I haven’t mentioned the business linked in that post in a while because after a burst of initial interest, stuff happened and it did not end up doing well. Usually I just talk about my projects that are profitable, but I have my fair share of failed business ideas, too.
Still, I try to just learn from my mistakes and move on. I can afford to fail a ton because I don’t spend any money on launching businesses, and only as little time as possible.
Time and money are the only two resources you need to get a business off the ground, and if you use these both wisely, you can keep launching until you succeed. Over time I’ve perfected the art of spending less and doing less, and here are the only three things I do now:
Decide what you will sell
Any business needs to begin with an ability to offer something people find valuable.
Start with a skill you have. Then, think of a way to use that skill for other people, either by performing a service for them or creating a product with it.
Services are always valuable, because we love experts. There’s something reassuring about hiring somebody else to solve your problem. Some examples of services I offer:
- I help readers build blogs by setting up their sites on a hosting provider
- I write freelance articles to inform and entertain for various outlets
I think it’s easier to find clients for services. The downside is a service will never be passive income, because you are always trading your time for money while you implement it.
Products, on the other hand, are passive. You only need to create them once, and then you can sell them forever without any extra work. Some examples of products I offer:
- I sell self-published books about fandom blogging and reporting.
- I wrote a workbook of exercises for aspiring fan journalists.
Products take a lot of time up front. I spent two years writing Otaku Journalism (while doing other things), and I had to hope that would pay off later. Even so, my products are not as profitable as my services, and that’s still something I’m working on.
Create a minimum viable product
Once you’ve got an idea for a business, it’s time to come up with the smallest possible iteration of it that you can implement as quickly and painlessly as possible. Think small. You can think up an MVP in an afternoon. Be sure to consider:
- Who would want to buy this product or service?
- How long it takes you to execute this service/create this product?
- Which parts of this plan can be automated?
Let’s take my friend Bree’s business, Geek & Prosper, as an example of what to do. Bree started with an audience—geeks who want to turn their interests into businesses. She came up with a sixty-minute itinerary for coaching geek businesspeople. And then, she automated the process with PayPal, so the client only has to click a button to register and pay.
To create a minimum viable product, all Bree really needed to do was create a sales page and wait for people to sign up—only then, after she received payment, does she need to get to work researching her client and coming up with a personalized coaching session for them. So she never does any work until she is already getting paid.
Meanwhile, Otaku Journalism is a good example of what not to do because I put a lot of time and money into it up front. I didn’t have an audience in mind, really—I just wanted to write the guide I wish I had when I was starting out (a better option would have been to poll my readers or offer a free preview and see how many people were interested). It took me years of on-again, off-again work to finish it, because I wasn’t confident people would even buy it. I spent $300 on commissioning a cover illustration, and another $600 on getting the book professionally edited. Needless to say it took more than a year before I even broke even!
I corrected my mistakes with Build Your Anime Blog. I wrote it in just two months, I had previously polled my readers and knew there was interest, and I did not get the book edited, instead asking some close friends to beta read it and tell me if they saw errors. I did still pay for a professional cover illustration, but this time, I made back my payment in one month!
Think to yourself: what’s the minimum amount of unpaid work you’ll need to do to get this idea off the ground? Then, that’s all you should do. Later, if the idea is profitable, you can get a professional web designer, or a fancy logo, and all that other icing on the cake.
Tell people about it inexpensively.
You don’t need to spend a lot to tell a lot of people about your new business. You can get a domain name for like $15. You can start a site on a free hosting provider. Most social media sites, including the ones people actually use, are free.
I would also focus on ways for people to engage with your new business that don’t cost them any money, either. I rarely recommend Kickstarter or Patreon to brand new projects, because I think you need to already have an audience before you ask people to put money down up front for your offerings. If you don’t already have fans asking you stuff like “Why don’t you have a Patreon I can donate to?” (the way Bobduh did), then you don’t have an audience big enough.
Sometimes the best way to tell people about a new business isn’t even a website, but an even cheaper alternative—email. You can write to former professors, former clients, friends and family, and anyone you think might be interested or know somebody who might be interested in your new business. I was amazed to recently read an article about a woman who booked out her copywriting business for a year by sending about 40 emails to her contacts.
I do a hybrid approach where my mailing list subscribers are usually the first to hear about whatever new thing I’m doing through an email. Generally, marketers say that a 4% return rate is a success. Since Otaku Journalist has 500 subscribers, I know I probably have a viable idea if around 20 people seem interested in it. Yes, that few.
I say that if you get even three buyers, then cool, you have a profitable new side income. If it flops then whatever, you spent a minimal amount of time and money. And you learned a lot about what skills you can (or can’t) market, what you like (or don’t like) selling, and what audience you have (or don’t have) that will help you try again.