In a 2015 MarketWatch study, nearly 40% of current employees said they aspire to own their own business sometime in the future.
Here’s the catch, though. If you’re employed, then you’re going to have to quit your job at some point. No job means no money. No money means no capital to start your business. It’s exciting but really scary.
And that’s why most people stay employees and never start their own business. But there’s another option, one that’s often ignored because it takes too long. That is to start building your business while you still have your job.
You go to work from 9-5 and then come back home to work from 5-9. You say no to parties, going out, or any other social life. Instead, you stay in and slowly but steadily work your way to the point where you can quit without risk.
The fact that you’re reading this post means you haven’t quit your job so that only leaves you with this option.
Here’s how it works.
I hate this and you probably do too, but this is the most important piece of the journey and critical to your success. That’s why it’s Step 0! Without goals, you’ll have no direction, and without a schedule, you’ll have no time.
So, every week, commit to doing something that will build your business and set aside some time for it. Start small, with little goals like setting up your site (more on this later), and commit to achieving it by the weekend. Block off an hour every evening to work towards your goal for the week. When you complete it, move on to the next one.
Yes, ideas are free, but you need one to give you some direction.
I put ‘your’ in italics because the idea is very personal, and everyone’s will be different, even if they are in a similar niche. What you can offer a potential client is going to be vastly different than what I can. Your skills are different, your personality is different, and your long-term goals are different.
That being said, never turn your back on an idea because you think it’s been overdone. The chances are that if someone else is making money with it, you can do.
To me, a good idea falls right in the middle of something you know about and something you enjoy doing. You can certainly start from square one and learn a whole new skillset, but it’s going to be easier if you just leverage one of your existing abilities.
Also, don’t forget that you will likely be working on this idea after your normal job and on weekends, so try to find something you enjoy otherwise your motivation will suffer.
Where to start?
The easiest way to start is to find something you really enjoy doing or are really good at and see if you can pursue that. This can be something you currently do for work, a hobby you have, or just something you have excelled at in the past.
Do you write a lot for your current job? Great, offer copy or content writing services! Did you have a knack for coding? Build an app! Do you dabble in arts and crafts? Sell your creations online!
Really, if people can make money opening boxes online, you can too.
By now you should have at least a few ideas on what you’d like to pursue. The next step is finding a community based around each of them so that you can take the first steps toward validating the idea without putting in too much effort.
For example, let’s say you are interested in doing freelance SEO. Locating an established SEO community helps you bridge the gap between having an idea and taking action because it provides a sense of authenticity (real people doing real things) and guidance (here’s what worked for me).
You can find online communities for any niche. Search through Sub-Reddits, Facebook Groups, industry specific communities like Inbound.org, or private communities built by your favorite brands and influencers.
Once you have a community for each idea, research and read everything you can, ask questions, and try and get a feel for if this is the right path for you. Don’t be afraid to approach people one-on-one. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to offer help, especially when they have been in your shoes before.
It’s time to take action but, before you start making money, you need to set up a solid base for your business. This will help you in the long run, so don’t ignore this step.
Set Up A Website
A website is an absolute necessity for people trying to work online, but it’s also easy to spend a ton of time on it and think you are making progress. Skip the fancy themes and just make sure your products, services, name, contact information, and social media information are included. You can always go back and improve upon it, but you can get never get back the time you wasted trying to make it perfect.
Get on Social Media
If your service or product has a brand name, try and secure relevant profiles for it across ALL the major social networks. Even if you have no intention of publishing anything on Pinterest, securing the username creates social proof, a big factor in SEO, and prevents others from hijacking your brand.
The same goes for if you are just going to use your name, like “Jane Doe Consulting”. Make sure you have personal profiles will allow you to post and interact where your customers are.
Build Your Network
Remember all those communities you joined? Well, it’s time to give back. Start posting valuable content, sharing your insights, and helping people out. This will help raise your profile, position you as an expert, and build your network of supporters. These are the people who will share your site and refer customers and clients to you down the road.
And now the moment you’ve been waiting for – how to actually get your first customer. I wish I could say it’s going to be easy but, the truth is, there is no fail-safe method to landing your first sale, client, or subscriber. Sometimes it comes down to knowing where to find customers, sometimes it’s whom you know, and other times it’s just plain luck.
If you set up your website and followed even the most basic of SEO principles, it’s likely you will see some traffic over time. However, relying solely on this is the definition of the waiting game, so doing things like link building, regularly publishing quality content, and making sure your on-page SEO is up to snuff will speed things along.
Organic traffic takes time to build up, so if you’re looking for quick results you should try ads. Not only does it put your product or service in front of interested parties, it also helps create brand awareness even if they don’t click on it. Yes, it can be costly, but at this stage you’re just looking to get your foot in the door and, who knows, your first few customers might start bringing in some referrals.
Leverage Your Personal Network
One of the hardest things to do is to put your insecurities aside and tell the world about your side business. However, sometimes posting on social media, emailing family and friends, and generally putting yourself out there can pay off. Even if it’s just an invitation to like your brand’s Facebook page, it could open the door for future business and you never know until you try it.
Leverage Your Groups and Communities
If you’ve been active in your online communities, you can start promoting yourself there. However, you need to be really careful here. If you’re too blatant you’ll turn people off and may even get banned. A more passive approach of giving free advice and then mentioning your paid product or service as a by-line is better.
In some cases, if you’re really well known and respected in your community, you can just announce your product or service and ask people if they know anyone who might be interested, or if they can help you promote it. There have been numerous occasions where I’ve shared a product by someone, even though I wasn’t directly asked to.
When you start out, you barely have an audience. So while you try to build it up, why not piggyback on someone who already has a big one. Reach out to popular bloggers, Instagrammers, Youtubers, or other online influencers and pitch a guest post. You can also go further and partner up on a competition or bundle product offer.
So you’ve landed your first (and hopefully second, third…) clients or sales. How do you fan the fire to keep the momentum working in your favor?
Ask for Feedback
Always follow up with clients to see if there is anything further you can do or improve upon. This not only shows that you care but might also bring to light any areas on which you can improve.
Solicit Reviews (and Show Them Off)
Make sure to ask your buyers for reviews on your products or services. Assuming they are positive, take these reviews and put them on your website, publish them on social media, and generally use them to attract and win over new customers.
Invest in Yourself
By now you’ve seen that owning a business and working for yourself is not a pipedream and you’ve probably spent a ton of time just getting to this point. If everything is going well, consider making yourself or brand more appealing by investing in a new skill, certificate, or specialty. This will solidify your current market position and open you up to a whole new range of customers.
Anyone that tells you building a side business is easy, much less a successful one that allows you to quit your job is full of it. It takes tremendous motivation, perseverance, and oftentimes luck.
However, if you even attempt to start one you’ll have done more than most people and, as the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
So follow these steps, keep at it, and eventually, you’ll make enough to quit your job. Good luck. I’d love to hear about you progress (both good and bad) in the comments!
VP of Growth, Thinkific
How Entrepreneurs Can Build A Business And Live A Sustainable Life My Say , CONTRIBUTOR Stew Friedman Stewart D. Friedman is a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the UPenn and founder of Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project. The common wisdom says that real success as an entrepreneurial leader requires 100% devotion to your enterprise. ...
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