Every year, Christmas Island—a remote Australian island in the Indian Ocean—is overrun by bright red crabs. Forty million fire engine-coloured crustaceans pour out of the jungle and fill the island’s streets with red bodies eager to breed. This is the annual breeding migration from the forests to the coast, where the crabs will breed and the females eventually release their eggs into the sea. The 2,000 human inhabitants of Christmas Island help where they can; shutting down streets and building crab bridges (literally!) to help the 8-legged creatures reach the coast.
This migration only happens at a very specific time of the year. The timing coincides with the rainy season as well as the phase of the moon; eggs are released by the female red crabs into the sea precisely at the turn of the high tide during the last lunar quarter.
The crabs “know” when to begin their journey, and eons of evolution have mapped the routes they take into their genes.
Just like the crabs, you may feel that you are ready to start your own business. But unlike the crabs, we don’t always know what route to take. What are the very first steps you need to take to start your business, even while you’re working?
Why don’t more people start a business when they’re ready?
From the outside, the process of starting a business seems very complicated. You have to think of a business idea, incorporate a business, get a website, learn about marketing and selling, and so on - a laundry list of things you have to do before you can even start thinking of selling your products or services.
This sheer complexity - all the stuff you have to do just to get to the point where you can sell - seems so difficult that some start, but many don’t. We dream of what life could look like when we’re our own boss, but we don’t take the first steps.
The journey seems too difficult so we don’t start.
It doesn’t need to be that difficult
The process of starting a business does not need to be that difficult. You don’t have to incorporate a business. You don’t have to register a domain. You don’t have to build a website. Business cards come later - much later.
And you don’t even have to worry about giving up your job (if you’re working). That’s risky stuff, and some of us are forced into that situation - but if you’re still working you don’t have to give up that security.
The first steps for starting a business is not the formal stuff. It’s deciding what you’re going to do, and testing to see if there’s a market for it.
Here are the first three things you need to do.
Step 1: Figure out what problem you can solve
The very first step in starting a business is figuring out what problem you can solve for others.
Problems come in many forms, shapes and sizes. You can start a business to solve almost any problem, but the best kinds of problems around which to build a business falls in the “sweet spot”.
The “sweet spot” is where three things meet:
- Your expertise: You are an expert at something. It doesn’t matter what that expertise is, but it is important because you will be using your expertise to design and build your products or services. The better you are at something, the better your products and services will be.
- Your passion: Passion is another key ingredient. This is what gets you excited about the problem you’re solving, gets you up in the morning and keeps you going when the going gets tough.
- Their need: If your expertise and passion solves a problem for someone else - fulfils their need - you have a good chance of building a business around it. People will pay to have their problem solved, provided the problem is big enough and difficult enough to solve on their own.
Where these three things meet, you have the potential for a business. Here’s what it looks like:
So here’s what you need to do:
- List your expertise. You may have more than one.
- List your passion. Again, you may have more than one.
- List the problems you think you can solve for people.
- Draw your own sweet spot diagram and see if you can find a place where the three areas overlap. That’s where you have the potential for a business.
Then you can move on to step 2.
Step 2: Design a product or service
Once you know where your expertise and passion overlap with a need, your next step is to design a product or service to solve that problem.
This is almost the easiest part of the process. If you are trained as an interior designer, and you have a passion for creating beautiful homes, you know there are people out there who would pay for your services to come and design a beautiful interior for their home.
Or, if you are a travel agent, and you have a passion for travel, you may think of people who want to experience more than just the usual tourist attractions. Can you help them design a vacation where they experience the local flavours without having to battle thousands of other tourists in the popular spots?
Of, if you have a particular skill in helping people find clarity in their business, and you’re passionate about seeing more people succeed in business, you have the opportunity to help entrepreneurs be more successful.
Design on paper first
For each of these situations, you can easily design a product or service to solve the problem people are dealing with. If you’re selling an existing physical product, the design work is done. If you have to design and build your own product, you have work to do. And if you’re designing a service (which the three examples above are about), you can design your service on paper.
You don’t actually have to build your product or service yet. But you do need to create something you can show people. This “design” could be as simple as a brochure for your product or service. Design a sales brochure that will help people understand what problem you’re going to solve for them, but do just the minimum so you can take it to potential clients.
Or use a rapid website builder to mock up a sales page
One of the most popular ways of designing and presenting a product or service - even before it exists - is with a web sales page. Website builders like Strikingly or Wix make it easy to construct a one-page website.
Note that this is not your final website (yet) - it’s just a mockup of what you want to sell. Keep it as simple as you can - but at the very least include the problem, the solution and your product or service. You can even leave out your pricing for now.
Then you’re ready to move on to the third step.
Step 3: Ask 10 people
You know where you skill and passion intersect, and you believe those two also intersect with problem people need solving. You’ve designed a brochure or sales page.
Now it’s time to start testing your idea.
The most common reason startups fail is because they build stuff people don’t want.
At this very early stage of your business, there are going to be two things that trip you up:
- The first is that what you think is a problem, may not really be a problem for other people. Or one they are willing to pay for. So the purpose of taking your product or service design to your potential market is to test whether there really is a problem worth solving.
- The second thing that will trip you up is expressing the problem - and your solution - in terms your clients will understand. You may know there is a real problem, and you know you have a solution, but if you can’t get their attention and interest you’re going to find it difficult to sell.
So you need to take your brochure or web sales page and ask 10 people what they think. This is the very first time you will be exposing your idea to the world, and getting feedback from potential buyers is going to tell you whether your sales page expresses the problem (and the solution) well enough, and if people are really interested in what you have to offer.
Don’t ask your mom or your immediate family. Find people who may be potential clients and ask them to spend a couple of minutes looking at what you’re offering.
Then ask them if they would like more information.
This last step is the critical one. If people ask for clarification you know you need to work on your brochure or sales page. If they ask for more information you know that they’re potentially interested. And if they say no, they’re either not your ideal clients, or they don’t need your product or service.
What happens now?
If you did the above three steps you're well ahead of the crowd. The most difficult thing to do is asking 10 people. That’s where you will experience rejection, learn that what you think is an obvious solution to a common problem is not really needed, or that you need to put a lot more work into designing sales material.
But it’s the first three steps that make all the difference in eventually building a successful business.
Once you’ve gone through those first three steps you will have learnt something. Now you will have to iterate your design, learning from the market and adapting your product or service based on what you hear. You may have to do this two or three times before you find something that really gets people’s interest.
And when you have their interest, you’ve already started building a business and taken some of the most difficult steps in making sure you have something people will eventually want.
If it feels right, start the journey
The crabs of Christmas Island “know” when they need to start their journey to the coast. Getting there is a different story though - it can take up to three weeks for them to make the journey.
Just like the crabs, you may “know” that you want to build a business. But unlike the crabs, you don’t have millions of years of evolution that will help you get there.
But you do have the steps above, and if you follow them you will have started building a business. And you didn’t have to worry about brand, or business cards, or other things that can come later. You’ve taken the most important steps.
Are you ready to build your business?
More specifically, are you ready to build a lifestyle business - one where you have not just a business, but a life as well?
This 21-page workbook is completely free and will take you through the 9 questions you need to answer to determine how ready you are to build a business.