#1: Thou shalt not piggybacking on someone else’s platform
It is tempting to build a business based upon platforms that already exist in the market, but what happens if/when that platform changes their TOS or ceases to be a rising star?
For instance, if you had developed a product review site for Amazon FBA merchants, what would you do when Amazon banned such reviews and started removing them from product listings?
What do you think will happen if you start building an affiliate marketing channel on Instagram only to have it banned when they start taking an stand against affiliate marketing on their platform?
There will always be risks in the business world, but building a business upon another company’s service might end up coming back to bite you in the end.
#2: Thou shalt over-deliver
There is nothing more annoying than working with people who do sub-par work.
Recently, my wife and I purchased a new house and it seems that everyone we have hired, from roofers, to flooring companies to painters and landscapers operate on a ‘good enough’ basis. I’ve constantly had to stay after them about arrival times, completion dates, quality control and so on. It isn’t limited to tradesmen, the problem extends to the furniture store, the cleaning service and the salesman we recently purchased a new car from.
We’re both reasonable people, but never have we experienced so many businesses that over-promise and under-deliver.
Leaky roof, uneven flooring, painting job that drags on for weeks, no courtesy call to inform us that a table will be delivered over a month late (still not here)…it all adds up to a negative experience, which is a shame because 80% of these businesses were recommended to us by friends, and we wanted to like them.
Needless to say, entrepreneurs cannot afford to be as sloppy with their customers as some employees are.
#3: Thou shalt meet people’s needs
Whatever you do, ensure that there is some spirit of altruism in it.
What I mean is that if you want to be an entrepreneur, you must also fulfill a genuine need in the market. Lots of people go in circles trying to find a business idea because they think in terms of ‘what can this business do for me?’ rather than ‘How can this business serve others?’
Literally anything can be turned into a business.
I’m looking out the window of my home office to my pool. I love my pool. It allows me to stay fit and to spend some fun downtime with my family; however, I do not love cleaning it, and telling from how busy our neigborhood pool guys are, I’m not alone. For about $1500 in equipment someone could easily start up a profitable new pool cleaning business here.
Pools might not be your thing, but the easy way to figure out what business you should start is to ask yourself ‘What do people need?’ A second way of approaching this issue is to ask ‘What can I do a bit better than most people I know?’
You might fear that your special skills are too mundane, but think again, there are loads of people who would benefit greatly from them.
#4: Thou shalt not make thy life about thy business
Once your lifestyle business begins generating a consistent income, you will face a new temptation.
People love to talk about ‘scaling’ a business, which can also be a shortcut to workaholism.
I love talking about business, I’ve spent years on the topic, either academically or practically by starting and running them, but it is surprisingly easy to work so much on your business that it ends up running you. Having good people in your life who can speak the truth to you is worth more than gold. Empower these people by asking them to tell you if they think you are pushing too hard.
#5: Thou shalt try doing something
One of the reasons why so many people remain in the ‘wantrepreneur’ category (those who want to be entrepreneurs) is because their fear of failure paralyzes them.
Yet entrepreneurs fail all the time.
Richard Branson once tried to launch Virgin Cola, for instance.
The only way to find and refine a successful business is to bring it to the marketplace and let the marketplace tell you what it thinks. Sometimes the market loves it, sometimes it doesn’t, but either way, you will never know whether you’ve got a good thing until you do something with it.
#6: Thou shalt mitigate risk
If you have ever seen shows like Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank where people pitch their product to a team of hardened entrepreneurs who suffer no fools, you’ve seen examples of people who spent their life’s savings on developing prototypes, convinced that they had a sure thing.
Needless to say, a number of these hopefuls were left with a worthless product, an empty bank account, and no Plan B.
Physical products are expensive to design and manufacture, so try to get to proof of concept before spending money you cannot afford to lose.
With the advent of 3-D printing and rapid prototyping (Google it, there is probably a company nearby that does this sort of thing), you should be able to get a decent model of your product for under $1,000.
Still, before ordering 10,000 units from China, try to sell your prototype first. Put up a website or offer it on eBay and see if there are any takers. If and/or when someone does try to purchase it, simply tell them that it is not in stock yet, but that you will contact them when it comes in.
Still, think about how you can mitigate the risks before it is too late, because it is awfully difficult to start a new business if you don’t have any money to live on.
#7: Thou shalt niche down
Somewhat corny, but true, the saying that ‘the riches are in the niches’ has a lot to commend it.
When writing a PhD, one is forced to be very, very specific. The reason for this is because it is nearly impossible to write anything meaningful about a broad topic.
Likewise, let’s say you dream of making exercise equipment. Instead of thinking about manufacturing exercise equipment, for instance, why not manufacture exercise equipment for a particular group of people: elderly, wounded veterans, children between the ages of 5-10?
Another benefit of being original in your niche selection is that you will get a lot more free press because your product or service will stand out from the crowd.
#8: Thou shalt make the barriers to entry as high as possible
If you have a good idea, it won’t be long before someone comes along to steal it.
The easier it is for someone to offer your good or service to the world, the more competition will cannibalize your profits. The US learned this with numerous industries when they found that people in the developing world were willing to perform the same jobs for a fraction of the cost.
Bye bye steel/textile/manufacturing/etc industry!
There are thousands of workers in Eastern Europe and Asia who gladly do the very jobs that were once the exclusive domain of countries like America and Britain. Sure, it is expensive to start a steel mill, but when labor costs are low, and you are able to pass along the savings to the customer, it doesn’t take long before buyers take notice.
Just because you are an early mover in an industry does not mean that you have the divine right to dominate the industry for all time.
Perhaps a more down-to-earth example is the way sites like Upwork, and to a lesser extent, Fiverr, have had a similar effect upon people in the software and creative industries.
If someone can easily beat you on price, speed or quality for the same product/service, it is time to distinguish your USP quickly.
#9: Thou shalt sell (or hire someone who can!)
You can have the greatest product or service in the world, but if you don’t know how to get the word out, you will be wasting your time.
Some people are fantastic at selling, they are passionate about the product, they know everything about it and understand how to answer people’s objections without being off-putting. Sales is a learned skill, but it isn’t for everyone. Just because you launched a product or service, you need to have a marketing plan in order to make sales.
While I have acquired hundreds of clients over the years in my business, I’m not terribly keen on doing outbound sales calls.
I’m currently experimenting with training a new employee who has years of sales experience to make those calls on my behalf, at least the initial contact and appointment-setting (I’ll write about it once I have some solid data to determine whether this decision was a good one).
#10: Thou shalt give thyself a pat on the back
Every once in a while we all need to give ourselves a pep talk.
Trying to start your own lifestyle business is a challenging task, full of obstacles and thankless hours of work, not to mention minimal returns while you get it down the runway.
When you are feeling down, remind yourself that it is entrepreneurs that make the world go round, we create and innovate, we bring things to market and improve them until the market responds one way or the other, we employ people and make it our goal to attempt what many people only dream of.
Give yourself a break, Mr or Ms Entrepreneur, because you’re trying to do something truly great with your life.