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3 Critical Lessons No One Will Tell You About What to Start For Your First Business

I’m often asked by people about what business to get in to.  “I want to start a business but I don’t know what business to start”.  It’s worth taking a lesson from Richard Branson’s book here, businesses are disposable you’ll let them go when they no longer serve you the focus is about the people and in this case investing in yourself.

See if you go into business not concerned so much about that particular business but taking a long term view of learning to make business successful then you’ll buy yourself the freedom to go into all the businesses you want in the future.

It’s not glamourous, it’s not get rich quick, but it’s real taking a long term view will give you a better life than you ever imagined, you’ll be far less likely to be disappointed when you struggle, and you’ll be able to dramatically reduce the risk of starting something of your own.

“Who’s going to pay for the learning curve” – very wealthy businessman and investor to his ex-girlfriend when she announced she wanted to start a juice bar business.

To her the statement came across as cold but the cold hard fact is we all have a learning curve when we get into something new and there’s a cost, usually a very major one to that learning curve.  If you think college, university, or some paid training are expensive try making mistakes in real life and measure what they cost.

With that in mind I’ve learned some very critical lessons I wish I’d followed when I was getting into business that would have saved me tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and accelerated my success DRAMATICALLY!


Lesson #1 – Business consists of two parts you need to learn both to succeed

What is business all about?  It’s about selling something and then delivering on it.

Most people who are getting started in business think of the business in terms of what you are delivering.  For example, it’s a yoga business, a book business, a shoe company, a supplement company, an engineering firm, etc.  Because that’s the part we mostly see and care most about as customers we tend to think of business as being the product or service being sold and this is a great detriment to the success of a new small business owner.

Pop quiz in most cases is it harder to sell something or deliver on what you sell?  For most small businesses the answer is selling.  Don’t believe me?  Go ask virtually any small business owner what do they have a shortage of?  Customers or ability to deliver to those customers?  Most of the time you’ll find their struggle is to get more customers if they had more they could provide for them.

There are exceptions of course, those who have figured out the sales and marketing equation and those are the businesses that are successful.

Statistically, something like 80% of small businesses fail mostly because they go into it thinking only about the delivery and not about the selling.

By contrast you could start a business that is identical to another in terms of what it delivers but different in terms of how it sells it and have that business thrive.

Richucation Hint – When looking to start a business pay attention to how you’re going to sell the product/service



Lesson #2 – Starting a business is going to be a learning experience your first goal should be to decrease the cost of that learning experience.

Here’s another stat the typical small business doesn’t make money for the first 3 years.  Crazy right?  That’s mostly because they haven’t figured out the sales and marketing equation.

But let’s take that information and backtrack for a minute.

Let’s assume it will take you 3 years to learn enough to actually make money in the small business…or let’s say it takes a year to build momentum regardless so it will take 2 years to learn what you need to know.  This is fairly reasonable.

What does this mean?

It means you’re paying whatever your expenses are each money for 2 years!  This is the cost of your learning curve.  Your monthly expenses multiplied by 24 months.  Possibly longer.

So if that’s the case do you want to start a business where you’ve got expensive retail space and a lease costing you $20,000/mo.?  Or do you want to start a business based from home where you’ve got no lease?  Do you want 10 staff on payroll from day 1 costing you $30,000/mo.?  Or do you want to be a sole operator maybe with one other person?  Do you want to be paying interest on a $250,000 loan or do you want to start debt free?

Consider that cost of your education.  If your monthly expenses are $50,000 vs $5000 then the cost of your education (how much you lose before you start to make money and consequently how much of a hole you have to dig yourself out of is $1.2 million vs $120,000).

In other words, when you’re starting your first business you want to minimize your monthly expenses or what are called your “burn rate” as much as possible.  Later, once you’ve learned what you’re doing you’ll probably end up with a high burn rate and a fair amount of staff in order to scale and make a lot more money but at this stage you want to keep lean…you don’t want 5 or 10 people sitting around while you’re learning…you and your mentors or coaches are the only people you want sitting during that stage.

What’s worse and partially takes people out in business is as we mentioned 80% of businesses fail.  So imagine you put in that time with that expensive learning curve only to have the business fail and then what was all that expense for?

It goes further do you think a business losing $50,000/mo. is more or less likely than a business losing $5000/mo. to fail?

Richucation Hint – consider your first business your education for your second and stay lean while learning


Lesson #3 – You can get away without learning delivery but not without learning sales and marketing

Remember how I said earlier that you needed to learn both sides?  That’s not entirely true, to go to the highest level it’s true but when getting started you can get by without knowing much about the delivery side.

Remember how I said most businesses are starved for customers but have no problems delivering to those customers?  Well if you got to virtually any company and offer to send them customers they will pay you for this.  You should make sure you negotiate a good deal for each customer but the point is they’ll pay you.  Literally, businesses will line up for you to send them customers.

By contrast if you’ve got some product or service you can deliver are there people lining up to sell it for you?  No!  Not a chance.  Why?  Because people who know how to sell are mostly selling their own stuff or selling the premiere providers on the market, which is why if you focus on delivery you’ve still got to learn sales and marketing but if you learn sales and marketing you don’t necessarily have to learn delivery.

Now let’s put this in the context of lesson #2 about minimizing the learning cost.

How long will the learning curve be if you have to learn 2 things vs 1 thing?  Theoretically twice as long.  So let’s say of that 2 year learning curve 1 year is spent learning delivery and another is spent learning sales and marketing…now imagine you only had to learn sales and marketing…your learning curve (the amount of time you spend losing money) just dropped from 2-3 years to 1 year.

If you’re spending $5000/mo. that means your cost of learning (the hole you need to dig yourself out of once you start making money) just went from $120k-$180k down to $60k maybe less.  Is that a good thing?  You bet it is!

In other words, yes at some point you’d like to start all your dream businesses maybe you imagine one in gardening and one in architecture and one in fashion and one in media but none of those will succeed without good sales and marketing whereas virtually any of them can succeed with really good sales and marketing.  So learning sales and marketing first is your ticket to freedom.

So how do you do this?

Think of a product or service you already use and already love…ideally one that isn’t already incredibly well marketed.  Now, approach the company that provides they product or service to sell on their behalf.  Almost any company will take you that’s the great part.

Think of how wonderful this is.  You get to promote something you already know is good because you use it, vs having to worry about mastering creating and delivering the product, hiring and managing staff, providing customer service, dealing with warrantees and returns, inventory, theft, etc.  All of those problems are out of your mind and you’re free just to learn to promote something you love and the moment you make your first sale you’ll make money.  It might not be enough initially to cover your costs but you’re already ahead of the game whereas if you were delivering your own product or service you’d still be busy figuring out what to call it, how to design the logo, hiring the customer service staff, figuring out how to train them, getting the phone lines and website set up, etc.

I’m not a huge fan of MLM or network marketing but this is the advantage of those business models.  You don’t have to worry about product development, manufacturing, quality control, inventory, shipping, returns, customer service, invoicing, etc.  All of that is taken care of for you and you just focus on selling, building a team, and training to replicate.  What we’re suggesting you do here is similar but with much higher margins, which makes making money faster much easier.  In other words, instead of getting $5 for every $100 sale you get $30 for every $100 sale.

Be sure you don’t just accept the first offer of what they want to give you to sell their product they’ll be inclined to throw out a number like 10% or something like that.  Generally, you want much higher and you ideally want a residual on the value of the customer as well or some way to get the customer’s repeat orders to come through you but that isn’t always possible.  If you can get it you’ll start to build a residual income that will buy you long term freedom of your time even without needing a team because the company with the product or the service is your team and they’ve got a vested interest in your success.

Richucation Hint – find a product or service you love and sell it as your first business


Can you do otherwise?  Certainly, you can start something from scratch inventing a product, you can build your own store, try to do it all from the beginning, etc.  But that’s a short sited approach and will give you a lot more risk and cost you a lot more money.  If you take this approach then once you’re selling one thing successfully you can expand to sell another, then another and so on and eventually add your own products or sell it all under your own brand.  Think about a company like Amazon.  They make very few of their own products mostly they are just a great brand selling the products of others.


What’s The Best Way To Make Money?

I’ve been following a lot of online forums lately about internet marketing and how to make money online.  Over and over again I hear a similar question asked “what’s the best way to make money/make money online?”  This is typically followed by a litany of options such as “blogging, affiliate marketing, article marketing, creating an info product, a membership site, etc.”  I hear similar options thrown out in other fields such as “MLM, real estate, forex, trading stocks, etc.”  This is an atrocious place to start the conversation and these people are likely to be unsuccessful.  I thought I’d give a brief guide on where you should be looking to get the optimal results.

First, start by realizing that there is only one way to make money and that’s by selling something be it your time, your product, someone else’s product, eye balls, someone else’s time or product, etc.  The bottom line is the focus of making money needs to be on selling.  Every successful business is a sales organization, always and without exception.  So, for example, blogging or writing a book or article marketing won’t make you any money.  Selling a blog, or selling a book, or selling articles, or selling advertising will make you money potentially.  The starting question then is “what are you going to sell?”

Quick interjection here, some people might believe the initial question is “who are you going to sell it to?”  In building a marketing campaign that’s accurate but fundamentally you need something to sell before you can decide who to sell it to.  It is possible to look at a market find a gap in that market and fill it and understanding your market is critical but understanding your market won’t make you money, only selling something will make money.

So what to sell?  Understand that expertise adds value now and forever, in other words the best things for you to sell are things you’re an expert in and you might not be an expert in anything right now.  If that is the case you need to develop some expertise and the best thing to develop expertise in is something you’ve got a pre-existing interest in.  Trying to pick something you care nothing for and trying to become an expert in it can work but generally isn’t advisable because it can crush your motivation.

This area of interest will determine the industry/market you’ll be entering for example magic, or health, or dating, etc.  Generally, the more specific the better, though you can become too specific and consequently narrow your market so it’s too small.  Don’t be concerned about being too narrow initially just pick an area you have an interest in and have expertise or develop expertise, you can always widen later.

You might be asking doesn’t building expertise take a long time?  Yes, it does, this isn’t an overnight process it’s going to take learning but it’s going to be worth it long term.  There are lots of people trying to make money overnight, most of those people end up going broke fast, be committed to long term success and you’ll do much better the whole way along.

Having identified your market or industry you’ll be faced with “what do you sell within this market space?”  Here you need to recognize that you can sell anything, but what you sell will affect your lifestyle choices.  To quote Tim Ferris from “The 4 Hour Work Week” “I was sick of services and needed a product to sell”.  The message here is selling different things might be possible but each has consequences.  For example, if you were going to sell advertising then the key would be to produce a steady stream of content to attract an audience, which is what the advertisers will pay for, examples might be news, blogs, podcasts, online videos, etc.  If you’re going to sell services you might find you’re geographically restricted and you have to be present to deliver the service.  If you’re selling products you might have to physically purchase and ship them (though you could resell someone else’s products and use drop shipping), if you sell information you can deliver it easily electronically with virtually no capital investment required but the average dollar sale is typically lower.  Long term you’ll probably want to expand into multiple areas to maximize your assets but you need to start somewhere and where that is will depend on what resources you have available and what lifestyle you’re pursuing.  Typically the fastest easiest way to make larger amounts of money is by selling services, this is because your time adds value not found in other areas and each sale can be worth quite a lot.  Selling advertising takes a while because you need to build an audience so isn’t great if you want money quickly.  Selling products often requires up front capital so isn’t good for those who don’t have capital.  This means for most people getting started selling information, or services, or selling for someone else (affiliate) tend to be best because you can lower the capital required to get started and decrease the cycle time (services and affiliate sales are the fastest cycle time).

A quick note about being an affiliate, often people jump into this and they can make money at it, but the best way to do it is to be an affiliate for something in a field where you have an interest and expertise.  For example, what do you buy?  The reason this is helpful is because many people will get into a business only to discover what they are promoting isn’t that great and they have to invest in changing whereas if you have expertise you can promote what’s best and you’ll build sustainability, which offers better returns and is easier to promote.

The situation is a little more complex than this though, to make money at something you need to be able to not just sell it but sell it profitably.  What this means is your costs need to be low enough relative to what you’re selling it for that you’re keeping some of the money you bring in.  For many people this is the hardest part, anyone can make sales, but to make sales profitably is quite another matter.  This is part of the reason being an expert and selling something outstanding is helpful because it will make it easier to sell and potentially allow you to sell it for a premium but you still need sufficiently high margins to make it worthwhile.  Look for products where what you’re getting for selling them is higher for example say you’re acting as an affiliate for internet hosting services.  Yes, you want to select the best one, but you also want to select ones that will pay you well and that tend to convert well.

You also need to look for something where you can make repeat sales; this is where building a list comes in.  Understand this, virtually all the profit in business is made off repeat business.  The costs to get the customer to buy the first time will almost always eat up virtually all of your profit on that first sale, so long as you’re breaking even or slightly profitable on that first sale you’re in a good situation…assuming you can make subsequent sales to them because your cost to make those sales will be much lower.  In other words look for something to sell where you can get them to come back and buy something else, there’s very little money in one time sales and you have to be good at it to make it work.

There’s something else, your fastest, easiest, cheapest sales will come from people in your immediate circle, so pick something to sell that might appeal to people within that circle, it will give you someplace to start and build from.  This can apply to any area, products your friends buy, subjects your friends are interested in (in the case of providing news, information, etc.), or services your friends (or their friends) want or need.

That’s as good a start as any:

  • Focus on what you’re going to sell
  • Pick an area you have expertise in or develop expertise in an area you’re interested in
  • Sell something that supports you where you’re at and where you want to go
  • Sell something with good margins so you can do so profitably
  • Build a list and sell something where you can have repeat sales
  • Sell something your existing circle is interested in to kick start the process if possible

You’ll notice we haven’t talked about whether you should blog or article market or use PPC or social media or solo ads or print or direct sales, etc.  Those things all come later once you’ve got these fundamentals established.  Once you have those fundamentals established you look to answer the question “where are my most profitable buyers?” and then invest in marketing to them through those channels using compelling offers.  Test and measure what’s working, correct and continue.  That’s the formula.  For example, if you’ve decided to sell an information product on rose bush care you might do keyword research to see if people are searching for anything related, test it with PPC and then do SEO.   On the other hand maybe they aren’t searching for it and so you need to look at guest blogging on related blogs for people who love gardening, or get in the media, etc.  You need to do that research after you’ve determined what you’re going to sell and in fact you don’t even need to have anything to sell in order to do that research.

One of the best things you can do is test your assumptions by doing market research prior to producing the product to make sure there is sufficient demand.  This again is where going for something you’re interested in and some people in your immediate social circle are interested in is helpful because that proves there’s at least some demand probably fairly reasonable demand if you know 5-10 people who are interested because that’s a pretty significant percentage of the total people you know.

Start there and then come back to us for the next steps.  Contact us with any questions you might have by clicking “Ask a Business Question” in the lower right of the screen.