10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting an Online Business
You’ve day-dreamed of starting your own business.
And why not?
It’s amazing because you’ll never have to put up with awful office politics. You’ll feel like a powerhouse.
You’ll blur the lines between work and play, and although you will be working more hours than a 9-5 job, you’ll love every second of it.
And here’s another cool thing: Once you start your own business, you’ll never go back to the job-hunting scene. Ever.
Does that send your heart racing? Tickle your fancy?
But here’s the thing: Everyone’s got an entrepreneurial idea – whether it’s a new app that will take off or a shopping website that will blow customers’ minds away.
While these are great goals to have, here’s some harsh truth:
Ideas don’t mean a thing. Unless you convert them into something more tangible.
Your business is that something. It’s real, it’s living, it’s thriving.
There’s a ton of advice of what you should and should not do as you start a new online venture. Whom to believe? Where to start?
Four and a half years ago, I had the same questions that kept me up all night. So I did ton of research, applied all the wrong moves and course-corrected, researched, applied some more and so on.
(Hint: Don’t spend hours on the marketing forums. That’s a time-suck for sure.)
Long story short, back then, I had no idea to know whether my action steps were any good. No roadmap to follow. No clue about options that could have made my life easier.
Like they say, you don’t know what you don’t know.
If you’re starting your own business, here’s a letter I wrote myself that will save you the heartache and money. Steal it. Please.
Dear Four-and-a-Half-Years-Younger Me:
So you’re starting a new business. Good for you! You’re going to love every moment. Well, almost.
But don’t haste. Here’s a list of things to follow. Treat this as a prophecy. It WILL come true.
1. Every Little Action Counts
As a new business owner, you’re thinking big results.
That’s good – but don’t forget the power of small steps.
Because even slow progress is progress.
So ease up a bit and take small, effective action steps. Shuffling paper, checking your Google Analytics stats and speaking on phone may appear as effective, but most of the times, you’re better off doing something else.
That something else is “effective action” – you put your 100% at the task in hand. You shut down your browser windows, you log out of Facebook and you quiet your smartphone notifs.
When in doubt, ask: Can I lose myself in this task and feel proud about it?
If the answer is No, stop and find a more effective action task. Don’t worry, you’ll find ample because your to-do list is over-flowing.
2. Be Super-Productive on Fridays
In a perfect world, you’d never work weekends.
As an entrepreneur though, it’s hard to paint a black and white picture of your work schedule.
Still, it’s a no-brainer to take some days off. But how?
Be super-productive on Fridays. If there’s any backlog of work from the week, tick it off before your workday ends and weekend begins, which means before Friday evening.
It’s hard to relax if you have procrastinated on some important tasks. You feel guilty and unproductive, and your work sneaks into your weekend.
Get into a habit of making your Fridays super-productive.
3. Build a Relationship – One at a Time
Know the number one rule of networking?
First, seek to help.
Met someone on a forum, LinkedIn, or in the comment section of a blog? Learn more about this person. Get curious about them and their business. It’s a harmless, genuine goal.
Then add value by sharing a useful article or a tweak, or give feedback. They may or may not do business with you, but that’s irrelevant.
4. Keep a Tab on How Leads Find You
Right now, you don’t care how leads come to you. You’re happy to have their business and in your kid-in-a-candy-shop-like excitement, you forget to ask a simple yet powerful question.
Where did you find out about me?
This is pretty critical in your marketing mix.
After all, if you don’t keep a tab of your best channels, how are you supposed to leverage them?
Keep an excel sheet listing out who found you where: Was it a referral? Was it via LinkedIn? Was it through a networking meetup? Did Google send them to your website?
The 80-20 rule applies – 80% of your revenue will come from 20% of sources, so naturally you pay special attention to these channels and spend more time marketing on them.
Trust me, having that kind of knowledge about your sources is gold. If it’s not obvious or you can’t figure it out yourself, ask your clients where they learned about you.
Business and analysis go hand in hand, so it’s smart to monitor all your business data in one place with tools such as Cyfe.
5. Start an Email List – Pronto!
You still don’t have an email list? You must really hate money. Tsk tsk.
Wait, you have an email list but you’re not sending regular juicy content, and helping your prospects live a little better life with each message? You’re leaving a lot on table.
Start an email list from day zero.
Jon Morrow suggests that before you even launch a blog, you can have a “coming soon” page and capture leads. You don’t have to do anything fancy – just installing a free theme like LaunchEffect will do.
Set up an autoresponder series for your leads and share great content. A good practice is to send three content-based emails for one promo/sales-based email.
Offer a freebie (also known as a Lead Magnet) in exchange for their email. Do this, pronto!
6. Invest in Yourself
That $250 course by the genuine online marketer? Snag it. It will take you places.
That monthly blogging membership course from a problogger? Yes, take that too.
When it comes to investing in yourself, trust your gut instinct about the “guru”.
7. Done is Better than Perfect
Stop mulling indefinitely, create it already! It will take discipline, time and focus, but it will be worth it.
Yes, that includes your Kindle books and the membership website.
8. Be Prompt with Email Responses
Be prompt with enquiries. If someone sends you an online enquiry, reply as soon as you see it.
This person is desperate for help, and they most likely sent the same inquiry to other providers.
The provider who responds first, initiates a conversation and gets the business. Be that person.
Replying the next day is a dumb move.
9. Don’t Compare Yourself with Those Who’ve Started Five Years Before
It is futile. For starters, you’ll compare the wrong things and your weak points with their best.
Comparison will rob you of focus, motivation and joy.
Lastly, it’s hard to stop it once you start.
A better alternative? Put your head down and get to work. Quit comparing.
10. Start with Service and Move toward Products (Passive Income)
In the beginning, you will have more time than money.
So start with a service. Get acquainted with your client base and get better at your craft.
Sure, it will take more time because you will be working with one client at a time, but you will learn tons about their deepest pain points and biggest aspirations.
You’ll walk a mile in their shoes. You’ll get the power of personal touch. You’ll understand the nuances of customer service.
Keep perfecting your service. Then, launch a product.
Of course, we both know there could be a bazillion things that could go wrong – but when in doubt, go to #7. Start somewhere. And you’ll be fine.
What lessons have you learned from starting your own business? Tell us in the comments!
Image by Ed Yourdon.
Featured photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/via flickr.com
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