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Kick-start Your Own Business

Saturday, December 17th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

Download MP3: business.mp3

Today I'm going to give you some tips on how to kick-start your own business.

Several years ago, my wife and I attended one of those Tony Robbins seminars. This was in a very large hotel ballroom, with about 1,500 people in the audience. One of the activities Tony had us do was play a group game of simon says. So it was an elimination match of simon says, where Tony was playing the role of simon. Now, if you're not familiar with the game of Simon says, it's basically a childhood game where this character named Simon—who's the supposed adult in the room—tells all the children what to do. You're supposed to do whatever Simon asks you do as long as he begins it with the words "Simon says." If he says, "Simon says raise your arm," you're supposed to raise your arm. Anything he tells you to do without saying "Simon says", you're not supposed to do. You're supposed to ignore it.

So, Tony created a bunch of additional rules too, to make the game a bit trickier. As we played this game, in a room of 1,500 people, I ended up being one of two finalists. Tony had me and this other finalist guy up on stage, and for a few minutes he tried to trick us unsuccessfully. Eventually, I think Tony realized that he was using too much time on this game, so he decided to speed things along. He told both of us using "Simon says," to face each other and stick out our tongues—and move closer and closer together, to see who would flinch first. Well, that was one contest where I was exceedingly proud of my second place finish.

Unfortunately my wife wasn't able to witness my glorious on-stage appearance that night because she was at home nursing second degree burns that she actually experienced the day before, on the fire walk. During those few minutes I was up on the stage looking over the sea of peple, I thought to myself,'I could do this.' It was kind of nice being up there in front of such a big audience. I thought to myself, 'I could be a professional speaker.' In fact, Tony had me so motivated from that seminar, I went right out and did absolutely nothing...for six years. But, if anyone asks, it's from the emotional scarring I received from that tongue incident.

Finally in 2004, I eventually got my personal development business kick-started, and although I haven't done any paid speaking yet, I'm already earning enough money as a professional communicator to earn a decent living. What I want to do is share with you three simple pieces of advice I sort of learned through this process—since this is the second business I've actually started—to give you some ideas to kick-start your own business, especially a home-based business, that you might want to run part-time, if you haven't already done so.

Piece of advice number one: Work from your strengths.

One of my key strengths is that I happen to be multilingual. I'm actually fluent in over a dozen different languages. Of course, only one of them happens to be spoken by human beings, but that's ok, because there are probably more computers in the world than people. See, instead of seeing my geekiness and the fact that I know a number of different programming languages as a weakness in being a communicator with human beings, I actually turn around and exploit it as an asset. I see it as a strength. Now, I may not be able to put on a seminar right now like Tony Robbins can, but I can jump on emerging technology, like blogging or podcasting, far faster than other professional speakers can. That gives me an opportunity to build an audience. Not just a local audience, but a global one.

See, the world is full of technology consultants and personal development speakers, but there aren't too many tech-savvy personal development speakers. In fact, most of the ones I've met happen to be very technophobic. I've been very successful with that approach. It's working very well for me. I'm already generating some income from it, and being able to make a living from this, after being at it for just fourteen months. Many other professional speakers who get started take an approach that takes them much, much longer to make a sustainable living from it. They apply the same strategy that everyone else is doing, so they're competing on everyone else's strengths, but not their own. So, the key is, when you want to kick-start your own business, figure out what your strength is—and it doesn't have to be a unique strength—but what is your strength? Consider how that strength can give you some unique opportunitites.

Also think about what minor talents you have that could become major strengths if you were to develop them. See, if you're just starting out right now, in your twenties—maybe you're in college or fresh out of college, or you're even younger than that, maybe in high scool—you may not have developed very strong abilities, in certain areas, that can be commercialized, that can be used to generate income for you. That's ok. But you probably have some suspicion of what you could become really good at if you were to apply yourself. See, when I started out running this type of personal development business, I didn't believe I was at the pinacle of where I would be, but I had a sense that I could get really good at this area. This is a field where, if I applied myself, I figured I could definitely be one of the best in the world at—especially when I think forward, ten years, twenty years, fifity years...along these lines. By applying myself, by working from my strengths, I have certain advantages that can work in the long run. So if you don't know what your strengths are, take the time to develop them. And if you can't think of anything, you just need to go out and live a little bit more. Experiment, figure out what you are good at. Especially if you're in your early twenties, don't force yourself to try to come up with some major great strength right away. You may not have developed one yet. Start experimenting and see what you enjoy and see what you could become good at if you wanted to. The seed of what you could become good at is what you enjoy most.

The second piece of advice is to go with your gut. Learn to trust your instincts. When I first joined Toast Masters International, and I told people that I wanted to go into professional speaking, I got lots of advice on how to do it. Then I went around and did the exact opposite. It's not that it was bad advice, per se, but I recognized that what I was hearing was the wrong strategy for me. For example, one of the pieces of advice I got a lot was that people told me I had to pick a very focused niche. I couldn't just be a general personal development speaker.

For example, I could speak on time management for entrepeneurs in the wedding business—and that would be it, that would be my niche. That I would have no trouble building clientel and building an audience in that area if I really focused on the niche and became the best at it. That's good advice for many speakers, but on the internet, I could see that somebody with my technical skills had slightly different opportunities. That I actually had a shot at creating a very popular personal development website that covered many different aspects of personal development, and I could see certain advantages with HTML being able to link different articles together. There were topics that might be seemingly unrelated, but had some overlap between them. So that by putting myself into a very tight niche, I might just be limiting opportunities—not only for myself, but also limiting opportunities to create value for other people. So why limit myself if it wasn't really necessary to do that? This was a case where the advice I was getting from people—who had far more experience—were telling me one thing, but my instinct was saying something different. I decided to trust my instinct, and I was very happy with the results I've been getting in that area.

Another piece of advice I got from other speakers was to do lots and lots of speaking for free. The idea there is that you want to build an audience and a network. You go around speaking at clubs and organizations, to groups of twenty, thirty people, and you get experience and you build up a local network. And then hopefully people will invite to speak for pay at some point. That seems like a very slow, tedious process—and it is. Now, that's good advice for some people, but again, my gut instinct said that was the wrong approach for me. So instead of speaking for free, I decided to focus on my website first. That's been working really well, because currently the website is getting around half a million visitors a month. And when you think about it, that's obviously a much, much larger audience than I'd get by free speaking on a niche topic. With the internet, my audience is global. So by all means listen to other people's advice, but when in doubt, go with your gut instinct. Trust your gut instinct.

Piece of advice number three: create a totally brainless strategy for your business and work it every single day. Let me read you a couple quotes from the book, Success Secrets of the Motivational Superstars by Michael Jefferies. This book is a collection of interviews with very successful motivational speakers, and one of them that was interviewed for the book was Mike Fairy, who is a multi-millionaire speaker on real estate. Mike says, "I had a simple policy: I called twentyfive people five days a week for two years, and asked them to hire me. That's how I started my business." Then Mike goes on to say, "Honest to God, you could be the worst telephone person in the world, and if you make twentyfive calls a day, someone is going to hire you. That's how you build your business. You keep calling until your brain falls out." I really like that strategy—that idea of just doing something repeatedly until your brain falls out, just doing it over and over and over again, and allowing it to work. You don't need to figure out the perfect strategy, which will often be too complicated and may not work anyway. You may not be even be able to execute it. Remember, you're going to get your results, not from the strategy you use, but from how you execute. So, you can figure out a totally brainless strategy and be able to execute it very easily, and you might get better results from that than the most elegant strategy you can come up with, if you can't actually execute it.

Just simply find something you can throw enough time at, and start working at it. Then refine it as you go. Think of it as the ready, fire, aim approach. It often works better than the the ready, aim, fire approach, because ready, aim, fire often becomes ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim and you never get to firing. See, my strategy for this personal development business was to build a simple, non-flashy website, very quickly, and then to fill it with lots and lots of free content. Now the site has about 300 free articles, which is enough to fill a few books. It's enough to keep somebody reading for just about the whole day.

See, giving away value for free is a great way to build web traffic—and once you have web traffic, it's fairly easy to monetize it. So, after more than four solid months of doing this free content, making no money at all, I finally started putting ads on the website that would pay me whenever somebody clicked on them. I just kept writing and writing and writing, and word of mouth took care of the rest. The ad revenue just started increasing and increasing and increasing each month. Every month it went up very much—like about a fifty percent increase, month to month—continuously for about nine more months. I didn't spend any money marketing the site at all, but it eventually started generating enough money for me to make a decent living off of it. And it's not a complicated strategy. It's also very stable income, because I own, free and clear, the asset that generates that income. Again, it sounds dumb, but it works. Just start creating value, again and again and again, and putting it out there. And find a very simple, brainless way to monetize it.

See, when you work from your strengths, and you go with your gut instinct, and you follow a totally brainless strategy, it means you're taking action—and if you're taking action, you're going to get results. They may not be the results you want intially, but you can always refine them, you can always make adjustments. I find that it's often easier to make adjustments to results you're already gettting than to try and plan them out in advance. We tend to over complicate things when we think about starting a business, and it's really not that complicated.

When I started a computer games business,eleven years ago, I began the way most self-employed people would. I wrote a business plan, I got a DBA, I got some nice business cards and stationary, and so on. You know what? Those things didn't bring me a nickel's worth of business. I had a really nice logo though, and for my personal development business, I decided to do the exact opposite. Did you know I've been in business for fourteen months now and I don't even have a DBA yet? I'm just doing business under my own name. I don't have a logo. I don't even have business cards. How pathetic is that? I don't even have business cards, but yet I'm already making a profit. The website's making me money while I sleep, and it provides a lot of value to many people around the world. I didn't waste time in the beginning do all those other little things that, one, don't create value, or two, generate income.

So my suggestion is that if you want to kick-start your own business, begin by finding a way to create immediate value—even if you have to give it away for free at first. When people begin to see the value that you can provide them, eventually you'll be able to turn that into income. It won't take long to do so. I'm not talking eventually, as in three to five years, I'm talking eventually as in a matter of months.

For example, if you want to be a consultant—such as a business consultant, or maybe you want to make websites for companies, something like that, or a technology consultant—simply go out and do some consulting for free. Call up some people you know, and offer to do a job for them, a simple job for free. Don't worry about making brochures or business cards. Don't worry about registering your business. Just get out there and start working. You can do that today if you wanted to, then once you've provided some value—which should be there if you're working from your strengths—ask for referrals and begin charging for future work. If you've done a good job, other people will be happy to pay you. If you can't get paid, and you can't get any referrals, then you know immediately that you're providing something that other people value. Which means you have no business. It's better to learn that upfront—for very little risk, and be able to switch to something else that may work—than to figure this out after you've printed out all those fancy brochures and business cards that now you're stuck. You can always get those brochures and business cards done later; they are important, they're just not critical. They're not critical to generating cash flow for most businesses. Now granted, for some businesses, maybe if you're a real estate agent you do need nice business cards. For running a website business you really don't, in most cases.

Think of this like running a race to get to sustainable profitability. Anything alse that doesn't immediately support that goal you can put off until later. Focus all your energy just on creating value, and then getting paid fairly for it. Do everyhting else only after you've reached the point of a sustainable profitability, or when it becomes necessary to do so—such as if you have to comply with certain laws, you must register your business. See, when it comes to kick-starting your own business, especially one that you want to run out of your house or work on part-time, you don't have to start out perfectly. You don't have to create this massive plan. You just need to get moving.

I'm not going to be buying Christmas presents for my familly this year with a business plan. I'm using the cash that my business had generated to do that. Which would you rather have, a really nice printed document saying what your business will be about—and no cash? Or, would you rather have a sustainable cash flow, and maybe a business that's not quite perfect, but you can readily look at it and see what needs to be fixed? I would certainly take the latter. I tried the former. That's what I did with my first business. It took me a lot longer to get to the point of profitability—about five years, in fact—at least sustainable profitability.

In the case of starting a business on your own, especially a small one that you might be running out of your home, your greatest risk is not that you're going to make a mistake and blow ten million dollars of investment capital. In that kind of situation, you definitely want to do a lot more upfront planning...but on a business that you can now kick-start from your home for ten dollars, which is what it cost me to start Nine dollars, actually, just to register the domain name. Even my web hosting was free at first. The greatest thing there is that you'll miss out on some great opportunities, and you're guaranteed to miss those opportunities if you fail to get going because you're obsessing with what your logo should look like. Who cares about your logo? Do it later.

So, if your thinking about starting your own business, why not do it today? Start one right now. Find a way to create value for someone, somewhere and you're already on your way.

Isn't it funny that kids can go out and make some money on a weekend by opening a lemonade stand, but we adults think it has to be much more complicated than that? All that complicated stuff can be done later, once you're already making money. But if you want to kick start your business right now, all you need to do is just get moving on creating value. Find some way to do it. Then from there, everything will flow and you'll have a business. All that other stuff you'll eventually take care of. It's not that difficult.

Until next time, live conciously.