaries of a capitalistic landscape).
Be clear about your reasoning. Clear reasoning leads to clarity of intent and this makes your progress smoother.
Those are, in my opinion, the most critical elements to consider when starting a company.
If you want to correct me or add more value to my ideas feel free to comment.
Also, if you want feedback on your idea I am happy to provide some in the comment section below.
Business requires discipline, holistic thinking, soft skills, time management and proper day structure. I discuss all these and even more in the “30 Challenges-3o Days-Zero Excuses” workbook.
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