The Weekend Solopreneur

Issue 22.39

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Two ways to start a business (while you’re working full time)

There are two schools of thought on how to start a business while working full time:

  • Build an audience. Learn what they need. Then, build a product or service to meet those needs and start selling it.
  • Build a product or service. Then, build an audience and start selling.

Let’s first take a look at how these two options work.

Option 1: Start with an audience

Building an audience means that you start “marketing” to build a following of people who pay attention when you show up. Typically, this will be on social media, including platforms like LinkedIn if that’s appropriate.

Another popular way of building an audience is content marketing - you write stories or articles and publish them on your website and platforms like LinkedIn or Medium. Add a compelling lead magnet into the mix, and you’re building an email list you can later sell to.

There are two reasons you want to start with building an audience:

  • You don’t know exactly what your product or service should be.Your marketing efforts will tell you a lot about what people need (what they respond to). You can then build a product or service based on what you’ve learnt.
  • You have to learn marketing. Without leads (which you get from marketing), it’s difficult to sell anything. So if you learn to get good at marketing (building an audience) first, it will be easier to sell your product or service later.

The biggest problem with this approach is of course that it doesn’t feel like you’re building a business. There’s no product or service (yet), so your marketing efforts may be all over the place. And you’re impatient to start selling your stuff.

Option 2: Start with a product or service

If you think you know what your target market needs, it makes sense to create your product or service first.

The biggest advantage of this approach is that your marketing will be more focused. You know exactly what problem you want to solve, and everything you talk about can be focused on that topic.

The biggest downside is that your assumptions may be wrong.

This “wrongness” comes in two flavours:

  • We get it completely wrong. People don’t need what we’re offering.
  • We don’t express it in a compelling way. People need what we’re offering, but they don’t recognize it in the words we use.

You can get around this problem by doing market research first. Talk to ideal clients, see what others are offering, and even mock up a couple of products or services you can test drive.

But there are other factors we have look at

From experience (my own as well as working with entrepreneurs), I know there will be two major problems you will have to overcome:

  • Finding time to work on your business
  • Getting good at marketing

There are 168 hours in a week. Assuming you work 8 hours for 5 days a week, and you sleep 8 hours a night for 7 days of the week, that leaves 72 hours. This time has to be used for everything else—commuting, errands, eating, spending time with family, vacations and sick days, and working on your business.

Practically, you don’t have a lot of time to work on your business.

Yes, it’s going to take dedication and focus. And sacrifice too. But here’s the biggest problem I’ve found:

Marketing itself takes time. If you have little time to work on your business each week, you will have even less time to build a product or service if you decided to do that later.

And there’s another problem:

Marketing just for the sake of building an audience sounds good, but it can lead to a never-ending treadmill with little reward (other than an audience) in sight.

So how do we get around this?

My recommendation

If I had to start from scratch again, I would do the following:

  • Define my niche very, very well. Speak to people in my niche. Find out what they’re struggling with. Listen to how they express their problems. Double-check my passion for solving these problems.
  • Create the single, smallest product or service I think they need
  • Start marketing to build an audience

Here’s why:

You know who you’re marketing (and selling) to

A niche is the intersection between a very well-defined target market, a problem they need solving and your passion and expertise.

If you know exactly what your niche is, it becomes easier to find them, find out what problems they have, learn where you should be marketing to them, and what language they speak.

Without a niche you will be trying to market (and sell) to everyone, and that is never successful.

There’s a goal

With a product or service ready to be sold, you know that you’re on track to build a “real” business. You’re not just marketing for the sake of building an audience.

Your marketing is easier

You have a product or service, so you know what problem you’re going to be talking about. Your marketing can now be focused on that target audience, the problem and (eventually) the solution.

And most importantly, you can focus on getting better at marketing because you don’t have to use your limited time to develop a product or service.

A never-ending learning experience

Building a business can feel like a never-ending learning experience. But the only way to build a business is to start - you have to get out there to learn what you don’t know.

It’s a bit like learning to ride a bicycle. You can read as many books as you like, and watch as many YouTube videos as you can, but you won’t learn to ride a bicycle until you actually get on and start trying.

And if you’ve already started, do a quick sanity check: do you know exactly who you’re selling to, and what problem you’re solving for them?