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The Ultimate Guide to Starting Your Own Business

The internet seems to be overflowing with "entrepreneurs", but what does it mean to become an entrepreneur yourself?

A whiteboard with the words 'Business Model' circled

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Do you want to start your own business? Everyone at one time or another has probably thought about turning one of their passions, skills, or ideas into a business; but so few of us ever do. Social media, especially TikTok, is undergoing a feeding frenzy of entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs promoting their ultimate guide to getting rich quick. It's up to us to ask how helpful these gurus are.

Today, let's take a look at what it takes to start a money-making business in this ultimate guide to starting your very own business! Whether you've got an idea that's been cooking for some time or you fear you don't have any ideas or money to support it, this guide is a perfect place to get started on your entrepreneurial journey.

Here's an overview of what we'll cover:

Is Starting a Business Risky?

Part of the reason starting your own business can be hard is because it's usually in foreign territory. Not many of us personally know someone who started a business and actually succeeded. We've all heard horror stories or maybe have that weird uncle who calls for some startup funds once a year!

So does that mean being an entrepreneur is inherently risky? Yes and no. Like any investment, there are ways we can mitigate the risk we take on. That risk can never be 0% as nice as that would be, but hey, if everyone could do it everyone would do it.

A man rock climbing on a steep cliff

A wise first move any aspiring entrepreneur would make is to find good mentors. Everything I show you in this guide may seem simple enough at a glance, but the reality is each of these steps takes time and a LOT of learning. You are essentially reinventing the wheel every step of the way.

A good mentor or community to support and guide you can help make your first startup experience invaluable whether or not your first business succeeds in the long term.

How to Come up with Good Ideas

If I had a dollar for every time I heard "I just don't have any good ideas", I would be a much richer man. While I admit that some may be more gifted in the creativity gene, I firmly believe that anyone is capable of coming up with ideas that can be life-changing.

So how do you come up with good ideas? The trick is to resist the temptation to solve problems and instead actively seek them. Something we'll discuss regularly throughout this guide (and Focus Forge as a whole) is the idea of risk mitigation. The first way you can begin to mitigate risk is by giving yourself boundaries to work within.

A small journal that says 'Write Ideas' with a pencil

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel abnormally motivated to do something? Maybe you decided to write a book or try your hand at making social media content. With the current trend of building a side hustle, it's becoming more and more common to see people trying different ways to make money online. But when you sit down to attempt whatever task you feel motivated to do, did your brain go blank?

This mental fog is almost guaranteed if you try to go out and spontaneously create a million-dollar idea. It's because you have given yourelf too much freedom. There are so many pathways you could follow that your brain ends up spinning in circles considering which path to take instead of which problem to solve.

To combat this, try giving yourself some guidelines. One way you can begin generating good ideas is to use AI. Try asking ChatGPT for niches of underserved people. I tried this and was given the following list:

A list of underserved communities generated by ChatGPT.
OpenAI ChatGTP(3.5)

These communities of underserved people are called niches. If you have tried to start your own business already, the word niche is probably familiar already. Your niche will define every part of your business, so it's important to find one that is:

  • Accessible to you

  • Large enough to serve

  • Preferably relatable to you

As you look at potential people to serve, ask yourself if you know anyone in that niche. How easily can you communicate with them? Are you able to understand or sympathize with their struggles/problems?

Once you have decided on a group of people that interests you, go find them. Look for where they gather. Let's say I want to serve e-commerce storeowners; I could look for online forums like Reddit. Simply watch for what these people talk about.

Open AI and ChatGPT logos

A word of wisdom: never enter these communities and blatantly ask what problems they face. You will be fire-hosed with information, and you have no way of gauging which problems are truly significant. Instead, look for patterns. After browsing the subreddit for e-commerce by the top posts for 2024, these three posts were all near the top:

Do you see the pattern? Multiple business owners seem to struggle with getting professional product images. That is a real pain. And that is something you can work to solve.

How to Make Solutions

Once you have made a list of pain points you see in your chosen niche, now you can start brainstorming solutions. Notice how once several specific problems are in front of you, it's easier to think of new ideas.

In our example of e-commerce sellers, we need to think of solutions for their pain of using professional product images. Just like you need to assess your access to a niche, you must also assess your ability to produce a meaningful solution. Selling a catalog of product images for any popular Alibaba offering isn't realistic for my situation.

A problem/solution diagram on a large board

But I do have an iPhone with a decent camera, and some decent-quality studio lighting I got on Amazon during a Prime Day sale. After some time spent at the University of Youtube and a little experimentation, I feel pretty confident that I can take a good-looking product photo.

This solution didn't come overnight. It took time. You may have to research more about the problem you are trying to address. It's worth doing some searches to see if anyone else is offering a solution. Seeing what members of your niche are doing as a current fix can also be invaluable.

Validating Your Ideas and Solutions

Once you have a rough idea of who you want to serve, what problem you want to solve, and how you will solve it, it's time to seek some validation.

Validation is defined as the process of proving or checking something. When we talk about risk mitigation, the process of validation is crucial. And it is a process - validation requires copious amounts of time to gather enough data points to make an educated decision.

A woman checking out at a point of sale

A form of validation could be reaching out to one of the Redditors from the threads above and asking if they would be willing to send you their product and you would take product photos for them. If they aren't satisfied with the results, you'll pay their selling price and shipping to make up for it.

Give your niche an offer they can't refuse when you're validating. You need to be sure that the solution you offer is something they really want. This experiment is your first step towards that. Once the photos have been sent, ask the storeowner how you did. Then the real question: would you ever be willing to pay for me to do that again in the future?

If the answer is an enthusiastic yes, a business has been born!

Getting Your First Sale

Now, I may be oversimplifying this all a bit. In my 10+ years of entrepreneurship, none of my initial ideas were remotely close to what the final business looked like. And that's ok! One of the things I love most about entrepreneurship is that it's a constant learning process. For the sake of simplicity, our product photo example will help give you a general vision of what to expect.

The single greatest hurdle of any startup is getting that first sacred sale. You will find very quickly that there is a BIG difference between someone saying they would pay for a product and actually buying it.

A line chart tracking sales over time

An advantage of offering services is that the startup capital needed is generally much lower than getting into the product space. When I decided to look into product images, I knew I had a phone with a decent camera and cheap lighting. Was it perfect? Not by a long shot! But it was a start. If you want to see how hilarious some initial offerings are, take a look at the first iPhone press conference. Apple had multiple iPhones that could only do one specific function, so Steve Jobs had to switch them out under his podium as he presented!

Just because it's fun to talk about, the initial Tesla Model S launch wasn't much better. Elon Musk told the story of those first demos of the highly-anticipated Model S. As shareholders filed in to take the sedan for a spin, they were oblivious to the fact that after each test lap, the car would be taken into a tent to have the batteries replaced and in some cases even have the old ones extinguished.

I say all of this because many entrepreneurs are perfectionists wanting the best website and offerings they can offer. That is a very respectable desire, but also not always possible. Sometimes you need to settle for the MVP or minimum viable product. My iPhone's camera isn't going to match a Canon EOS Rebel T7 when it comes to high-quality product photos, but it does get the job done. And there is nothing to stop me from upgrading as my business scales.

You will undoubtedly look back at your early business days and feel embarrassed at what was possible for you then. But that's how the learning process works. Never feel ashamed of your offering if you have put everything you have into it. The rough launches of the iPhone and the Tesla Model S didn't stop them from completely changing their respective market landscapes.

A black first generation Tesla Model S

Once you have a product or service you feel confident in, set up a website to drive customers to. A well-designed website gives your company an image of reliability. You don't need anything complex, just somewhere customers can learn about you, see your work, and make purchases.

The University of Youtube can once again be your friend here. If you're serious about starting any kind of business, skills like building a website are invaluable. Learning to drive the right traffic to your website is an entire subject in itself, and one that I'll cover in a future post.

As you wait for that learning curve to get caught up, you can rely on your initial "customers" that you validated with. Ask them if they might recommend you to their peers. Reach out to other members of the community in cold calls or emails. If you thought this was going to be a cakewalk, you're mistaken.

Getting Scrappy

I can hear you saying, "OK Jake, that's all fine and dandy, but aren't you making this a bit too simple?". For a first-time business owner, not really. Remember when we talked about reinventing the wheel? There will undoubtedly be some inefficient learning as you start. Don't let that discourage you, however.

There's no easy way to say this but the vast majority of wantrepreneurs on social media are lying when they say you can be making thousands of dollars in just a week or two. Starting a business is a rigorous endeavor, which is why not everyone does it. It's also why so many startups fail; founders realize just how much work it takes to build and scale their business.

A jar labeled 'House Fund' filled with coins

One thing I will say is don't let money be the barrier between you and your business. Starting a business does not have to require thousands of dollars. In fact, my first two businesses didn't take any of my personal cash. I bootstrapped.

Dozens of grants and programs offer free money to small startups. You don't need to wait for a rich uncle to die or beg family members to invest in a half-baked idea. Bootstrapping does require serious time investment, but it is very possible. Especially if you are a student, there are tens of thousands of dollars available to you through university competitions and funding programs.

In the spirit of risk mitigation, I would encourage you not to put your savings (or anyone else's for that matter) into your own ventures. If you need to go to thrift stores and flip items on the Facebook marketplace to get started, do it. Mow lawns, shovel driveways, and do the grunt work. It's certainly not glamorous, but it does work.

Street chalk with the message 'Start Here'

Be comfortable with an imperfect beginning. Dive in headfirst and the lessons you learn whether they be positive or negative will ultimately be to your benefit. Most successful entrepreneurs have failed more times than most people have even tried.

This is Only the Beginning

In this article, I haven't gotten to the finer details such as establishing a legal entity, setting up bank accounts, processing transactions, and so much more. I will cover each of these topics in their own posts. Make sure to subscribe to the email list to get updates on when those posts go live.

In the meantime, happy business building! I would love to hear your personal stories and follow your ventures as you grow.

For everything tech, productivity, and entrepreneurship, you already know where to go.


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