Do you have what it takes?
This is a HUGE challenge for many wanna-be and gonna-be entrepreneurs.
Embracing the entrepreneurial mindset — and all that means…
So you can start making money like an entrepreneur — instead of an employee.
But dealing with the VERY REAL danger that your business idea won’t float, and that your attempts at making it big are going to instead put you in the poor-house.
This gets even worse if you’re not some young twenties kid who is in a spot in life where you can risk it all…
All the time and ambition in the world…
Without the responsibilities…
I’ve been there…
Yes, I was still young when I launched my business and walked out of my last job for the last time.
But I had a wife finishing up grad school with a very small stipend for the next 18 or so months…
My oldest son was 9 months old at the time…
We had a mortgage to pay…
And we had some big expenses coming, with a move across the country in our near future.
I had to make it work. I had to succeed.
But luckily, I was already doing what I’m going to tell you about in today’s article on how to get started as an entrepreneur without risking it all. So I was in good shape.
And you can be, too…
It’s Mailbox Monday…
Which means today’s article is in response to YOUR most pressing questions on marketing, copywriting, internet business-building, selling, life, and more…
To have your question answered in an upcoming issue, submit it here.
Here’s today’s question…
My biggest challenge right now is entering the entrepreneurial mindset. After all, it is this one thing that separates the risk takers from the rest of us — the ability to believe it can be done and the confidence that enough is known or knowable to ease the transition from money earner to money creator.
I’m wondering whether the Small Business Administration would be a good choice to investigate the viability of business opportunities. If you choose to address this question or examine how the modern-day entrepreneur uses technology to vet business ideas I would find that very helpful.
Thanks either way!
First things first, entrepreneurship and risk are NOT the same thing…
As I mentioned above, when I quit my job in early 2010, I had to make it work.
But I also already knew I would.
I’d actually gone through the riskiest part of launching my business, and come out on the other side.
Here’s what I mean…
When I discovered copywriting in 2005, I KNEW I wanted to work on my own as a direct response copywriter. I knew I wasn’t fit for cubicle work, and that was a clear way out.
But, I also knew that with zero experience, I didn’t stand much of a shot.
So instead, I got a marketing job. 9-to-5, punching the clock, reporting to a boss. It was a pretty good job, at a pretty good company. It was also small and entrepreneurial, so I could find my fit and then make what I wanted of the position.
And that’s what I did. I did a ton of marketing, including stuff that was not direct response. But I did everything I could to start learning. And importantly, to earn a paycheck while I kept learning on the side.
So nights and weekends, I studied marketing. I got better. I learned more. Principles, strategies, techniques, and tactics. I was trying them at work, but then I decided to do more.
So in my off-time, I got a few copywriting clients. Nothing huge. But enough to get experience. And I built my freelancer reputation slowly as I also kept my bills paid with my full-time job.
That went on for 5 years.
Getting better, getting clients, getting a reputation, all while working full-time.
Until finally things came to a head.
By late 2009, I knew we’d be moving across the country within 12 months.
It was unlikely I’d find a better gig in Ames, Iowa, where we were going to live for a year.
And so I knew it was time.
By this time I’d done a few projects. I’d had a few clients. And we’d built up some savings, in part from this extra work.
So I figured it was time.
So I ramped up my freelance work. Got more clients. Booked more projects. Until I was so busy with freelance work that I could quit and basically maintain my income.
It wasn’t about being willing to risk things.
I actually avoiding risk in a big way.
I was afraid to take a big, dumb risk.
That’s why I waited so long.
And that’s why I worked so hard to be fully ready (and have my business be fully ready) when I did actually need to move into 100% entrepreneurship.
You, too, can be a “chicken entrepreneur!”
One of my favorite business writers is Mark Ford, under his pen name Michael Masterson.
I’ve frequently recommended his book Ready, Fire, Aim as one of the books every entrepreneur needs to read.
But in another book — Seven Years to Seven Figures — he discusses the concept of a “chicken entrepreneur.”
And I’ll note, Mark used this very principle to get started as an entrepreneur, and now sits at the top of a billion-dollar-plus business empire (not exclusively, but he’s a partner in one shape or another).
Here’s Mark’s thinking from an old Early to Rise article: “While I’m all for taking on a limited amount of risk, I’m not about to recommend that you jump ship in the hopes that you can build a raft while struggling to stay afloat.”
That’s a great image. The time to built a life raft is not after you’ve jumped off the ship. The time to build it is long before you need it. So when you eventually need (or want) to jump ship, you’re able to do it with reasonable confidence things will be okay.
And I’ll note: my personal story involved selling consulting and copywriting services, and working a marketing job that was a stepping stone toward that business.
Yours doesn’t have to be.
You just have to get something going on the side. Sell one thing. Then the next. Then the next. Get movement. Then momentum.
It doesn’t matter what else you’re doing. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing in your “day job.” (Or night job, for that matter.)
Just do what you have to do to make ends meet.
Preferably, build yourself a cushion of at least 3 to 6 months’ expenses for when you make the leap. (More is better.)
Reduce your expenses as much as you can, so you can afford to live leaner if you have to.
But mostly, focus on doing whatever you can to get the business rolling while you’re not relying on it.
Test the idea in the market. Figure out if one person will buy. Then figure out if more than one will buy. Then figure out if you can learn to sell at a profit.
This isn’t the Silicon Valley model. It’s not the story you see in movies. But it’s the most reliable way to start a business.
Just get it going, working hard in your off-hours, to get traction and momentum.
Remove the risk by proving the business before you need to make a living from it.
Then, once you’ve actually created a side business that’s able to sustain you on the level of your job and you’ve got a few months’ expenses in savings as backup, THEN you launch with minimized risk and maximum chance of success.
Some notes in response to the sub-questions asked above…
First, I don’t really believe in the Small Business Administration…
It’s not terrible, and it has a niche, I’m sure.
But here’s the thing.
NOBODY can tell you if a business will work, but the market.
Others can give you opinions.
And the more businesses they’ve started, the more likely it is they’ll have an accurate sense of if the business will work or not.
(Most people in the SBA are government employees and not serial entrepreneurs though, which makes their advice on this topic suspect.)
But ultimately, the ONLY way you’ll figure out if a business will work is to go out there and try to sell whatever product or service it is that you want to offer.
If you can’t sell it, the business won’t work. If you can sell it, the business might work.
How to evaluate markets…
The first principle to consider is that people will tend to buy more of what they’re already buying.
By that I mean, if you want to write a best-seller, you probably shouldn’t choose an out-of-the-way genre with almost no books for sale in the bookstore. Rather, you find the top genres represented on the best-seller list, figure out what those books have in common (including how they’re sold), and try to do those things in your own unique way.
If there’s a market spending a lot of money to solve a problem, and you can provide a unique solution to that problem, you can probably sell your solution. And often, your solution doesn’t have to be that unique.
So the first thing to consider is whether there’s already people buying something like you want to offer.
Beyond that, you can look at things like accessibility of media (can you buy ads targeting the market, are there lists of buyers available, and so on) and ease of entry (e.g. regulated markets can be harder to start in, especially using the “chicken entrepreneur” strategy).
There are more complete methods to evaluating markets, as well. Ryan Levesque, in particular, has made this a core part of much of what he does for the last few years. His most recent book, Choose, is all about this. Now, it’s still on my reading list — I haven’t gotten to it yet. But my experience with him personally, his other book, Ask, plus all the other positive reviews give me confidence that I can recommend it before I’ve read it.
The big thing?
Find a group of people with a big problem they want to have solved, and that they are ready, willing, and able to invest in solutions to the problem.
Match your solution to their problem, and test it.
Do this while taking on as little risk as possible.
Don’t buy into the mainstream hype that you have to take on big risk and a leap into the unknown to become an entrepreneur.
Find a way — any way — to start small and build your reputation.
Then as the interest and demand for your product or service grows, transition to it, until your business is the centerpiece of what you’re doing.
Then, you can achieve that breakthrough and start making money like an entrepreneur — without ever risking it all.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,