This weekend I asked the readers on the TMBA mailing list if I could help them out with any business questions. To those of you who asked the questions below, I’m happy to continue the discussion with further resources, links, and perspectives in the public comments. The answers provided are my preliminary thoughts on each issue. Since there were so many questions, I had to work fast. I would love to go more in-depth with those of you who are interested.
Since this post is long, I’ve started with a word cluster that highlights some of the topics. I answered all of the questions like I know what I’m talking about, even though sometimes I just don’t. Take it or leave it! My only internationally recognized certification is a California state driver’s license.
Hong Kong incorporations ::: cheap ways to buy backlinks ::: how to beat analysis paralysis ::: why you should fire your SEO guy ::: how to start paid-for communities ::: what to do about extreme school debt ::: how to chose products for your e-commerce store ::: our favorite competitive research tools ::: outsourcing in the Philippines ::: how to be a freelancer like a boss ::: my sex life ::: the future of humanity ::: and more…
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How easy will it be to find people who read, write, and speak English fluently in the Philippines? I’m looking for people to help me write content for my sites. – Elle
The Philippines is the second largest English speaking country in the world– around 100 million English speakers. The Philippines is also a poor place. There aren’t a lot of great opportunities for the constant flow of new graduates. If you are looking for content writers, the Philippines is a good place to start. As your quality needs go up, so will the costs. Finding high quality, researched content in the Philippines is harder than getting it from expats or travelers who want to sustain their living overseas. I order all of my content (about $800 dollars a month) through expats I’ve found on the TropicalWorkForce.com board under “services.”
Filipino workers, in general, have quality problems that can be difficult to deal with if you aren’t in-country, or if your protocols aren’t extremely detailed. There are tons of exceptions to this– I have 2 full-time Filipinos on my staff and they are amazing (hey guys!). I’m sure even my Filipino team members would agree that finding workers who consistently take initiative can be difficult. I know a lot of entrepreneurs who moved to the Philippines to hire content writers and ended up hiring contractors instead. Forget about the Philippines– anywhere in the world it’s difficult to put somebody in a chair and ask them to write SEO content for 8 hours everyday. Consider buying content in bulk from contractors or Odesk, Fiverr, or TropicalWorkForce. If you want to set up a shop with a bunch of agents at a low price, the Philippines is still probably the best place int the world to do it.
Recently I have finished college and started my own business (I have an Online Marketing Agency). But, I’m not living the four hour work week. I’m working 10+ hours a day and I’m not satisfied with my income for that much work at all. I’m still trying to figure out what to do and how to live FHWW in Bali – J.
It sounds like you are living the 4 hour work week lifestyle exactly! It often goes unnoticed that the book starts with our hero, Mr. Ferriss, stressed out to the point of breakdown.
At the time, Tim was reportedly running a business that generated 40K a month. How would one duplicate such a feat? Working 12 hours a day might not be a bad strategy. Serve your clients for 10 hours, and then with the extra two start “productizing” the most valuable part of your service. Do your clients love your SEO protocol? Make it a product. When you start making 2K a month, take 1K of it and hire somebody. Live with them in a cheap house in Bali or Northern Thailand and make it happen. That’s my 4HWW dream.
If you are interested in many things in life for example, entrepreneurship, online marketing, sport, personal development, communication, meditation, health, and you are passionate about all these topics, should you blog about all of them, or would it be smarter to write specific content for specific audience? What is the most valuable knowledge to have these days? – Marko Kvesic
The most valuable skill set is being able to create results– you could also say “affecting change.” Popular approaches to creating results are writing code, making investments, building companies, writing, and speaking well. I see big opportunities in the coming decade in software development skills (especially for mobile platforms), expatriate services, offshore incorporations, wealth management, human longevity, health by data, and genetics. In the next 10 years a lot of the mysticism that surrounds ‘whats good for you’ will be replaced by data. See QuantifiedSelf.com as an example.
Most important of all– you need to chose something to do. Last year I was recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on outsourcing to the Philippines. There were 100’s of people who knew more than me, but I was telling the story and so I got the recognition. I didn’t do anything special but invest my time in something I thought was going to be big. If you are just starting and writing about “stuff in my brain” you are diluting your message, and hurting your chances of making a substantial difference for people.
I’m having trouble coming up with a niche market and how to structure my business. I think the endless possibilities has me stymied. Do you have any suggestions on how to narrow things down? I would like for someone to just tell me what business would be good and how I should structure it. – Scott
Do you currently have a job? If so, your employer has already identified some role in which you provide a ton of value to a marketplace. Is there something better or complimentary you could provide to your marketplace?
If your response is “but I hate my job!” quit it and find a better one. If you can’t get a job you enjoy, with somebody you respect, you probably can’t start a successful business. The former is way easier than the latter.
I have a vague ambition of setting out on my own but am having some trouble distilling all of the available advice and information into a comprehensive plan of action. My question is, what specific skills do you consider absolutely invaluable to the fledgling online entrepreneur? If you were me (rudderless 26 year-old, but thinks he can hack it), what are the first things you would teach yourself? – John
“Vague ambition” is where I’d start. That won’t work. You can’t lead people, build businesses, and compel customers if you don’t even know why you care yourself. If you don’t care, they won’t care. Guaranteed.
You need the eye of the tiger. The eye of the tiger is the feeling you get on mile 7 of a 10 mile run– when you are running faster than you were on mile 2. The eye of the tiger is desire strong enough to overcome petty, niggling fears.
Get good at moving around the web– really fast– for 10 hours a day. Develop a huge tolerance for long work days. Get good at making decisions on limited information. Do immense amounts of stuff. Once you’ve got something up on the web, you’ll have specific problems you’ll need to solve. You just need one website that has a “buy-now” button on it. Once you have that you’ll stop asking “what skills do I need” and start asking “how do I get more people to click on this damn button.” That’s a much better question to ask. People will start giving you concrete feedback rather than a line off self help stuff about the eye of the tiger!
I have the opportunity in April to 1) Take 9-weeks out in Asia & work on info products (like this one I’m working on), 2) Take 9-weeks out in Asia & work on specs / designs for an AirPlay stereo system project I’d like to launch (potentially go to Shenzen to work with manufacturers, source parts), 3) Open an office for my Dad’s company (based in the UK) in Atlanta (where I now live) – this would essentially be a franchise reporting to the UK office. Which one would you choose? – Liam
For me it would be A. Easy call. Live in Asia and work on info products? Super fun. I’d be careful though. Your chances of success and excitement are hugely important to your analysis. Option A, for example, could be the most difficult to succeed with. People seem to suck at doing information products well. On the surface option C seems to be a surer bet because you’d be leveraging a successful model. It sounds like a drag, but I don’t know. I’d chose A because I like to write, read, and live in Asia. I also don’t care about making money, or being a poor loser who can’t even afford a plane ticket home. Who would want one!?
I noticed in your “14 things” post a few days back that Ian is “cold calling customers” for your ventures. Is there a process for that? I know: pick up the damn phone and call! I can do that. What I don’t know is who / what / where / how. Other than just picking up the phone and babbling. – Todd (& Chad)
Pick up a copy of Chet Holme’s Ultimate Sales Machine— it’s universality adored by entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of strategies we’ve used to pull together target lists in the past, but most of them boil down to this: go out and find an ideal traget by surfing the web or identifying a call sequence. How do you do it? Do you find the email convention at a company? Are you searching for PDFs on their public servers? (you can do this by doing a SITE:theirdomain.com search) of their website? Are you just scraping the contact email address at the bottom of certain kinds of websites?
Once you’ve proven a process for identifying a lead, document it in detail. Then run off to Elance.com with your process, and hire somebody at a base rate to bring you a set # of leads. Try to negotiate the price per lead, not a per-hour rate.
The best way to get information about your market is to start calling up anyone involved in the industry. Your competition, your targets, people who you think might be interested– anybody. When you get them on the horn, ask for their advice. Tell them you are new and just learning the basics of the industry. What would they suggest? What problems do they need solved? Take a genuine interest in their ideas and you’ll be blown away at how nobody else is. If you aren’t yet sure what your competitive advantage is going to be in your marketplace, start out with “listening” and “caring.”
I’m having some difficulty finding a good company to outsource the design portion of website construction to. That is a company that could do all the photoshop/css portion of my business for me. How do you go about finding good companies to cheaply do this kind of work? – Ben
Design is overrated for small bootstrapped start-ups. Don’t worry about rocking some really basic stuff like a premium WordPress theme, or a text logo generated in a word processor. Once you get some cash flowing you can invest it in design.
If you want one-off type of design work, find some great websites you adore and check the footer for a design studio or email the owner for the contact information of the designer.
Unless you are consistently pumping out new designs, it’s tough to lower your costs when working with a quality designer. You are better off checking out services like 99Designs.com or Elogocontest.com where you can crowdsource your design projects to a large group of designers for a few hundred bucks.
I have a product called my Dog Stinks Odor Eliminator spray. My store is hosted at Volusion.com, but I am thinking of moving it over to Amazon so that I can put the products on Amazon.com and possibly use their fulfillment services down the road. My challenge is that Amazon says that I need UPC codes for my products and it looks like about a $2,400 investment for 4 UPC codes for my 2 products in 2 different sizes. Do you think the move to Amazon is a wise one? I am doing it in hopes of more traffic. Is there a work around on this UPC code issue or am I relegated to buying a code from the one provider on the planet lucky enough to get the monopoly gig for providing UPC codes ( how do I get that gig?) – Chris
I wouldn’t move your entire business on to the Amazon platform. My experience is purely anecdotal. Everyone I know who joined Amazon (2 people) didn’t succeed, and the people I know trying to out-maneuver them (me and many others) seem to still be in the game. That’s terribly unscientific, but why not just test a new store out there rather than moving your whole operation to their platform?
Regarding UPC codes, I’m not sure where you are getting that cost figure. We’ve bought them as low as $10 bucks a pop. A little Googling should find a decent re-seller of UPC codes.
I don’t know anything about Volusion.com, but if you are having some issues there check out Shopify.com. I use it and it’s great.
You might also think about your product choice. If you need huge traffic to make money, it could be a bad product choice altogether. It might make sense to start sourcing more expensive products in the same category. If you need huge distribution to make your business feasible, it’s probably better to talk to online re-sellers of pet products than to Amazon. If you can’t get traction from them, a move to Amazon isn’t likely to have a bigger impact.
Generalize or specialize? Should I go very deep in one tiny niche, or should I try to do a little of everything and keep my options open? – Peter
First off, these aren’t mutually exclusive options. The #1 problem people face in niche selection is not specializing enough. People flinch when they are about to commit to being an “Adwords consultant for e-commerce store owners” and instead become an “online marketing consultant.” Sure, there are technically more opportunities for an “online marketing consultant” but they are more expensive to find and convert.
That’s why broad branding only works for people with huge bankrolls, credibility, or audiences. If you made a million by the time you were 25, go ahead and teach people how to do the same and ‘escape the 9 to 5!’ But if you haven’t, go ahead and make that million by helping Russian e-commerce store owners who have budgets of over 10K a month make more money by optimizing their Adwords accounts.
I stumbled on this this knowledge. Developing hard goods products for focused industrial niches forced me to be go niche. I learned how much easier it was to sell to people when I was working in a super focused niche relative to our consumer products that were designed to appeal to everyone.
I know you advocate creating a community and creating insane value via products, membership site, etc for that community. How do you pick the community that you would get in? Passion? Keywords and untapped niche? How do you progress without knowing it’s going to 95% succeed? (I’m often in analysis paralysis). -Matt
The key is to invert your ratio: do something that you’d do if I told you the chances were 95% that you’d fail.
A mix passion and market opportunity is best, but sometimes taking an advanced skill set to places where there aren’t a lot of other marketers is huge. Passion for starting and growing a great businesses is usually the best one to cultivate.
So far, I’ve chosen communities based on what I want to learn about. Scalable location independent businesses, outsourcing in the Philippines, and offshore corporations.
I am coming to Bali next month, I would like to say hello to you and your friends, are you guys there? – Zorika
Sweet! Be sure to email me when you get here. I’m planning on visiting Vietnam and the Philippines in February, but I’ll be in Bali a bit too. I’m sure there will be many others here too. It’s a fun scene!
I’m in Law school right now, and will be graduating with some pretty serious debt. Let’s say I wanted to build a business, law practice, or consulting firm that allows me to live a lifestyle like yours. Is it possible for me to do so without having a rich family or whatnot to pay off my loans and allow me to start fresh and unencumbered by student loan debt, or will I have to wait until it’s all paid off? Let’s say for argument’s sake that my loan payments will be $2K a month for 10 years. – James
Not having rich parents is probably a blessing. In my case, it’s provided me with an extraordinary amount of motivation to succeed. You are in a much tougher spot than many people, but it’ll just force you to play smarter. Any way you can differ those loans go for it. If you must take a job, don’t spend any money. Think seriously about your net income and not your top line salary. I’m sure there are plenty of highly paid lawyers in NYC who net less than 5K a year. That’s not going to work for you. The first step to living this lifestyle is to start thinking about net income.
You’ve got an amazing skill set. I’ve long thought that professionally focused membership communities have a lot of potential. Let’s say you start a membership website around the idea of US patents and trademark law. Finding quality information on legalities is a huge pain point for business owners. Getting a “real” lawyer on the phone can cost my company thousands. What if you had a private community for entrepreneurs who could get answers from you or your team within 72 hours?
If they need to call you, they send $100 bucks and get 45 minutes on the phone with you. Charge $50 bucks a month per member. To cover your school loan bills, plus give you 2K to live, you only need to find 80 people who are interested in such a community. For this type of product, you might find that annual memberships work better. You could say that for $397 you get annual access to the community. Once customers join you can provide them with up-sells and premium services that could increase you profit per customer.
Maybe you’ll offer researched reports at a decent price insider your group. You could run affiliate deals with other partners who provide services– for example doing prior art research reports. You’d probably want to publish 2-3 awesome articles, podcasts, or videos a week that help to solve entrepreneur’s patent issues.
That’s just one idea. I’ve got 100’s, and if you become an entrepreneur you’ll have them too.
Can you do it? Of course you can. I’ve known enough people who got through law school to know that running an internet-based business is probably easier by comparison. But they are different skill sets. One is about following rules, and the other is about breaking them. The last time you listened to people who told you the way things were supposed to go, you ended up with 100K in debt. I know the next piece of advice from them is: work for the next 20 years paying that off, save well, and you’ll be able to afford something better. It’s not crazy-talk, but it’s a radically different script.
Talk to a bunch of 50 year old lawyers, and then a bunch of entrepreneurs who have been running their own business for the last 20. Decide which crowd you vibe with more, and jump right in. Don’t be intimidated by the business world. If you can get out of law school alive, you can probably figure out how to make a couple bucks from a small business.
How did you finally get disciplined to start working all day at this stuff. What is the mental process you work through to make yourself kill it everyday. For whatever reason it’s my biggest hang up. – Nate
Most of the people in my age group might be watching TV right now, or maybe checking out a movie at the theater. Why not ask yourself what’s something cool you could do that would help people out? Instead of going to the movies tonight, I sent out an email to you and now I’m trying to do something positive.
When you see your actions making a real difference you get inspired to do more.
The best way to get the feedback loop going is to start small. Many people feel powerless because they’ve got jobs at a big company and it seems like all their good work just gets tossed into oblivion. Start working for somebody to whom your work would matter. You can find people like that at places like TropicalWorkForce.com.
Find an accountability partner. You should call them for 1 hour on Friday afternoons. Tell then what you did and didn’t accomplish, and what you are going to do in the next week.
Overbook yourself. Even though I should be analyzing spreadsheets right now, I’m writing to you. And I hope it helps a little. You can do the same, and that’s basically what businesses do– gather a bunch of resources together in the hopes of helping people get the things they want.
We have several niche sites (to capture e-mails through giving away free information and later selling affiliate products). 1) What are the most up to date tools that you can use to accurately track what back links have been found by the google crawlers? 2) Where do you get the most bang for your buck in back link purchases? (quickest increase in google rank with the least cost?) – Stokely – It would be great if you could give a back link to use house flip. [<– great hustle!]
SERPFox is our favorite tool to track search engine rankings. We’re currently using Raven Tools for backlink analysis. Raven tools combines backlink data from the two best data sources: SEOmoz and Majestic SEO. Everything has been a little messed up lately due to Yahoo getting rid of Yahoo Site Explorer.
The biggest bang for your buck with with link purchases will come from private link networks (email me for more details if you read this). I bring it up to the broader blog audience to say that these types of arrangements do exist, they are highly effective, and it’s important to keep them somewhat private. That’s obvious in terms of discretion, but it’s also important in terms of volume. If I were to publish where I was getting my most effective links, they would become less valuable. If you want to do your own research, one of the best public places to start is on WickedFire forums. Our own private forum is particularly strong in this area. If you are interested in this kind of stuff, you’ll probably make your money back there in 1 hour or less.
You mentioned the possibility to set up a business in Hong Kong or Singapore. Could you describe the process behind and some resources? – Patrick
Why Hong Kong? (a few readers asked this question…. you can also check out this post.) No corporate taxes, you can be very aggressive about what you expense, and there is a world-class banking system in place.
I have some experience with Hong Kong and it couldn’t be easier to get started. Call Jumpstart to get things rolling. You’ll need to travel to HK to get things set up. I’d recommend finding a place to stay on Airbnb.com, you can find a good place in a central location for $50 a night.
Once you have the company documents in hand, bring them to a bank of your choice (make an appointment beforehand) to get a business account set up.
Keep a few things in mind: getting a credit card in HK isn’t like in the US, you’ll need to put up collateral funds in order to qualify. You’ll also need to identify an accountant to help you process your annual audit. You’ll want to make sure that you apply as a business who “doesn’t do business in Hong Kong” in order to qualify for the 0% corporate tax rate. Obviously it won’t be possible to do this if you plan on doing business in HK, but it is possible to split up transactions on your audit papers, e.g. 80% of business outside of HK, 20% of business inside of HK and so on. Finally, if you are an American citizen, you’ll need to make sure the IRS knows about all of this, and that you are paying income taxes on the income you earn from your Hong Kong operation.
I’m looking to set up an e-commerce store using Shopify. I’m still looking for ‘that product’ to get me going. I’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming about my passions in life (mostly sport) and how I can combine them with a product that I’d order from AliBaba. Any other good brainstorming tips you and your crew could suggest? – Mustafa
I wouldn’t over-value your passion for the product, especially if you don’t plan to develop your own. You’ll need to be passionate about marketing, SEO, and the process of building a business– not necessarily rawhide baseball mitts. Passion for the product is generally more important in information type businesses. It’s true that e-commerce models are blending with content type businesses for marketing purposes (both Google and customers want content!) so it couldn’t hurt.
Here’s some physical product selection rules of thumb:
- Choose an expensive product, ideally over $100 bucks.
- Go super niche. New stores are cheap to build. When you hit something that works you can throw all your juice behind it.
- Make sure other people in your niche are making money before you get involved.
- Try to compete with people or industries that aren’t forward thinking.
- Compete with specific companies, people, or products. This will help focus your efforts and value proposition.
- Call competitors and pose as a customer. Get a quote. See how good they are. Ask yourself if you think you can beat them.
- Don’t limit yourself to Alibaba searches, look around the broader web as well. Think about products that would work well as compliments to a blog type business as well. If your content gets traction, surely your products will.
I own a business called Jarkarta Airport Transfer. As you can see, we provide car rental & transportation services in Jakarta. Our vision for the business is an e-commerce platform at our book now page for visitors arriving at Jakarta to have a fuss free and easy process of booking transportation. I have hired SEO help for about 6 months so far. However, I find that my traffic has pretty much been stagnant. Can you advice on how I can grow my business in working towards the vision of an e-commerce platform? –Yvonne
First off, go ahead and fire your SEO guy. 95% of SEO guys deserve to be fired. If you are relying on more traffic to grow your business, it’s important that you understand the fundamental character of your web visitors. If any SEO really understood that, they’d just take your business. That’s the fundamental knowledge that you’ll build your business on.
Second, your “book now” page is much better than your primary landing page. From your front page, it’s unclear what you do. I’m assuming your conversion rates are low. (Make sure you know them for each source of traffic!). Frame up the problem more clearly on your landing page. Sick of waiting in the taxi line at CGK? We’ll pick you up and get you and your family to your final destination safely– starting at $25 USD.
There are too many options on the website. Put the blog link at the bottom of your site just for SEO purposes. Nobody looking to solve the problems you solve wants to read a blog. They want a menu bar that solves specific problems. I’d probably focus on a few tabs that focus on your most important key terms and products. Some examples could be: “vans to any destination in Java,” “personal limo in Jakarta”, or “private tours of Jakarta.”
Once you get the sales funnel improved on the website (try watching people use your wesbite who have never used it before) then I’d start seeking affiliates. Both online and off. Are there people who would benefit from providing your care service as an add on?
I’ve been working as a freelance developer for about 8 months now, and as you know it takes lot of time to make some active income through that (I’m a webdeveloper/flashdeveloper). In addition to the time I put into those active freelance projects I also want to start building on something that could lead to a more automated passive workflow. Do you have any experience on automating (if it’s possible) freelance webdevelopment work in some way, or is it better to aim for building some other kind of online service to accomplish this? – André
If you have a website that advertises your freelance services with any less than 3 “buy-now” buttons you are leaving it on the table. I’d identify the types of services your customers ask for the most and put an instant price on them. That’s cash flow baby! Look at Ava who used to provide custom quotes for each video intro she built. Forget that! $300 bucks buy now! If your prospects want extras, they can hit the contact button right below that button.
I’ve seen two recent examples of this working amazingly on our job board TropialWorkForce. One was a copywriter who, instead of saying “I do copywriting,” said “I’ll write 100 BMR articles for 2 bucks an article.” Orders starting flowing. Same with Ava’s video intro example. Check this out….
If you are reading this post in a reader, click here to see the video. Here’s more info on how to get your own video introduction here. I didn’t even have to send my logo to Ava to get this done!
One thing I’ve worked with flash freelancers on is turning PDF catalogs into interractive online experiences. 30 pages starting at $500 to $1K, or similar depending on your target market. You could write a blog post called “how to turn your PDFs onto awesome interractive online content” and put a buy-now button on there!
The biggest mental hurdle here is understanding that your productized versions aren’t going to work for everyone. I’ve noticed that some freelancers are so used to discussing projects at length that they forget people want simple solutions to their problems. The whole point of hiring a freelancers is not having to do any work. Any and all discussion is interpreted as wasted time and money.
Better to solve problems without talk to a smaller group of people than be able to solve anyone’s problem after a 1-hour consultation. It’s the differnece between a highly hands-on sales process vs. a magnetic and hands-off approaches to finding clients.
I run several businesses from SEO, marketing, website sales, hockey jerseys, electronic hardware, and a porn site. Which business are you running that seems to have the best forecast of income? – Colin
That’s like answering “how many people did you sleep with last year.” No doubt interesting, but irrelevant to you, the audience, and it can only get me in hot water. No hard feelings! If we ever meet I’ll happily share with you, but I’d prefer not to commit it to writing.
The character of the stuff that has the most potential is digital, residual, highly-focused, serves a huge market, provides highly legible results, and can be delivered instantly. My first product like this will be related to SEO and will be launched inside our membership group in a month. I’ll bring it up on the blog this year sometime.
Marketing and industry seem largely driven by insecurity. Most of the shit we buy, we don’t need. But we buy because it makes us feel good. If we already felt good, we wouldn’t feel the need to buy it. How do you see business and entrepreneurship changing? If the human race was to collectively give up the need for “ego food” (sports cars, shiny shoes, ostentatious clothes, etc) and focus on only those things we needed, what would happen to business? Would it disappear overnight? Or is this a utopian ideal that will never be realized? The idea is that as people become more “enlightened”, the less they need most of what people sell. We need good food, clean water, shelter, and good friends. Beyond that, not much. – John
Most of my favorite things in life the world did not need, and neither did I. Wikipedia. Coffee shops. Porsche 911’s (933 model). Hemingway novels. iPhones. Go carts. Green tea. Chocolate eclairs. Fried duck. Sierra Nevada pale ale. WordPress.
You’ll probably enjoy reading What Technology Wants way more than anything I could say here. It’s one of my favorite books. If you read it, let’s get on Skype to discuss it.
Why not make what you’d like to see more of it in the world? If that’s iPhones, god bless you. Same if that’s novels. Or creating better ideas about religion. Who is it that said ‘be the change you’d like to see?’ I like that. But don’t just recycle, for example. If you are really passionate about it, go ahead and make it easy and exciting for others to do so as well.
I’m curious to know your thoughts on incubators? – Brendan
You might be interested in a post I wrote called “Why We Haven’t Started a Lifestyle Business Incubator.” There were also a lot of smart comments on that one. I don’t know anyone in the start-up scene so I can’t comment, but they sound wonderful to me. I’m all about fostering community, mentorship, and better investment opportunities. I’m excited about stuff like Microconf, accountability partners, our private forum, being an intern, or anything that get’s you in contact with other people doing the types of things you care about and want to do more of.
I’m now in the process of thinking about legals (my business will involve photography. There’s a lot in the detail there it seems– logos, website design, etc. How much polish and effort should you put in before you launch? Should you spend months nutting out the legal contracts, perfecting the website design or just get it out there rough and ready and then make incremental improvements? I think the answer will lie in the middle there but do you lean one way more than the other? – Matt
For legal stuff I’ll generally do a couple of Google searches to make sure nobody is using similar stuff. Then I’ll do a quick search of registered trademarks in the US at USPTO.gov. That’s worth checking out for anyone who wants to market their product to the US market. If it looks like you are in the clear, I’d just go. You can even start putting a little “TM” next to your product names if you want.
I lean heavily towards rough and ready. Start hustling. Start making sales. Cash flow will start to justify it’s own protection. As you scale, you can start looking at ways to protect yourself more. Why protect something that doesn’t exist? Sure there are other approaches, especially for people who “know” it’s going to be big. If you know, you know. If you don’t, get rolling. It’s often the case that the disaster scenarios that upstarts are trying to prevent– like somebody completely stealing their idea–are some of the best things that could happen to them.
All that said– do not build a business around somebody else’s trademark unless you know what you are doing. “Knowing what you are doing” could be a short term SEO or affiliate scheme. I’ve got a handful of sad business stories I could share off the top of my head. Example: “4 Hour Work Week Training Sessions” is an obvious no go.
My graphic and web design business is only about 18 months old and has been doing really well. About 80% of my work comes from one client, 15% comes from a second, and the remaining 5% comes from people contacting me through my contact form. The problem is that I am traveling the world currently and have to balance my time between work and fun/sightseeing/transport time without internet. My goal is to build this into a full-time job by the time I return to States in about 9 months, but am struggling with keeping up with all the work and not missing out on some once in a lifetime opportunities. Do you have any advice for how to balance the two? – Griffin Stewart – Web Design and Custom eBook Templates
I followed some of your links and I’m really impressed by your work. It’s a small thing, but I’d change the words you use. Instead of saying you are looking to build a “full time job” I’d say “small business.” If I were you, I probably wouldn’t see hanging out in Korea for the next 9 months as the biggest opportunity. Imagine being able to sightsee anytime, anywhere, forever. It could be wrong to say these are “once in a lifetime experiences.” If you are successful in creating a business, you could sustain the lifestyle for the rest of your life.
I’m doing the quick math on that first relationship. If 80% of your work comes from one company, and it’s not quite a living, and it’s preventing you from having personal time (i.e., it’s a lot of work), then you aren’t getting compensated enough. That’s not to say it’s a bad gig, you just need to re-frame that relationship.
You have a great skill set, one that is probably better used to earn you a meaningful equity partnership than freelancing. At some point you’ve got to put in the time to get that kind of thing off the ground. Similar to my advice to the freelancer above, you need to start poaching parts of your process and services and productizing them.
In my ever evolving world as a serial entrepreneur I’m always looking for new ventures. I’m wondering what you believe the best trends/fields/verticals are for sustainable or automatic income are over the next decade? – Justin
Real estate. Genetics. Longevity. Expatriates and globalization. Cosmetic neurology. Semantic web. Micro-communities and publishing. I think micro-publishing is just getting started. Think about how poorly publications like Forbes and INC– some of the most respected in the world– serve many sub-niches in their target audience.
The only sustainable thing I know about is your ability to work hard and work smart. That’s poached advice from some guy I know who has a giant pile of money. When I asked him what his most important piece of advice was, he said: “when you make your first chunk of money, don’t spend it!”
I was listening to LBP #87 today and I’m ready to start trying to use some of the marketing tactics that you and Ian discuss. We are ready to start making a concerted effort to market our services and I am excited about hiring someone to work on that in a location independent capacity. We are ready to throw $1,000 a month at this and wee what happens. I’m not much of a web guy, I still see my value as the guy on the phone hustling up deals. What should I be looking for in a webmaster? – Matthew K.
It’s really tough to hire for things you don’t understand, especially at $1000 bucks a month. You are going to find a lot of people on the TWF boards that have a demonstrated track record at creating compelling content for audiences, but don’t expect them to be the creative engine.
Ask yourself what is compelling about what you do? What kinds of problems is your target market looking to solve? Can you solve them in a unique and fresh way? If you don’t answer these questions before you invest in a team member, you probably won’t see dramatic progress. You don’t need to be web savvy, but you will need to be content savvy. You’ll need to have ideas about guides, podcasts, articles, checklists, infographics, videos, walk-throughs, interviews, or similar that are utterly compelling to your market. I know you have these ideas. Start listing them out, creating them, and getting them to your people. Combine that with your hustle muscle and it’s dynamite baby.
How much time do you invest in an idea before you pivot or go to a new idea? – David
I rarely hear this question from entrepreneurs who have products. Once you’ve got stuff in the marketplace, it’s a lot easier to make judgements about what to double down on and what to drop. Get a buy now button on your product site as soon as possible. If it’s your first venture, get a buy now button on your site no longer than 8 weeks after conception. 4 weeks if you can. Get that button up there and start testing. You’ll know pretty quick whether or not your product is going to fly. Also, at that point it becomes a much more productive conversation. The questions become: can I find enough traffic to make a living at these conversion rates? Can I improve my conversion rates? Is there something about my value proposition that isn’t clear to my audience? And so on.
Another way to approach this: don’t take huge time risks at the beginning of your business. This idea reminds me of a beautiful book about the software industry: Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software. Wonderful book. I’m not sure that addresses your question too well, but man that book is awesome!
I’ve been running a web design company for 5 and a half years and have made an effort to focus on new sites as the main service. Given cheap overseas labour, increasingly sophisticated DIY tools and a general move to mobile is the ‘web dead?’ and as such and should we focus on other services like SEO / perhaps mobile development as well / instead of continuing to pursue new websites? – Dan – check out Dan’s web design studio.
Haha, I know you know more about this than me. You know web development is only going to get more important. I do think you’ll need to evolve your hands-on services from basic web design to more advanced stuff. The key will be to productize your web development offerings. Finding sweet niches in your client base, say, bloggers, and then delivering them with premium service bundles and products. Reserve your time for mobile development, high-end conversion analysis and design, or similar.
The best way to ship heavy products when drop-shipping or using fulfillment houses. Obviously lighter products are better, but for heavier products, any tips on keeping costs down? – Tristan
You got two options: 1) aggressively seek knock-down solutions to improve the density of your shipments. For many of our products, we send very detail assembly instructions to help ease the pain of assembly. 2) Send them on a pallet. Freight shipments are often cheaper than people think, and there is a hidden benefit. If you are sending a big item on a pallet, you can toss an bunch of extra stuff on there for free! Offer that in the backend of your site and your average invoice will increase.
I’d love your insight on when it’s necessary/smart to incorporate? I’ve been running AccentHelp.com as a sole proprietor since 2006. I have no employees, but I do contract out a lot of work (mainly through Elance) and pay royalties to co-creators. What do you see as the determining factor(s) to changing my status. -Jim Johnson – AccentHelp.com
That’s a challenging question for me, I’m still confused by a lot of this stuff (who isn’t!). From what I know, if you are running a simple business, you might not see too many tax advantages to setting up a S or C corp unless you started to invest a lot of your energy in learning about smart corporate finance. Might not be a good investment for a solely owned lifestyle business. My understanding is that LLCs can provide you with some degree of legal protection from people seeking damages from either your business or you.
Given how easy and cheap LLCs are in most states, it’s something I’d do relatively early in the process. Wealth diversification and protection is fundamental practice of the wealthy, so it make sense to start having these types of conversations as soon as possible, even if it were the case that your business is just getting started. I’d see if you can get some free consulations from local accountants to test if they are the type of people who can help clarify your finances and protect your assets. Our accountant is relatively inexpensive and awesome.
LLC or not, any excuse to sit down with somebody who knows a lot about business finance for 5-10 hours a year is a great way to spend your time.
I am starting a new business and it’s in a very popular niche, I am trying to put my own twist on that niche. I need some advice on finding a manufacturer that will be able to make my product for as low cost as possible. How do you recommend that I go about finding an overseas wholesaler that could help me with my product launch? Thank you for your help and I look forward to your response. – George
That’s a really tough question to answer, but let me take a stab at an implied issue here. If you are getting in to a busy space, you shouldn’t be competing on price. It’s a race to the bottom, and especially in a cash flow inventory business, it’s the quickest way to end up in the red. Try brainstorming the ways you could be successful if you had a significantly more expensive product that your competition.
With regards to finding quality manufacturers, there aren’t any shortcuts there that I know of. All the more reason to go ahead and do it if you see an opportunity. Lazy internet marketers won’t bother competing with you! ;)
I run a local SEO biz and I’m getting great results for high paying clients, but these clients are also super busy. Every time I’ve asked for referrals, they are like “absolutely! no problem, we’ll put together a list for you!” This has happened like 3 times and they just never take the time to give me contact info or send an email of my behalf because they are so busy. Any tips on how I can expedite this and actually get these referrals rolling? – San Antonio SEO – Ryan
What a great question, I’ve faced this challenge in a few of my companies. I think making a process for absolutely delighting your customers is the most sustainable approach. In general, I don’t think it works well to offer little incentives for referrals, but of course there are plenty of exceptions.
I can understand why your clients aren’t getting back to you. It kinda sucks to get emails from people who you pay money to that are asking for stuff.
In the case of a local SEO business, I’d institute a policy that you get on the horn with each client once a month to go over a really simple, results focused report. Brendan Tully, a small business SEO consultant, once reported in our forum that when he started doing this, sales and customer retention shot up. Brenden developed deeper relationships with his clients– and I’m sure they started to look to him as a trusted partner in the future of what they were doing. In that frame, it’s a lot easier to make requests.
How do you go about creating high ticket (ie. $400 – $600) info products? And how do you evaluate what the price should be? – Naomi
Two ways, give tons of your time, and help to solve ambitious problems. Knowing your stuff and having credibility is absolutely critical with information products. It’s not hard to demonstrate your track record online. If you don’t, it’ll be much harder to charge a premium. If you don’t have a strong track record, you’ll need to have a huge reach, and even in that case, you’ll be hurting the long term sustainability of your audience. They’ll start to suffer fatigue at your vague product offerings that are really expensive. Sometimes it works, but I don’t think that’s a sustainable business model.
I don’t have any clear ideas about a pricing forumla. You can start to work out forumlas on a napkin, and then start running it by people you trust (feel free to email me!). If I wanted to meet your range with this very blog, I’d say I could charge $497 for a micro-publishing business class. We’d focus on delivering a full time income vis-a-vis micro-publishing within 24 months. I wouldn’t let people start the program unless they had an approved concept. It would a 4 week intensive starter course (almost full time work for me), with a private community (I’d use Ning for sure!!!), constant support, and then touch up phone calls of the next 3-4 months. We’d offer logos, blog designs, and supply the basic technology so students could focus 100% on content, relationships, and strategy. I’d limit it to 10 people so we could all work together. Yeah, that sounds worth it to me.
The next step for me would be to toss up a basic sales page for the concept and send the smartest people I know to it and ask them what they think. That’s what I love about information products. I think I just made one! If we don’t like that idea, okay, we could pull together 5 more in the next hour. That’s cool. If you’ve got one in mind, don’t hesitate to send me the concept and I’ll let you know what I think.
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To anyone who asked the questions above, I’m happy to continue the discussions with further resources, links, and perspectives in the public comments (if I haven’t exhausted you already!).
Finally, I didn’t consciously try this, but in retrospect this post looks a lot in form like a recent great one from one of my favorite bloggers, Karol Gajda. That one is probably better and more focused that this one, I highly recommend it: “Extraordinary Insights Volume 2.” Be sure to re-set your feed settings for Karol since he switched his URL.
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